How We Choose And Test Our GPUs
When it comes to finding the best GPUs, there are a lot of different variables to take into account.
Whether it’s vanilla cards straight from the manufacturers, we look into every single option when it comes to choosing the best release of any given GPU. Not only that, but we make sure you have a range of options from the highest-performing, highest-cost cards all the way down to the budget cards designed to be a little less taxing on the wallet.
We thoroughly test every card we recommend. Not only do we put these cards through rigorous benchmarking, but we also use the cards in our work machines and stress-test them to their limit. You can be sure that every card in this guide will not only perform for you but will last you a lifetime too.
Out Top RTX 3090 Picks
If you’re familiar with our other GPU guides, it should be no shock to see MSI hitting the top spot once again. It turns out that even when working with the already powerful 3090 GPU, MSI still knows how to make it even better. More than any other card on this list, MSI’s Gaming X Trio has great cooling, great value for money, and honestly, it just looks cool.
As with other cards in this series, the X Trio includes the FROZR 2 cooling system, including the fancy TORX 4.0 fans as well. Not only does the paired design of these fans increase their ability to push your hot air around, but the upgrades core pipes make better contact with your GPU, ensuring really efficient heat transmission and dissipation.
You can also expect high build quality from MSI. As with many of their current-gen GPUs, the 3090 includes a thick metal backplate to prevent bending, as well as an optional support strut to make the card even more sturdy. Of course, it’s not the smallest card with all that armor on it, but that power needs to come from somewhere. Just make sure you can fit it into your case before you buy it.
While this card is excellent, and certainly the most powerful card on this list, it does sit at the high-end of the price spectrum for aftermarket 3090 cards. Having said that, each and every penny you spend on a card like this worth it. It’s as tough as steel, will give you excellent performance, and runs pretty damn quiet for such a powerful card.
ASUS is another company that should be familiar to most PC gamers. The ASUS TUF line of components and peripherals is built around the idea that your parts should be as tough and reliable as possible. This take on the 3090 fits right in with that ideology, as one of the toughest graphics cards that have ever been built outside of military-grade hardware.
The first thing you’d notice about the TUF card once you had it up and running is just how quiet it is. Part of the reason for that is the new axial fan design that features dual bearings to keep things running smoother and for a lot longer than sleeved bearings do. The other reason for the silence of the card is the asynchronous fan configuration. Not only do the fans shut off when the temp is low enough, but they also rotate in different directions, cutting down on both turbulence and noise.
All of that cooling is going to be helpful too, with the out-of-the-box boost clock running at 1770 MHz. You can also run the card in two different modes: OC and gaming. The OC mode gives you the advertised boosted speeds, while the gaming made runs at the vanilla 1740 MHz of the Founder’s Edition.
If there was to be one complaint about ASUS’ card it’s that it doesn’t look that great. The plastic shell has a little bit of work on it but nothing that makes it stand out, yet it’s not enclosed or elegant enough to be called minimal. Overall, the aesthetic appearance of a card isn’t as important as the performance, meaning this is one hell of a worthwhile GPU no matter what your needs are.
If you’re aware of Gigabyte’s take on the 3080 then their take on the 3090 should be seeming pretty familiar right about now. Other than SLI support, the design of this card is almost the exact same as the previous one, meaning superb build quality and performance, of course.
This GPU is packed with the Windforce 3X cooling system that comes with the stop-start technology that is so common amongst modern GPUs. It’s easy to see why. Having the fan shut down, and more importantly stay silent, while you’re not using too much power just makes sense. Other than that you’ll find the same copper plate and 3-fan setup that you’ll find on the Gigabyte 3080.
Visually the card looks pretty good. While it might have some excessive design qualities, such as the raised jagged edge at the edge of the card, it also features more tasteful elements. The card features RGB, but only along the edge where the Gigabyte logo can be found. Still, it’s a pretty bright bit of RGB lighting so it should add something to the inside of your case.
The only real drawback to this card is its sheer weight and size. You can tell it’s firmly built because it’s heavy enough to actively use it as a murder weapon. It’s also pretty bulky with the shroud sticking out over the edge the way it does. You may want to make sure there’s a little bit of extra room before purchasing the card. Although, if you do buy it you’ll find it’s one of the most competitively priced cards on the list.
Ahh ZOTAC, what would we do without their excellent budget aftermarket cards? I should stress here that “budget” is a relative term. While this is certainly the cheapest card on the list, assuming that you can find one, it’s still a 3090 and will set you back a pretty penny. Still, amongst all the cards you’ll find here, this one will be your best bet if you’re trying to stretch your budget as far as it will go.
As with all of ZOTAC’s more budget-friendly cards, the main drawback here is the noise level if you run the card hot for a while. It still features stop-start tech and a pretty darn efficient cooling system, but it seems like less effort has gone into making it as quiet as possible, which might be a deal-breaker for you depending on what you’re looking for.
Noise-level aside, the Ice Storm 2.0 cooling system does a more than adequate job of keeping your graphics card from melting, even if you’re really trying to make it happen. It also just looks amazing, with a very simple symmetrical design and understated RGB lighting along the top side.
One thing you can certainly be sure of is that this GPU is as sturdy as anything. There’s a very thick metal plate running along the bottom of the card that allows airflow to get through easily. You should find that the card won’t bend unless you really try to break the thing, which you shouldn’t be doing anyway.
Things to Think About
If you’ve got your sights set on the highest point of the top-range graphics cards, then there are several things that you really need to take into account. Whether you’re a returning veteran of the PC gaming scene or a newcomer looking to build their first PC, we’ve tried to provide a comprehensive list of the factors you need to think about when making your purchasing decision.
If you’re already shelling out for a 3090 then at this point you should be aware that cost is a major factor here. The 3090 is one of the most powerful graphics cards in the world, at least those that are commercially available. That extra power comes with a premium price tag attached as well. Even with the various options on this list, you’ll still be paying a lot of money for this card.
You should make sure that you’re investing the right amount of money into your GPU before you sink it all on your dream card. If you’re buying a GPU as part of a complete build, make sure that you’re focusing the money in the right areas. You don’t want integral parts of your rig to suffer because you had to have the biggest and best graphics card.
Cooling & Performance
For an AIB or aftermarket GPU, the cooling system used, and the boost to performance, are the two biggest elements that can change from the vanilla version of the card. When shopping around for different cards, you should make sure that you’re thinking about what sort of cooling system and performance level you’ll need.
Do you work in an environment where silence is important? Then it may be worth aiming for a card with slightly worse performance because you can be sure that it’ll run quietly when you need it to. If you’re massively into overclocking, you should abandon noise level in favor of a card that’ll come packed with a cooler so powerful it’ll allow you to squeeze every drop of extra performance out of your card. It’s all dependant on your particular needs.
The final point to really think about is the size of the card that you’re buying. None of the 3090 GPUs on the market, vanilla or otherwise, are particularly small cards when it comes down to it. Even so, some of the cards on this list are incredibly bulky, and if you prefer a gaming PC that doesn’t stick out too much that could lead to a problem down the line.
Make sure that you measure the space inside of your case as accurately as possible, and check it against your chosen GPU’s size listed by the manufacturer. You should also carefully check for any ports or slots that are going to be covered by your new card. If you’re using any of them, check if any other ports for these same things exist on your motherboard.
And There You Have It
With this guide in hand, you should have all of the essential information about the best 3090 graphics cards currently available on the market. Whether you’re looking for the best of the best or the cheapest of the best, we have you covered with our in-depth look into these aftermarket products.
We’ve thoroughly tested each card on this list, both through traditional benchmarking and day-to-day testing. You can be sure when you buy a product from the list above, you’ll be getting your hands on a top piece of tech that will last you a lifetime and give you excellent performance while it’s doing it.
If you’re not sure which graphics card you’re looking for yet you can check out our other best GPU guides. Not only that, but we also offer guides for complete PC builds, from the cheapest budget all the way up to the highest performance. No matter what you’re looking for, we’ll be able to help you find it.