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
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.
AMD largely manages to achieve its goals. The Radeon RX 6900 XT meets or outright beats the RTX 3090 in more games than not, and essentially draws even overall at 1440p resolution. This is one blistering-fast GPU, and it can get even faster when you pair it with a new Ryzen 5000 processor thanks to AMD’s Smart Access Memory technology. If you’re all-in on AMD and want the ultimate Team Red gaming experience, or simply want best-in-class frame rates in modern games while spending a whole lot less than you would with Nvidia, the Radeon RX 6900 XT could be a viable option. It’s fantastic to see AMD truly competing at the high end again.
Still, at $1,000 the Radeon RX 6900 XT isn’t cheap, and “better value” isn’t what many deep-pocketed gamers look for when they’re investing this much into a graphics card. AMD’s latest GPU also lacks the bespoke software support that makes the GeForce RTX 3090 so appealing for content-creating prosumers—the real audience for that card. AMD stressed to reviewers that this card was made for gamers. Through that lens, it’s a much better value for gamers than the RTX 3090 and easily the most competitive enthusiast-class GPU that AMD has fielded in years. Most people would be best off buying a Radeon RX 6800 XT or GeForce RTX 3080, though.
The Radeon RX 6900 XT packs the full-fat version of the “Navi 21” GPU that debuted in the Radeon RX 6800 and 6800 XT. This is the real “Big Navi,” with 80 compute units (versus the RX 6800 XT’s 72 CUs) and a bump up in the stream processor (AMD’s CUDA core equivalent), ray accelerator, and texture fill rate counts that coincide with that. We covered what’s new in AMD’s next-gen architecture in our RDNA 2 deep-dive.
AMD stuck to the same rated clock speeds as you get with the 6800 XT, meaning it has a 2,250MHz Boost lock and an average 2,015MHz Game clock. In practice, however, AMD’s automatic boosting algorithms go far beyond that in most games as it scales higher if the graphics card has power and thermal headroom to spare. The Radeon RX 6900 XT also packs the same 300-watt total board power rating as the 6800 XT despite packing eight more CUs, which AMD attributes to the pushing the best chips toward this part. The company provides extra current for the 6900 XT so it can respond to demands for brief bursts of power. To be safe, AMD recommends you pair this GPU with an 850W power supply, rather than the 750W units recommended for the 6800 XT.
The memory configuration remains the same, but that’s no issue since it’s so potent. All of these high-end Navi 21 GPUs get paired with an ample 16GB of GDDR6 memory—well below the RTX 3090’s whopping 24GB of GDDR6X, but more than enough for the gaming tasks this card targets (as well as 4K video editing workloads). That memory communicates with the GPU over a 256-bit bus. That bus width may seem paltry at first blush, but it’s offset by a surprisingly effective new 128MB “Infinity Cache” that can store a lot of a given scene’s frame data directly on die. The Infinity Cache lets the GPU tap the memory much less often, benefiting memory speeds and latency as well as power efficiency. Again, we covered Infinity Cache in-depth as part of our RDNA 2 deep-dive.
The Radeon RX 6000-series marks the debut of real-time ray tracing on AMD hardware, and RDNA 2 also powers the Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5 consoles. AMD built a dedicated “ray accelerator” for improved ray tracing performance into each RDNA 2 compute unit. As the ultimate form of “Big Navi,” the Radeon RX 6900 XT has the most ray accelerators and the best ray tracing performance. The graphics card can play Shadow of the Tomb Raider and Metro Exodus well at 1440p resolution, as you’ll see in our benchmarks. Because AMD lacks a rival to Nvidia’s spectacular DLSS 2.0 feature, the Radeon RX 6900 XT can’t play ray-traced games at 4K with acceptable frame rates. That’s a major strike against a $1,000 graphics card designed for 4K gaming. AMD is working on a more open DLSS rival dubbed “Fidelity FX Super Resolution,” which it hopes will be used by PC and console developers alike. Public details are nonexistent, however, and the technology isn’t available for Radeon gamers yet.
This card’s design mirrors that of the Radeon RX 6800 XT, which itself is a fatter version of the Radeon RX 6800. We did an extensive unboxing and hands-on of the Radeon RX 6800-series that shows off every detail of the design, and it all still applies here. In brief, it’s a fantastic upgrade, swapping out the noisy, hot blower-style coolers of past AMD reference designs for a triple-fan axial design, clad in a luxurious metal shell that oozes luxury. For the launch of the Radeon RX 6900 XT, AMD plans to release software that lets you control the illuminated logo’s RGB LEDs rather than locking them to the red they ship with by default.
AMD likes to tout that its reference design sticks to industry standards, with a 2.5-slot design, 10.5-inch length, and dual 8-pin connectors. By comparison, Nvidia’s rival 12.3-inch-long RTX 3090 Founders Edition expands to fill three full slots, uses a proprietary 12-pin power connection via an ugly bundled adapter, and introduces a radical new “flow-through” design. That design is essentially half blower-cooler and half axial-style cooler, but the axial half has no PCB or backplate over it, allowing hot air to pass through to be exhausted by your case fans.
Here’s the thing though: Nvidia’s RTX 3090 Founders Edition design is damned impressive. It’s ice cold and utterly inaudible, besting the performance of heavy metal custom 3090s with traditional axial fan coolers. AMD’s new cooler worked very well with the Radeon RX 6800 XT, but the beefier 6900 XT pushes its limits, resulting in much higher temperatures, as you’ll see in our benchmarks. There’s nothing wrong with AMD’s more conventional design approach, but massive triple-slot graphics cards are expected for ultra-high-end GPUs like this now. AMD probably would’ve been better off making the Radeon RX 6900 XT longer and thicker—a 2.5-slot card and a 3-slot both take three slots in a case—to improve cooling performance, especially considering that the GPU’s boost behavior is tied to thermal efficiency.
Custom Radeon RX 6900 XT models by board partners like Sapphire, XFX, and Asus are expected to land in the coming weeks, and they should offer much cooler temperatures. On the plus side, AMD’s reference design looks great and runs very quietly. The rear of the card holds one HDMI 2.1 port, a pair of DisplayPorts, and a single USB-C connection for displays and VR headsets alike.
The Radeon RX 6900 XT also features a premium 14-layer PCB with 16 power-stage phases to deliver clean, efficient power with plenty of overclocking headroom. AMD spent a big chunk of its reviewers’ guide explaining nitty-gritty “manual performance tuning” details, but we review graphics cards in their stock out-of-box configuration.
Overclocking the step-down Radeon RX 6800 XT can result in tremendous frequency gains, though. We’ve been able to hit 2,500MHz or higher with no issue on the cards we’ve played with. AMD says it managed to achieve 2,750MHz on the 6900 XT in its labs with some additional tweaking, which resulted in an average performance uplift of about 5 percent in the six AMD-optimized games it tested on a system with Smart Access Memory enabled. Your mileage may vary, because the silicon lottery selects random winners.
AMD rolled out some nice software features alongside the Radeon RX 6000-series. The new “Rage Mode” preset in Radeon Software raises your card’s power and fan speed limits to unlock more performance without voiding your warranty. DirectX 12 Ultimate compatibility adds not just ray tracing, but also nifty features like Variable Rate Shading and Sampler Feedback. Smart Access Memory gives the Radeon RX 6000-series a performance uplift in some games when you pair it with a Ryzen 5000 processor in an X570 motherboard, and we’ll test it later. Check out our Radeon RX 6800-series review for more details about these new features.
AMD bundles a nice, wide cloth mousepad that echoes the RX 6000-series design with the Radeon RX 6900 XT, which I found to be a nice touch.
Now let’s get to testing, because there’s a lot.
Next page: Our test system, gaming benchmarks begin
Our test system
Our dedicated graphics card test system is a couple of years old, but it’s packed with some of the fastest complementary components available to put any potential performance bottlenecks squarely on the GPU, especially at the higher resolution these graphics cards target. Most of the hardware was provided by the manufacturers, but we purchased the cooler and storage ourselves.
Intel Core i7-8700K processor ($300 on Amazon) overclocked to 5GHz all cores
EVGA CLC 240 closed-loop liquid cooler ($105 on Amazon)
Asus Maximus X Hero motherboard
64GB HyperX Predator RGB DDR4/2933 ($355 on Amazon)
EVGA 1200W SuperNova P2 power supply ($352 on Amazon)
Corsair Crystal 570X RGB case, with front and top panels removed and an extra rear fan installed for improved airflow
2x 500GB Samsung 860 EVO SSDs ($70 each on Amazon)
We’re comparing the $1,000 Radeon RX 6900 XT against the $650 Radeon RX 6800 XT and $580 Radeon RX 6800, of course. We’re also pitting it against Nvidia’s most potent competition from this generation—the $1,500 GeForce RTX 3090 and $700 RTX 3080—as well as the RTX 2080 Ti, last generation’s $1,200 flagship.
We test a variety of games spanning various engines, genres, vendor sponsorships (Nvidia, AMD, and Intel), and graphics APIs (DirectX 11, DX12, and Vulkan). Each game is tested using its in-game benchmark at the highest possible graphics presets unless otherwise noted, with VSync, frame rate caps, real-time ray tracing or DLSS effects, and FreeSync/G-Sync disabled, along with any other vendor-specific technologies like FidelityFX tools or Nvidia Reflex. We’ve also enabled temporal anti-aliasing (TAA) to push these cards to their limits. We run each benchmark at least three times and list the average result for each test.
Some games respond exceptionally well to either AMD or Nvidia’s GPU architecture, so expect to see some big performance swings here. Rather than discuss per-game results with each benchmark, we’ll analyze performance overall in the final section of this review. Across our entire testing suite, the GeForce RTX 3090 leads the Radeon RX 6900 XT by 9.2 percent at 4K resolution, though that shrinks to an infinitesimal 2.2 percent at 1440p. We didn’t test at 1080p due to both time constraints and the fact that if you’re spending $1,000 on a graphics card, you probably shouldn’t use it for 1080p gaming unless you’re an esports pro.
Gaming performance benchmarks
Watch Dogs: Legion
Watch Dogs: Legion is one of the first games to debut on next-gen consoles. Ubisoft upgraded its Disrupt engine to include cutting-edge features like real-time ray tracing and Nvidia’s DLSS. We disable those effects for this testing, but Legion remains a strenuous game even on high-end hardware with its optional high-resolution texture pack installed. No card can maintain a 60-frames-per-second average with Ultra graphics options enabled, and the game allocates more than 8GB of memory even at 1440p. Oof.
Horizon Zero Dawn
Yep, PlayStation exclusives are coming to the PC now. Horizon Zero Dawn runs on Guerrilla Games’ Decima engine, the same engine that powers Death Stranding. Ambient Occlusion can offer iffy results if set to Ultra, so we test with that setting at Medium. Every other visual option is maxed out.
Next page: gaming benchmarks continue
Gears Tactics puts it own brutal, fast-paced spin on the XCOM-like genre. This Unreal Engine 4-powered game was built from the ground up for DirectX 12, and we love being able to work a tactics-style game into our benchmarking suite. Better yet, the game comes with a plethora of graphics options for PC snobs. More games should devote such loving care to explaining what flipping all these visual knobs mean.
You can’t use the presets to benchmark Gears Tactics, as it intelligently scales to work best on your installed hardware, meaning that “Ultra” on one graphics card can load different settings than “Ultra” on a weaker card. We manually set all options to their highest possible settings.
Wolfenstein: Youngblood is more fun when you can play cooperatively with a buddy, but it’s a fearless experiment—and an absolute technical showcase. Running on the Vulkan API, Youngblood achieves blistering frame rates, and it supports all sorts of cutting-edge technologies like ray tracing, DLSS 2.0, HDR, GPU culling, asynchronous computing, and Nvidia’s Content Adaptive Shading. The game includes a built-in benchmark with two different scenes; we tested Lab X.
One of the best games of 2019, Metro Exodus is one of the best-looking games around, too. The latest version of the 4A Engine provides incredibly luscious, ultra-detailed visuals, with one of the most stunning real-time ray tracing implementations released yet. We test in DirectX 12 mode with ray tracing, Hairworks, and DLSS disabled for our basic benchmarks.
Borderlands is back! Gearbox’s game defaults to DX12, so we do as well. It gives us a glimpse at the ultra-popular Unreal Engine 4’s performance in a traditional shooter.
Strange Brigade is a cooperative third-person shooter where a team of adventurers blasts through hordes of mythological enemies. It’s a technological showcase, built around the next-gen Vulkan and DirectX 12 technologies and infused with features like HDR support and the ability to toggle asynchronous compute on and off. It uses Rebellion’s custom Azure engine. We test using the Vulkan renderer, which is faster than DX12.
Next page: gaming benchmarks continue
Total War: Troy
The latest game in the popular Total War saga, Troy was given away free for its first 24 hours on the Epic Games Store, moving over 7.5 million copies before it went on proper sale. Total War: Troy is built using a modified version of the Total War: Warhammer 2 engine, and this DX11 title looks stunning for a turn-based strategy game. We test the more intensive battle benchmark.
The latest in a long line of successful racing games, F1 2020 is a gem to test, supplying a wide array of both graphical and benchmarking options, making it a much more reliable (and fun) option than the Forza series. It’s built on the latest version of Codemasters’ buttery-smooth Ego game engine, complete with support for DX12 and Nvidia’s DLSS technology. We test two laps on the Australia course, with clear skies on and DLSS off.
Shadow of the Tomb Raider
Shadow of the Tomb Raider concludes the reboot trilogy, and it’s utterly gorgeous. Square Enix optimized this game for DX12, and recommends DX11 only if you’re using older hardware or Windows 7, so we test with DX12. Shadow of the Tomb Raider uses an enhanced version of the Foundation engine that also powered Rise of the Tomb Raider and includes optional real-time ray tracing and DLSS features.
Rainbow Six Siege
Like GTA V, Ubisoft’s Rainbow Six Siege still dominates the Steam charts years after its launch, and it’ll be getting a visual upgrade for the next-gen consoles. The developers have poured a ton of work into the game’s AnvilNext engine over the years, eventually rolling out a Vulkan version of the game that we use to test. By default, the game lowers the render scaling to increase frame rates, but we set it to 100 percent to benchmark native rendering performance on graphics cards. Even still, frame rates soar.
Next page: Smart Access Memory performance
Smart Access Memory: Big help from Ryzen, sometimes
With Ryzen and Radeon finally both firing on all cylinders, AMD decided to unlock capabilities that help the Radeon RX 6000-series achieve even higher frame rates when it’s paired with a Ryzen 5000-series processor in an X570 motherboard.
Smart Access Memory gives the CPU full access to the GPU’s memory, rather than limiting it to the usual 256MB chunks. That unrestricted access to the data channel can improve gaming performance.
Smart Access Memory can’t be used by everyone, though. You need a Ryzen 5000-series processor and a compatible X570 motherboard that has had its BIOS updated to support AMD’s AGESA 18.104.22.168 firmware, along with a current version of Radeon Software (which you need to run the Radeon RX 6000-series anyway) and a 64-bit operating system. For now, X570 motherboards won’t enable Smart Access Memory by default; you need to dive into your BIOS’s advanced settings and activate both “Above 4G Decoding” and “Re-size BAR support” to coax it into working. AMD expects AM4 motherboard makers to turn on Smart Access Memory by default going forward.
AMD sent us a Ryzen 5900X and an MSI Godlike X570 motherboard to test Smart Access Memory. We paired it with AMD’s Wraith Max cooler, Geil’s Evo X 16GB DDR4 kit clocked at 3,200MHz, and a 1TB SK Hynix Gold S31 SSD, the best SSD for most people. We benchmarked the Radeon RX 6900 XT with Smart Access Memory both on and off across our entire testing suite on this system, and the GeForce RTX 3090 for comparison.
Note that this system has not been optimized for pure performance and was instead quickly cobbled together with what we had available. Ideally, we’d use faster memory with Ryzen 5000, and the cooling around the core components isn’t as comprehensive as what’s in our primary test rig, though we had a fan pointed at the build. Crucially, the results from this section can’t be compared directly against the benchmarks from our standard test rig in the previous section—it’s a completely different system in very different circumstances. The numbers below are apples-to-apples, though. AMD’s public SAM benchmarks tend to be run with the company’s new Rage mode performance tuning enabled, but we test in stock configuration with Rage mode off.
As you can see, Smart Access Memory provides extra performance pretty much across the board, but the significance varies wildly. Some games see little extra oomph; others respond much more favorably. SAM’s extra boost is enough to propel the 6900 XT past the RTX 3090 in some scenarios where it otherwise loses by a hair (such as Borderlands at 4K and Shadow of the Tomb Raider at 1440p). SAM isn’t enough to close the gap in games that heavily favor Nvidia’s GPU architecture, though.
AMD says SAM’s benefits differ not just game-to-game, but with your resolution and the graphics card installed. Don’t assume that the uplift we saw with the Radeon RX 6900 XT scales similarly with other Radeon RX 6000-series GPUs.
That means other games might respond more beneficially as well, however. Smart Access Memory seems to work especially well in games built using modern DirectX 12 and Vulkan APIs. AMD’s reviewer guide claims that Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla, Call of Duty Black Ops Cold War, Forza Horizon 4, Godfall, Resident Evil 3, and Red Dead Redemption 2 see significant boosts with SAM enabled, though the visual options you select also changes things. AMD says Forza Horizon 4 gets much more benefit from SAM when you’re using 8x MSAA anti-aliasing versus 2x MSAA, for example, and Godfall’s uplift is bigger with the High visual preset than Ultra.
All in all, Smart Access Memory is a potent weapon in AMD’s arsenal, and one that can make a tangible difference—though it may not remain an AMD exclusive for long. SAM is based on the resizable BAR functionality that’s part of the PCIe spec, and Nvidia has already said it plans to unlock support for its GeForce GPUs at some point. We’re already seeing some manufacturers roll out BIOS updates for modern Intel motherboards that add the feature, though AMD says driver optimizations are a key part of Smart Access Memory as well.
Don’t let that diminish what AMD accomplished with its “Ultimate Gaming Platform” here, though. Yes, resizeable BAR has been a part of PCIe for a while, but it hadn’t been used before. Enabling the technology requires the processor, motherboard, and graphics card to all join in on the party—something AMD is uniquely positioned to do as a supplier of both CPUs and GPUs. Smart Access Memory should just work when you put a Radeon RX 6800 into a Ryzen 5000 system with a new X570 motherboard after you enable a few options, no messy BIOS updates required. (Older X570 motherboards require a BIOS upgrade to get SAM running.) Intel and Nvidia can’t offer that right now. While updating your firmware isn’t as scary as it used to be, it’s still far more complicated than simply downloading a new driver.
Next page: Ray tracing performance and content creation
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.
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.
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.
Next page: Power, thermals, and noise
Power draw, thermals, and noise
We test power draw by looping the F1 2020 benchmark at 4K for about 20 minutes after we’ve benchmarked everything else and noting the highest reading on our Watts Up Pro meter, which measures the power consumption of our entire test system. The initial part of the race, where all competing cars are onscreen simultaneously, tends to be the most demanding portion.
This isn’t a worst-case test; we removed the Core i7 8700K’s overclock and specifically chose a GPU-bound game running at a GPU-bound resolution to gauge performance when the graphics card is sweating hard. If you’re playing a game that also hammers the CPU, you could see higher overall system power draws. Consider yourself warned.
AMD focused heavily on power efficiency with its RDNA 2 architecture, and you can see the payoffs here. Thanks to its better silicon quality, the beastly Radeon RX 6900 XT draws effectively the same power as the step-down 6800 XT out of the box, and significantly less energy than both the GeForce RTX 3090 and the 3080. Bravo, AMD.
We test thermals by leaving GPU-Z open during the F1 2020 power draw test, noting the highest maximum temperature at the end.
These results aren’t as exciting. The 83-degree Celsius temperatures aren’t anything worth worrying about for the Radeon RX 6900 XT, but it’s far warmer than the other modern graphics cards we’ve tested, and on a par with AMD blower-style reference coolers of old. AMD stuck with the exact same cooling design as it used with the RX 6800 XT, and the extra oomph of the 6900 XT results in temperatures a significant 7 degrees higher. The massive RTX 3090, on the other hand, is a whopping 15 degrees chillier than the RX 6900 XT, and dead silent. Despite the higher temperatures, the Radeon RX 6900 XT remains quiet—but not inaudible—in our test system’s case.
Given the price tag of this graphics card, and AMD’s emphasis on the Radeon RX 6900 XT’s overclocking capabilities, this card probably would have been better off expanding to a full three slots and adding an inch or two of length to improve the thermal dissipation, rather than sticking to standard sizing conventions that aren’t as standard in this ultra-enthusiast class of card anyway. We can’t wait to see what custom cooling designs from AMD partners can do with the Radeon RX 6900 XT when they launch in the coming weeks.
In terms of bang for buck, the vast majority of people would be better off buying a $650 Radeon RX 6800 XT or $700 GeForce RTX 3080 instead (you know, if you can find one). They’re almost as fast as these ferocious flagship offerings, offering sublime 4K and 1440p high refresh gaming experiences of their own but for significantly less cash. Across our testing suite, the Radeon RX 6900 XT is only 4.2 percent faster than the 6800 XT at 1440p resolution and 6.7 percent faster at 4K, but it costs 53 percent more.
The $1,000 Radeon RX 6900 XT fares well against the $1,500 GeForce RTX 3090 in terms of speed and price-to-performance value, however. Nvidia’s Ampere architecture was built for optimized high-resolution gameplay. All those CUDA cores and GDDR6X memory give it a 9.2-percent average lead over the 6900 XT at 4K resolution, but that shrinks to a mere 2.2 percent at 1440p resolution, where AMD’s radical Infinity Cache shines. The averages aren’t as cut-and-dry as they seem; some games heavily favor either AMD or Nvidia architecture, and some especially fast games may be hitting CPU bottlenecks in our system. But the Radeon RX 6900 XT seems like an especially good value versus the RTX 3090 for 1440p high-refresh gaming (though again, we’d suggest you pick up the nearly-as-fast 6800 XT instead).
AMD’s nifty Smart Access Memory can make the Radeon RX 6900 XT even faster when you pair it with Ryzen 5000, showing notable performance uplifts in some games, though negligible gains in others. It’s enough to lift AMD’s card to victories over the RTX 3090 in some games where it otherwise falls a hair behind, though it’s not enough to make up the difference in games that prefer Nvidia’s Ampere. It’s a killer feature and a compelling reason to buy an all-AMD system, though Intel and Nvidia are already scrambling to try to offer similar capabilities on their own hardware.
Ray tracing performance is the biggest drawback for AMD’s enthusiast-class offering. Turning on the intensive lighting effects delivers a major performance loss on any graphics card, but Nvidia’s DLSS 2.0 AI upscaling lets you claw most of it back. AMD lacks a DLSS equivalent right now, though it’s working on a “Super Resolution” feature, and it really hurts. The Radeon RX 6900 XT is a great card for 4K gaming, but with ray tracing enabled, you’ll only be able to play games at 1440p with acceptable frame rates. Nvidia’s GeForce cards hold a major ray tracing advantage until AMD gets its DLSS rival sorted out. That’s a major strike against this $1,000 Radeon card.
That sums up how I feel about the Radeon RX 6900 XT’s weird place in the world, actually. Most pure gamers shouldn’t invest in these premium GPUs, especially now that the $500 to $700 range offers performance close to these levels, unlike in the last generation. We said the only people who should buy the GeForce RTX 3090 are content creation pros who can leverage the 24GB memory capacity with Nvidia’s strong CUDA and Optix support for professional workloads, people who want the absolute best ray tracing experience possible, and price-is-no-object gaming enthusiasts who want the fastest frame rates possible, value be damned.
The Radeon RX 6900 XT changes none of that. It hangs with the RTX 3090 in gaming but fails to beat it outright, especially at the 4K resolution commonly played by people with four-figure graphics cards.
If you’re interested in champagne performance at microbrew prices, though, the Radeon RX 6900 XT is worth considering. It’s a staggering $500 less than Nvidia’s card. If you don’t mind giving up the GeForce RTX 3090’s superior ray tracing performance, the 6900 XT gets most of the way to the performance of that GPU, especially at 1440p resolution at high refresh rates. Its ample 16GB of memory will be very future-proof, too.
If AMD’s performance tuning focus bears fruit, overclocking enthusiasts will likely see far stronger improvements with the Radeon card than they do with the power-limited RTX 3090. The high temperatures of this reference design, however, could hold you back unless you opt for a waterblock or one of the custom 6900 XT models arriving in the coming weeks. We can’t wait to see what hot-rodded Radeon RX 6900 XT custom cards can accomplish with massive bespoke coolers and factory overclocks.
Bottom line? This is a fantastic graphics card, offering a premium metal-clad design, quiet acoustics, and the second-best average gaming performance in the world, for a massive $500 less than the RTX 3090. AMD’s final shot at Nvidia’s enthusiast-class gaming performance is a strong one indeed, and it’s wonderful to see true competition at the high end once again. Most gamers should buy a Radeon RX 6800 XT or GeForce RTX 3080 instead, though, while prosumers and people looking for the flat-out best gaming performance possible or the ability to play ray-traced games at 4K should consider saving their pennies for Nvidia’s card.