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AMD Radeon RX 5500 XT vs GTX 1650 Super: the Digital Foundry verdict

A win for AMD against Nvidia - but those cheap Polaris cards are hard to ignore.

We've reached the point where it's actually quite hard to find an actual 'bad' product from the major players in the PC hardware space and the proliferation of really decent 1080p gaming GPUs in the market certainly makes a distinct purchasing recommendation challenging. However, stacked up against the competition, the RX 5500 XT looks like an on-paper win for AMD - but not much of a game-changer in terms of the status quo.

The 5500 XT in its 4GB iteration is priced on par with the GTX 1650 Super and although the Nvidia card is closer to the new Navi offering than AMD may like, it's still a win - you get more performance for the same price and that's the crucial factor. Its only real deficiency is shared with the GTX 1650 Super: it has a 4GB framebuffer, which does have implications if you are hellbent on running everything at ultra. I don't necessarily think that doing so is such a good idea for this class of card though as the embedded video on this page hopefully illustrates. There are future-proofing concerns for a 4GB card, of course, but fundamentally with just a little commonsense, the more limited VRAM set-up can still do what it needs to do.

Meanwhile, the compute power of the RX 5500 XT - in both iterations - is almost a match for the GTX 1660 and would likely produce similar performance (if not better in some cases) with further overclocking, which opens up a couple of options. Simply by paring back your texture settings, the 4GB card can become a lot more potent in VRAM-constrained games and the hit to the presentation at the target 1080p resolution is hardly likely to impact your enjoyment of any given current-gen game. Alternatively, you can invest £20 more in the eight gig variant, which is undoubtedly more future-proof than either the 4GB model or indeed the GTX 1660. The case for the 8GB model is a touch harder to make in the here and now as there's no out-and-out performance win - in our benchmark suite, at least - but while a touch slower than GTX 1660 in many scenarios, the extra memory likely tips the balance in AMD's favour since MSRP is lower.

However, an on-paper win for the RX 5500 XT has to be tempered with current marketplace conditions. The reality is that AMD has slashed prices on the RX 570, 580 and 590 and just because a new architecture comes along, that does not suddenly invalidate AMD's older GPUs. Yes, they're more power hungry and won't be available in dinky form factors, but in the here and now at least, you can likely find a good factory OC RX 580 or RX 590 with eight gigs of RAM for the same price as an RX 5500 XT 4GB, or perhaps even a touch lower. A quick search on Amazon reveals some amazing deals for four gig Polaris cards too - these are the real price vs performance winners for 1080p gaming, as good as the 5500 XT is.

Do you really need ultra settings? Cards like the 5500 XT - particularly the 4GB variant - are better suited to a more modest settings mix, which often removes little from the overall experience.

However, these may well be stock clearance offers, and the newer, more expensive cards from both Nvidia and AMD are likely to take over in due course. And if you're going to pay more, the calculus changes again - because while the GTX 1660 Super is more expensive still than the vanilla offering, at the time of writing, Amazon will sell you a Palit version for under £200 delivered. Right now, this is £10 under MSRP but it shows the degree of latitude available to Nvidia and board partners to make users think twice about a potential RX 5500 XT purchase. In short, there are a lot of pros and cons to factor into the buying decision here if you can be just a little more elastic about your budget.

One thing I do think worth mentioning, however, is the new Radeon Adrenalin 2020 driver update - which is far more than just a driver update, but rather a total revamp of the software environment for the Radeon cards, with brilliant profiling tools, a total revamp in presentation, plus in-game access to a ton of information and control panel options. As well as being blisteringly fast, there's also a new option called Radeon Boost, which essentially maps dynamic resolution scaling to mouse movement for a net improvement to performance when the game is in motion. We're intrigued by Boost - but not entirely sold on it (more on this soon) - but the actual revamp of the software interface to the GPU is next-level stuff when compared to Nvidia's. Also noteworthy is that highly desirable new features like integer scaling (friendlier for retro content) work across all supported GPUs, not just the latest offerings - and yes, returning to the 1080p GPU face-off, all new Radeon features roll-out to those cheap Polaris cards too.

Ultimately, what we have here with the RX 5500 XT is a replacement product for the RX 590 - more efficient, but not really more powerful in most scenarios we tested. It's a strong, solid product but not really a game changer at the prices AMD is asking. Comparisons against Nvidia equivalents are generally favourable on balance, but it's difficult to ignore those remarkably low Polaris prices when the overall gaming experience is so similar. It'll be interesting to see how prices shake out over the next few months and equally interesting to see how the rumoured RX 5600 XT slots into the stack. In the here and now though, the bottom line is that there are many great choices for excellent 1080p gaming - and the RX 5500 XT is well worth consideration.

AMD Radeon RX 5500 XT vs GTX 16-Series Analysis

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About the Author
Will Judd avatar

Will Judd

Deputy Editor, 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. Will also tweets the latest tech deals at @DigitalFoundry.

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