Nvidia Ampere release date, specs, performance, and pricing

Consumer Nvidia Ampere cards are expected to appear during an Nvidia announcement event on September 1, 2020. With all the preamble leading up to the event teasing both the Ampere cooler design and new 12-pin power connector, we’re as certain as we can be that the RTX 3090 will make an appearance at the show.

The GeForce Special Event is kicking off at 9am PT on the first day of September. Nvidia claims it’s going to “usher in a new era” at the GeForce Special Event, with CEO, Jen-Hsun Huang set to “highlight the company’s latest innovations in gaming and graphics.”

Alongside the RTX 3090, we’re also expecting an initial launch line-up comprised of the RTX 3080 and RTX 3070. It’s our understanding that there will also be no RTX 3080 Ti at launch.

In terms of an actual Nvidia Ampere release date we’ve had it confirmed to us that it will come in September, though current rumours are bouncing between either September 15 or 17. With a potential unveiling at the start of the month a two-week gap before a full launch would make sense.

The Ampere architecture at the heart of the RTX 3090 and RTX 3080 cards is the sequel to the Volta and Turing GPUs, and should be the architecture to take real-time ray tracing further than we’ve yet seen—it may even deliver it at 4K without turning your games into a slideshow. If all the rumours are true it could dominate the best graphics cards lists for the next 12 months at least. Mind you, if all the rumours are true then it’s going to be a million times faster than Turing and cure death.

During a pre-briefing Jen-Hsun did explain that Ampere would definitely be the architecture to power both its server and gaming GPUs going forward “with a single platform that streamlines Nvidia’s GPU lineup.” He also added that “there’s great overlap in the architecture, but not in configuration.” That means the GeForce-grade cards will vary from the GA100 GPU within the Nvidia A100.

Nvidia Ampere release date
There will be some sort of announcement on September 1 at the GeForce Special Event, and we’re betting on a reveal of at least the GeForce RTX 3090 and RTX 3080 cards. As for an actual on sale date, a two-week gap would seem sensible, so anytime between September 15 and 17.

Nvidia Ampere specs
The GA100 GPU inside the first A100 cards is a bit of a monster. With 6,912 FP32 CUDA cores, 3,456 FP64 CUDA cores, arrayed across 108 Streaming Multiprocessors (SMs), it packs in 54 billion transistors The full GA100 chip has 8,192 FP32 CUDA cores and 128 SMs, with 3rd Gen Tensor Cores offering 4x the deep learning performance. It also uses TSMC’s 7nm CoWoS 3D chip-stacking technology. It’s a huge chip. As for the gaming chips, the next two chips down could be looking at 5,248 and 4,352 cores respectively.

Nvidia Ampere performance
Recent 3DMark leaks show one of the new Ampere GeForce GPUs delivering up to 31% higher Time Spy figures than Founders Ed. RTX 2080 Ti. The other performance rumours have all surrounded the improved ray tracing performance, which is suggested to be four times that of Turing.

Nvidia Ampere price
The pricing of Nvidia’s next-gen is going to be one of the most fascinating parts of the Ampere equation. With increased competition from AMD’s RDNA cards and the potential Big Navi GPUs, there will be more pressure on the new GeForce cards to be priced aggressively. But if the rumours of the RTX 3090 costing around the $1,400 mark that might suggest AMD isn’t competitive at the very high end.

Release date

Nvidia teased something GeForce-related with a Twitter announcement for the ultimate countdown, with the tagline ’21 days. 21 years’ and then followed up with the announcement of the GeForce Special Event happening on September 1, at the end of 21 days of nostalgic Nvidia twittering.  And the 21 years bit? Back in 1999 Nvidia released the GeForce 256 graphics card.

That was the first ever GeForce graphics card, and it’s now old enough to drink. It was also marketed as the “world’s first GPU” too, which is debatable, but what isn’t is the fact it’s one of the most iconic graphics cards ever made.

That card was later released in October, but we won’t have to wait that long for Ampere cards, presumably the RTX 3090 and RTX 3080, which have been confirmed to us for a September release. Current speculation goes between either September 15 or 17. Basically two weeks after the announcement event.

There has been some speculation that AMD’s competing cards might get their own announcement early in September, which is likely going to be aimed as a spoiler for the Ampere release date.

“21 days. 21 years. Before we enter the future, join us to celebrate the biggest breakthroughs in PC gaming since 1999. And what comes next.”

All we’d had before this was Ampere’s GTC unveiling all about the server side. And you’ll have a lot of trouble getting anything out of Nvidia that you could build an enthusiast gaming PC around, even if you could afford the few hundred grand that the DGX A100 system costs.

Or even the $12,500 the PCIe-based Nvidia A100 costs.

But that has long been the way of things for Nvidia, with its server tech getting launched ahead of any new gaming GPUs. We’re expecting then to see something in the GeForce livery getting a reveal some time in the late Summer or early Fall, matching the original Turing announcement around Gamescom in 2018 with a September release. That timeline has been somewhat reinforced by the recent flurry of leaks, including Nvidia teasing the final cooler design in the lead up to the September 1 event.

With the red team also set to launch new gaming graphics cards towards the end of the year, with the AMD RDNA 2, and potential Big Navi GPUs, set to land in a gaming PC near you before 2020 is done, there is going to be some serious competition in graphics cards for a change. And you can bet that Nvidia is going to want to set its stall out early and not give the red team a chance to launch something that might topple the current might of the RTX 2080 Ti before Ampere cards come out.

GPU Specs

Aside from the monstrous GA100 Ampere GPU detailed in the Ampere Whitepaper (pdf warning), we are firmly in rumour and speculation corner now, where nothing is true and everything is to be treated with season one Scully levels of scepticism. Every tech YouTuber worth their clickbait headlines and gurning thumbnail images is trying to uncover an engineer or leaker to be trusted, though Nvidia has historically been very good at keeping things under control and under wraps until the very last minute.

Maybe everyone’s scared of Jen-Hsun, and that’s not beyond the realms of possibility. “He knows where my kids go to school, man…”

That hasn’t stopped the rumour mill from grinding away on what we can pretend is a complete Ampere GPU list. Sweet. The only one that’s had anything close to an official announcement is the GA100 GPU, but as Ampere’s launch day approaches fresh rumours from AICs via Videocardz allude to the complete GeForce specification.

Rumoured Nvidia Ampere specs
A100 RTX 3090 RTX 3080 RTX 3070
Confirmed Rumoured
GPU GA100 GA102-300 GA102-200 GA104-300
SMs 108 82 68
CUDA cores 6,912 5,248 4,352
Memory bus 6,144-bit 384-bit 320-bit 256-bit
Memory 40GB HBM2E 24GB GDDR6X 10GB GDDR6X 8GB GDDR6
Memory speed 19.5Gbps 19Gbps 16Gbps
Memory bandwidth 1,555 GB/s 936 GB/s 760 GB/s 512 GB/s
TGP 350W 320W 220W

There is some differing of opinion on what’s going to happen to the actual makeup of the gaming-focused Ampere GPUs, with some claiming that it will be set up in an alternate configuration to Turing, with a whole load more RT cores, and others suggesting a similar layout but with more effective silicon inside it.

That top-end GPU, likely only ever to find a home in servers and HPC, houses 8,192 FP32 CUDA cores, 4,096 FP64 CUDA cores, 512 next-gen Tensor cores, across 128 SMs. It’s all supported by high-bandwidth memory (HBM) arrayed across an aggregated 6,144-bit memory bus. Those are some hefty numbers… but aren’t really going to mean much to us gaming folk.

What might are the ones attached to the GA102 GPU, the Ampere graphics card silicon that could potentially find its way into the Nvidia RTX 3090. The previous suggestions for the initial three Ampere consumer cards had been for an RTX 3090 Ti, RTX 3080 Ti, and a straight RTX 3080. However, this has since made way for a Ti-less lineup of RTX 3090, RTX 3080, and RTX 3070.

With a total of 82 streaming multiprocessors (SMs), those clusters of CUDA cores, the full GA102 GPU will offer a total of 5,248 of little graphical execution units. Compared with the TU102, with 72 SMs and 4,608 CUDA cores, that represents a jump of just 17%. That doesn’t actually sound like a lot considering what a performance leap this next generation of Nvidia GPUs are supposed to offer. Which means the underlying architecture has to offer more than just a 7nm die shrink of Turing.

And that’s precisely what is being rumoured: more than just a die shrink, though I doubt the consumer versions will use the same TSMC 7nm CoWoS design as the GA100. There is meant to be more L2 cache inside the GPU and though there seems to be half the number of Tensor Cores—those AI-specific bits of silicon—they seem to perform far better than the previous generation, which should all help when it comes to ray tracing.

There is still more speculation about whose 7nm process Nvidia is going to be using, with both TSMC and Samsung’s node being thrown into the mix. Jen-Hsun has confirmed that Samsung will be manufacturing a small number of its graphics chips, with TSMC still set to remain the manufacturer of the vast majority of Ampere silicon.

I’d suggest that maybe Samsung’s EUV node would be used for the larger, though smaller volume, professional dies, with the high-volume gaming chips likely to filter out of TSMC’s established fabrication facilities, following on from the stacked GA100 chip the Taiwanese company has created for Nvidia.

The latest rumours (via TechPowerUp)have pegged the current engineering sample of the GA102-based card to be operating above the 2,200MHz mark, which is mighty impressive. Even more impressive are the claims that the lower-tier GPUs could potentially run at around 2,500MHz.

On the memory side the gaming cards are expected to again house GDDR6 memory, but this time at even higher clock speeds courtesy of the new GDDR6X specification.

The only-very-slightly cut-down 5,248 core GA102, potentially going into the GeForce RTX 3090, is said to be paired with 24GB of GDDR6X VRAM. That could run at anything from 19Gbps to 21Gbps, according to Micron’s proposed specifications. The latest rumours put the RTX 3090 at 19.5Gbps at launch, which leaves a little wiggle room later down the line for OC cards and updates.

With no official word these could still be all plucked out of thin air, but rumours are mounting in favour of such a configuration.

And what will that all look like? An image posted to Chinese-language forum, Chiphell, claims to be that of an RTX 3080 shroud in production. That’s been confirmed to be at least partially accurate by Nvidia directly, who teased the shroud design in a recent video.

Performance

At the base level the current rumoured expectation is that Ampere will offer around a 10% instructions per clock (IPC) increase over Turing. Were it not for the fact that the die shrink will allow for a hike in GPU clock speeds that might not have heralded much of a gaming performance boost for the new graphics architecture.

A recent leaked 3DMark Time Spy result shows an unknown Ampere GPU running with up to 31% higher performance than a Founders Ed. RTX 2080 Ti. It has apparently been confirmed that the benchmark was run by an Nvidia employee, though not what the actual GPU will end up being. It’s only running at 1,935MHz according to the Time Spy entry, but that might not be reading the new architecture 100% accurately.

That’s different to the rumoured clock speed of the GeForce cards. Boosting up to 2,500MHz, however, will really highlight that potential IPC enhancement and any architectural improvements around that would only help. One recent rumour has suggested that we’ll see at least a 40% increase in traditional rasterised performance from the Ampere GPUs, and a 4x improvement on the ray tracing side.

That’s likely where a lot of the noise will be made around Ampere, with the suggestion being that Ampere will come close to culling the performance hit that enabling ray tracing weighed Turing down with. If Ampere really can offer ray tracing processing that’s four times faster than Turing, with its new Ampere RT cores, then real-time ray tracing no longer becomes an expensive luxury, but a genuine weapon for Nvidia’s new graphics cards.

The expectation, in ray traced games at least, is that the new Ampere GPUs will make the out-going Turing generation look positively geriatric by comparison. Which isn’t going to be welcome news to anyone who spent $1,200 on an RTX 2080 Ti hoping for a little future-proofing from their sizeable silicon investment.

Pricing

This is going to be one of the most interesting parts of the whole Nvidia Ampere release, how much the green team thinks it can charge for the new GeForce GPUs in the face of potentially increased AMD Radeon competition.

Turing’s range of graphics cards was almost priced with impunity as there was no significant competition from rivals, AMD. This time around, however, it’s going to be different. The lower, mid-tier cards from Nvidia have found an AMD Navi-based equivalent, with similar performance often at a more tempting price.

The promise of having AMD RDNA 2 cards, and the Big Navi GPU, set to find a home in high-end gaming PCs before the end of the year means that the red team should have cards capable of competing with the best that Nvidia can currently offer. At least that’s been the suggestion anyway.

Whether AMD will release cards able to take on the existing GPU king, the RTX 2080 Ti, is one thing, but whether that competitive performance will carry on to the Ampere generation will likely dictate how much Nvidia feels it can charge for the new gaming cards. If Nvidia’s next-gen GPUs are going to have to fight it out on a more level playing field then chances are it’s going to have to be more aggressive, because we know from past experience that AMD will be. But then again, with an RTX 3090 reportedly on the loose, maybe comparative price isn’t being taken into consideration.

You only have to look at the ‘jebaiting’ that went on with the RX 5000-series cards last year to see what shenanigans the Radeon red team will happily engage in to gain an advantage over the GeForce green team.

But if the top-end of the Ampere is able to make the RTX 2080 Ti look like a mid-range card of yesteryear when it comes to gaming then we could see the continued high pricing of graphics cards. Especially when the cooler is rumoured to set Nvidia back $150 alone.

The third option is that even if there is more competition prices remain sky-high. If AMD decides to match Nvidia tier-for-tier in terms of price then we’re going to have to choose whether we want to spend $1,500 for an RTX 3090 or $1,200 for an RX 6900 XTX.

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