Good 1080p gaming performance at Medium/High settings
Very power efficient and cool
Modern features like ray tracing and AMD Smart Access Memory
4GB memory buffer can’t be used for Ethereum mining, hopefully reducing cryptocurrency demand
Will $199 price point stick on the streets?
Limited PCIe lanes reduce performance on older PCIe 3.0 systems
Unorthodox memory configuration and limited PCIe lanes limit performance potential
Only one HDMI and DisplayPort
Little performance improvement over prior-gen GPUs
The AMD Radeon RX 6500 XT brings ray tracing and affordable GPUs to the masses, but doing so requires some unorthodox tweaks that can affect performance. If it stays in stock near MSRP and you stick to settings it’s intended for, this is a solid mainstream 1080p graphics card, and a good option for new PC gamers.
Price comparison from over 24,000 stores worldwide
AMD’s $199 Radeon RX 6500 XT breaks new ground for desktop graphics cards, and many of the GPU’s achievements mean very good things for PC gamers. At a time when it’s near impossible to find a competent graphics card at a reasonable price, the Radeon RX 6500 XT is the first GPU under $200 that packs real-time ray tracing capabilities. All of this is happening three long years after real-time ray tracing debuted in Nvidia’s GeForce RTX 20-series.
The Radeon RX 6500 XT is also the first GPU to break the 2.8GHz barrier (wild), and it marks the debut of TSMC’s 6nm manufacturing technology. But the real story here is AMD’s delivery of a serious price-to-performance value proposition: The Radeon RX 6500 XT is the first affordably priced graphics card of its generation, which has been rocked by shortages and high prices thanks to a mixture of a chip crunch, logistics woes, and booming demand by cryptocurrency miners, among other factors. Indeed, if you’ve been hoping to get your hands on an affordable GPU during the pandemic, you’ve been out of luck so far. But this graphics card could—could—change that.
AMD took some weird twists and turns to arrive at the Radeon RX 6500 XT. For starters, this budget-priced graphics card comes with just 4GB of onboard memory to evade the attention of crypto miners. Beyond that, other hardware compromises were required to hit the sub-$200 price point, and some of these tweaks can affect performance, depending on your PC’s overall hardware profile and how you play your games. And beyond that, the GPU doesn’t substantially move the performance needle beyond past generations of similarly priced graphics cards.
Yes, the Radeon RX 6500 XT is a more complicated beast than it appears at first glance. But make no mistake: It’s a very capable entry-level, 1080p graphics card if you keep its limitations in mind. In an era where aging, previously used, low-end GPUs are going for $300 or more, the Radeon RX 6500 XT feels like an oasis in the desert—if prices remain sane on the streets over the coming weeks, that is. Let’s dig in.
Radeon RX 6500 XT features, specs, and price
The Radeon RX 6500 XT is built around a new 6nm AMD GPU that uses the company’s RDNA 2 architecture, which paves the way for power efficiency and modern features previously unavailable at this price point. You can find a list of raw specifications in the AMD-supplied chart below.
The sky-high 2.8GHz boost clock and 2.6GHz typical Game Clock should immediately catch your eye. AMD tuned this GPU so it’s humming (before this generation, you cheered if a graphics card broke 2GHz). It’s also worth noting the inclusion of 16 ray accelerators, or one in each compute unit. That means the Radeon RX 6500 XT can flip on real-time ray tracing in games that support it, though with so few accelerators in tow, you’ll want to stick to lower-end ray-tracing options, and ideally use them in conjunction with AMD’s FidelityFX Super Resolution in compatible games. FSR uses smart upscaling tricks to improve performance. The technology is only enabled in select titles, but sometime soon, AMD will roll out a new driver-level Radeon Super Resolution feature that will let you bask in faster frame rates in thousands of games.
Don’t let those ultra-fast clock speeds fool you, though. This is still an entry-level graphics card, and that’s driven home by a closer look at the specs. With 16 compute units, 32 ROPs, and 16MB of AMD’s radical Infinity Cache, the Radeon RX 6500 XT offers half the raw hardware horsepower of the $375 Radeon RX 6600 XT, and quite a bit less than the $300 Radeon RX 6600, as well. Those modest internals, combined with AMD’s RDNA 2 improvements, mean this graphics card sips a mere 107 watts of total board power (or a slightly higher 120W in overclocked variants). This lets it slip easily into most existing PCs with a free 6-pin power connection.
In other areas, AMD made some key compromises to hit the Radeon RX 6500 XT’s juicy $199 price point. Most notably, AMD outfitted this GPU with just 4GB of GDDR6 memory (albeit clocked at blazing-fast 18Gbps speeds). 4GB is less than you’d like to see in a modern graphics card, but the modest capacity means the card can’t be used for Ethereum cryptocurrency mining, which gives the 6500 XT a shot at actually staying in stock on store shelves.
The rest of the memory configuration is just as weird. Previous modern generations of low-end GPUs from AMD and Nvidia used a 128-bit memory bus. The Radeon RX 6500 XT comes equipped with a meager 64-bit bus, though AMD’s Adam Kozak told reporters that in conjunction with the 16MB of onboard Infinity Cache and lightning-quick 18Gbps VRAM clock, the card offers effectively twice the memory bandwidth you’d normally get from such a small bus size.
AMD is pitching the 6500 XT as a good 1080p option with Medium to High graphics card settings. As you’ll see in our benchmarks later, the card holds up just fine under those loads. But the modest GPU and bizarre memory configuration mean you’ll need to be careful about the settings you use. If you crank visuals up to ultra or run into a game with especially high memory demands, the limited memory capacity and bus width could result in jarring frame-time spikes when your PC exceeds the 4GB barrier and needs to tap into your system’s general RAM pool for help. Don’t push this GPU harder than it’s intended for and you should be fine.
Perhaps more vexingly, AMD only slapped four PCIe express lanes on the Radeon RX 6500 XT. Most graphics cards use a full x16 PCIe interface, with budget cards sometimes dropping down to x8. Four lanes is unheard-of in gamer-grade desktop cards. Fewer PCIe lanes provide less bandwidth for GPUs to strut their stuff, but these are PCIe 4.0 lanes, which are much faster than PCIe 3.0 lanes. In a very modern system with a PCIe 4.0-compatible motherboard and CPU (e.g., AMD Ryzen 3000-series or higher and Intel 11th-gen Core series or higher), the Radeon RX 6500 XT has no problem running at its intended Medium to High graphics settings. However, if you’re dropping the card into an older PCIe 3.0 system, the limited PCIe lanes definitely reduce your performance—though the 6500 XT remains a capable budget option even then. We’ll include results for both scenarios in our benchmark section.
Finally, in its quest to hit the sub-$200 price point, AMD needed to remove hardware features that aren’t used by the vast majority of entry-level gamers, Kozak said. (He said the decision to use four PCIe lanes was made for the same reason.) As such, the Radeon RX 6500 XT lacks support for AV1 decoding, as well as H.264 and H.265/HEVC encoding. That, paired with the Radeon RX 6500 XT only supporting singular HDMI and DisplayPort connections, limits its appeal for home theater PCs or for gamers who want to stream their adventures on Twitch.
Phew. That’s a lot more caveats and compromises than you would normally see with a desktop graphics card. So, does the Radeon RX 6500 XT still hold up as a solid entry-level gaming GPU? Spoiler alert: Yes. To test its chops, the company sent over an XFX Qick 210 Radeon RX 6500 XT Black for review.
The Qick 210 features the same sleek blacked-out design aesthetic as XFX’s other RDNA 2 GPUs, with nary an RGB LED to be found on its pockmarked shroud. It features a fetching metal backplate; two 100mm fans with 13 blades each (hence the “210” in the name); a pair of 6mm heatpipes; and a copper GPU coldplate. XFX also gave its card a 5+2 phase digital VRM. All in all, it looks great for an entry-level card. An XFX spokesperson declined to give a firm MSRP due to the fluid nature of today’s GPU market, but said he expects real-world pricing to settle in slightly above AMD’s $199 price after the initial launch dust settles. Considering that the four year-old Radeon RX 570 is going for $200 to $300-plus used on Ebay, that’s no surprise. But actual street pricing for the Radeon RX 6500 XT will make up a massive part of its potential charm.
Let’s get to the benchmarks.
Our test system
We test graphics cards on a AMD Ryzen 5000-series test rig to be able to benchmark the effect of PCIe 4.0 support on modern GPUs, as well as the performance-boosting AMD Smart Access Memory and Nvidia Resizable BAR features (which are both based on the same underlying PCIe standard). Currently, we’re testing it on an open bench with AMD’s Wraith Max air cooler. Most of the hardware was provided by the manufacturers, but we purchased the storage ourselves.
As far as our competitive testing set, we’re doing things a little differently due to the budget nature of this card, and its unusual configuration. Normally, we test games at the highest possible graphics presets and temporal anti-aliasing enabled to push them to their limits. But the Radeon RX 6500 XT is built for medium to high gaming at 1080p, on a budget. So we skipped our usual methods and instead decided to test AMD’s new GPU against prior-gen GPUs in a similar $200 price bracket, plus or minus $50 in either direction, with each game’s Medium graphics preset.
Of all the cards we’re testing, only AMD’s new 6500 XT supports real-time ray tracing. However, we decided to skip ray tracing benchmarks today to focus in on something that’s perhaps more important: Performance in both new and older PCs. We also included performance results for the Radeon RX 6500 XT running in both PCIe 3.0 and PCIe 4.0 modes, given its four limited PCIe lanes, so that you can see what sort of performance to expect if you drop this GPU into an older system as an upgrade.
We test a variety of games spanning various engines, genres, vendor sponsorships (Nvidia, AMD, and Intel), and graphics APIs (DirectX 11, DX12, and Vulkan). When testing, we disable VSync, frame rate caps, real-time ray tracing or DLSS effects, and FreeSync/G-Sync, along with any other vendor-specific technologies like FidelityFX tools or Nvidia Reflex. We also disable AMD’s Smart Access Memory and Nvidia’s rival PCIe Resizable BAR features, since they’re highly dependent on how the rest of your system is configured. We run each benchmark at least three times and list the average result for each test.
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.
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.
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.
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 Riverside.
One of the best games of 2019, Metro Exodus remains 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.
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. This game tends to favor modern AMD hardware.
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.
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.
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 that 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 still utterly gorgeous several years after its debut. 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
Rainbow Six Siege still dominates the Steam charts years after its launch, and Ubisoft supports it with frequent updates and events. 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.
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 then note 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; this is 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.
Entry-level graphics cards always have modest power demands—all of the tested units only need a single 6- or 8-pin power connector—but the tremendous power efficiency of AMD’s RDNA 2 architecture shines though here, especially when you consider that the Radeon RX 6500 XT holds a solid performance lead in raw frame rates in this game as well. Good stuff.
We test thermals by leaving GPU-Z open during the F1 2020 power draw test, noting the highest maximum temperature at the end.
The range of cooler designs differs so much on these tested GPU models that you shouldn’t look too deeply into these results. Still, it’s clear that cooling isn’t an issue whatsoever with any of these mainstream graphics cards.
Should you buy the Radeon RX 6500 XT?
The 6500 XT is a solid purchase if you’re on the hunt for an affordable entry-level graphics card that delivers solid 1080p gaming performance when you dial back some eye candy. Considering that 2-year-old GTX 1650 graphics cards are going for $200 used to $350 new on Ebay after launching at $170, and the ancient Radeon RX 570 is in a similar boat, the $199 asking price for a brand new Radeon RX 6500 XT—complete with its killer energy efficiency, ray tracing capabilities, and modern features—sounds downright delectable for gamers desperate for anything affordable. It’s literally an unserved market right now.
The Radeon RX 6500 XT’s true measure will be revealed in the coming days and weeks, however. It needs to stay around the $200 price point to remain the most appealing, though it’s still worth considering anywhere under $300 in today’s wild market.
The Radeon RX 6500 XT flies through games at 1080p Medium settings, as our benchmarks showed, and activating features like Smart Access Memory, Radeon Boost, FidelityFX Super Resolution in supported games, as well as the forthcoming almost-universal Radeon Super Resolution, should only speed things up even more on compatible systems.
But AMD made several key compromises to hit this juicy price point: shedding PCIe lanes, modern encoders, and even dropping down to a scant 4GB of memory to evade the attention of cryptocurrency miners. Those all affect performance and you’ll need to work within the confines of the low-end GPU and unorthodox memory configuration to avoid bottlenecks. Some games will be able to provide a smooth experience on Ultra settings—especially competitive e-sports titles—but you’ll need to keep expectations modest and tinker with settings to avoid exceeding the card’s 4GB frame buffer. Blowing past that can introduce jarring, hard frame time spikes. So, start at Medium graphics presets in your chosen games, and work up from there. You’ll also want to avoid going beyond 1080p resolution, as moving to 1440p and higher in modern games is very likely to exceed this card’s 4GB VRAM buffer and lead to lag spikes, especially if you’re using a PCIe 3.0-based computer.
Its weird configuration makes the Radeon RX 6500 XT’s performance versus older GPUs unusually variable. Generally, it’s either better than, or competitive with, prior-gen options in performance, especially in games that use the modern DirectX 12 and Vulkan APIs that RDNA 2 excels at. Still, it can vary wildly depending on the game. The Radeon RX 6500 XT brings up the rear in Total War: Troy, for example, but performs exceedingly well in Borderlands 3. Nonetheless, it still provides very playable frame rates across the board at Medium settings.
There’s no question that the limited PCIe lane count hinders performance if you drop AMD’s new GPU into an older PCIe 3.0 system (meaning, all but the most modern PCs). Again, it’s variable—Rainbow Six Siege performs identically in both, while Total War is a whopping 18.4 percent slower on PCIe 3.0—but excluding those unusual outliers, the Radeon RX 6500 XT is an average of 6.4 percent slower across our test suite when running in PCIe 3.0 mode. That’s not too bad all things considered, and much better than you’d expect with a normal GPU configuration wielding these specs, so it’s clear that AMD’s Infinity Cache is doing work here. Given that, the slightly slower performance on PCIe 3.0 systems doesn’t change our overall impressions of the graphics card, though it’s certainly worth noting.
Unless you want modern features like ray tracing and variable rate shading, the Radeon RX 6500 XT isn’t a compelling performance upgrade over last-gen entry-level GPUs like the Radeon RX 5500 XT or GeForce GTX 1650 Super. Nor does it provide enough of an uplift to consider upgrading from a Radeon RX 580 or GTX 1060 6GB if you’re still rocking those ever-popular options from yesteryear. This general price segment has been rocked by market conditions and remained largely stagnant over the last half a decade. Siiiiiiiiiigh.
But if you’re looking to build a new gaming PC from scratch, or upgrade from an even-more-ancient GPU, a new $199 Radeon RX 6500 XT is a lot more appealing than a used GTX 1650 or Radeon RX 570 for $300-plus, especially when you factor in the AMD card’s support for modern features like ray tracing.
Yes, getting the Radeon RX 6500 XT to the $200 price point took some significant compromises on AMD’s part. And, yes, those compromises can keep you from cranking eye candy to the max in many games. But don’t lose sight of the forest for the trees. The world needs affordable graphics cards right now, and the Radeon RX 6500 XT delivers solid 1080p gaming performance without brutalizing your wallet. A new generation of gamers introduced to the glory of the PC during the pandemic is clamoring for hardware to power their Fortnite machines. If AMD can supply enough chips to keep the Radeon RX 6500 XT on store shelves, this humble, bizarre graphics card could wind up being a quirky savior during very hard times.
That’s a big “if” in today’s world. Prices need to stay sane for the Radeon RX 6500 XT to fulfill its potential and graphics card pricing has been anything but sane over the last couple of years. The lack of a meaningful performance upgrade over prior-gen GPUs coupled with considerations stemming from its unorthodox configuration prevent us from giving the Radeon RX 6500 XT a higher score or an Editors’ Choice award. However, if things go right—AMD CEO Lisa Su told PCWorld “we intend to have a lot of product” for this launch—this graphics card could be exactly what the PC gaming masses need right now, warts and all.
Brad Chacos spends his days digging through desktop PCs and tweeting too much. He specializes in graphics cards and gaming, but covers everything from security to Windows tips and all manner of PC hardware.