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Nvidia GeForce RTX 2080 Super review: Still stuck in the middle

James Archer
22 Jan 2020
Our Rating 
Price when reviewed 
750
Inc VAT

A better overall GPU than the RTX 2080, but still not the best premium card to buy

Pros 
Keenly priced
Unsurprisingly powerful
Well-cooled and quiet
Cons 
Still caught between several excellent cards
Seriously, just buy the RTX 2070 Super
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The original RTX 2080 was stuck in a difficult position. While undeniably a very powerful GPU, in practice it wasn’t sufficiently faster than the RTX 2070 to justify its far higher price, and at the same time, it couldn’t match the outright ground-breaking performance of the RTX 2080 Ti. Flanked on both sides by better value and better power respectively, there was little convincing reason to choose the RTX 2080. 

Nvidia GeForce RTX 2080 Super review: Specifications and features

The new RTX 2080 Super at least seems to have the right idea on how to avoid a similar fate. The core specs have been upgraded to hopefully bring it closer in line with the RTX 2080 Ti. The CUDA core count has risen from 2,944 to 3,072, and the new GPU also has 48 ray-tracing cores to the RTX 2080's 46. Clock speeds have received minor tune-up too, with the reference RTX 2080 Super hitting a base speed of 1,650MHz and a boost speed of 1,815MHz; previously, these were 1,515MHz and 1,710MHz.

The partner model on test here, MSI’s GeForce RTX 2080 Super Gaming X Trio, pushes things slightly further with a modest overclock to 1,845MHz. The best news of all is the price: this particular card costs £750, which is £49 less than the RTX 2080 Gaming X Trio. That’s a refreshing change from most of the RTX 2060 Super and RTX 2070 Super models we’ve seen, which appear to use the updated specs as a reason to raise prices, not lower them or keep them in parity with the preceding GPUs. 

Nvidia GeForce RTX 2080 Super review: Design

£750 is still a lot of money, but MSI’s design is befitting of it. A classily sleek, strong backplate protects the rear, RGB lighting adds customisation options, and the reference design’s dual-fan cooler is turned into a triple-fan setup with a larger radiator. Like the rest of the Gaming X Trio range, which spans all three of the high-end RTX GPUs, one of these fans is slightly smaller than the others, which some may find a little goofy-looking, but unless you’re vertical-mounting, you won’t ever see it while it’s in your PC.

Be warned, however, that this is one seriously bulky graphics card. Measuring 327mm long, 140mm wide and 56mm deep, it’s significantly larger than the reference design, and although it takes up the standard two PCI slots in a case, the cooler takes up more space beyond that. Take care if your PC has another PCI-E device below the main graphics card slot, or something like a PSU shroud that could get in the way. A lot of mini-tower and small form factor cases, more pressingly, simply won’t have room at all, so check your clearances before buying. 

Nvidia GeForce RTX 2080 Super review: Performance 

The bigger problem, however, is that the RTX 2080 Super doesn’t exactly deliver the performance improvements that were hoped for. In Dirt Showdown, it bumps up against a 144fps barrier at both 1080p and 1440p, and while its 4K result of 110fps is pretty good, that’s only 2fps faster than the RTX 2070 Super.

Metro: Last Light shows a slight step up from the standard RTX 2080, with 118fps at 1080p, 76fps at 1440p and 34fps at 4K. Unfortunately, these are all just single-digit improvements, as the RTX 2080 produced 114fps, 69fps and 30fps respectively. Turning off SSAA at 4K results in a smooth 68fps, which is good, but then that’s also only slightly above the RTX 2070 Super. All of this also means the RTX 2080 Super struggles to close the gap with the year-old RTX 2080 Ti, which runs Metro visibly smoother at all three resolutions.

It doesn’t matter as much that the RTX 2080 Super is behind in Tomb Raider, as it runs fast enough – 247fps at 1080p and 171fps at 1440p – that the RTX 2080 Ti’s even faster results don’t translate into a perceptible advantage. 87fps at 4K isn’t bad, either: it’s a decent 12fps ahead of the RTX 2070 Super, albeit 23fps behind the RTX 2080 Ti.

All three of these GPUs scored 11 in the SteamVR Performance Test, but the RTX 2080 Super still ends up back where the RTX 2080 started: uncomfortably sandwiched between a better-value RTX 2070 (or in this case, the RTX 2070 Super) and the significantly more muscular RTX 2080 Ti. If the added cores and raised clock speeds had produced greater improvements, it could have been a genuinely attractive alternative for those who want the best possible 1440p and 4K performance without breaking £1,000, but when the RTX 2070 Super so often comes within a few frames per second, it’s more sensible just to opt for the cheaper one.

In some ways that’s unfortunate, as MSI has done fine work on the engineering side. The Gaming X Trio cooler is quiet and effective: we recorded core temperatures of 43°C at idle and 66°C under load, with a rare peak of 68°C. This model is also somehow more efficient than the RTX 2080 Gaming X Trio: that had a TDP of 260W, but this card is rated at 250W, and we only measured it drawing between 214W and 235W during our benchmarks. 

Nvidia GeForce RTX 2080 Super review: Verdict

Sadly, it will take more than that to beat the RTX 2070 Super on value. The 2080 Super is technically the most powerful GPU you can get without splashing out on the RTX 2080 Ti, and the lower price is a step in the right direction, but it still feels like Nvidia’s middle child needs to be either much cheaper or even faster in order to make it a worthwhile investment.