Few things are as exciting in the PC world as the release of a new lineup of some of the best graphics cards. The excitement builds for months with benchmarks, leaks, predictions, and finally the launch of said GPU. Although I’m not immune to that kind of hype, I still can’t bring myself to get excited about Nvidia’s RTX 5000-series. Actually, I’m kind of scared of it.
My fear is based on the last few generations. While Nvidia certainly knows how to push its performance to new heights, it all comes at a price that the mainstream market may not be willing to pay.
Nvidia’s dominance increased
When you look at the last few years of Nvidia graphics cards, there have been some highs and lows – but mostly highs. Nvidia has grown, taken a strong lead over AMD and has held on to it for years. These days, one could argue that AMD graphics cards are able to keep pace with Nvidia in pure rasterization, but Nvidia has an extra bag of goodies that gives it the edge.
When comparing Nvidia to AMD, there is a trend that is easy to recognize – Nvidia aims for high, high-end, and AMD sticks to the mainstream market. Just look at the Nvidia RTX 4090 and match it up with the AMD RX 7900 XTX. There is no competition; Nvidia won that battle by an overwhelming majority. It’s a fair fight when moving up to the RTX 4080, but it’s not the best that Nvidia has to offer.
Nvidia simply dominates the enthusiast sector, and has been the case for some time now. Still, performance gains across generations have not always been so impressive.
Before the release of the RTX 3090, Nvidia’s GPU maxed out at an xx80 Ti – unless you take into account the Titan card. Since the Maxwell generation, each Halo card has taken a big step forward compared to its previous generation counterparts, although Nvidia wasn’t able to avoid some bumps in the road. For example, while the GTX 1080 Ti was 70% faster than the GTX 980 Ti, the jump between the GTX 1080 Ti and the RTX 2080 Ti was nowhere near as big. In fact, in some of our tests, the RTX 2080 Ti was only between 8% and 23% faster than its previous-gen counterpart. However, it introduced ray tracing, which remains a point of pride for Nvidia in its rivalry with AMD.
With the introduction of Ampere, Nvidia introduced the RTX 3090 and RTX 3090 Ti, adding another high-end tier for PC gamers and those who need a GPU to bridge the gap between consumer and workstation cards. Both were hailed as the best ever at the time of their respective launch dates, but neither was without flaws. While the RTX 3090 was impressive in most every way, the RTX 3090 Ti had its problems, whether it was unprecedented power consumption or an insignificant upgrade compared to the RTX 3090.
Focus on the RTX 4090 – a card that beats every other GPU by a mile and then some. It’s bigger, it consumes even more power, and it’s 89% faster than the RTX 3090, one of Nvidia’s biggest generational leaps to date. It seems hard to believe that Nvidia can make such a huge increase in performance from one generation to the next. We also haven’t seen the last of the RTX 40-series, as Nvidia may still launch Titan cards, so who knows what’s going to happen there.
Can Nvidia top its own record with the RTX 5090, rumored to launch in 2025? Possibly. Based on early leaks, we’re looking at over a 30% increase in CUDA cores, not to mention a doubling of VRAM and a 512-bit memory bus. It’s only a generation away from where we are now, and it still feels like an unrealistic dream – that’s how crazy these features are – but I wouldn’t put it ahead of Nvidia.
Nvidia really has a strong hold on the high-end portion of the market. AMD hasn’t had an apples-to-apples equivalent for the last few generations; Despite being competitive, it has always been a few steps behind. It is also rumored that it will move away from the high-end sector in the next generation. While this is a good thing for AMD, it also means that Nvidia will be allowed to run in a big way once again.
And that’s exactly what worries me.
Price hike for all
As I’ve established, Nvidia’s high-end cards are trending upward – as they should. However, midrange GPUs don’t get the boost that the RTX 4090 received over its predecessor. There are too many models to make an exact comparison, but to give you an example, the RTX 4060 is only 15% to 20% faster than the RTX 3060, and it’s actually slower than the RTX 3060 Ti.
There are improvements, but they only warrant a lukewarm response. Arguably, if it weren’t for Nvidia’s Deep Learning Super Sampling 3 (DLSS3), there would be virtually no reason to upgrade from the RTX 3060 to the RTX 4060. Of course, some GPUs still offer a nice upgrade, like the RTX 4070.
This generation has set a worrying precedent for the future of graphics cards.
Unfortunately, these gains don’t mean that prices remained the same across each lineup, and the last two generations are really setting new trends for how far Nvidia’s outrageous pricing tactics can go. Let’s start from the top.
The RTX 3090 launched at $1,500 at the height of the GPU shortage, so it’s only $100 cheaper than the RTX 4090. Considering that you are getting up to 90% faster performance, the RTX 4090 is expensive, but really worth the price. But then, there’s also the RTX 3090 Ti, which costs $2,000.
Comparing the RTX 4080 to its predecessor shows that Nvidia hasn’t lagged behind at all in this generation. The RTX 3080 launched at $700, but the RTX 4080 was $500 more expensive at $1,200. On the other hand, it offers a 42% increase in performance compared to the RTX 3080 Ti, which also cost $1,200 at launch. That doesn’t change the fact that this is a terrible value, and it sets a worrying precedent for the future of xx80 graphics cards.
Prices continue to rise across the entire lineup, with an additional $100 added on top of last-gen pricing for most GPUs (the RTX 4060 being a notable exception). However, a look at the last few years shows that Nvidia’s price has been steadily rising.
The GeForce GTX Titan Nvidia’s GTX 1000-series was a huge lineup with some titans, but it never went beyond $1,200. In fact, the price of the GTX 1080 Ti was only $700 at launch.
Moving on to the RTX 20-series, the RTX 2080 launched for $700, as did the refresh (RTX 2080 Super), while the RTX 2080 Ti price jumped to $1,000. The Titan RTX (which, to this day, I call “T-Rex” in my mind) GPU was priced at $2,5o0, which made it more of a workstation GPU than something suitable for enthusiast gamers.
Admittedly, the continuously rising prices in the mainstream sector have been less painful. The RTX 2070 launched at $500, so it’s not too bad when you compare it to the RTX 4070 at $600. But when you look back in time, you’ll find that the GTX 970 was only priced at $330 at launch. Mainstream GPUs have not been spared either; It’s just a slow climb.
‘A story from the past,’ literally
Gen-to-gen price increases can’t be ruled out, but I wouldn’t expect anything less. Prices will have gone up either way, whether it’s AMD, Intel, or Nvidia – that’s just the way it goes. The problem is that the way Nvidia prices its GPUs actually accelerates the natural growth we were all expecting. Just look at the RTX 3080 to the RTX 4080 – $500 is a lot in one generation.
What’s worse, Nvidia may have no reason to ever change it. Nvidia CEO Jensen Huang said it best a while back: “The idea that chip prices are going to go down is a story of the past.” That’s a very clear answer to a question about GPU pricing, and it makes me wonder how far Nvidia might be willing to take it.
You can already build an entire PC for the price of an Nvidia graphics card, and I don’t even mean an RTX 4090 here. Unfortunately, as the prices of high-end cards rise, the mainstream segment will slowly but surely follow suit. A few years from now, at this rate an RTX xx70 card could cost $1,000, which is crazy to think about.
Nvidia’s prices are higher, but it also delivers performance.
The rumored features of the RTX 5090 are exciting, but they should also give us cause for concern. With a generational leap like that, I wouldn’t be able to get ahead of Nvidia in terms of keeping the GPU price in the $1,800 to $2,000 ballpark. If the RTX 5080 remains as expensive, it will cost around $1,300 to $1,500. Where does that put the RTX 5070? What about 5060?
If it weren’t for AMD, we could see these prices increase beyond all reason. Fortunately, Team Red is still in the game, and although it takes advantage of Nvidia’s strategy to drive up its prices, it helps keep it under control to some extent.
Of course, all my concerns may be unfounded – and I hope they are. Nvidia can’t keep increasing prices in every generation forever, so hopefully we’ve reached the tipping point.
And besides, I have to give credit where credit is due. Nvidia’s prices are higher, but it also offers the performance and software to match, with better ray tracing and DLSS3 frame generation. Still, it’s a shame that we’ll never go back to a time when an enthusiast GPU cost $700 while offering notable performance improvements over the previous generation. These days, it’s mostly one or the other, and I fear Nvidia may take it to the next level with Blackwell GPUs in 2025.