Tested: 5 key things you need to know about AMD’s Radeon RX 6900 XT

The Radeon RX 6900 XT is finally here, and it’s Team Red’s first enthusiast-class graphics card to hit the streets in a long, long time. AMD’s $1,000 GPU manages to meet or beat Nvidia’s monstrous GeForce RTX 3090 in many games for a whopping $500 less and stay quiet while doing it, but that doesn’t make this beast an automatic must-buy. Our RDNA 2 architecture explainer and comprehensive Radeon RX 6900 XT review wade deep into the details and benchmarks, but if you don’t have time to read thousands of words and parse dozens of performance graphs, here are five key things you need to know about AMD’s Radeon RX 6900 XT.

1. It’s outrageously fast

This is AMD’s first card to challenge Nvidia’s flagship GeForce offering in many, many moons, and it’s easy to see why the company released it: The Radeon RX 6900 XT smokes. Even with all the eye candy cranked to maximum in games, AMD’s card is fast enough to spit out enough frames to keep 4K displays and high refresh rate 1440p monitors fed very well. The $1,500 GeForce RTX 3090 is faster, yes—by 9.2 percent at 4K and a mere 2.2 percent at 1440p across our standard testing suite—but it costs a staggering $500 more. AMD also manages to beat the RTX 3090’s performance flat-out in select games on our system, including at 4K.

Brad Chacos/IDG

If you want some of the absolute best 1440p gaming possible, the Radeon RX 6900 XT is worth considering, especially given the RTX 3090’s steep price premium.

Better yet, the Radeon RX 6900 XT can get even faster when paired with a Ryzen 5000 processor thanks to AMD’s Smart Access Memory technology. The uplift varies greatly depending on the game you’re playing, the resolution you’re playing at, and even the settings you use, but in our test suite, we saw performance increase in almost all cases, with several games gaining 5 to 8 percent more frames. Some games respond exceptionally well to Smart Access Memory, however. AMD claims Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla, Call of Duty Black Ops Cold War, Forza Horizon 4, and Red Dead Redemption 2 can see double-digit performance gains in the right circumstances. It’s a killer feature.

2. Most gamers shouldn’t buy it

All that said, most gamers shouldn’t buy it. The step-down Radeon RX 6800 XT costs $350 less than the 6900 XT, but the 6900 XT is only 4.2 percent faster than the 6800 XT at 1440p resolution and 6.7 percent faster at 4K. Top-tier graphics cards like this offer terrible price-to-performance ratios, and the Radeon RX 6900 XT doesn’t offer a tangibly different experience than the 6800 XT despite its hefty 53 percent markup. The step-down card offers great 4K and high-refresh 1440p gaming experiences, too. We said the same thing about the GeForce RTX 3090 in comparison to the RTX 3080.

Our guide to the best graphics cards for every budget and display resolution can help you select the right GPU for you.

3. AMD needs a DLSS equivalent for ray tracing, stat

RDNA 2-based cards like the Radeon RX 6900 XT offer dedicated real-time ray tracing for the first time, and as the biggest “Big Navi” offering, the 6900 XT performs the best in AMD’s GPU lineup with the cutting-edge lighting effects active. That said, AMD’s first-gen implementation isn’t quite as potent as Nvidia’s more mature ray tracing hardware, and Radeon currently lacks an alternative to Nvidia’s fantastic DLSS 2.0 AI upscaling technology, which claws back many of the frames lost to ray tracing’s substantial performance impact. The company says it’s working on a more open feature dubbed “FidelityFX Super Resolution” that accomplishes similar tricks, but details remain not just scarce, but nonexistent.

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

Unfortunately, the lack of a DLSS alternative limits the Radeon RX 6900 XT to 1440p gaming with ray tracing active. Flipping ray tracing on at 4K tanks frame rates below the smooth 60 fps that PC gamers expect. We only tested a couple of games with less strenuous ray tracing effects as well. In games that load up with more extensive ray tracing effects—like Control, Minecraft RTX, or the drool-inducing Cyberpunk 2077—I wouldn’t be surprised if you’d need to be selective about what you activate even at 1440p. Hopefully AMD is pushing to get Super Resolution out as fast as possible.

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