AMD Radeon RX 6800 XT and RX 6800 Review: Big Navi Delivers

Manufacturer: AMD AMD Radeon RX 6800 XT and RX 6800 Review: Big Navi Delivers

Our First Look At Radeon RX 6000 Series Performance

A long time ago in a galaxy much like this one, humanoid beings first became aware of the phenomenon known only as “Big Navi”. As elusive as the similarly-named but only tangentially-related Bigfoot from Earth’s not-quite-ancient history, we now have much more than grainy handheld camera footage or VideoCardz leaks.

Yes, the wait is finally over. Take a deep breath. Shout it from the rooftops:

BIG NAVI IS HERE!

That feels better. But scream therapy alone will not answer the questions we had about performance with the new Radeon RX 6800 Series cards in independent testing, though AMD did provide a fairly comprehensive preview of performance ahead of this launch. Will there be any surprises? Maybe, but without spoiling too much I think that the only thing Team Red fans will have to worry about today is availability, and not performance.

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We won’t be diving too deeply into architecture here, but what AMD has accomplished is certainly worth at least a quick look. We knew that increasing the Compute Unit (CU) count would offer a huge boost in performance even without significant architectural improvements, as the previous Radeon RX 5700 XT offered great performance with just 40 CUs. But the Radeon Technology Group was obviously not content to simply up the CU count – which now tops out at 80 with the RX 6900XT.

AMD RDNA 2 architecture introduces significant architecture advancements from RDNA architecture in the form of an enhanced compute unit, new visual pipeline featuring Ray Accelerators, and all new AMD Infinity Cache. The focus for AMD RDNA 2 architecture was to deliver breakthrough speeds with amazing power efficiency. With up to 1.54x higher performance-per-watt and 1.3x higher frequency at same per-CU power, RDNA 2 architecture is designed for the next generation of efficient high-performance gaming.

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The approach that AMD has taken is quite interesting, and quite effective. With RDNA 2 we have a mix of improved performance-per-watt, very high clock speeds, and a unique graphics memory cache implementation – known as Infinity Cache – which is a brilliantly realized solution to the problem of memory bandwidth.

The goal to make AMD RDNA 2 a highly power efficient architecture resulted in the creation of the AMD Infinity Cache – a cache level alters the way data is delivered in GPUs. This global cache allows fast data access and acts as a massive bandwidth amplifier, enabling high performance bandwidth with superb power efficiency.

A highly optimized on-die cache results in frame data delivered with much lower energy per bit. With 128MB of AMD Infinity Cache, up to 3.25x effective bandwidth of 256-bit of GDDR6 is achieved, and when adding power to the equation, up to 2.4x more effective bandwidth/watt vs 256-bit GDDR6 is achieved.

Without a doubt the concept of a bigger, higher-powered version of the same graphics found in the latest consoles is an exciting one for PC gamers, but the results will speak for themselves. Has AMD suddenly made the gaming landscape a highly competitive one, trading blows with even NVIDIA’s fastest current GPUs? We will move on to the some benchmark results shortly, but first let’s take a look at the Radeon RX 6000 Series lineup:

AMD Radeon RX 6900 XT AMD Radeon RX 6800 XT AMD Radeon RX 6800
Compute Units 80 72 60
Memory 16GB GDDR6 16GB GDDR6 16GB GDDR6
Memory Interface 256 bit 256 bit 256 bit
Game Clock 2015 MHz 2015 MHz 1815 MHz
Boost Clock Up to 2250 MHz Up to 2250 MHz Up to 2105 MHz
Infinity Cache 128 MB 128 MB 128 MB
Total Board Power 300W 300W 250W
Launch Price $999 $649 $579
Launch Date (Expected) 12/8/2020 11/18/2020 11/18/2020

Of course availability will be a big part of the story with any major hardware launch this year, and we can only hope that AMD has built up supply for those eager for an upgrade.

AMD’s Radeon RX 6800 and RX 6800 XT Reference Cards

Before we get underway here’s a quick look at AMD’s reference design for both cards, and as you can see the only difference is the thickness of each card. The RX 6800 is a standard dual-slot width card, while the RX 6800 XT is a 2.5 slot card. Both cards are 10.5 inches (267 mm) long.

AMD Radeon RX 6800 XT and RX 6800 Review: Big Navi Delivers - Graphics Cards 21

These triple-fan coolers have a premium look and feel, finished nicely with an aluminum backplate. The cards are also on the dense side – particularly the RX 6800 XT, which weighs approximately 3 lbs 5 oz (heavier than the RTX 3080 FE).

An interesting note on the design is the lack of any vents on the I/O bracket, meaning all of the warm air will be exhausted into the case. As with the RTX 3080 Founders Edition design good case airflow will be required for best performance – though NVIDIA’s design does exhaust some air from the back of the card.

As to power, both cards require two standard 8-pin PCIe connectors, with AMD recommending a 650W power supply for the RX 6800, and a 750W power supply for the RX 6800 XT.

Performance Benchmarks

As I said last year with the RX 5700 Series launch review, the results to follow speak for themselves so I won’t add much in the way of commentary. As you scroll through the charts bear in mind the pricing with these Radeon cards, with the RX 6800 XT $50 lower than NVIDIA’s RTX 3080 ($649 vs. $699) and the RX 6800 priced $80 above the RTX 3070 ($579 vs. $499).

And please, for the sake of comparison let’s just pretend that we can buy any new tech at MSRP right now. It’s more fun that way.

PC Perspective GPU Test Platform
Processor AMD Ryzen 9 3900X (1800MHz FCLK)
Motherboard ASUS ROG Crosshair VIII HERO WIFI
Memory HyperX Predator DDR4-3600 CL16 32GB (16GBx2)
Storage Samsung 850 EVO 1TB SSD
Power Supply CORSAIR RM1000x 1000W
Operating System Windows 10 64-bit (Version 1909)
Drivers GeForce Game Ready Driver 452.06 / 456.16 / 456.96
Radeon Software Adrenalin 2020 Edition 20.8.3
Radeon Software Adrenalin 20.45.01.12-11.6 Beta (RX6K)

As always, all benchmark results presented are the average of three separate runs. In the case of any outliers (abnormally low/high results) the game’s results are tossed, and the card re-tested. Every effort is made to provide accurate, repeatable results. With an identical test setup you should see the same numbers, on average, to those presented in the charts to follow.

Note: I didn’t have a Ryzen 5000 processor on hand, so there won’t be any AMD Smart Access Memory feature tests in this review. Sorry!

3DMark Time Spy

We begin with a quick look at graphics scores using both 3DMark Time Spy and Time Spy Extreme. First we have Time Spy, a 2560×1440 DX12 benchmark.

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Here we see our first indication that the RTX 3080 Founders Edition will hold a slim overall lead over the RX 6800 XT, but the RX 6800 will offer better performance than RTX 2080 Ti or RTX 3070 Founders Edition cards.

3DMark Time Spy Extreme

Moving up to the 4K test we find a similar result:

AMD Radeon RX 6800 XT and RX 6800 Review: Big Navi Delivers - Graphics Cards 23

Based on Time Spy/Time Spy Extreme it looks like the RTX 3080 FE will be the faster card compared to the 6800 XT, and the RX 6800 will be significantly faster than the RTX 3070. But we must now turn to some game benchmarks to get a clear picture of what you can expect from these cards.

DiRT 5

We begin with a game that will favor AMD, and sure enough the first chart has both the RX 6800 XT and RX 6800 beating the RTX 3080 Founders Edition card at 2560×1440. This is a best-case scenario, but we will look at some historically NVIDIA-friendly results as well.

AMD Radeon RX 6800 XT and RX 6800 Review: Big Navi Delivers - Graphics Cards 24

At 3840×2160 (4K) the RX 6800 XT is still far ahead of the RTX 3080 Founders Edition, while the RTX 3080 is in a virtual tie with the RX 6800. If every result looked like this AMD could easily take the gaming graphics crown…

AMD Radeon RX 6800 XT and RX 6800 Review: Big Navi Delivers - Graphics Cards 25
The Division 2

While this game is on the list of AMD optimized titles, we won’t be seeing any DiRT 5-like charts here. Here the RX 6800 XT begins to trade blows with the RTX 3080 Founders Edition.

AMD Radeon RX 6800 XT and RX 6800 Review: Big Navi Delivers - Graphics Cards 26

The cards at the top of the chart stay in the same positions from 2560×1440 to 3840×2160, with the RTX 3080 FE still on top, followed by the RX 6800 XT. Impressively the RX 6800 (non-XT) continues to beat a 2080 Ti FE, which is in turn a bit faster than the RTX 3070 FE.

AMD Radeon RX 6800 XT and RX 6800 Review: Big Navi Delivers - Graphics Cards 27
Metro Exodus

Metro Exodus is a tough test of any GPU even at the high preset – with ultra and extreme taking things to near Crysis levels. We will stick with “high” for both 2560×1440 and 3840×2160 results.

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What’s this? AMD’s RX 6800 XT bests the RTX 3080 FE at 1440/high?! Well, the results are within a single frame per second, so we could call this a tie. Really impressive, regardless. But what about 3840×2160? Won’t the 16GB card have a clear advantage at 4K?

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I’m sure there is a scenario in which the available VRAM of an 8GB or 10GB graphics card becomes a bottleneck, but that isn’t Metro Exodus at 4K/high. And I’ll just mention this quickly here: memory allocation does not equal memory usage. Moving on.

Shadow of the Tomb Raider

Another historically NVIDIA-optimized title, Shadow of the Tomb Raider would seem to be a game that could provide an easy win for Team Green. But will that actually be the case?

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It’s close, but this is a win for AMD as the RX 6800 XT offered an average of about 2.5 FPS more than the RTX 3080 FE at 1440/high. But when we move up to 4K things change.

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Almost the opposite result here at the top of the chart, as NVIDIA’s RTX 3080 FE card edges out the RX 6800 XT by around 2.5 FPS at this higher resolution. The real story here is the RX 6800, which continues to offer outstanding performance – above the level of an RTX 3070 and RTX 2080 Ti.

Far Cry 5

We move back in a time a bit with Far Cry 5, a DX11 title that needs to be run at its highest detail settings to pose much of a challenge for a fast GPU. We tested the game at 4K/ultra here:

AMD Radeon RX 6800 XT and RX 6800 Review: Big Navi Delivers - Graphics Cards 32

The results are very close at the top of the chart, with a very slim victory for the RX 6800 XT that is arguably too close to call at less than 1 FPS. The advantage of the RX 6800 over the 2080 Ti and RTX 3070 is just as impressive in this game. Is it $80 impressive, considering the RX 6800’s $579 launch MSRP? That’s up to you, but it feels like AMD priced these with relative performance in mind (assuming everything is available at MSRP, of course).

GPU Clocks, Power, Temps, and Noise

AMD is pretty much true to the 300W TDP with the RX 6800 XT, with only a few spikes above this with a max reported draw of 326W. Further power testing is planned, with hardware passthrough testing – rather than just software – in the works.

We knew about the power draw, but just look at those frequencies:

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GPU clocks spiked as high as 2450 MHz with our RX 6800 XT sample, which is an outrageous number for a stock, air-cooled GPU. (Just think of the possibilities from a liquid-cooled card!)

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With the RX 6800 we recorded clocks ranging up to 2250 MHz, and our sample only hit a max of 242W in GPU-Z logging – which is just under the rated 250W TDP.

Next we’ll look at good old fashioned total system power – measured at the wall using a watts up? PRO power meter:

AMD Radeon RX 6800 XT and RX 6800 Review: Big Navi Delivers - Graphics Cards 35

These new cards do pull quite a bit more power than their RX 5700 Series predecessors, but total system draw of 372 W under gaming load from the RX 6800 is still very good for this performance level. The RX 6800 XT draws quite a bit more, but the total system power of 427 W is 35W below our RTX 3080 FE sample.

As to thermals and noise, our initial findings are naturally limited to the AMD reference designs, but these set the bar quite high. We saw outstanding performance, very low noise, and controlled thermals. There was some pesky electrical chatter (choke/coil noise), but not obvious over normal system load noise.

Temps under load with the RX 6800 and 6800 XT were measured in a ~19.5 °C room, with the XT topping out at 77 °C GPU / 97 °C Hot Spot, and the non-XT hitting 77 °C GPU / 90 °C Hot Spot (according to GPU-Z). Clearly our cards were targeting 77 °C, ramping fans and adjusting clocks as needed to maintain this.

Fans reached 50% under load, which resulted in just under 38 dBA with the SPL meter positioned 12 inches from the leading edge of the card in an open case.

Conclusion

I think it’s safe to say that AMD has delivered on the Big Navi promise, and we haven’t even tested BIGGEST Navi yet, the RX 6900 XT. RDNA 2 is a very impressive architecture, to be sure, and the RX 6800 and RX 6800 XT graphics cards are outstanding products. AMD has suddenly and emphatically altered the gaming landscape, bringing us closer to parity than we have been in many years.

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AMD now has the performance to compete directly with NVIDIA, and any small disparity in performance with the RX 6800 XT vs. the RTX 3080 was clearly accounted for with the Radeon’s $50 lower MSRP. For its part the RX 6800 seems priced fairly at $579. Beyond raw performance, features (ray tracing, Smart Access Memory, etc.) play a role in the overall story, and we need to wait for mature drivers (and a Ryzen 5000 CPU) to explore all aspects of these new GPUs.

Sadly, this launch will probably end up being another story of limited availability, with 2020 being particularly unkind to enthusiasts looking to upgrade their desktop systems. If we look past availability at what AMD has accomplished here, it’s still worth our highest honor to see the promise of Big Navi fulfilled.

Review Disclosures

This disclosure statement covers the way the product being reviewed was obtained and the relationship between the product's manufacturer and PC Perspective.

How Product Was Obtained

The GPUs are on loan from AMD for the purpose of this review.

What Happens To Product After Review

The GPUs remain the property of AMD but will be on extended loan to PC Perspective for the purpose of future testing and product comparisons.

Company Involvement

AMD provided the product samples and technical brief to PC Perspective but had no control over the content of the review and was not consulted prior to publication.

PC Perspective Compensation

Neither PC Perspective nor any of its staff were paid or compensated in any way by AMD for this review.

Advertising Disclosure

AMD has not purchased advertising at PC Perspective during the past twelve months.

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About The Author

Sebastian Peak

Editor-in-Chief at PC Perspective. Writer of computer stuff, vintage PC nerd, and full-time dad. Still in search of the perfect smartphone. In his nonexistent spare time Sebastian's hobbies include hi-fi audio, guitars, and road bikes. Currently investigating time travel.

20 Comments

  1. jtiger102

    For the Dirt 5 results at 4K shouldn’t the 6800 be tied with the 3080 and not the 3070 as listed in the text?

    “At 3840×2160 (4K) the RX 6800 XT is still far ahead of the RTX 3080 Founders Edition, while the RTX 3070 is in a virtual tie with the RX 6800.”

    Maybe I’m just looking at the chart wrong, but it looks like the 3080 and 6800 are tied.

    Reply
    • Sebastian Peak

      You’re right. Should have been 3080 there. Fixed!

      Reply
  2. collie man

    Now that Red and Blue are on an even keel again, one wonders if a future driver war is inevitable again…..

    Reply
  3. WayneJetSki

    Are those big drops of GPU frequency normal for video cards? I dont remember seeing big drops like that before.

    Looks like a great offering from AMD. Very interested in seeing how the RX 6800XT performs with Cyberpunk 2077 when that finally comes out.

    Reply
    • Sebastian Peak

      Yep – that is the pause between runs. Those charts are just 10 consecutive runs of the Metro Exodus benchmark using the standalone utility.

      Reply
      • WayneJetSki

        thanks for the info.

        Reply
  4. beckerjr

    Where’s the Ray tracing and DLSS? This looks like AMD PR not a review from an independent website.

    Reply
    • Sebastian Peak

      Ray tracing will get a separate article. I need to update the GPU testbed for DXR. I left it at version 1909 for these tests to keep from having to re-test everything on a new install. The previous reviews that included ray tracing / DLSS used benchmarks that are only compatible with NVIDIA RTX.

      Reply
  5. BigTed

    So, I’m looking to upgrade my 1080ti after 3 1/2 years. 10GB seems stingy for the 3080, but I’ll be missing out on the ray tracing performance going with the 6800XT. Ahhhhhhh!

    Reply
    • Dr. Vibrato

      In a couple of years, RT performance might have evolved to a point where it can deliver a meaningful visual uplift compared to contemporary sophisticated rasterization techniques (with respect to usable frame rates), and that’s were RT performance could become a generally meaningful part of purchasing decisions outside of particularly specific usage scenarios. If you intend to keep the cadence of upgrading your GPU every 3..4 years, there is is nothing to lament about the lack of RT performance, yet.

      Reply
      • BigTed

        You’re probably right. I guess the lack of competition for the last few years meant I didn’t have to make a compromise with the 1080ti. I’m just not used to it! Anyway, its a moot point as I reckon neither will be in stock till February, and by then the 20GB 3080 might be out.

        Reply
  6. WayneJetSki

    So I know I am asking for an apples VS oranges comparison but I want to know how these RX 6800 series video cards ray tracing compare against the Playstation5.

    I think I am okay with the lower end ray tracing performance of the RX 6800 XT but I would not consider buying it if is below the new base specs for next gen PC games. (By base spec. I mean the PS5 console’s GPU and ray tracing abilities). I would be shocked if a video card from AMD for $650 bucks has worse ray tracing hardware than a PlayStation 5 for $500…. but I want to be a nerd read all about how it compares.

    Reply
  7. Julie O'Neill

    And they come with key for a game that is delayed, possibly until march 2022. Not much of a pack in bonus.

    Reply
    • WayneJetSki

      What game are you talking about ? I havnt read anything about a pack in game?

      Reply
        • Julie O'Neill

          I could have sworn that I read it will be bundled with series 5000 and 6000 radon cards, but upon investigation it seems I was wrong.

          Brain Fart I guess.

          Reply
  8. vlADIMIR

    Did you do any test with flight simulator 2020?

    Reply
  9. Tyrael2b

    Very excited about ATI/AMDs new architecture and what it means for future /curent cards competing against Nvida – I wonder if supply has been and issues because of those dam! Xbox and Ps5 taking up capacity (from real pc’s) somewhere in the supply chain!

    Reply
    • Dr. Vibrato

      Nah, the supply issue is because of the damn Ryzen/Threadripper/EPYC chiplets clogging up TSMC’s 7nm fab…. /joking

      Reply
  10. Brett Hood

    Hi Sebastian

    Another ripper review. That is a beast of GPU.

    Reply

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