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AMD Radeon RX 6500 XT review: 1080p gaming, with a catch

An efficient yet slow design that lacks a few key features.

The AMD Radeon RX 6500 XT is in many respects exactly what we'd been waiting for: a budget GPU at just $200, intended to offer solid gaming performance at 1080p. Unfortunately, the reality of the situation is a little different - the card hasn't been widely available at that alluring price point and early reports point to performance that isn't as solid as it ought to be, even for this class of card.

One potential reason for this shaky performance is that AMD has opted to include just four PCIe lanes with the RX 6500 XT, compared to the more usual eight or 16. That makes sense with modern PCIe 4.0, where each lane can deliver an impressive amount of bandwidth, but what happens when you use the 6500 XT on a PCIe 3.0 system where bandwidth per lane is halved?

That's what many potential purchasers of the RX 6500 XT will experience, and it's also what we've tested - as our standardised GPU test bed is one such PCIe 3.0 system. We also performed like-for-like PCIe 3.0 vs 4.0 testing, to see exactly how much performance is being left on the table.

Our GPU testing includes comparisons to the lower echelons of AMD and Nvidia's current-gen lineups, as well as a classic card of yesteryear: the RX 580 8GB. This GPU debuted at $249 back in 2018, then dropped below $200 before The Great Upmarking, putting it in much the same weight class as the 6500 XT.

There's plenty to discuss, so let's get into it - starting with a quick look at the card and its specs so we can get a better idea of what we're dealing with here.

Interestingly, the RX 6500 XT is AMD's first 6nm design, albeit using the same RDNA2 architecture that the rest of their RX 6000 series graphics cards. We're not expecting a massive efficiency increase as the result of this change, but it might have contributed to the design's very high game clock. It's rated at 2610MHz on the spec sheet, but we regularly saw GPU core frequencies hovering around 2844MHz - impressive stuff. Power usage is also extremely low given the frequency, with boards rated for a nominal TDP of 107W, compared to 160W for the RX 6600 XT. That means this should be amongst the easiest boards to include in low-power systems, while still including features like hardware-accelerated ray tracing.

Elsewhere, the card is essentially half the spec of an RX 6600 XT. There's half the compute - 16 compute units versus 32 - and 4GB of GDDR6 with 16MB of Infinity Cache rather than 8GB of GDDR6 with 32MB of Infinity Cache. The memory system uses just a 64-bit bus, compared to a 128-bit bus on the RX 6600 XT. The PCIe connection has also been chopped in half, from a PCIe 4.0 x8 on the 6600 and 6600 XT to just PCIe 4.0 x4 on the 6500 XT, which has performance implications as we noted above.

AMD GPU Specs CUs Game Clock VRAM Mem Interface TDP Price
RX 6900 XT 80 2015MHz 16GB GDDR6 256-bit + 128MB IC 300W $999
RX 6800 XT 72 2015MHz 16GB GDDR6 256-bit + 128MB IC 300W $649
RX 6800 60 1815MHz 16GB GDDR6 256-bit + 128MB IC 250W $579
RX 6700 XT 40 2424MHz 12GB GDDR6 192-bit + 96MB IC 230W $479
RX 6600 XT 32 2359MHz 8GB GDDR6 128-bit + 32MB IC 160W $379
RX 6600 28 2044MHz 8GB GDDR6 128-bit + 32MB IC 132W $329
RX 6500 XT 16 2610MHz 4GB GDDR6 64-bit + 16MB IC 107W $199
RX 5700 XT 40 1755MHz 8GB GDDR6 256-bit 225W $399
RX 5700 36 1625MHz 8GB GDDR6 256-bit 180W $349
RX 5600 XT 36 1375MHz 6GB GDDR6 192-bit 150W $279
RX 5500 XT 22 1717MHz 8GB GDDR6 128-bit 130W $199

Our particular review unit is the Powercolor Fighter, the Taiwanese company's entry-level GPU design. It still looks and feels pretty good, with a two-slot design, twin fans and a six-pin auxiliary power input, but connectivity is restricted to just one HDMI 2.1 port and one DisplayPort 1.4 port. HDMI 2.1 is great for connecting to a modern TV or monitor, allowing 4K 120Hz with 10-bit HDR over a single cable, but it's disappointing to see just two ports here when many RX 570 and RX 580 models boasted DVI-D, HDMI and DisplayPort.

Inside, AMD's RX 6500 design is missing a few media features available on the RX 6600 and up - there's no AV1 decode and no H.264/H.265 hardware video encoder. The former is annoying as AV1 is a future-looking, data-efficient way to stream video from sites like Netflix and YouTube, while the latter is even more galling as it means you'll need to rely on software encoding to record gameplay or stream to Twitch.

Our test rig has remained the same as it was for our RX 6600 and 6600 XT reviews. We use a Core i9 10900K system as this provided the best out-and-out gaming performance when current-gen GPUs launched back in 2020, backed with an Asus Maximus 13 Hero Z590 motherboard, dual-channel G.Skill Trident-Z Royal DDR4-3600 CL16 memory and a 2TB Samsung 970 Evo Plus NVMe drive from Box. To keep our CPU performance constant, we've locked it to 5GHz on all cores and kept it cool with a 240mm Eisbaer Aurora liquid cooler. Everything is powered by a reliable 1000W Corsair RM1000x PSU, supplied by Infinite Computing.

Now that you're familiar with the premise, the hardware and our testing apparatus, let's get onto the results!

AMD Radeon RX 6500 XT analysis

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Will Judd avatar

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. Will also tweets the latest tech deals at @DealsFoundry.

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