AMD Radeon RX 7900 XT
USD 899 AUD 1619
December 13, 2022
AMD’s RDNA 2 graphics technology can be found inside both the Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5 consoles, in addition to the soon-to-be-not-current Radeon RX 6000 range of PC graphics. When you think about either the PS5 or the Xbox Series X, or something like the Radeon RX 6800 XT, you’re pretty much in the realm of high-end 4K gaming. And even though RDNA 2 still feels relatively fresh on the scene, much like the recent arrival of NVIDIA’s new GeForce RTX 40 series it’s time for the next generation of AMD Radeon graphics.
The RDNA 3-powered Radeon RX 7900 XT and the Radeon RX 7900 XTX present the flagship models, the 4K beasts, of the new range. Designed not only to deliver uncompromised 4K gaming performance when compared to the previous generation but also without raising the price too much. And yes, RDNA 3 presents a sizable leap forward for AMD ray-tracing.
Of course, flagship performance and cutting-edge hardware come at a cost, as seen with the high price tags of both the GeForce RTX 4090 and GeForce RTX 4080. AMD’s top RDNA 3 graphics cards are impressive when it comes to raw performance, and the new chiplet architecture certainly feels like a bold step forward for overall GPU design. But being more affordable does mean RDNA 3 falls short of both NVIDIA Lovelace offerings, especially with the Radeon RX 7900 XT reviewed here.
Unfortunately, there’s a sense that AMD is still a step behind the competition. On the plus side, this is reflected in the pricing, with the Radeon 7900 XT coming in at USD 899 (AUD 1619) compared to the GeForce RTX 4080 at USD 1199 (AUD 2219). At the end of the day, we’re still talking about enthusiast-level pricing. This is worth keeping in mind because AMD has specifically designed both the Radeon RX 7900 XT and the Radeon RX 7900 XTX to sit below the competition’s pricing and still deliver when it comes to performance, efficiency, and new under-the-hood technology.
From the introduction of AMD’s Fidelity FX Super Resolution 2 (FSR 2 for short) earlier in the year, which in Quality mode is an alternative to DLSS, to AMD’s latency-reduction tech, and the improved and expanded video encoding support for creators. There’s a lot to like about RDNA 3, so let’s dig in.
Introducing RDNA 3
The below is a summary of the RDNA 3 technology, applicable to all Radeon RX 7900 XT and Radeon RX 7900 XTX models. An RDNA 3 primer if you will.
Described as “the world’s first chiplet gaming GPU”, what this means for the underlying RDNA 3 architecture is that the card portion of the Radeon RX 7900 GPU isn’t one big square with billions of transistors and whatnot. As seen with AMD’s innovation in the CPU space, where chiplet design and other ways to deal with memory, storage, and data have been introduced, bringing this groundbreaking tech to the GPU space is very cool to see.
AMD’s top RDNA 3 graphics cards are impressive when it comes to raw performance, and the new chiplet architecture certainly feels like a bold step forward for overall GPU design.
Essentially it means that what was once a single Graphics Compute Die (GCD), is now that, plus an additional Memory Cache Die (MCD). The GCD, which makes up the bulk of the GPU in the new flagship RDNA 3 combo, is built using newer 5nm process technology with the MCD making use of 6nm technology. Both of which are a step up from the 7nm process of RDNA 2. Throw in the “fastest chiplet interconnect in the world”, rated at a staggering 5.3 TB/s, and you begin to see the steps AMD took to keep the overall costs of RDNA 3 down. Multiple chips, but without a loss in speed.
The benefit is immediate. As chips become more complex with more and more transistors, moving to a chiplet design is something that is as forward-thinking as it is consumer-facing because it helps bring production and retail costs down. RDNA 3 also features second-generation AMD Infinity Cache, which is another CPU-like feature that boosts performance when playing certain games at higher resolutions.
Beyond this, there are of course all of the advances you’d expect to find, from second-generation ray-tracing accelerators to even new AI accelerators. On the ray-tracing front, as we’re talking about the second generation of dedicated RT hardware, the result is a big leap over RDNA 2.
On the ray-tracing front, as we’re talking about the second generation of dedicated RT hardware, the result is a big leap over RDNA 2.
The Radeon RX 7900 XT and Radeon RX 7900 XTX are both designed for 4K gaming, and with that, they are also the first graphics cards to support the new DisplayPort 2.1 spec. On top of HDMI 2.1, the latest DisplayPort interface supports up to 4K 480Hz and even 8K 165Hz, which makes it more of a future-proofing measure than something applicable today. The real benefit comes with 12-bit HDR support and full Rec2020 coverage, with the first generation of DisplayPort 2.1 displays set to be released in 2023.
Finally, RDNA 3 sees AMD step up its software, video, and content creation game, with the addition of a new dual media engine that includes hardware-accelerated AV1 encoding. The result is improved image quality using the same bitrate, perfect for streamers and content creators alike. For gamers, there’s the recent introduction of AMD FSR 2, which is a lot closer to matching NVIDIA DLSS than AMD FSR 1. And all without requiring dedicated or AI-specific hardware. AMD has announced that it will be introducing a DLSS 3-like Frame Generation feature sometime in 2023, though it remains to be seen if that will be similarly open or require the use of RDNA 3’s new dedicated AI hardware.
Like the competition, RDNA 3 is more than just a flex of pure performance - it presents the culmination of AMD’s graphics hardware, software, and tools to date.
Of Numbers and Heat Sinks
One of the first impressions you get from any new bit of tech comes from that open-the-box look and feel, the size, weight, connections, and build quality. Outside of the latter, the AMD Radeon RX 7900 XT is a surprise on all fronts. The build quality in the reference model tested is excellent, as expected, with a sturdy metal backplate and high-quality fans as part of the three-fan cooling design impressing. The metallic shroud and heatsink and everything are all weighty and solid, very cool.
Sure, it’s a traditional GPU design compared to the incredibly stylish Founders Edition cards of the RTX 30 and 40 Series, but it’s also a lot smaller than either the GeForce RTX 4080 or GeForce 4090. Unboxing the Radeon RX 7900 XT and the reaction is almost, “oh hey, a human-sized graphics card”. The immediate benefit of this, plus the use of two standard 8-pin power connectors, is the ability for the 7900 XT to slot neatly inside pretty much any case - big or small.
And if you’re replacing an existing card, installation is a plug-and-play breeze.
AMD Radeon RX 7900 XT
- Architecture (GPU): RDNA 3
- Stream Processors: 5376
- Compute Units: 84
- Ray Accelerators: 84
- AI Accelerators: 168
- Game GPU Clock: 2000 MHz
- Boost GPU Clock: up to 2400 MHz
- Memory Capacity: 20GB GDDR6
- Memory Interface: 320-bit
- AMD Infinity Cache: 80 MB
- TDP: 315 W
Plugged in and tested, the Radeon RX 7900 XT reference card is mostly silent with the fans kicking in when pushing games into the high-end 4K realms. That said it runs warmer and louder than its direct competitor, the GeForce RTX 4080, though not overly hot and noisy to the point that it throttles. It is a lot smaller than the RTX 4080, with the dimensions for the 7900 XT being the more common 2.5-slot form factor. All in all, the 7900 XT is small, sleek, and quiet in a way you don’t expect to see in a high-end flagship model.
With both the Radeon RX 7900 XT and Radeon RX 7900 XTX launching AMD’s new RDNA 3 line-up (we only had the 7900 XT on hand to test), the difference between the two in terms of specs is around 12.5%. This means the Radeon RX 7900 XT features fewer stream processors, compute units, ray accelerators, memory, and so on. It also draws less power, rated at 315W versus the 7900 XTX’s 355W.
Compared to the flagship from the RDNA 2 launch, the Radeon RX 6900 XT, the 7900 XT sees a modest increase in specs, but it’s worth noting that we’re talking about a completely different architecture. Where new technology meets newer process nodes and cutting-edge chiplet design that results in up to a 50% increase in performance-per-watt.
In terms of our own benchmarking we put the Radeon RX 7900 XT through its paces, and then some. 25 games, multiple genres, styles, and even all of the biggest ray-tracing titles playable today. And some FSR 2 to see how it stacks up against NVIDIA DLSS.
So without further ado, it’s numbers time!
Any card that’s designed for high-end 4K gaming is just about wasted when paired with a 1080p display. We’re talking triple-digit performance and ray-tracing enabled where possible, so like the new GeForce RTX range, the Radeon RX 7900 XT (and its beefier sibling, the 7900 XTX) needs to be paired with a high-end 1440p or ultrawide display at a minimum. Anything less and you’re basically driving a Ferrari down a 50 km/hr street. We did all three, but the below tests are limited to 1440P and 4K, with detail settings cranked all the way up.
Before we jump in though, here’s a quick look at our new testing rig.
- GPU: AMD Radeon RX 7900 XT
- CPU: AMD Ryzen 9 7900X
- Motherboard: MSI MAG X670E Carbon WiFi
- Memory: Corsair DOMINATOR PLATINUM RGB DDR5 DRAM 5200MHz
Here’s the first batch of tests, featuring 25 games tested in 1440P. We’ve included GeForce RTX 4080 benchmarks to add context. The overall performance of the Radeon RX 7900 XT is considerably higher than that of the GeForce RTX 3090, outside of ray-tracing, so without a Radeon RX 6900 XT on-hand - we’ve decided to put it head-to-head against its nearest current competitor. All detail settings were dialed up to maximum, and DLSS and FSR 2 were disabled to provide a like-for-like comparison in raw performance.
This is not to discount FSR 2, it’s impressive tech, so we’ll get to that in a bit.
1440P performance, even with ray-tracing enabled is impressive across the board for the Radeon RX 7900 XT. DOOM Eternal pushes close to 200 frames-per-second with ray-tracing enabled, and even the very taxing Metro Exodus Enhanced Edition gets close to around 90 frames-per-second. On the opposite end of the gaming scale you’ve got competitive titles like Overwatch 2 and Rainbox Six Siege, and here we can see the 7900 XT being a great GPU to pair with one of those newer 240 Hz 1440P displays.
1440P performance, even with ray-tracing enabled is impressive across the board for the Radeon RX 7900 XT. DOOM Eternal pushes close to 200 frames-per-second with ray-tracing enabled, and even the very taxing Metro Exodus Enhanced Edition gets close to around 90 frames-per-second.
Okay, so even at 1440P we can see that the higher-priced GeForce RTX 4080 outperforms the Radeon RX 7900 XT in most games - with the exceptions being Call of Duty: Modern Warfare II, Gears 5, Microsoft Flight Simulator, and Shadow of the Tomb Raider.
The biggest takeaway from this direct comparison is that even though 1440p ray-tracing, even without AMD FSR 2 technology, is more than fine for the 7900X - general RT performance is a generation behind even the GeForce RTX 4080. Cyberpunk 2077 struggles to maintain a solid 30 frames-per-second compared to the 4080’s 60fps plus, though the game does support FSR 2 - which sees performance jump to 60 fps.
Jumping up to 4K and the 7900 XT sees on average a 40% reduction in performance across the 25 games tested, which was a lot higher than expected. This means that quite a few intensive titles, with or without ray-tracing, struggle to maintain a solid 60 fps with detail settings set to max or near-max values. Games like Total War: Warhammer III, Metro Exodus Enhanced, Watch Dogs Legion, Control, and of course, Cyberpunk 2077. The latter is strictly a 1440p-only game for the 7900 XT - even with FSR 2.
This is not to say that the 4K results are disappointing, it just means that the GeForce RTX 4080 is on average 20-25% faster in 4K - before the likes of DLSS and Frame Generation. Ray-tracing in particular suffers, putting RT performance on par with the RTX 3080 or RTX 3090. Again, the 7900 XT is less expensive than the GeForce RTX 4080 - so much so that its RT performance is relative to this difference.
To provide a clearer picture of the 3D Mark results, we’ve included both the GeForce RTX 4090 and the GeForce RTX 4080 results captured on the same system. The key to understanding 3D Mark results is to look at the various sets of tests targeting different resolutions and different APIs.
Fire Strike is a DirectX 11 test, with the three benchmarks covering 1080p, 1440p, and 4K resolutions. Comparing the RTX 4080 numbers to the Radeon RX 7900 XT performs roughly the same. With Time Spy covering DirectX 12, the 7900 XT begins to trail the RTX 4080 - though not by a huge margin. The big difference comes with Port Royal - which tests ray-tracing, and here we see the generational gap in RT performance between AMD and NVIDIA.
AMD FidelityFX Super Resolution 2
Of the 25 games tested, only four featured AMD FSR 2 - which is the new and improved version of AMD’s upscaling tech similar in some ways to NVIDIA DLSS. AMD FSR 2 is a noticeable step up from AMD FSR 1 (which can be enabled in all titles), and it needs to be added per game ala DLSS. It’s relatively new on the scene, and with FSR 2 becoming available on the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X|S, no doubt it’s a tech that we’ll begin to see a lot more of in the years to come.
Comparatively, DLSS was available in 15 of the 25 games tested so AMD still has a lot of catching up to do. That said, as per above, it’s a very welcome addition - especially in 4K. Using the Quality setting, the performance jump isn’t massive but you maintain visual fidelity - and it’s a nice little bonus. For Cyberpunk 2007, FSR 2 much like DLSS is required for ray-tracing - albeit limited to 1440P on the Radeon RX 7900 XT.
The Age of High-End 4K Gaming
On that note, there’s a lot to love about the open nature of AMD’s approach to technology. FSR 2 works on all GPUs, NVIDIA cards included. AMD is also working on its own version of Frame Generation and a Reflex-like bit of latency reduction tech called AMD Hyper-RX coming in 2023. NVIDIA is the clear market leader when it comes to graphics cards and adoption, and being second to market means the comparisons will naturally prop up between the 7900 XT and the RTX 4080.
It’s relatively new on the scene, and with FSR 2 becoming available on the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X|S, no doubt it’s a tech that we’ll begin to see a lot more of in the years to come.
Although more than capable as a 4K card, and you’ve got ray-tracing performance that’s an impressive step up from RDNA 2 - it’s kind of hard to see where exactly the Radeon RX 7900 XT “fits” in the GPU space. Its price is very close to the flagship 7900 XTX, USD 899 or AUD 1619 isn’t all that different from USD 999 and AUD 1789. Once you get into this price range an extra hundred or two hundred isn’t a make or break. Without a 7900 XTX to test, we’re unable to really form a full picture of the top RDNA 3 graphics card - but if the 7900 XTX works out to be 15% faster, then that would be the way to go.
Cheaper than either NVIDIA GeForce RTX 40 Series card but also not as powerful or as power-efficient - the RTX 4080 more often than not uses considerably less power when it comes to ray-tracing and 4K gaming. The new Radeon RX 7900 XT is a more down-to-earth GPU, a flagship that is priced according to the competition. AMD’s RDNA 3 is impressive tech to be sure, and there’s a lot to be said for a form factor that doesn’t make a motherboard look tiny in comparison. A 4K beast for sure, but a lesser beast of more humble origin.