AMD Radeon RX 6800 Series Review: A Ridiculously Compelling Upgrade

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  • The story of AMD’s Radeon RX 6800 and RX 6800 XT can easily split off into branching narratives. There’s crucial plot points like AMD finally rising to Nvidia’s high-end gaming challenge, or the “Smart Access Memory” synergy happening between Ryzen 5000 CPUs and RX 6000 Series graphics cards. Or subplots like hardware ray tracing, RDNA 2 and AMD’s remarkably designed reference cards oozing quality and craftsmanship.

    The AMD Radeon RX 6000 Series is beautifully built.

    The AMD Radeon RX 6000 Series is beautifully built.

    Jason Evangelho

    The internet has plenty of room for those stories, from authors who will do an exemplary job telling them. The story I most want to explore today is one that the vast majority of gamers with older hardware can appreciate: the insane performance uplift you can expect when coming from the RX 580 or even last generation’s RX 5700 XT.

    We won’t get too far into the architecture weeds or spend much time exploring the more nuanced (though important) new features. But let me point out a few noteworthy things before we get into the meat of our story.


    RX 6000 Series Key Specs

    Key specs for the existing Radeon RX 6000 Series cards

    Key specs for the existing Radeon RX 6000 Series cards

    Jason Evangelho

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    When it comes to those obligatory key specs, the numbers that jump off the page are the standard 16GB of GDDR6 memory — a crucial ingredient to future-proofing your purchase against hungrier and more demanding high-resolution gaming experiences — and those clock speeds that go north of 2GHz.

    Speaking of clock speeds, wow! Yes, on paper they look blazing fast, but is this a case of AMD promising impressive clock speeds but rarely hitting them? Nope. This time around AMD has under-promised and over-delivered.

    Left: RX 6800 XT | Right: RX 6800

    Left: RX 6800 XT | Right: RX 6800

    Jason Evangelho

    To put the GPU clocks to the test, I fired up the Forza Horizon 4 benchmark, with all the dials cranked up: unlocked frame rate, 4K resolution and Ultra quality.

    Using one second polling intervals, I measured the RX 6800 XT’s game clock during the course of the Forza Horizon 4 benchmark run. Then I ran the benchmark 9 more times, and measured the clock speeds again on the 10th run. Because that’s what we really want to know, right? Not if the card can deliver high clock speeds during a short benchmark, but whether it can sustain those high clocks once it’s heated up and you’re in the middle of a gaming session.

    RX 6800 XT GPU Clock Speed test

    RX 6800 XT GPU Clock Speed test

    Jason Evangelho

    The result is above, and aside from that odd dip during the first run, the average GPU clock speed during the first run was 2341MHz. The average speed for that 10th run in a row? 2340MHz. Even though the RX 6800 XT had warmed up an extra 4 degrees Celsius (on average) by the time that last run finished. (For reference, it went from 70C to 74C).

    Go ahead and fact check me on this, but I’m pretty sure that’s 90MHz higher than the maximum boost clock AMD promised us. By the way, I saw similar results running the Shadow of the Tomb Raider benchmark.

    >MORE FROM FORBESRadeon RX 6000 Series: AMD Built Its Best Graphics Card In YearsBy Jason Evangelho

    RX 580 To RX 6800 XT: An Upgrade Story

    The performance charts AMD showed us during its RX 6000 reveal highlighted competitive advantages and AMD’s proclamation that it will deliver uncompromising 1440p and 4K gaming. And as you’ll see in my own charts, yea, that’s true!

    Before we jump in, a quick note on my testing system: It’s using an MSI Godlike X570 motherboard, 16GB of G.Skill TridentZ Royal RAM at 3600MHz, and the new AMD Ryzen 5900X (and don’t worry, we’ll be talking about Smart Access Memory later in this review).

    Let’s start with tried-and-true 3DMark Firestrike, a synthetic benchmark that is normally offers a reasonable snapshot of the performance differences you can expect.

    3DMark Firestrike results for the RX 6800 Series

    3DMark Firestrike results for the RX 6800 Series

    Jason Evangelho

    The story I’ve wanted to start telling you is one of AMD’s new generation of graphics cards being a ridiculously compelling value for those of you still rocking an Nvidia GTX 1080, a Radeon RX 580 or, honestly, even an RX 5700 XT!

    Check out the Fire Strike Extreme result above. If you’re currently playing on an RX 580, upgrading to an RX 6800 XT nets you an astounding 312% performance uplift when averaging both tests. From an RX 5700 XT to the RX 6800 XT? A 93% performance boost generation-over-generation.

    DirectX Raytracing

    3DMark also recently released a “pure” DirectX Ray tracing benchmark. Instead of relying on traditional rendering, the entire scene is ray-traced and drawn in a single pass. 

    The result of the test depends entirely on the capabilities of the ray tracing hardware inside the latest graphics cards. So that’s where things start getting a bit weird.

    3DMark's pure DX12 Ray Tracing test doesn't paint as strong a picture

    3DMark's pure DX12 Ray Tracing test doesn't paint as strong a picture

    Jason Evangelho

    It’s far from a dealbreaker, but extensive testing is needed to see exactly how well the RX 6000 can handle ray tracing compared to Nvidia’s “RTX” assault.

    Does that lower-than-expected ray tracing performance in a brutal synthetic benchmark carry over into actual games? At least in the case of Shadow of the Tomb Raider, the answer is “a little bit, yea!”

    Can you still get an astounding 4K/60 even with ray traced shadows cranked up to ULTRA? Absolutely, but you can see that the framerates take a much bigger hit than Nvidia’s RTX 3080.

    Framerate definitely takes a hit when cranking up the ray traced shadows

    Framerate definitely takes a hit when cranking up the ray traced shadows

    Jason Evangelho

    RX 6800 & RX 6800 XT: 1440p and 4K Gaming

    But let’s look at the actual games, shall we? Unless otherwise indicated, every single title was tested with its highest possible quality preset (i.e. “Highest,” “Ultra,” etc).

    Wolfenstein Youngblood isn’t as demanding as the other games tested below, but I wanted to throw at least one Vulkan title onto the test bench. It performs admirably across all of the cards tested, but the upgrade narrative sounds a deafening note here.

    Playing on an RX 580 right now? You could see a staggering 285% framerate improvement at 4K by moving to the RX 6800 XT, and more than double the performance if you’re coming from an RX 5700 XT. That much generation-over-generation? Well done, AMD. It’s about time!

    Wolfenstein Youngblood 1440p and 4K benchmarks with Radeon RX 6800 and XT

    Wolfenstein Youngblood 1440p and 4K benchmarks with Radeon RX 6800 and XT

    Jason Evangelho

    Borderlands 3 is where start seeing what the RX 6000 Series is made of. It’s refreshing, then, to see the 6800 XT achieving that uncompromised 4K/60FPS target. And you might also notice that it’s neck-and-neck with the monster that is the ASUS ROG Strix Geforce RTX 3080 OC, a card that is not only more performant than Nvidia’s Founders Edition, but much cooler and quieter too.

    How’s the upgrade story looking? Let’s give Nvidia owners a turn. GTX 1080 owners stepping up to an RX 6800 could see a 120% uplift, while choosing the RX 6800 XT variant here would net them up to 162% higher performance.

    And, sorry RX 5700 XT owners. I’m sure you’ll hate me by the end of these charts, but the FPS gained by upgrading to this year’s model is nearly double.

    Borderlands 3 1440p and 4K benchmarks with Radeon RX 6800 and XT

    Borderlands 3 1440p and 4K benchmarks with Radeon RX 6800 and XT

    Jason Evangelho

    DIRT 5’s gloriously muddy rally racing pops with color, smoke, realistic water and is a title I’d actually call “next-gen,” especially when you’re playing on a card capable of maxing everything out at 4K without even breaking a sweat.

    The RX 6800 XT sees a comfortable 4K/80FPS achievement here, while the RX 6800 still turns in well north of 4K/60FPS.

    That poor RX 580...

    Dirt 5 benchmarks at 1440p and 4K with the RX 6800 and XT

    Dirt 5 benchmarks at 1440p and 4K with the RX 6800 and XT

    Jason Evangelho

    Shadow of the Tomb Raider sees the ASUS ROG Strix 3080 besting the RX 6800, but not by much. The narrative remains pretty consistent, though. A massive 276% performance uplift between the RX 580 and the RX 6800 XT, and the difference between not even being able to hit 60FPS at 1440p, and rocking almost 80FPS at 4K!

    Shadow of the Tomb Raider benchmarks at 1440p and 4K with the RX 6800 and XT

    Shadow of the Tomb Raider benchmarks at 1440p and 4K with the RX 6800 and XT

    Jason Evangelho

    Finally, a quick look at Metro Exodus. I apologize but I lost my Nvidia data on this one. As a consolation prize though, please accept some 1080p results thrown into the mix! This is one of the very few titles I tested where the RX 6800 XT couldn’t quite hit that 4K/60FPS target, but it comes damn close. In fact, activate Rage Mode in Radeon Software and it does hit the target!

    Metro Exodus benchmarks at 1080p, 1440p and 4K

    Metro Exodus benchmarks at 1080p, 1440p and 4K

    Jason Evangelho

    AMD Smart Access Memory: Gimmick Or Legit?

    One key advantage AMD has this time around is Smart Access Memory. Think of it as a “free” performance boost that comes with combining a Ryzen 5000 CPU and Radeon RX 6000 Series graphics card on your motherboard.

    In a nutshell, Smart Access Memory grants the Ryzen 5000 CPU full access to the Radeon RX GPU’s memory. Without this synergistic combo it was limited to 128MB, so as games become even more detail-rich I expect we’ll see the benefit and the results become more substantial. Especially once Microsoft’s DirectStorage API gets implemented into PC games (which the Radeon RX 6000 Series fully supports).

    So, is SAM a gimmick or is it legit? Let’s revisit that Forza Horizon 4 benchmark, this time with the feature switched on and off in our BIOS.

    Forza Horizon 4 tested with Smart Access Memory ON/OFF

    Forza Horizon 4 tested with Smart Access Memory ON/OFF

    Jason Evangelho

    So the gains translate to a 12% framerate uplift at 4K and a 16% boost at 4K. That means in addition to the extra performance you’ll already snag by upgrading from, say, a Ryzen 3900X to a Ryzen 5900X, you’re getting an additional boost by just having the latest and greatest in the AMD ecosystem. Though it’s worth mentioning that Nvidia also has a similar feature in the works, which it says will be available through a software update and will boast support for Intel CPUs as well.

    For what it’s worth, I tested SAM in a variety of games, but Forza Horizon 4 turned in the best results. Hitman 2 and Borderlands 3 got between 8% and 11% boosts out of using SAM (and if you have the hardware, there’s really no reason not to).

    It’s a feature in its infancy, but I suspect that as more games are developed with the DX12 and Vulkan APIs, AMD will score more wins here.


    Conclusion: AMD Is Back

    There’s so much more to unpack and explore with AMD’s new generation of graphics cards, and that’s a testament to what a step up these products are from the Red Team’s last outing. Unfortunately my time with the RX 6000 Series has been short, but I’m looking forward to testing and uncovering much more.

    I’ll leave you with a few additional tidbits: the hottest I saw my temps climb on the RX 6800 XT was 72C, and that was during the insane Furmark stress test at 4K. It’s also shockingly quiet, which bolsters AMD’s claims that it paid extra attention to acoustics with the RX 6000 Series.

    Throughout every moment of my experience thus far, these cards shine, and they look good and stay cool doing it. My plea to AMD, then, would be this: please keep these reference cards in bountiful supply, because it’s arguably the best hardware you’ve ever delivered.

    And to those of you rocking the RX 580 or GTX 1080: your upgrade has arrived, and it’s going to usher in nonstop smiles when you realize just how beautiful video games can look at higher resolutions with all those quality dials cranked up.

    Now, can you actually buy it? That remains to be seen...

    Source : https://www.forbes.com/sites/jasonevangelho/2020/11/18/amd-radeon-rx-6800-xt-review-a-ridiculously-compelling-upgrade/

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