We were pretty excited about AMD’s RX 6800 XT and RX 6800. Not only did AMD finally add ray tracing to its latest generation of graphics cards, but it made them a bit speedier compared to Nvidia’s latest generation of GPUs. While AMD didn’t win all the time, and the GPUs definitely lagged behind in ray tracing, the gains AMD made in base performance plus its competitive prices make this latest generation of Radeon graphics cards the most exciting in a while. And it’s no different for the RX 6700 XT.
The RX 6700 XT is built on the same RDNA2 architecture. That has seriously helped AMD’s latest generation of cards become the impressive PC components they are. I went into this review thinking the RX 6700 XT would be equally impressive, based on how the RX 6800 XT and RX 6800 performed in the past. I wasn’t disappointed. AMD wasn’t kidding when it said this graphics card was made for 1440p gaming. It beats the RTX 3060 Ti in base performance, and sometimes the RTX 3070, too.
There are a few wonky things to consider in terms of the price versus performance and features like Smart Access Memory (SAM) that might have some people thinking they should wait for another AMD or Nvidia card…if only the GPU market wasn’t the hellscape it is right now. The RX 6700 XT is just good enough, and reasonably priced enough, to possibly convince some people to switch from Nvidia to AMD if they can get their hands on this new GPU when it officially goes on sale tomorrow. Would you rather get an RX 6700 XT at MSRP or a RTX 3060 Ti for $1,000 from a scalper? I’d choose the former.
Justifying the price
All benchmarks, aside from the SAM comparisons, were performed with the following test PC: Intel Core i9-10900K CPU; Asus ROG Maximus Extreme XII motherboard; 16GB (2 x 8) G.Skill Trident Z Royal DDR4-3600 DRAM; Samsung 970 Evo NVMe M.2 500GB SSD; Seasonic Focus GX-1000 PSU; and a Corsair H150i Pro RGB 360mm AIO for cooling.
As you’ll see from the charts below, the $479 RX 6700 XT gets the same performance as the $400 RTX 3060 Ti or as the $500 RTX 3070, depending on the game. There’s a lot more to compare than just base game benchmarks and price, like ray tracing and Smart Access Memory, which is AMD’s fancy name for a BIOS-level feature that you can turn on to get a frame rate boost in some games.
Its performance in those other areas makes it both easy and hard to justify that $479 price point. It’s easier to justify if there’s plenty of stock available, but much harder to justify if AMD and its partners botch launch day and all the cards end up going to scalpers.
Let’s assume we live in a perfect world for a second and there are plenty of RX 6700 XTs to go around. Would I recommend AMD’s latest GPU over the RTX 3060, 3060 Ti? Or even the 3070? I’d definitely get the RX 6700 over the RTX 3060 if I was looking for a higher-end, mid-tier GPU. Because its base performance is so bananas. I would not get it over the RTX 3070 because the ray tracing performance on that GPU is far superior. As for the 3060 Ti…it’s a toss up.
I am hesitant to call the RX 6700 XT the new mid-range champion. It comes close, but falls short in some performance areas and price. While it’s equivalent or better than Nvidia’s RTX 3060 Ti, it still falls behind in ray tracing just like its more expensive siblings.
The performance difference can be explained by looking at how each company has designed its GPU architecture. One of the reasons AMD’s Radeon 6000-series cards can achieve better, non-ray tracing performance is due to their infinity cache. That infinity cache, which is 96MB worth in the RX 6700 XT’s case, acts as a sort of smaller, temporary memory storage that helps off-load and process more visual data at once.
This is one way how, despite all of AMD’s new graphics cards being configured with a 192-bit bus to transfer data, AMD can get higher frame rates with ray tracing turned off.
That’s a simplified version of how the architecture works, and doesn’t take into account the speeds and sizes of the different types of cache, but it’s clear AMD’s infinity cache is helping boost speeds over Nvidia’s cards with a 256-bit bus. A card like the RTX 3060 Ti, which has equivalent performance to the RX 6700 XT, has a 256-bit bus so it can handle more data at once, but it only has 8GB of GDDR6 memory where the RX 6700 XT has 12GB.
This is not the same as AMD’s infinity cache, but it appears AMD’s combination of 96MB infinity cache and 12GB memory is what lets it go toe-to-toe with the RTX 3060 Ti, despite its larger bus size. The RTX 3060, in contrast, has 12GB of memory with a 192-bit bus, and the RX 6700 XT is miles ahead of it in the same way the RTX 3060 Ti is ahead of it. Without infinity cache, it’s likely the RX 6700 XT’s performance would be closer to the RTX 3060.
But AMD’s GPUs don’t have dedicated ray tracing cores like Nvidia’s. Nvidia’s ray tracing cores (RT) are dedicated hardware on the GPU itself that help accelerate lighting effects specific to ray tracing. AMD does have its own ray tracing hardware called ray accelerators, but those are part of the larger compute units that make up the GPU instead of being totally separate. In other words, ray accelerators are not their own dedicated hardware like RT cores.
The way Nvidia has built its Ampere ray tracing architecture is more efficient than AMD’s, so its ray tracing benchmarks are higher. That’s why you see the RX 6700 XT falling in between the RTX 3060 Ti and RTX 3060 most of the time with ray tracing on.
However, if it wasn’t for that infinity cache, performance could be worse. The RX 6700 XT might be a perfect 1440p GPU, but when it comes to ray tracing it’s at best a 1080p card with some of the most demanding games out there.
But there is a little help from AMD’s Smart Access Memory. When we tested that feature in our Radeon RX 6800 XT and RX 6800 review, SAM boosted frame rates anywhere between 10-30 fps, depending on the resolution. However, it did not work for every game and that’s the case again here.
Our SAM-focused tech bench included: Ryzen 9 5950X CPU; Asus ROG Crosshair VIII Hero motherboard; 16GB (2 x 8) G.Skill Trident Z Royal DDR4-3600 DRAM; Samsung 970 Evo NVMe M.2 500GB SSD; Seasonic Focus GX-1000 PSU; and a Corsair H150i Pro RGB 360mm AIO for cooling.
The RX 6700 XT also benefits from having SAM enabled. For instance, with the RX 6800, Borderlands 3 got a 18 fps boost at 1080p on ultra, but the RX 6700 XT got a 13 fps boost at the same resolution and graphics setting. However, that difference is with the Intel test bench.
Running the same benchmarks on the AMD test bench has a more pronounced result; the AMD CPU/GPU combo only nets 95 fps on the same settings, but with SAM on it gets 135 fps—a 40 fps increase. For all the other games where SAM has an effect, the same is true. AMD CPU and GPU together, plus SAM, puts the RX 6700 XT’s base performance in between the RTX 3070 and RTX 3080.
All that said, where does that leave the RX 6700 XT? When paired with an Intel processor it gets better performance, but it can get better performance with an AMD CPU as long as SAM is turned on. It gets the same or better performance than the RTX 3060 Ti on the same test bench, but its ray tracing performance is the same as the RTX 3060. And it’s $79 more than the RTX 3060 Ti, but $21 less than the RTX 3070.
The RX 6700 XT is clearly a wonderful yet complex graphics card that will have a major advantage over Nvidia at this specific moment in time because of the graphics card shortage—but only if AMD can stop the the scalpers and get the GPU into the hands of actual consumers. If you see one, should you buy it? Absolutely.