For more than a year, trying to get hold of a new graphics card has been a nightmare, thanks to a combination of a global pandemic and chip shortages, as well as a slump in demand and another boom in the cryptocurrency.
This has left anyone who wanted a new graphics card incredibly frustrated, especially if their older hardware is struggling to run modern games, and unable to make use of the new graphical effects like realistic ray tracing lighting.
But what can PC gamers do? Nvidia, the giant graphics-card company, offers a solution: Its GeForce Now streaming service has added a new subscription tier: the RTX 3080.
For $99.99 / £89.89 for six months, RTX 3080 customers can use Nvidia’s remote server PC to stream games to a variety of devices. Nvidia promises it’s an experience like playing on a gaming PC with a high-end RTX 3080 GPU.
For gamers who are trying – and failing – to get hold of the RTX 3080 (or any new GPU), it sounds almost too good to be true. So, now that we have access to the Nvidia GeForce Now RTX 3080, let’s see if it can live up to the promises.
build on a good foundation
GeForce Now has been around for a while and I’ve had great experience with the service, generally using a Founders Edition subscription. (This used to be the highest subscription tier, for $4.99 per month.) Like the current Priority subscription, it gave users priority access to servers, up to six hours of gameplay sessions, and more powerful hardware than the free version of the service, which provided users with more powerful hardware. Tracing graphics is not enabled.
While games didn’t sound as good as those played on my local gaming rig, due to the lower resolution, the games I played were impressively responsive. This included playing Fortnite on a MacBook and Planet Coaster on a Chromebook – games that normally wouldn’t be playable on those devices.
However, the biggest ‘wow’ moment came when my TV was commanded for some sort of sporting event that involved hitting balls. I was able to load up Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla on my smartphone with the GeForce Now app and play through a few missions using the excellent Razer Kishi smartphone controller.
Playing a game of that scope and ambition on a smartphone was both impressive and exciting. Nvidia’s expertise with servers and streaming clearly paid off. GeForce Now was already an impressive alternative to Microsoft’s Xbox Cloud Gaming and Google’s Stadia services, so I was excited to see how this new, improved GeForce Now tier would work.
playing on pc
First, I played on a PC using the GeForce Now app. Using it, subscribers to the RTX 3080 tier can play up to 1440p at 120 fps (frames per second), compared to 1080p at the Priority subscription tier’s 60 fps.
It offers a nice bump in visual quality, though anyone hoping to play in 4K may be disappointed.
Assassin’s Creed Firing: Valhalla gameplay felt great, with no noticeable lag. This was on a desktop PC with a wired internet connection and Valhalla isn’t the fastest-feeling game. In the settings, I changed the graphical options to Medium, which is the default, to Ultra. Upon resuming, the visual improvement was noticeable and there seemed to be no harm to performance. Whatever hardware Nvidia is using for the RTX 3080 server, it can handle modern games at their highest settings with ease.
I also tried Far Cry 6, a game that puts more emphasis on fast-paced action and combat. Here, it was more noticeable that I wasn’t playing locally, but I adjusted after a while. If you start a game you’ve never played before, it’s unlikely you’ll notice it.
Again, I had to increase the visual quality in the settings. Once done, the game looked good, however, it wasn’t quite as sharp as it was originally when playing and there were some visual artifacts such as smoke effects.
It was even more impressive when I moved from desktop to laptop. I re-fired Far Cry 6 again on the HP EliteBook Dragonfly G2, a nice, light notebook but by no means a gaming laptop. Far Cry 6 looked and played very well at that. On the small screen, minor glitches were rarely visible with streaming. Best of all, moving to a laptop that uses Wi-Fi instead of Ethernet, there was no drop in performance, although admittedly I was sitting near the router.
With the increase in graphical fidelity and resolution, Nvidia now recommends a 70 Mbps internet connection to play at 120 fps at 1440p, something that my network has yet to reach.
Nvidia is also working hard to make sure latency is as low as possible with the RTX 3080 GeForce Now tier. This is what makes the game feel more responsive when it is played. By reducing latency, the pause between pressing a key or moving a joystick and the onscreen motion is reduced. Nvidia also includes Adaptive Sync technology to help smooth gameplay.
The result is the best cloud gaming experience I’ve had, with minimal lag helping games feel more responsive and enjoyable.
Back on the laptop, I fired up Cyberpunk 2077, one of the games Nvidia is highlighting for its support for ray tracing. It was probably the most impressive performance yet of what GeForce Now is capable of. On a thin and light laptop with integrated graphics, I was able to play the graphically impressive Cyberpunk 2077 with ray tracing effect. This is something this laptop would normally never be able to do. This would normally require a larger, more bulky, and more expensive gaming laptop with an RTX 3070 or higher.
It was great to be able to play this game on a regular laptop. Even when connected wirelessly, gameplay remained so lag-free that I didn’t really notice that I was streaming the game instead of playing it locally.
This is where GeForce Now really shines – being able to turn non-gaming devices into powerful RTX 3080-powered machines.
ray tracing on smartphone
Next, I tried out GeForce Now on my smartphone, Samsung Galaxy S21+. While GeForce Now supports touchscreen controls, it’s not ideal for many games designed with a gamepad or mouse and keyboard in mind. I used the Razer Kishi controller instead.
It’s essentially a compact controller with Xbox buttons. It snaps in half and each side attaches to the top and bottom of your smartphone, so when held horizontally you get a Nintendo Switch-like handheld. Importantly, the Razer Kishi Wireless uses your phone’s USB-C port instead of a Bluetooth connection, and this helps reduce any potential latency there.
I launched Far Cry 6 and again set the graphics to max, also boosting the resolution to 1080p. This resulted in very good image quality. And even though I was still playing wirelessly (and this time further away from the router), gameplay was generally smooth as well, with a few rare instances of minor pauses. It was down to the stream and Wi-Fi connection rather than anything hardware related.
Next, I tried Cyberpunk 2077 and again kicked the graphical settings down to full and the resolution to 1080p. Combined with ray tracing, the effect was spectacular. A smartphone, even a premium smartphone like the Galaxy S21+, shouldn’t be able to play games that sound so good, but GeForce Now makes it possible. Visual fidelity blew away anything on the Nintendo Switch, too, and the phone’s smaller screen meant the softness of the streaming image and sometimes artifacts were far less noticeable. This is seriously impressive stuff.
Cyberpunk 2077’s slow gameplay also meant that latency and buffering weren’t a big issue.
Indie games like Cuphead also ran really well. As long as you have a good data connection and a good controller, GeForce Now is a great way to play PC games on your smartphone.
However, if you’re only going to play GeForce Now on a smartphone, you’re better off going for the priority tier, or even the free tier, as the phone’s smaller screen size means you won’t get the most. From the advanced scenes.
Trying it on Shield TV
Finally, I tried the GeForce Now RTX 3080 on the Shield TV, Nvidia’s slim set-top box, which is plugged into my 65-inch 4K TV. I love the Shield TV, using it to watch movies and play weird games through apps like Netflix and Disney+.
By connecting to a TV and coming with a gamepad, the Shield TV is the closest thing to a game console made by Nvidia. With the GeForce Now RTX 3080 subscription tier, you can stream games to Shield TV in 4K with HDR. It’s exclusive to Shield TV and I don’t expect it to come to other Android TV boxes (Shield TV is powered by Google’s OS).
This Shield TV is worth investing in if you’re tempted by GeForce Now. Not only is it a very small streaming box in itself, but the GeForce Now RTX 3080 does a great job at it. Thanks to the 4K resolution, games looked excellent even on the big screen. Cyberpunk 2077 was sharp and clear, while Watch Dogs: Legion (another showcase for ray tracing) and Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla also looked incredibly good. While not up to the standard of natively playing games on a powerful gaming PC, it came impressively close. The best part is you can buy a Shield TV for around $149 / £129 / AU$249. It is much cheaper than any game console.
However, streaming games at 4K puts a lot of strain on your broadband connection and Nvidia recommends 80Mbps. I’d suggest at least 100 Mbps for best results, as bandwidth pressure can make the game feel sluggish if your internet isn’t at work.
However, the game looked really great, and that bodes well for the future of the service.
The potential of the new GeForce Now RTX 3080 subscription tier is incredibly exciting. From my time with the service I was very impressed with how it performed. Felt especially good in games…