The fate of Nvidia's RTX 3080 Ti GPUs shows just how scared it was of AMD's RX 6900 XT

AMD Radeon RX 6000-series
(Image credit: AMD)

Last year Nvidia was so concerned about the potential of AMD's Radeon RX 6900 XT that it was prepared to not only nerf the sales of its GeForce RTX 3090 with a 20GB GeForce RTX 3080 Ti, but it was prepared to sacrifice fully-functional GA102 GPUs to do so.

Luckily for Jen-Hsun, and those poor sacrificial GA102 lambs, the Radeon RX 6900 XT was a bit of a comparative triple-fan silicon dud, so Nvidia quickly killed all those initial RTX 3080 Ti plans. It is now seemingly dropping those GPUs into proper RTX 3090 cards, and one such chip has appeared under the cooler of a card a HardwareLuxx community member has picked up.

That suggests the original Nvidia RTX 3080 Ti was so close to retail the green team had all the new, slightly cut-down GA102 GPUs freshly minted with 'GA-102-250' stamped on them. But what's a graphics card maker to do when it turns out they don't need to hack apart fully functional chips to deal with a powerful rival? Literally cross the old name out and stick those chips back under a GeForce RTX 3090 Founders Edition shroud, make a bunch more cash, and hope nobody notices.

There were plenty of rumours about the 20GB version of the RTX 3080 Ti just after the launch of the first RTX 30-series cards. At the time it seemed odd that Nvidia might take such a step given that it would inevitably cannibalise most of the sales of its RTX 3090, but that just shows how worried team GeForce was about the promised RX 6900 XT.

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We spoke with graphics card manufacturers last year who expressed surprise to have the 20GB card pulled from the lists at such a late stage, but I didn't realise quite how close the cards were to release. They were, essentially, ready to go into boards, boxed up, and shipped. 

To be this far down the road to a new graphics card release, only to turn around and shut the whole line down, seems pretty unprecedented to me. But if Nvidia knew that it could repurpose those GPUs to go back into the RTX 3090 then it was obvious it wouldn't be losing out.

The GeForce RTX 3080 Ti is reportedly back, however, with a rumoured launch in May this year, but with a different sliced-up GPU (reportedly GA-102-225), fewer cores, and much less graphics memory. It will be a different launch this time around, though, as it's not necessarily going to have an AMD card in its sights, and the RTX 3090 has now had its time basking in the sun.

Dave James
Managing Editor, Hardware

Dave has been gaming since the days of Zaxxon and Lady Bug on the Colecovision, and code books for the Commodore Vic 20 (Death Race 2000!). He built his first gaming PC at the tender age of 16, and finally finished bug-fixing the Cyrix-based system around a year later. When he dropped it out of the window. He first started writing for Official PlayStation Magazine and Xbox World many decades ago, then moved onto PC Format full-time, then PC Gamer, TechRadar, and T3 among others. Now he's back, writing about the nightmarish graphics card market, CPUs with more cores than sense, gaming laptops hotter than the sun, and SSDs more capacious than a Cybertruck.