Maximum PC


IT’S BEEN TWO YEARS since Nvidia unveiled the Turing architecture, ushering in the new era of ray-traced graphics for games. OK, let’s be frank: Raytracing adoption in games has been sluggish and often underwhelming. More accurate reflections, slightly improved shadows? Yawn. We want it all: Reflections, refractions, shadows, global illumination, caustics, ambient occlusion! The problem is that each of those effects increases the burden placed on the ray-tracing hardware and your GPU, so developers often picked one or a few effects at most. But that all changes with Nvidia’s Ampere architecture.

Take everything that was great about Turing and basically double down, and you get an idea of what Nvidia has planned for Ampere. We have a full review of the GeForce RTX 3080 Founders Edition [See page 68], the fastest graphics card ever to grace the inside of your PC. Well, sort of—we’ll be looking at the GeForce RTX 3090 Founders Edition next month. But for most gamers, even those with deep pockets, the RTX 3080 makes more sense. It’s perhaps the largest generational improvement in performance ever from Nvidia, and it makes yesterday’s RTX 2080 Ti look like an overpriced has-been. And it all comes down to the new, superior Ampere architecture.

Let’s start from the top, and cover all the major changes. We can’t possibly cover every item that’s changed, though if you’re really interested in learning more, Google “Nvidia Ampere Whitepaper” and you can get the raw, undistilled version. We’re also going to confine our discussion to just the GA102/GA104 “gaming” GPUs—there’s also a new GA100 chip used for supercomputers and deep learning that’s quite different from the consumer version of Ampere.

Lithography: The Foundation of Every Chip

Every chip design starts by choosing how the part will eventually be made. Most of Nvidia’s GPUs of the past two decades have come from TSMC (Taiwanese Semiconductor Manufacturing Company), but Nvidia has also used Samsung for some parts. The GA102 and GA104 chips

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