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AMD Radeon RX 5600 XT: the Digital Foundry verdict

A good product but lack of 'next-gen' features is a worry.

The RX 5600 XT is a fascinating product that exhibits some of the largest differences we've seen between reference and overclocked models. However, the disparity in horsepower across the RX 5600 XT lineup is likely to be confusing for consumers, especially those that purchase an OC model and don't realise that a BIOS update is needed to unlock the card's full potential. With no clear messaging from AMD on how these models will be identified in the marketplace, the company and its board partners need to develop a coordinated strategy to ensure consumers are able to choose the model that best fits their needs.

With those pricing and performance shifts done and dusted, how does the RX 5600 XT compare to its closest competitors? The vanilla model, which exists at that $279 price point, is indeed significantly faster than the $229 GTX 1660 Super and $259 GTX 1660 Ti across a range of titles, making it the better value pick in many cases. On average, the reference spec is about 18 per cent faster than the GTX 1660 Super while typically costing about 13 per cent more. Whether or not both company's advertised prices will actually persist in retail is another story, but that's the lay of the land for now.

The RTX 2060 comparison is more interesting, with Nvidia RTX 2060 Founders Edition and EVGA RTX 2060 KO cards outpacing the reference RX 5600 XT by about five per cent for $299, just $20 more. The new performance BIOS on the Sapphire Pulse RX 5600 XT we tested boosts performance considerably, giving the OC card a narrow win over the RTX 2060, but expect these cards to cost around the same or more than the RTX 2060. These averages don't tell the whole story though - as you saw in the benchmarks, either card is capable of significant advantages depending on the game, engine and graphics API used. That makes it harder to choose a clear winner, but AMD wins the head-to-head more often than not.

When you look at the use of hardware RT, DLSS and VRS in Wolfenstein Youngblood, the thought of not having this features in a GPU like the RX 5600 XT must surely factor into any purchasing decision.

However, the inclusion of hardware accelerated ray tracing support on the Nvidia card cannot be ignored. To buy a first gen Navi card now is to lock yourself out of features that are already gaining traction in the PC space - and are supported on the next-gen consoles, meaning that they are highly likely to become baseline features in future games. With that in mind, even if you're not interested in the current crop of RTX titles - or those to come, like Cyberpunk 2077 - the RTX 2060 could well be the better choice over the life cycle of your graphics card.

I'd also recommend checking out the Wolfenstein Youngblood video above as compelling evidence of how transformative these features can be. After a shaky start, the latest iteration of DLSS is producing 'better than native' results (in this title at least) which does help to offset the performance hit of hardware RT, or provides high speed acceleration of standard rasterised visuals. Variable rate shading - another feature definitely found in Xbox Series X - is also supported on Nvidia cards, but not on current-gen Navi. The ray tracing implementation itself is very neat too.

The good news is this: in the here and now at least, whichever card you choose - RX 5600 XT, RX 5600 XT OC, GTX 1660 Super or RTX 2060 - you're going to be left with a very strong graphics card for the money. Combined with the recent shifts in processor pricing spurred by AMD's runaway Ryzen success, kitting out a system for high refresh rate 1080p gaming or entry-level 1440p has become increasingly affordable. Even with the arrival of new consoles this winter, 2020 is looking like an excellent year for PC gaming.

AMD Radeon RX 5600 XT Analysis

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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 @DealsFoundry.

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