Don’t Buy AMD’s Radeon 6900 XT For Gaming

Don’t Buy AMD’s Radeon 6900 XT For Gaming

Let’s keep this nice and simple. If you tried to buy AMD’s flagship gaming card, the AMD Radeon 6900 XT, chances are you probably couldn’t. And even if you could, you probably shouldn’t.

I can’t really be any more straightforward when it comes to AMD’s current GPU flagship. While the Radeon RX 6800 — and the 6800 XT — are genuinely competitive and interesting GPU choices, Team Red’s $1600 6900 XT is in a vastly different space.

Radeon RX 6900 XT Specs, Australian Price

6900 xt
Image: Alex Walker (Kotaku Australia)
  • GPU: Radeon RX 6900 XT
  • Process Node: TSMC 7nm
  • CUs: 80
  • Ray accelerators: 128
  • “Game” / Boost clocks: 2015MHz/2250MHz
  • Memory: 16GB GDDR6 @ 16Gbps
  • TDP: 300W
  • Price: $1599-1699 depending on retailer

It’s worth noting that AMD recommend you have a 850W PSU minimum for the 6900 XT, although like the Nvidia RTX 3080 — which has a 320W TDP — you can run this on a 750W PSU.

Radeon RX 6900 XT Testbench

ryzen 3900x
Image: Alex Walker (Kotaku)

Same situation as what we were dealing with for the RX 6800 and the RTX 3070. Main change lately has been an upgrade to the PSU, but that’s more of a headroom situation.

  • CPU: Ryzen 5900X
  • CPU Cooler: Corsair H115i RGB Platinum
  • RAM: 32GB DDR4 3200MHz GSkill Trident Z (14-14-14-34)
  • GPUs: Radeon RX 6900 XT
  • PSU: Seasonic SSR-1000FX Focus Plus 1000W 80+ Modular PSU
  • GPU Drivers: AMD Radeon Adrenaline Software December 2020 (Dec 10)

There hasn’t been any major game driver releases over Christmas, so the drivers are largely untouched from what shipped last year.

Another key note that I’m going to qualify here: for timeliness, all benchmarks below are conducted with Smart Access Memory enabled. I’ve got two major reasons for this.

One: if you’re going to buy this card, you should probably do so with an AMD system — and nobody with an AMD system would not disable Smart Access Memory anyway. Secondly, for those on Intel — and those who can’t enable SAM — you shouldn’t consider the RX 6900 XT in your purchasing outside of some very particular, non-gaming scenarios.

I’ll explain why as we get into it.

AMD Radeon RX 6900 XT Benchmarks: Fire Strike

6900 xt
Image: Supplied

Dear Riot: can I have my battling robot fighter game back? Please? Watching 3D Mark reminds me of Rising Thunder every time, which makes me deeply sad.

Anyway, the RX 6900 XT absolutely slays in the 3D Mark synthetic benchmark, as you’d expect.

6900 xt benchmarks

I haven’t had access to an RTX 3090 for similar testing, but from what I’ve seen the 6900 XT (with smart access memory enabled) isn’t that far off here. But when I did this testing with SAM on and off, SAM made literally no difference in 3D Mark anyway. And that’s also the case in a ton of games too (dependent on resolution).

AMD Radeon RX 6900 XT Benchmarks: Shadow of the Tomb Raider

rx 6900 xt
Image: Shadow of the Tomb Raider

I really need to find the time to go through and replay this game. I don’t remember why I dropped off originally, but it’s certainly high time for a fresh playthrough.

6900 xt review

So here’s where the problem is starting to emerge. For a GPU that’s going to cost you $1599 at best, the advancements over Nvidia’s RTX 3080 — and even the RX 6800 and RX 6800 XT, which is at least $500 cheaper on today’s prices — simply can’t be justified.

And this is before we start venturing into what happens with things like DLSS or ray-tracing. As for ray-tracing, Shadow of the Tomb Raider is probably the best case scenario: games that use a single ray-traced element, like shadows or reflections or global illumination.

rx 6900 xt

Enabling ray-traced shadows — the only option in Shadow of the Tomb Raider — basically cuts the 6900 XT’s performance almost in half. It brings the performance below the cheaper RTX 3080, which you can get from $1249 at the time of writing. And that’s not even factoring in the DLSS element which Shadow of the Tomb Raider supports.

Also: I mentioned $1249, but I should have said pre-order from $1249, that is, because you still can’t actually buy any of these cards. Still.

AMD Radeon RX 6900 XT Benchmarks: Forza Horizon 4

rx 6900 xt

Forza has always been the best showcase for AMD hardware, CPUs, GPUs and new technologies. That’s the case with Smart Access Memory too.

rx 6900 xt

Just want to note that Forza Horizon 4 doesn’t actually cap out at 250 FPS, although it looks like it might just because a) it’s a round figure and b) the gap between 1080p and the 1440p results is basically nothing.

Nvidia doesn’t have any sort of advantage with Forza here, so the RTX 3080 and 3070 look massively behind. But it’s worth keeping things in perspective too: the RTX 3070 is almost hitting 4K/120 FPS here. Are you really getting that much more value with the RX 6900 XT over any other card in this list, particularly the RTX 3080 (which is the closest direct competitor) or even the cheaper RX 6800?

Honestly, not really.

AMD Radeon RX 6900 XT Benchmarks: Total War Three Kingdoms

Good news everyone! The game that hates all graphics cards also hates the 6900 XT just as much as everything else. It’s nice to know there are some constants in the world still.

To be a little more serious, Total War Three Kingdoms is one of those games where it makes a ton of sense, regardless of your setup, to run on a slightly lower preset. I run things on Ultra here because it’s useful as a consistent stress test on hardware, though, which is half the point of benchmarking.

6900 xt

The 6900 XT technically has the advantage at 1080p and 1440p, but it’s by such a marginal amount that the value gained from the extra $400, $500 or $600 (or less depending on what third-party card you’re buying) is impossible to justify.

AMD Radeon RX 6900 XT Ray-Tracing Benchmarks: Control

Control (Screenshot: Robert Burrell)
Control (Screenshot: Robert Burrell)

Control is still the best real-world case study for ray-tracing, especially since — with some caveats — it has multiple offerings and it works across AMD and Nvidia cards. (Cyberpunk 2077 had support for ray-tracing on AMD GPUs, but that was removed just before the game’s release, and hasn’t been reimplemented at the time of writing.)

As with the 6800 XT review, Control can be a bit fiddly with ray-tracing. I like to use the Ashtray Maze as my “benchmark” (since Control doesn’t have a canned, repeatable test like the other games in this list). But the game frequently crashes on AMD cards if you have ray-tracing enabled. AMD’s going to have to fix that in future driver updates, but for now you have to load the Ashtray Maze mission with ray-tracing disabled, and then enable it once the mission loads.

As before, the RX 6800 — the mid-range card from this AMD generation — is completely unplayable at 4K with any amount of ray tracing enabled. If it wasn’t obvious enough why, look at what happens to the $1600 RX 6900 XT when you turn any amount of ray-tracing on.

All tests are run with the game at the Highest preset, with the ray-tracing options set to Medium or Ultra.


Now to be fair, if you disabled DLSS on Control, the RTX cards would similarly struggle. But given that the game is one of the best use cases for DLSS 2.0 (along with Cyberpunk, Death Stranding and Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War), I don’t see a scenario where any Nvidia user wouldn’t have DLSS enabled. It’s literally an enormous hit of free performance, and it’s the only way to make real-time ray tracing properly playable at the highest resolutions.

It’s also just a logical selling point for Nvidia. You can get a $899 GPU that plays 4K/60 with ray-tracing, but AMD’s $1600 card barely gets halfway there even at medium settings. That’s not a great look.

6900 xt review
The Radeon RX 6900 XT comes in this neat little pouch when you take it out of the box.

So the 6900 XT, really, is more of a hero product than something that’s going to see mass adoption. It’s AMD’s first crack at a proper high-end GPU in a decade, and their first proper crack at real-time ray tracing.

And like Nvidia’s first attempt years ago, there’s lots of areas where the card falls down. But the RTX 2080 Ti (and 2080) at least offered playable 4K gaming beyond 60 FPS. It was without ray tracing, but there weren’t any ray traced capable games available at that time — and there weren’t any rival GPUs that could play games at 4K/60 FPS or beyond, either. So those cards had some value that has held up over time.

The 6900 XT isn’t launching in that environment. AMD’s own RX 6800 and RX 6800 XT are perfectly capable GPUs. The NVIDIA RTX 3070 and 3080 are as well. Importantly, they also have a more robust feature set. DLSS is the obvious talking point here — it makes real-time ray tracing a genuine option in many games.

But Nvidia’s driver suite is also still much more mature and far more stable. AMD’s answer to the NVENC encoder simply isn’t good enough, and no serious content creator or streamer is going to consider an AMD card until the company pays serious attention to that space. AMD’s alternative to DLSS also can’t come fast enough.

Nvidia will also, in time, have their own alternative to Smart Access Memory. That’ll probably arrive before AMD’s answer to DLSS too, at which point everyone is going to have to retest everything. But the benefits from SAM are pretty isolated for now. There’s some small instances where SAM makes a huge difference — Forza being the biggest — but in most cases, the improvement is marginal or non-existent.

And there’s even a handful of games where SAM hurts performance, like in Microsoft Flight Simulator, Red Dead Redemption 2 or The Outer Worlds. But the difference is literally one or two frames at higher resolutions. The difference can be more pronounced at 1080p, but who buys a $1600 graphics card to play games at 1080p?

So those who would consider the RX 6900 XT would largely be those thinking about workstation applications, things that would utilise the 16GB of VRAM. But if you’re paying this amount and workstation loads are what you’re considering, the RTX 3090 probably makes more sense. Or whatever Nvidia does with the 20GB RTX 3080 Ti, which looks like it’ll be launching in the next couple of months.

It’s not all bad, though. The RX 6900 XT has some impressive rasterised performance, and the raw hardware is definitely something AMD should be proud of after years of GPU irrelevance. But from a customer perspective, AMD really needs to take that next step before you hand over your $1600.

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