AMD RX 6800 and 6800 XT review: ray-tracing performance

Control, Metro Exodus, Battlefield 5.

RT graphics performance is an area that AMD cards have been unable to compete, but that all changes with the RDNA2 architecture, the Big Navi cards and specifically the RX 6800 and RX 6800 XT in front of us today. These performance figures are important, too, with many of the biggest next-gen and cross-gen games boasting ray tracing support of some kind - including the likes of Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War, Watch Dogs Legion and Cyberpunk 2077. Of course, those particular games aren't available yet, on account of them not being released, so we've instead tested three recent games that demonstrate RTX features to a greater or lesser extent: Control, Metro Exodus and Battlefield 5.

Note that while some of these games feature DLSS support, Nvidia's performance boosting AI upscaling technique, we've tested all RTX cards with DLSS disabled. That means in Control, Metro and Battlefield 5, you can expect significantly faster frame-rates - and varying image quality - if you choose to use DLSS, but unfortunately you don't yet have a similar option on AMD cards like the RX 6000 series apart from rendering the game at a lower resolution and then applying a sharpening filter to the result. Note as well that we're testing each game at a medium resolution, 2560x1440, as this offers the best combination between image quality and workable frame-rates.

Control

Control is the quintessential implementation of ray tracing features on PC; we highly recommend Alex Battaglia's video deep dive if you're not au fait with how much enabling each element changes the game's already stunning visuals. To recap, you've got individual controls for ray traced global illumination, reflections and shadows - pretty much all of the RT features available - and each has a significant cost. With all enabled, the RX 6800 and 6800 XT unfortunately don't do that well at all.

The 6800 only performs to the level of the first RTX 20-series flagship, the RTX 2080, meaning it's significantly worse than the 2080 Super, 2080 Ti, Titan RTX, RTX 3070, RTX 3080 and 3090. Meanwhile, the RX 6800 XT is midway between the 2080 Super and 2080 Ti when it comes to RT performance.

Specifically, the 3070 hits a 34 per cent higher frame-rate than the RX 6800 in our 'Corridor of Doom' run, while the 3080 outperforms the 6800 XT by a massive 64 per cent. These are unfortunately not margins that can be significantly eroded, even with overclocking, Smart Access Memory and other features, so it's going to take a DLSS competitor, a massive driver improvement or perhaps just a second-generation RT implementation for AMD to really challenge Nvidia here.

Control: DX12, High, High RT, TAA

  • RTX 2070
  • RTX 2070 Super
  • RTX 2080
  • RTX 2080 Super
  • RTX 2080 Ti
  • Titan RTX
  • RTX 3070
  • RTX 3080
  • RTX 3090
  • RX 6800
  • RX 6800 XT

Metro Exodus

We return to the fire and flames to the Metro Exodus integrated benchmark, but this time we've got the game's RTX implementation of global illumination and emissives enabled. The RTX 3070 leads the RX 6800 by 20 per cent despite costing $80 less, while the $50 you'll be saving with the RX 6800 XT against the 3080 will be cold comfort when the 3080 runs the same scene 34 per cent faster. This is at least a closer gap than we saw in Control, presumably because fewer RT features are being used here.

Metro Exodus: DX12, Ultra, Ultra RT, TAA

  • RTX 2070
  • RTX 2070 Super
  • RTX 2080
  • RTX 2080 Super
  • RTX 2080 Ti
  • Titan RTX
  • RTX 3070
  • RTX 3080
  • RTX 3090
  • RX 6800
  • RX 6800 XT

Battlefield 5

Our final RT test comes in Battlefield 5, during the opening cutscene and gameplay of the Tirailleur campaign. The RX 6800 and 6800 XT manage a highly playable 62 and 71fps, respectively, but there's still a 26 per cent advantage for the 3070 over the 6800 and a 41 per cent lead for the 3080 against the XT model. It's worth pointing out that Battlefield 5 - and Control, and Metro Exodus - also have the option for DLSS, which tends to boost performance by up to 60 per cent depending on the game, albeit at the cost of a slightly less sharp rendering of the image.

Battlefield 5: DX12, Ultra, Ultra RT, TAA

  • RTX 2070
  • RTX 2070 Super
  • RTX 2080
  • RTX 2080 Super
  • RTX 2080 Ti
  • Titan RTX
  • RTX 3070
  • RTX 3080
  • RTX 3090
  • RX 6800
  • RX 6800 XT

So with all things said and done, RT is clearly an area that Nvidia will remain dominant in, but the frame-rates we're seeing for the 6800 and 6800 XT are at least playable at 1440p - not bad given that AMD's previous generation cards couldn't run these games with RT at all.

That brings our usual testing suite to a close, but AMD's RX 6800 and 6800 XT have one more trick up their sleeve: Smart Access Memory or SAM. This feature can purportedly boost performance, but it comes with some restrictions to be aware of. We've tested it, so check out the results on the next page.

AMD Radeon RX 6800 and RX 6800 XT Analysis

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About the author

Will Judd

Will Judd

Senior Staff Writer, Digital Foundry

A bizarre British-American hybrid, Will turns caffeine into technology articles through a little-known process called 'writing'. His favourite games are Counter-Strike, StarCraft and Fallout 2.

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