If you like gallows humor and fancy a laugh with a dash of despair, take yourself over to Nvidia’s online GeForce shop and look at the launch prices of the RTX 3000 series. Here you’ll find the RTX 3060 Ti listed for just $369, and even the $1,399 price for the RTX 3090 seems reasonable after two years of chaos. On the US store, you’ll even see RTX 3050 cards from board partners listed at $250.
Nvidia RTX 3050 Review
Of course, that didn’t last long. As usual, the first batch of RTX 3050 cards all sold out on launch day, and then they started to appear for around $400 on eBay, where that still appears to be the going rate for them. In the meantime, AMD has released the Radeon RX 6500 XT, a card that no one will send us for review, presumably because its had a panning in the online press. It has just 4GB of memory attached to a 64-bit interface, a 4x PCI-E 4 interface and 1,024 stream processors.
By all reports, it stinks, which in a normal world would be good for the RTX 3050. In the current chaos, though, the Radeon RX 6500 XT is still going for around $200, while the RTX 3050’s price has become overinflated. As a result, the RTX 3050 is now really up against the Radeon RX 6600 and 6600 XT, rather than the 6500 XT, and this makes life much harder for Nvidia’s new ‘budget’ GPU.
The price inflation is a shame, because the RTX 3050’s spec means it’s almost certainly significantly quicker than the Radeon RX 6500 XT. For starters, it has twice as much memory, with 8GB of GDDR6 memory running at 1750MHz (14GHz effective). It also has a much wider 128-bit memory interface, while the Radeon only has a 64-bit interface, giving the GeForce a total memory bandwidth of 224GB/sec. AMD has previously got around this by allocating loads of L3 Infinity Cache to its pricier RDNA2 GPUs, but the Radeon RX 6500 XT only has 16MB.
In terms of the core spec, the RTX 3050 is based on the same GA106 GPU as Nvidia’s GeForce RTX 3060, except it has just 20 of the streaming multiprocessors enabled. This gives it a total of 2,560 CUDA cores, along with 20 RT cores and 80 Tensor cores. It also has the same 1770MHz GPU boost clock as the RTX 3060, although the RTX 3050 does have a higher base clock.
Like AMD’s lower-end Radeon cards, the GeForce RTX 3050 also doesn’t have a full 16x PCI-E 4 interface. Its 8x PCI-E 4 interface will offer more than enough bandwidth for a budget card on PCI-E 4 systems, but older PCI-E 3 systems will take a small performance hit as the older interface will halve the bandwidth again. There’s a lot of PCI-E 3 systems still doing the rounds, from Intel Comet Lake and Coffee Lake machines, to even AMD Zen 3 systems based on B450 and X470 motherboards. On the plus side, at least it doesn’t have the 4x interface of the Radeon RX 6500 XT.
After two years of awfulness in the PC GPU market, we really wanted to like the RTX 3050. We haven’t had a decent budget GPU for a long time, and the RTX 3050 looked like it had potential. Sadly, however, it can’t really cut it, even at 1,920×1,080.
For single-player games, we have a general frame rate target of a 60fps average with a 45fps 99th percentile (or within 1 -2f ps of that), but the RTX 3050 couldn’t get close to this in Assassin’s Creed Valhalla, Cyberpunk 2077 or Metro Exodus at our usual test settings. We had to drop down to the Medium preset in Cyberpunk 2077 to get a decent frame rate in the end. That would be fine if this card only cost $150, but it’s catastrophic for a card that currently goes for $400.
Comparatively, the Radeon RX 6600 XT, which currently goes for $420, produced decent playable frame rates in all three of these games. At this point, previous Nvidia Ampere GPU reviews would point out that Nvidia has the upper hand in ray tracing, but the situation isn’t clear-cut when you’re comparing the RTX 3050 with the Radeon RX 6600 XT.
The Radeon is faster in Metro Exodus with High ray tracing, for example, although the frame rates from both cards aren’t amazing in this test. The RTX 3050 has the added bonus of getting a helping hand from DLSS, Nvidia’s Al-based resolution scaling tech, which uses the GPU’s Tensor cores. However, enabling DLSS made no difference to the frame rate on the RTX 3050 in this game.
Where DLSS did help the RTX 3050 was in our Cyberpunk 2077 test with Medium ray tracing, where it averaged 46fps with a 39fps 99th percentile result at 1,920 x 1,080. That’s playable, even if it isn’t smooth, but this game looks horrible with DLSS enabled at 1,920 x 1,080, with significant blurring. With a budget, CPU you’re honestly better off running this game without ray tracing or DLSS.
On the plus side, the RTX 3050 can handle undemanding games at high frame rates, averaging 196fps in Doom Eternal at 1,920 x 1,080. The 8GB of memory means it can run this game at top settings too, unlike the 6GB RTX 2060. Again, though, the Radeons are quicker, with the 6600 XT running 64fps quicker.
If you have a supporting motherboard and CPU, you can gain a small performance boost from enabling Resizable BAR, which is supported by the RTX 3050. This raised the Assassin’s Creed Valhalla average from 52fps to 55fps, but this is still a fair way behind the Radeon 6600-series cards.
Finally, we tested the RTX 3050 with our motherboard set to PCI-E 3 rather than PCI-E 4, and it resulted in a small drop in performance of 1 -2fps in Metro Exodus. This isn’t a massive difference though – you’ll still be able to get plenty out of this card on a PCI-E 3 system.
By all reports, the GeForce RTX 3050 is much better than the Radeon RX 6500 XT, but thats hardly relevant when the RTX 3050 is going for around $400. To make matters worse, cards with this level of performance (where you have to drop the settings even at 1,920 x 1,080) used to cost around $150. Even at $220, it was overpriced, but at $400, it simply can’t compete with the AMD Radeon RX 6600 series.
Not even having DLSS at its disposal gives it an advantage here, as DLSS looks horrible at 1,920 x,1080, and the frame rates still aren’t great. The RTX 3050 might technically be able to handle ray tracing, but realistically you wouldn’t want to use it. The same also goes for the AMD GPUs, of course, and the RTX 3050 might have more ray-tracing power in Cyberpunk 2077, but the point is largely moot when none of them can produce decent frame rates with ray tracing anyway.
We could have forgiven the RTX 3050’s disappointing performance if it had a genuinely affordable price, but it simply can’t justify the current asking price. If you want to spend around $400 on a GPU, buy the Radeon RX 6600 XT instead.