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AMD Radeon RX 6800 and 6800 XT review: the Digital Foundry verdict

Cleverly designed and competive cards, with some limitations.

The conclusion of this review will be a bit different based on your outlook. If you're an AMD fan, then yes, this is the Red Team's best showing in years: competitively priced and potently performant graphics cards, capable of substantially improved frame-rates and armed with a far stronger feature set than the 'Little Navi' cards we saw last year. The inclusion of support for ray tracing, variable rate shading, mesh shaders and DirectStorage means that you'll be well set up to take advantage of cross-gen games that use these features on Xbox Series X and PC. The addition of Smart Access Memory also does genuinely deliver performance gains in some games without hampering it in others, making it a nice value add for users with Ryzen 5000 CPUs and AMD 500-series motherboards. Meanwhile, Rage Mode overclocking presents an easy way of wringing extra power from your card without invalidating your warranty or requiring any specialist knowledge, and power efficiency has improved sharply over AMD's last-gen options. It's all great stuff, and to have it wrapped up in a stylish metal-clad card that really looks the part is just fantastic.

For buyers considering both Nvidia and AMD offerings, the Radeon 6000 series is a more complex proposition. When we first outlined how the new cards fit into the existing landscape, we noted that the RX 6800 operated at an $80 premium over the RTX 3070, so we'd expect to see roughly 15 per cent better performance than its closest Nvidia counterpart. Likewise, with the 6800 XT costing $50 less than its Team Green equivalent, then getting within five per cent of the Nvidia card would make it the better value option.

AMD largely achieves those aims, yet outside of base performance there are some areas of weakness. We recorded great performance from the RX 6800 over the RTX 3070, with the AMD card managing around 10 to 15 per cent more 4K performance than the 3070 in most games we tested. It's an even stronger proposition at 1440p, where the RX 6800 doesn't lose a single head-to-head and often holds a double-digit lead. However, that doesn't take into account RT performance, where the 3070 recorded 20 to 34 per cent faster frame-rates in our testing.

Similarly, let's consider the RX 6800 XT and the RX 3080. At 4K, we're seeing anywhere from a narrow three per cent lead over the 3080 to a 24 per cent deficit, although the disadvantage is normally in the region of three to eight per cent. That's enough to stay competitive, and doesn't factor in Rage Mode, manual overclocking or Smart Access Memory (SAM), all of which could tip the scales a little further in AMD's favour. At 1440p, the AMD card is relatively stronger, ranging from a three per cent deficit to a six per cent lead, discounting Control where the 3080 leads by 14 per cent even with RT and DLSS disabled. Again, RT performance is poor for the RX 6800 XT, with the AMD card trailing by between 34 and 64 per cent depending on the game.

Some games won't run in RT at all, either - Quake 2 RTX, an open-source but Nvidia-backed project, refuses to start, while Shadow of the Tomb Raider enables RTX and DLSS together, so you don't have the option to turn on ray traced shadows on AMD hardware at all. There's also no DLSS equivalent to really address this significant performance differential - yet. AMD is working on FidelityFX Super Resolution, an open solution they promise will be easier for developers to adopt, but it's still under development and not available to test just yet. However, we've got to keep in mind that this is AMD's first-generation RT implementation, so they still have a grace period to turn things around and deliver more competitive results here.

While RT isn't yet AMD's strong point, there are still excellent engineering feats in Big Navi that we have to applaud. Smart Access Memory is a really cool technology that does work great in some games, even though 10 per cent performance gains seem to be the exception rather than the rule. In most of our testing, we saw only one or two per cent uplifts in performance, especially at 4K where AMD really needs the additional firepower that SAM could provide. However, this is essentially free performance if you have the right hardware, so even minor gains are still a net positive. Likewise, the fact that AMD can compete with the 3080's GDDR6X memory proves that their Infinity Cache idea holds water - even though the broadly stronger relative performance at 1440p than at 4K suggests that the approach might have its limitations.

Ultimately, Big Navi is the big step forward that AMD's fans were hoping for, bringing the brand in closer contention with Nvidia than we expected. If Team Red is able to keep its cards on store shelves, then it could capitalise on an unexpected moment of weakness from its competition. Given its use of TSMC 7nm GPUs and GDDR6 memory rather than rarer Samsung 8nm GPUs and GDDR6X memory, that actually may be a possibility too.

We're fascinated to see how the remainder of the Big Navi family performs, and we remain hopeful that we'll see EVEN LARGER NAVI in a few years' time. After all, the fans deserve nothing less.

AMD Radeon RX 6800 and RX 6800 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 @DigitalFoundry.


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