AMD Radeon RX 6800 XT
$649 USD/$1049 AUD
This year has been somewhat monumental when it comes to the world of big tech releases, from brand-new consoles from Sony
last month to the next-generation of RTX graphics from NVIDIA
with the GeForce RTX 3080
in September. Of course this year has been monumental for a lot of different reasons, and on that note supply chain issues and increased consumer demand for all things games and tech meant that neither the PlayStation 5
, Xbox Series X
, or RTX 3080 ever actually made their way to physical shelves.
The AMD Radeon RX 6800 XT
or ‘Big Navi’ is the company’s first high-end graphics release in quite some time, and with its RDNA 2
-based architecture powering both the PS5 and the Xbox Series X it’s game-focused stuff that promises uncompromising 4K performance across the most cutting-edge releases available today. And on that note it’s yet another high-end bit of tech in super-high demand that has yet to actually reach a shelf. Well, one that isn’t a small online shopping ‘add to cart’ window.
But, supply catching up to demand will happen, so the real question becomes how does it stack up against NVIDIA’s impressive RTX 30 series? To bring some conclusion-flavour to this intro, the answer to that is simple... but also nuanced. The 6800 XT performs extremely well, living up to its high-end 4K promise. It’s incredible when playing games at 1440p and in the process gives NVIDIA’s own RTX 30 series some serious competition on the high-end -- all pointing to a very interesting generation of PC graphics in the months to follow. The only area it falls short, and considerably so, comes with ray-tracing and other next-gen features. More on that later.
An RDNA 2 Primer
RDNA 2 Architecture, as per its name, is the successor to the original RDNA as seen in the Radeon RX 5700 XT
. As a mid-range offering, the 5700 XT fell short of the competition though - leading many to wonder if AMD
was leaving the high-end GPU market to NVIDIA with its first 7nm offering. Of course, as the Ryzen line
of CPUs has shown, that was never going to be the case. And as we saw with the introduction of Zen 2 and Zen 3 with each new Ryzen generation, we should expect to see the same level of ‘tech maturity’ in the AMD GPU space.
Enter RDNA 2 and the new RX 6000 series, a line-up that firmly puts the Radeon name back on the map. Prior to the release of the new Radeon RX 6000 series, AMD noted that in terms of improvement RDNA 2 would provide 50% more performance-per-watt over the original RDNA - a massive increase. The 7nm architecture of RDNA 2, which can also be found in both the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X, has been created with a focus purely on game performance. And, it’s no surprise that’s where it shines. Taken as a unifying bit of tech, what's inside the flagship Radeon RX 6800 XT is indeed a (supercharged) version of what’s inside the PS5 and Xbox Series X.
The 6800 XT performs extremely well, living up to its high-end 4K promise. It’s incredible when playing games at 1440p and in the process gives NVIDIA’s own RTX 30 series some serious competition on the high-end.
Not that we completely understand how a GPU works at the micro level, but much like with NVIDIA’s Ampere, RDNA 2 presents an overhaul of how each ‘Compute Unit’ works - leading to better performance. It doesn’t stop there though as AMD has also been touting hardware-accelerated ray-tracing as a part of RDNA 2, though as a first-gen offering from the company it falls short of the RTX line-up’s RT Cores when it comes to actual performance in games. On that front each ‘Compute Unit’ here features a single Ray Accelerator that can be leveraged to handle the taxing and complex ray-tracing calculations needed for the effect.
Perhaps the most interesting innovation though comes with the introduction of AMD Infinity Cache
, which is exactly how it sounds. Additional cache as seen in the CPU space to improve memory bandwidth and streaming. Of course it’s not all about hardware, and in working closely with Microsoft throughout the development of the Xbox Series X and RDNA 2 itself, DirectX 12 Ultimate features like Variable Rate Shading are fully supported in the Radeon RX 6000 series.
Of Numbers and Heat Sinks
Different architecture means a different design so in a sense it’s hard to get a sense of the new Radeon RX 6800 XT by simply looking at values like Compute Units and Stream Processors and comparing that to what’s come before. For that we’ve got in-game numbers that paint a real-world picture, which you’ll be able to peruse in a minute.
Working closely with Microsoft throughout the development of the Xbox Series X and RDNA 2 itself, DirectX 12 Ultimate features like Variable Rate Shading are fully supported in the Radeon RX 6000 series.
This side of the breakdown is what we call the shirt-tucked-in-with-suspenders portion of the review, though to push our glasses back onto the bridge of our noses for a second it is worth highlighting how impressive the clock speeds here are. Out of the box the 6800 XT pushes clocks significantly higher than 2 GHz, and with 16GB of VRAM these are the two areas of the spec sheet that AMD’s offering seemingly eclipses the RTX 3080. Though NVIDIA’s flagship features the faster GDDR6X.
AMD Radeon RX 6800 XT
- Architecture (GPU): RDNA 2
- Compute Units: 72
- Ray Accelerators: 72
- Stream Processors: 4608
- Infinity Cache: 128 MB
- GPU Boost Clock: Up to 2250 MHz
- Memory Capacity: 16GB GDDR6
- Memory Interface: 256-bit
- Memory Bandwidth: Up to 512 GB/s
- TDP: 300W
As seen with both NVIDIA’s new flagship and the one-two release of the Xbox Series X and PS5, this new generation of hardware looks to be more power-hungry than what we’ve seen before - though the performance is more than a single step up generation-wise. Even with the latest 7nm process the 6800 XT still manages to draw up to 300W -- which can be pushed even higher thanks to AMD’s in-built overclocking utility as part of the latest Radeon drivers.
Okay, let’s get to it - here’s a look at the Radeon RX 6800 XT running the games in 4K with detail settings dialled up to 11 on the following setup. The following performance figures as per our testing with GPUs for review purposes were captured using out-of-the-box settings.
One quick note, we were unable to test the new Smart Access features due to it being limited to the newest Ryzen CPUs -- which feels like an oversight.
Here's the 4K comparison chart between the Radeon RX 6800 XT and RTX 3080
- GPU: AMD Radeon RX 6800 XT
- CPU: AMD Ryzen 7 3800X
- Motherboard: MSI MEG X570 UNIFY
- Memory: HyperX FURY DDR4 RGB (32GB at 3600 MHz)
And yeah, no doubt the 4K performance here is impressive - proving that the 6800 XT is indeed cut out for maxed out ultra-HD sessions. As per above the line-up of games is pretty extensive covering everything from shooters to big-budget cinematic titles and games that use various engines and APIs too.
So with that out of the way we can fairly accurately state that when it comes to 4K the Radeon RX 6800 XT is on average about 5% slower than the GeForce RTX 3080. Though it’s a more detailed story than that, and in extreme cases like Star Wars: Jedi Fallen Order and Control the Radeon RX 6800 XT is 20% and 18% slower than the RTX 3080. The flipside to this sees the 6800 XT perform 8-9% faster in Borderlands 3 and Assassin’s Creed Valhalla.
Though, here comes the tricky bit - DLSS in games like Control, Death Stranding, and the latest Call of Duty - using the DLSS Quality setting offers up visual quality on par or even better than native rendering. This means that the real-world head-to-head above isn’t really, well, real-world - on the RTX 3080 you wouldn’t play these games without DLSS enabled. DLSS sees the RTX 3080’s lead basically grow to become a generational leap at around 30-40% faster or more. In a way that’s reason enough that AMD needs to implement its DLSS equivalent soon, as raw power isn’t everything.
Here's the 1440p comparison chart between the Radeon RX 6800 XT and RTX 3080
Though, running through the same games at 1440p, we now know just how impressive raw power can be. And it’s at this resolution where the 6800 XT, without DLLS and without ray-tracing, proves to be a true champ. Outperforming, on average, the RTX 3080 by about 5%. That said it’s still a give and take tug of war, where one card performs better than the other. Again, the Radeon RX 6800 XT puts AMD firmly on the high-end map - and it’s one that will no doubt see competition heat up.
Ray Tracing and Next-Gen Performance
This year has been something of a transformative one when it comes to the next-gen visual effect we call ray-tracing. That is using real math and science and other wizardry to calculate rays bouncing around a scene to create realistic shadows, lighting, reflections, and so forth in the games we play. The extreme version of this can be seen in Minecraft with RTX
, a full path-traced showcase that is stunning to witness in motion.
DLSS sees the RTX 3080’s lead basically grow to become a generational leap at around 30-40% faster or more. In a way that’s reason enough that AMD needs to implement its DLSS equivalent soon, as raw power isn’t everything.
But, where that could be passed off as a tech demo of sorts (even though it’s creative possibilities are endless), the addition of Watch Dogs: Legion, Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War, Cyberpunk 2077, and even Spider-Man Miles Morales on the PlayStation have shown that ray-tracing is here to stay. And that it’s only going to get better.
Which is what makes the new Radeon RX 6800 XT a little disappointing, especially without a DLSS equivalent - which looks to be NVIDIA’s secret ingredient when it comes to ray-tracing. This means that at 1440p and 4K the 6800 XT offers less than half the performance of the RTX 3080 in ray-traced titles - a huge gap. In our testing, that gap was close in titles with a single use for the technology. Ray-traced shadows in both Shadow of the Tomb Raider and Call of Duty: Modern Warfare to be specific. Fire up Control at 4K with ray-tracing, and it becomes a slideshow, with performance far below even the last-gen’s RTX 2080 Ti. Even the 3060 Ti, thanks to DLSS, provides far more impressive ray-tracing performance than the 6800 XT.
Again, this is AMD’s first hardware-based effort and as drivers mature we’re expecting to see these numbers go up. Here’s hoping AMD’s Super Resolution feature proves to be as game changing as DLSS.
Competition is Back
We’ve gone this far without mentioning drivers, a sticking point that has been an issue with AMD for sometime. Using launch drivers with the Radeon RX 6800 XT sample provided we came across no issues in both usage or accessing features and detailed stats and other stuff. In fact, Radeon drivers are pretty damn impressive from a UI perspective and the ease at which you can ‘one-click’ overclock the 6800 XT and mess about with in-game tools feels a step ahead of the very old school design of NVIDIA’s Control Panel.
Radeon drivers are pretty damn impressive from a UI perspective and the ease at which you can ‘one-click’ overclock the 6800 XT and mess about with in-game tools.
Ray-tracing aside the AMD Radeon RX 6800 XT or ‘Big Navi’ is a great card, and something that proves AMD is back and serious about high-end performance. Even the reference design, with it’s silent triple-fan look and sturdy build is a big step up from what’s come before. And on that note we’re excited to see how it shapes up in the coming months. With its RDNA 2 architecture powering next-gen consoles no doubt the next several years of games will run great on this beast -- and it makes the prospect of RDNA 3 something we can’t wait to see.