AMD Radeon RX 6900 XT review: ray-tracing performance

Control, Metro Exodus, Battlefield 5.

When ray tracing was first announced by Nvidia as the Next Big Thing in video game graphics, we were excited, but our excitement was tempered by the initial lack of available software. It's taken a couple of years for RT support to turn into something substantial and desirable - and now we have support in the next generation of consoles, we can likely assume that ray tracing will swiftly become a standard component of mainstream rendering. Ironically, it will be the mass adoption of AMD console hardware driving the change, even if Nvidia were the pioneers. But what's quickly becoming apparent from the release of the RX 6000 lines is that in many ways, AMD is now at a similar stage to where Nvidia was two years ago - certainly in performance terms, if our benchmarks are indicative. While intriguing, the performance hit may well be too high.

RT workloads are intense - even hybrid rendering set-ups like the titles featured here, which combine both rasterisation and RT elements, so we're standardising at 1440p resolution in these tests. Nvidia's DLSS can be a game-changer, particularly in its 2.x implementation seen in Control, Cyberpunk 2077 and others, but to maintain like-for-like workloads between Radeon and Nvidia cards, we've opted to disable it here.

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.

This is very much a worst case scenario for AMD - it stress-tests RT, and it does so in a title where even in rasterisation terms, Nvidia is way ahead. What we're seeing in these results suggests a compound effect and even with the small performance boost offered by SAM, RX 6900 XT still falls a little short of the RTX 2080 Ti's throughput - and it has no DLSS-style technology to get frame-rates back to where they should be.

Control: DX12, High, High RT, TAA

  • RTX 2080
  • RTX 2080 Super
  • RTX 2080 Ti
  • Titan RTX
  • RTX 3070
  • RTX 3080
  • RTX 3090
  • RX 6800
  • RX 6800 XT
  • RX 6900 XT
  • RX 6900 XT SAM

Metro Exodus

We return to the fire and flames to the Metro Exodus integrated benchmark, but this time we've got the game's DXR implementation of global illumination and emissives enabled. Similar to the non-RT benchmark scores, the 0.5 per cent difference between SAM on and SAM off suggests no driver-level implementation and as things stand, the RX 6900 XT is broadly on par with RTX 3070, a card that's literally half the price - though the concept of recommended retail prices right now seems somewhat at odds with reality. RTX 3080 and RTX 3090 are far, far ahead.

Metro Exodus: DX12, Ultra, Ultra RT, TAA

  • RTX 2080
  • RTX 2080 Super
  • RTX 2080 Ti
  • Titan RTX
  • RTX 3070
  • RTX 3080
  • RTX 3090
  • RX 6800
  • RX 6800 XT
  • RX 6900 XT
  • RX 6900 XT SAM

Battlefield 5

Our final RT test comes in Battlefield 5, during the opening cutscene and gameplay of the Tirailleur campaign. This is one of the first RT-supported titles but its ray traced reflections are still quite spectacular at times. Regardless, gen-on-gen gains for Nvidia Ampere cards weren't quite so impressive compared to other titles, but the struggle is real for AMD too. The RX 6900 XT can only log a five per cent win over the RTX 3070, with the RTX 3080 and RTX 3090 delivering 22.0 and 33.2 per cent performance advantages - and that's with SAM enabled, which in this case definitely helps matters. In fact, we logged an 11.2 per cent advantage with SAM in effect here.

Battlefield 5: DX12, Ultra, Ultra RT, TAA

  • RTX 2080
  • RTX 2080 Super
  • RTX 2080 Ti
  • Titan RTX
  • RTX 3070
  • RTX 3080
  • RTX 3090
  • RX 6800
  • RX 6800 XT
  • RX 6900 XT
  • RX 6900 XT SAM

All of the numbers are in, so now it's time to summarise in the Digital Foundry verdict.

AMD Radeon RX 6900 XT Analysis

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About the author

Richard Leadbetter

Richard Leadbetter

Technology Editor, Digital Foundry  |  digitalfoundry

Rich has been a games journalist since the days of 16-bit and specialises in technical analysis. He's commonly known around Eurogamer as the Blacksmith of the Future.

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