What Is DLSS 3, and Can You Use It on Existing Hardware?

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NVIDIA’s RTX 4090 and RTX 4080 GPUs are amazing. And one of its biggest additions is DLSS 3, a new revision of NVIDIA’s DLSS upscaling tech. It can be key to getting your games to run smoothly, but what is it, and how does it compare to its predecessor? And can you use it on existing hardware?

What Is DLSS 3, and How Does It Compare to DLSS 2?

DLSS 3 is the third revision of NVIDIA’s DLSS super sampling/game performance-boosting technology. It was introduced with NVIDIA’s Ada Lovelace graphics card lineup launched in 2022 , and just like the two revisions before it, it’s a feature that can make use of the magic of artificial intelligence to give you a boost in your games.

MVIDIA RTX 3050 GPUs
NVIDIA

Up until now, DLSS has been all about taking your games, rendering them at low resolutions, and then, using the Tensor cores in NVIDIA’s RTX graphics card, upscaling them into a higher resolution. This allows for lower-end graphics cards to run games in 2K or 4K resolutions at decent framerates. While the initial iteration of DLSS was a bit rough around the edges, it got improved dramatically with time, and the quality of DLSS-boosted games, depending on your settings, is pretty much identical to the naked eye compared to native rendering.

With DLSS 3, though, compared to DLSS 2, the feature is now being transformed into a wider, performance-boosting solution that uses more than one AI party trick to boost your frame rates. DLSS 3 adds a new feature called “Optical Multi Frame Generation” that, in short, can generate whole frames using AI.

In addition to upscaling existing frames, DLSS 3 will generate intermediate frames for your games. It’ll analyze two in-game frames, generate an optical flow field, closely look at all elements within a game, and using that information, generate an all-new frame to put between those two. This allows for a dramatic boost in performance. DLSS 3 also incorporates NVIDIA Reflex, an ultra-low-latency solution to make your games way more responsive.

NVIDIA says that DLSS 3, combining Super Resolution, Frame Generation, and NVIDIA Reflex, can boost the performance of Cyberpunk 2077 by four times compared to native resolution. All of those gains are entirely AI-based, and the best part is that it still looks amazing — unless you look at it really closely, you won’t notice a difference.

How Big of a Deal Is DLSS 3?

Closeup of the rear corner of a gaming laptop with the vents visible.
Vents on a gaming laptop. KanishK Gupta/Shutterstock.com

The users who have benefitted the most from DLSS have always been lower-end users, and here, it’s no different.

DLSS 3 will allow budget gamers (as long as they have a compatible GPU, of course) to dramatically increase their frame rates while also bumping their resolution up. Super Resolution alone was already making miracles happen, and with Frame Generation promising up to 4X frame rate increases, it should be way better — it might finally make 2K/4K gaming attainable for everyone. Ada Lovelace-based budget GPUs could have amazing performance despite their unassuming specifications, all thanks to DLSS 3.

It’s also a big deal even if you got a honking, monstrous GPU. Some games, like Microsoft Flight Simulator, are very CPU-heavy, and even if you have a high-end CPU, they can still be bottlenecked. Since Frame Generation runs as a post-process on the GPU, DLSS 3 can dramatically boost framerates even if you’re CPU-bottlenecked.

Can Older Graphics Cards Use DLSS 3?

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In a nutshell, no, older NVIDIA graphics hardware can’t use DLSS 3 — at least not to its full extent.

Unfortunately, DLSS 3’s biggest improvement, Frame Generation, is exclusive to the RTX 4000-series graphics cards. This is because it’s a feature that depends on the new, fourth-generation Tensor cores that are included in NVIDIA’s Ada Lovelace graphics cards. If you want to use the full might of DLSS 3, you’ll need to upgrade your GPU.

The good part, however, is that classic DLSS won’t be going away, and it will likely continue to be improved upon. RTX 2000-series and 3000-series GPUs still have full support for DLSS 2, including its Super Resolution upscaling technology.

DLSS 3 is backward compatible with DLSS 2, so if you have an RTX 4000-series graphics card, you’ll still be able to boost games even if they don’t explicitly have support for DLSS 3. Likewise, if a new game comes out with DLSS 3 support, you’ll still be able to boost it even if you don’t have a 4000-series GPU — it’ll just use Super Resolution only rather than Frame Generation.

DLSS 3 promises revolutionary changes, and it could be key to making high-resolution gaming attainable for everyone.

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