Cutting corners: Get this right, Nvidia is releasing a new graphics card today. Sort of new. Upgraded might be a better term, but there is a new version of the RTX 3080 hitting shelves today. Now, for those who've been trying to purchase an RTX 3080 for the past two years at anything resembling a reasonable price, will probably raise an eyebrow at yet another new product using the same GA102 silicon -- especially a more expensive product -- and while that's somewhat of an issue, it's the least of our concerns.
The "new" GeForce RTX 3080 12GB is launching today, but you're unlikely to find a single review of it anywhere informing you in regards to how it performs. This is because Nvidia has deliberately blocked all day-one reviews. It's hard to say why, and as far as we can tell it makes very little sense, though we do have a theory.
But before I get to that, let's rewind a little bit...
About 4 weeks ago, the first AIB partners started to reach out informing us of multiple product releases in January, one of which was a new version of the RTX 3080 with 12GB of VRAM. At the time, I was presented with a typical NDA to sign which would ensure we were provided with a sample prior to the public release, so we could test and let you know ahead of time what the product was all about. Standard stuff there.
Of course, I signed the NDA because it in no way prohibits us from crapping all over the product if necessary, and you've seen us do that to countless products from multiple brands over the years. Now, I was told at the time that we'd have samples in hand about a week before the product release. Again, that's pretty standard, in fact a week is often a best-case scenario.
MSI managed to get us their massive Suprim X card a week ago, and so we were on track to deliver a detailed review today. After spending three back-to-back days of pure benchmarking to update our results for previously released products, I reached out to Nvidia on January 5 to find out when the review driver would become available.
I was promptly told they'd get back to me with that info.
Two days later, we heard nothing and it was now Friday, January 7th, only 4 days to go before the release if you include the weekend. I reached out again and at that point Nvidia informed me that there wouldn't be a review driver, instead reviewers would have to wait until the product was released to the public, at which point they could download the public release driver and use that.
This means no day-one reviews, and it's likely going to be a few days before the first detailed reviews appear online. This caught us and Nvidia's partners completely off guard as we were all expecting to provide you with day-one content. For me personally this isn't an issue. Deadlines suck, and frankly I enjoyed getting to spend the weekend with my family opposed to working long hours on an RTX 3080 12GB review. In that sense, I'm not at all upset. But I am annoyed at how unnecessary and dodgy this move is.
It's worth noting that without a supporting driver, it's impossible to test the graphics card. Existing drivers won't work, at least not without modification, which for a new GPU configuration is likely a complex process. For Nvidia, on the other hand, it's easy to provide the driver ahead of time and this is standard practice for getting their new products tested and reviewed by the launch date.
Truth is, the RTX 3080 12GB won't bring us any surprises. It has a few extra cores and some extra memory bandwidth / capacity, which in terms of performance should land it between the original RTX 3080 and the RTX 3080 Ti. So why the Nvidia shenanigans then?
We believe the reason is Nvidia anticipated this release will receive mostly negative feedback from reviewers, especially those that were hard on the pointless 3070 Ti and 3080 Ti -- which was most credible reviewers. Now, you might be thinking, "come on, as if Nvidia cares right now... they can literally release anything and gamers/scalpers/miners will snap it up in a heartbeat," and while the latter is true, I believe Nvidia does care.
It's been my experience over the last decade that Nvidia is extremely sensitive to criticism, and this has become particularly evident since the release of Turing (a.k.a. RTX 20 series). A flood of mostly negative GeForce reviews hitting the net at the same time is something Nvidia wishes to avoid, even in the current market.
But why might RTX 3080 12GB reviews be negative? Keep in mind that as this opinion column goes live (video here), I've yet to actually use or test the card, even though I've had on hand for a week now.
It all boils down to pricing and availability.
The original GeForce RTX 3080 was released in September 2020 and was set to be the best GeForce release in years (we gave it a 90/100 score), but it's ended up being a huge disappointment due to poor availability and sky high prices. With loyal fans literally lined up to get their hands on one, Nvidia has done nothing substantial to help them out over the past 2 years.
Don't even bother telling me about LHR cards or direct sales, both of which have accounted to little more than marketing stunts. The fact that Nvidia has continued to segment the GA102 lineup with higher margin parts, while mostly abandoning the RTX 3080 says it all, and the 12GB model is a continuation of this.
Rather than increasing supply of the more affordable RTX 3080, which might help to drive prices down eventually, Nvidia predictably went the other way by making a more expensive RTX 3080, after of course, making an even more expensive RTX 3080 Ti.
In other words, the 12GB RTX 3080 release is no different than the RTX 3080 Ti. Nvidia is simply looking to maximize profits, but now they want to have their cake and eat it, too, and by that I mean they want to screw over their customers are much as the market will allow while receiving as little blow back from media as possible.
Like the RTX 3080 Ti, the 12GB 3080 is a price reset for GA102. Charging $700 for the RTX 3080's silicon was a mistake as far as Nvidia is concerned, and bumping the MSRP by just over 70% for the 3080 Ti was the first step in correcting that mistake.
Recently, they quietly revived the RTX 2060 with a 12GB model. Again, no reviews, and perhaps more concerning, no MSRP, allowing Nvidia to dynamically adjust pricing based on what the market will bare. I hate to say it, but I think they're going with the same plan for the 12GB 3080.
When asked just days before the release, what the expected MSRP would be, Nvidia promptly replied with "We don't have anything to announce at this time." Suggesting to me that we might not get an MSRP at all, or best case it's going to be $1,000+.
At this point, it's obvious that these companies don't care about gamers, or more specifically their customers. Whether it's Nvidia, AMD, or Intel, they never have, they just care about profits -- shocker, I know -- but the way some people behave, defending the likes of Nvidia at every turn, you'd think these companies exist only to please them.
Nvidia deserves all the negative press that should come their way over this move to delay and even suppress reviews. At the end of the day, it's dodgy and anti-consumer, and maybe also arrogant. But I'm sure by trying to minimize media coverage they've only amplified negative coverage.
I should also make it clear that Nvidia is okay with reviews. They've allowed their partners to sample the card, but they specifically only want those reviews out after consumers can buy them. They are not blocking reviews entirely; they want to delay the content until after their own announcement and release to control the story, while also making it seem like they're playing nice with reviewers.
Additionally, I should note that we don't believe reviewers deserve pre-release access to products, and for many other companies there are no pre-release reviews. But it's specifically the change in process for this product that is dodgy. Customers are used to reviews before or on the release date, and that process is being deliberately altered just for this product to stop that from happening.
We've done our bit by bringing this story to light, now it's on you guys, the enthusiast community to push back. Of course, we'll also have a detailed review in a few days' time, so be on the lookout for that.