A BIOSed Response to NVIDIA’s Knockout Punch
AMD’s answer to NVIDIA’s GeForce GTX 1660 Ti is here, and after what transpired beyond AMD’s CES announcement we can now call it an RTX 2060 competitor, too.
So what is the Radeon RX 5600 XT, exactly? Essentially we are looking at a “cut-down” version of the RX 5700, as it features the same Navi 10 GPU and 2304 Stream Processor count as the RX 5700 – though with a reduction in video memory from 8GB down to 6GB, and a corresponding reduction in the memory bus width from 256-bit to 192-bit.
However, from announcement to release some things have changed, and the RX 5600 XT’s specifications have changed – and quite significantly. The table below offers both the originally announced specs, and the new specs for our sample, a Sapphire Pulse card.
|AMD Navi GPUs|
|RX 5500 XT||RX 5600 XT
|RX 5600 XT
|RX 5700||RX 5700 XT|
|GPU||Navi 14||Navi 10||Navi 10||Navi 10||Navi 10|
|Base Clock||1500 MHz||1130 MHz||1410 MHz||1465 MHz||1605 MHz|
|Game Clock||1717 MHz||1375 MHz||1615 MHz||1625 MHz||1755 MHz|
|Boost Clock||1845 MHz||1560 MHz||1750 MHz||1725 MHz||1905 MHz|
|Memory||4GB/8GB GDDR6||6GB GDDR6||6GB GDDR6||8GB GDDR6||8GB GDDR6|
|Memory Data Rate||14 Gbps||12 Gbps||14 Gbps||14 Gbps||14 Gbps|
|Memory Bandwidth||224 GB/s||288 GB/s||336 GB/s||448 GB/s||448 GB/s|
|Die Size||158 mm2||251 mm2||251 mm2||251 mm2||251 mm2|
|Process Tech||7 nm||7 nm||7 nm||7 nm||7 nm|
The BIOS Update
When NVIDIA lowered the price of the RTX 2060 to $299, and EVGA announced the “KO” version of that GPU with its $279 price tag (clearly intended to attack AMD’s upcoming RX 5600 XT), AMD responded. But they didn’t do it with a price drop. Days before the review embargo was up I received a new BIOS for our Sapphire Pulse sample, and AMD’s partners released similar updates for the various AIB cards for this launch.
What’s in the BIOS update that is significant enough to justify a section in this review? I was expecting some higher GPU frequencies since the original RX 5600 XT clocks seemed a bit low compared to the RX 5700, and the clocks did go up…a lot. The (default) performance BIOS position of our Pulse card went from a 1375 MHz Game Clock and 1560 MHz Boost Clock to 1615 MHz Game / 1750 MHz Boost. But this is only part of the story with this update.
GPU-Z screenshot before (left) and after (right) BIOS update
Memory was already a big part of the story with this card, as its 6GB of GDDR6 is on a 192-bit bus (down from 256-bit with the RX 5700 series) and, importantly, the data rate dropped from 14 Gbps to 12 Gbps. This data rate drop seemed like a cost-saving measure, and less of an artificial segmentation decision as the drop in clock speeds. However, as evidenced by the BIOS updates preceding this launch which brings the RX 5600 XT’s GDDR6 up to 14 Gbps with a simple firmware update, the VRAM was capable of these speeds all along.
With this move from 12 to 14 Gbps memory bandwidth climbed from 288 GB/s to 336 GB/s, and in addition to the increase in GPU/VRAM speeds the BIOS update also increased TDP (or “TGP” as AMD calls it) from 150W to 160W in the performance mode. It is important to note as well that the card is shipped in its performance BIOS mode, and this was used for all testing.
The Sapphire Pulse Card
This new Sapphire Pulse RX 5600 XT card’s design appears identical to the Pulse RX 5700 XT we checked out last year, and considering how good the thermal and noise performance of that card was vs. reference I have zero complaints here.
These Pulse cards offer Sapphire’s dual-slot cooler design called “Dual-X” (and these two large fans stay nice and quiet during operation). The card is taller than a standard GPU so a bit of allowance needs to be made for its height. There is also a full backplate for some additional heat dissipation and a more premium overall look.
Here we come to the most important aspect of any new GPU. Of course the update to the BIOS before launch did change the story quite a bit, narrowing the gap between this new RX 5600 XT product and the existing RX 5700. We will explore that shortly, but for now let’s see how the shipping BIOS performed.
First, a quick word on tested resolution. In an ideal world each new midrange GPU would be tested thoroughly at both 1920×1080 and 2560×1440, but the BIOS update impeded progress and I chose the more GPU-bound of the two resolutions (which I do whenever I have to settle for just one).
|PC Perspective GPU Test Platform|
|Processor||Intel Core i7-9700K|
|Motherboard||GIGABYTE Z390 AORUS PRO|
|Memory||Crucial Ballistix Sport LT DDR4-3200 32GB (16GBx2)|
|Storage||CORSAIR Neutron Series XTi 480GB SSD|
|Power Supply||CORSAIR RM1000x 1000W|
|Operating System||Windows 10 64-bit (1903)|
|Drivers||Radeon Software Adrenalin 19.12.1, 20.1.1 (RX 5600 XT)
GeForce Game Ready Driver 441.20
Far Cry 5
In this test we generally see favorable results for AMD, and this is no exception. An average of 84 FPS is good for a very slight edge over the older GTX 1080, and, importantly for this generation, it surpasses the RTX 2060 by 16% and the GTX 1660 Ti by 23%. Post-BIOS update the RX 5600 XT is just 4.4 FPS from an RX 5700 here (more on that later).
The frame rates are lower in this more demanding benchmark, but results are the same at the bottom half of the chart. Once again the 5600 XT leads both the GTX 1660 Ti and RTX 2060, and is still just a bit faster than the GTX 1080. In another parallel, the RX 5600 XT is, again, 4.4 FPS behind the RX 5700.
Final Fantasy XIV Shadowbringers
We had a more AMD-friendly benchmark with Far Cry 5, and Final Fantasy XIV Shadowbringers is squarely on the other side of things. It’s not too surprising to see the RTX 2060 leading the RX 5600 XT here (by 6.3 FPS), positioning it directly between the RTX 2060 and the GTX 1660 Ti, which the 5600 XT leads by 6.7 FPS here.
World of Tanks enCore
A less-demanding DX11 test, the enCore benchmark sees the RX 5600 XT move back up to within a single frame of the RTX 2060, though it only leads the GTX 1660 Ti by 2.5 FPS in this scenario.
Power, Thermals, Noise
With a total system draw of 235W (including the overhead of an 80 Plus Gold rated power supply) the RX 5600 XT was tied with an RTX 2060 and 10W below the RX 5700. No issues here.
As to thermals and noise, this Sapphire Pulse card features a capable cooler that features a zero RPM idle fan, and doesn’t spool up very much under load, either. I observed delta load temps of just 41 C (47 C hot spot, 47 C memory), though I don’t torture test GPUs by any means (these numbers came from successive benchmark runs).
Noise levels, zero at idle, only rose to 35 dBA under load with fans that reached 38% (~1240 RPM). Granted, these results came in an open test bench, and both temps and noise will likely be higher inside an enclosure – depending on airflow, of course.
The BIOS Update Impact
And now for a little analysis of the big question leading up to this review: Just how much of an impact did this clock/memory speed increase have? To answer this I quickly ran both Far Cry 5 (a DX11 test) and Metro Exodus (a DX12 test) using the original BIOS at the 1440/Ultra settings used above, and compared these results to the later updated BIOS numbers we’ve already seen.
Looking at a smaller selection of tested cards for clarity, Far Cry 5 shows an 11% boost from the new BIOS, bringing performance up 8.5 FPS to a solid 84.0 average. This is good for victory over not only the GTX 1660 Ti but the RTX 2060 in this test.
In Metro Exodus we see nearly a 10% increase, with average frame rate moving up 4.4 to 50.6 FPS. This is once again good for a lead over the RTX 2060, and positioned the RX 5600 XT very well in this test.
This would have been a very different review if AMD had not made the decision to make large increases to both GPU clock speeds and memory data rate. I had expected a price drop ($259), thinking that there would be quite a bit of overclocking headroom from this Navi 10-based GPU given the conservative (announced) specs.
AMD chose instead to aggressively clock up the card prior to release, reducing its potential OC headroom but significantly improving its position in this $279 – $299 price range.
While I was ready to write up a less than flattering review of a GPU that felt underwhelming at $279, the big performance gains from the BIOS update we received prior to today’s launch have strengthened the card’s position significantly. Initial shipments will require user action to get there, with Sapphire providing a download link for this new VBIOS on their product page (though most Sapphire cards will already have this applied).
Post-update I can now say that the Radeon RX 5600 XT is a good buy at $279, with the tested Sapphire Pulse card a nice option at $289 given its cool and quiet performance during our testing.