NVIDIA crazy rumor: RTX 3080 software locked VRAM until RDNA 2 is out

NVIDIA GeForce RTX 3080 super rumor: NVIDIA could software lock the VRAM until they know how RDNA 2's best card performs.

11 minutes & 56 seconds read time

Oh boy, a super juicy rumor is sizzling like chili on my tongue -- NVIDIA could software lock the GeForce RTX 3080 and its VRAM at launch, but why?

Because NVIDIA want to see how good the flagship RDNA 2-based graphics card is, that's why. NVIDIA could hold back and gimp the GeForce RTX 3080 with its purported 12GB of VRAM on a 384-bit bus, down to just 10GB on a 320-bit bus.

Once AMD details its flagship RDNA 2 graphics card, then NVIDIA would -- at least according to Moore's Law is Dead's sources -- un-gimp its card and unleash the proper 12GB of VRAM on its original 384-bit memory bus. Tom does note that there is a "slim chance" of this happening, but still the very suggestion this could happen is actually interesting.

NVIDIA hasn't been in the position of questioning AMD and its competitiveness, until RDNA. The first Navi-based graphics card -- the Radeon RX 5700 XT -- might not have beaten NVIDIA and its flagship Turing-based GeForce RTX 2080 Ti, but that was just the beginning.

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RDNA 2 is poised to deliver up to twice the performance of RDNA, hence the shift in naming from Navi to Navi 2X, and then Navi 3X. This is supposedly because AMD has internal goals of doubling the perofrmance of its GPUs every generation, which is a lofty goal.

If they did that however, they end up with this: Navi 2X aka Big Navi being up to 225% faster than the Radeon RX 5700 XT. This lined up with previous reports that Big Navi would be 40-50% faster than the GeForce RTX 2080 Ti -- landing it at around twice as fast as the RX 5700 XT.

The thing is, there's no need to question whether AMD is returning to the high-end market. Lisa Su has said so herself, my industry sources have said for over a year now that AMD would be returning with a true 4K gaming card with the successor to Navi... and now we're here.

Internally, NVIDIA has no idea how good AMD's next card will be -- and with troubles brewing between NVIDIA and TSMC over the 7nm node, it might have forced NVIDIA prematurely into the arms of Samsung and its 8nm node. This is going to cause issues with NVIDIA this year, and into early 2021.

  • What is software locking? This means the hardware is actually more powerful than it is out of the box, but NVIDIA flashes it with firmware to deliberately slow it down. Then, once AMD releases RDNA 2 it will re-evaluate, and then "unlock" the additional performance (that was already there) but hidden through software locking.
  • Has it been done before? The last notable one would be AMD with the troubled launch of the Radeon RX 5600 XT, which shipped with faster 14Gbps GDDR6 memory but was gimped down to 12Gbps. At the last minute AMD changed their minds, and announced it with 14Gbps leaving AIB partners scrambling to get new BIOSes released during the launch.

More reading:

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  • Traversal coprocessor: We have had more leaks on NVIDIA's next-gen GeForce RTX 3000 series than any family of graphics cards before it, with an interesting "traversal coprocessor" on the new GeForce RTX 3080 and GeForce RTX 3090 graphics cards. You can read more on that here.
  • NVCache: Ampere is meant to have something called NVCache, which would be NVIDIA's own form of AMD's HBCC (High Bandwidth Cache Controller, more on that here). NVCache would use your system RAM and SSD to super-speed game load times, as well as optimizing VRAM usage. You can read more on NVCache here.
  • Tensor Memory Compression: NVCache is interesting, but Tensor Memory Compression will be on Ampere, and will reportedly use Tensor Cores to both compress and decompress items that are stored in VRAM. This could see a 20-40% reduction in VRAM usage, or more VRAM usage with higher textures in next-gen games and Tensor Memory Compression decreasing that VRAM footprint by 20-40%.
  • How fast is the GeForce RTX 3090? Freaking fast according to rumors, with 60-90% more performance than the current Turing-based flagship GeForce RTX 2080 Ti. We could see this huge performance leap in ray tracing titles, but we'll have to wait a little while longer to see how much graphical power NVIDIA crams into these new cards. You can read more on those rumors here.
  • Power hungry: As for power consumption, GA102 reportedly uses 230W -- while 24GB of GDDR6X (which we should see on the new Ampere-based TITAN RTX) consumes 60W of power. You can read more on that here.
  • Production begins soon: NVIDIA is reportedly in the DVT (or Design Validation Test) range of its new GeForce RTX 3000 series graphics cards. Mass production reportedly kicks off in August 2020, with a media event, benchmarks, and more in September 2020 as I predicted many months ago. More on that here.
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I've already written about rumors that NVIDIA's next-gen Ampere GPU architecture would be up to 75% faster than current-gen GPUs such as the Turing architecture, right after rumors that Ampere would offer 50% more performance at half the power of Turing. This is pretty crazy stuff right there.

Not only that, but we've got some rumored specs on the purported GeForce RTX 3080 and GeForce RTX 3070 graphics cards, which will both be powered by NVIDIA's new Ampere GPU architecture.

We've already heard that Ampere would offer 50% more performance at half the power of Turing, which sent the hairs on my neck standing up. Better yet, you can read about the leaked specs on the purported Ampere-based GeForce RTX 3080 and GeForce RTX 3070 right here.

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Even more reading:

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Anthony joined the TweakTown team in 2010 and has since reviewed 100s of graphics cards. Anthony is a long time PC enthusiast with a passion of hate for games built around consoles. FPS gaming since the pre-Quake days, where you were insulted if you used a mouse to aim, he has been addicted to gaming and hardware ever since. Working in IT retail for 10 years gave him great experience with custom-built PCs. His addiction to GPU tech is unwavering and has recently taken a keen interest in artificial intelligence (AI) hardware.

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