AMD Radeon RX 6900 XT review: Blisteringly fast, but very niche

The fantastic Radeon RX 6900 XT goes toe-to-toe with Nvidia's GeForce RTX 3090 for $500 less.

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Radeon RX 6900 XT ray tracing and content creation

This page is devoted to the Radeon RX 6900 XT’s Achilles heels.

RDNA 2 GPUs add real-time ray tracing capabilities to AMD graphics cards for the first time, and all in all, it’s a solid showing. AMD’s first-gen ray tracing performance is a little better than Nvidia’s first swing was with RTX 20-series “Turing” GPUs, but not as effective as the ray tracing capable with modern RTX 30-series GPUs. Unfortunately, AMD doesn’t currently offer a feature that rivals Nvidia’s fantastic DLSS 2.0 AI upscaling technology, and it’s a major drawback. DLSS lets GeForce graphics cards claw back performance lost to ray tracing’s massive impact, enabling higher frame rates and the ability to game at 4K with ray tracing effects enabled. AMD is working on a mysterious rival dubbed “FidelityFX Super Resolution,” but details are nonexistent at this point.

rt metro 1440p Brad Chacos/IDG
rt metro 4k Brad Chacos/IDG
rt sotr 1440 Brad Chacos/IDG
rt sotr 4k Brad Chacos/IDG

Without a DLSS-like feature, the Radeon RX 6900 XT is limited to 1440p gaming with ray tracing enabled. That’s a major bummer in a $1,000 graphics card designed for sublime 4K gaming, unless you’re buying it for use with a 1440p monitor to begin with. If ray tracing is a major consideration for you, Nvidia’s cards hold the major advantage. We included a more comprehensive comparison of Nvidia vs. AMD ray tracing performance in our Radeon RX 6800-series review. We removed Watch Dogs Legion from today’s tests because there’s a bug that prevents AMD GPUs from rendering ray tracing effects correctly for now.

6900 xt ray tracing amd AMD

AMD’s Radeon RX 6900 XT presentation for reviewers focuses on 1440p performance with ray tracing on.

Nvidia’s GeForce RTX 3090 also holds key advantages in content creation workloads—in our review of that card, we said it’s best suited for prosumers rather than pure gamers. The massive 24GB of ultra-fast GDDR6X memory lets the RTX 3090 handle 8K video workloads, while widespread support for Nvidia’s CUDA and Optix technologies can supercharge creative tasks that support them. Nvidia even added motion blur ray tracing optimizations in its modern “Ampere” GPUs specifically to optimize 3D rendering tasks that need it. Creation remains an Nvidia bastion.

The Radeon RX 6900 XT is no slouch either, and its ample 16GB memory buffer enables 4K video workloads that simply aren’t possible on lesser-endowed GPUs. (The much cheaper Radeon RX 6800-series GPUs also have 16GB of GDDR6, it’s worth mentioning.) We didn’t have time to test content creation tasks—we focused our efforts on the gaming benefits of Smart Access Memory—but here are some AMD-supplied benchmarks on how the Radeon RX 6900 XT compares against the Radeon VII so beloved by prosumers.

6900 xt content blender cycles AMD
6900 xt content blender prorender AMD
6900 xt content adobe premiere AMD
6900 xt content davinci AMD
6900 xt content opencl AMD

A pair of OpenCL benchmarks.

Next page: Power, thermals, and noise

At a Glance
  • The fantastic Radeon RX 6900 XT goes toe-to-toe with Nvidia's GeForce RTX 3090 for $500 less, but doesn't carve out a strong position for itself. Most pure gamers should opt for the Radeon RX 6800 XT instead, while content creators and performance enthusiasts might find the 3090 more compelling.

    Pros

    • Excellent 4K and 1440p gaming
    • Quiet, luxurious cooler
    • Gets faster when paired with Ryzen 5000
    • Built for overclocking
    • Much more power efficient than Nvidia GPUs
    • 16GB memory capacity, radical Infinity Cache
    • Swanky cloth mousepad in box
    • Beats the RTX 3090 in several gaming scenarios

    Cons

    • Ray tracing limited to 1440p due to lack of DLSS equivalent
    • Higher temperatures than other expensive GPUs
    • Radeon RX 6800 XT is almost as fast for a lot less
    • GeForce RTX 3090 is better for prosumers and price-is-no-object gamers
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