Graphics Cards

AMD Radeon RX 6800 XT Roundup: ASRock, Asus, and Sapphire Reviewed – Tom’s Hardware

AMD launched the Radeon RX 6800 XT and RX 6800 on November 23, 2020. The first of the new RDNA2 architecture graphics cards had plenty to offer, ranking near the top of our GPU benchmarks hierarchy and earning a place on our list of the best graphics cards. AMD does particularly well with games that don’t support ray tracing. In such cases, there are quite a few games where the 6800 XT leads the (theoretically) more expensive RTX 3080, though enabling ray tracing or DLSS quickly turns the tables. The biggest problem, as we’ve seen with all of the recent GPU launches, is actually finding one in stock. Now we’re looking at three third-party custom cards, from ASRock, Asus, and Sapphire, to see what they bring to the table.

The core features and RDNA2 architecture are all unchanged, so the main differences between the cards will be in clock speeds, cooler designs, and aesthetics. There are also a few third-party add-ons, in the way of software, that might sway your purchasing decision. But let’s be real: Finding any of these cards in stock can be an exercise in futility, and with the recent surge in cryptocurrency mining, it could be months before supply is anywhere close to matching demand. In other words, if you want an RX 6800 XT as soon as possible, the brand and model of card will be far less of a consideration than whatever you can actually lay your grubby little mitts on.

The good news is that performance across all of the tested RX 6800 XT cards is very close. At factory stock settings, the speediest of the cards we’ve tested is only 2-3 percent faster than the reference RX 6800 XT. Between the three custom cards, the performance deltas are even smaller, to the point of being effectively non-existent. But that doesn’t mean the cards are all equal, as the cooling designs and other elements come into play. Here’s a quick overview of the specs before we get into the individual card analysis and benchmark results. 

AMD Radeon RX 6800 XT Specifications
ASRock Taichi RX 6800 XT Asus ROG Strix LC RX 6800 XT Sapphire Nitro+ RX 6800 XT Reference RX 6800 XT
Architecture Navi 21 Navi 21 Navi 21 Navi 21
Process Technology TSMC N7 TSMC N7 TSMC N7 TSMC N7
Transistors (Billion) 10.3 10.3 10.3 10.3
Die size (mm^2) 251 251 251 251
SMs / CUs 72 72 72 72
GPU Cores 4608 4608 4608 4608
Ray Accelerators 72 72 72 72
Boost Clock (MHz) 2360 2360 2360 2250
VRAM Speed (Gbps) 16 16 16 16
VRAM (GB) 16 16 16 16
VRAM Bus Width 256 256 256 256
ROPs 128 128 128 128
TMUs 288 288 288 288
TFLOPS FP32 (Boost) 21.7 21.7 21.7 20.7
Bandwidth (GBps) 512 512 512 512
TDP (watts) 350? 350? 350 300
Pricing $829 $899 ($1,080) $769 ($999) $649

Let’s first address the elephant in the room: The pricing is either fantasy land or, in the case of actual ‘street’ pricing, egregious. Theoretically, the Sapphire Nitro+ initially launched at $769, but of course, it was sold out — just like every other GPU. Newegg currently lists it at $999, and it’s still out of stock. The Asus Strix LC is a similar story, with a launch price of $899 but a current Asus store price of $1,080, and it’s also sold out. ASRock gave a launch price of $829, but retail prices are much higher than that, and naturally, the reference AMD RX 6800 XT can’t be had for anything close to $649.

Beyond price, the only difference in specs is the TDP. Sapphire lists 350W, while Asus and ASRock don’t give any value. We put in 350W with a question mark based on our testing. All three AIB cards have the same 2360 MHz Boost Clock, which they can exceed in some cases. That’s where the cooling solutions come into play.

That’s it for the introduction. Let’s get to the individual cards, and we’ll dig into the finer points of each one, including any extra features that can help it stand out. We’re going to dispense with actual scores on these cards, mostly because they all feel like ghost launches. Yes, they technically went on sale, but both pricing and availability are so limited that we don’t know where they’ll really land. They’re all more or less equal, depending on your wants and needs.

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ASRock Taichi RX 6800 XT

Pros

+ Large and powerful cooler

+ Plenty of RGB bling

+ Quiet

Cons

 – Large and heavy

– Requires a spacious case

– Only one RGB fan?

– Old style fans

ASRock’s Taichi brand is generally used for the company’s top-of-the-line products, and the RX 6800 XT Taichi is no exception. It’s big and bold, with one of the largest coolers we’ve seen on a third party card, plus a copious amount of bling. Meanwhile, performance is as you’d expect: right in line with the other top-tier solutions from competing cards.

The 6800 XT Taichi is a massive card, dwarfing the reference model 6800 XT and tipping the scales at 1.75kg (3.85 pounds). ASRock actually lists the weight at 1815g, but my scale disagreed by about 65g. The dimensions are 330x140x56mm, and the cooler occupies 2.8-slots, which in today’s single GPU market isn’t much of a problem. The Taichi is also one of the longest cards we’ve seen — 13 inches long — so you’ll definitely need a spacious case if you want this card to fit.

For a while, most high-end GPUs tried to stay close to a 2-slot thickness so that you could add a second (or even third) card for CrossFire or SLI, but multi-GPU support in games has seriously declined in recent years, so it’s now less of a consideration. The most common use case for multi-GPU these days is cryptocurrency mining, but since coin miners just build custom mining chassis with PCIe extension cables, size isn’t much of a factor there either. That means manufacturers are more willing to create cards that effectively block off the two expansion slots adjacent to the GPU.

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ASRock’s Taichi brand is generally used for the top-of-the-line products from the company, and the RX 6800 XT Taichi is no exception. It’s big and bold, with one of the largest coolers we’ve seen on a third party card, plus a copious amount of bling. Performance meanwhile is as you’d expect: right in line with the other top-tier solutions from competing cards.

The 6800 XT Taichi is a massive card, dwarfing the reference model 6800 XT and tipping the scales at 1.75kg (3.85 pounds). ASRock actually lists the weight at 1815g, but my scale disagreed by about 65g. The dimensions are 330x140x56mm and the cooler occupies 2.8-slots, which in today’s single GPU market isn’t much of a problem. The Taichi is also one of the longest cards we’ve seen — 13 inches long — so you’ll definitely need a spacious case if you want this card to fit.

For a while, most high-end GPUs tried to stay close to a 2-slot thickness so that you could add a second (or even third) card for CrossFire or SLI, but multi-GPU support in games has seriously declined in recent years and so it’s now less of a consideration. The most common use case for multi-GPU these days is cryptocurrency mining, but sice coin miners just build custom mining chassis with PCIe extension cables, size isn’t much of a factor there either. That means manufacturers are more willing to create cards that effectively block off the two expansion slots adjacent to the GPU.

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ASRock provides plenty of RGB lighting, with the center fan lighting up along with the top Taichi logo and the surrounding light strip, and there’s another Taichi icon on the back of the card as a final RGB option. I sort of wish the company had gone whole hog and used RGB on the other two fans, but that would make for a very bright card. Also of note is that in a traditional PC case, the ‘front’ fans on the graphics card will often end up facing the bottom of the case. That means you won’t even see the fans unless you use a case that supports a vertically mounted GPU (which would also need to be able to handle a triple slot thickness, or you’d obstruct the fan intakes).

There are some Taichi elements that haven’t been updated to match the competitive landscape, and here I’m looking specifically at the fans. Most of the latest generation RTX 30-series and RX 6000-series GPUs now have fans with an integrated ‘barrier rim’ around the outside of the fan blades. This ring helps improve static pressure and airflow, improving cooling capabilities while potentially reducing fan noise. Meanwhile, ASRock has traditional fan blades like what we’ve seen for many years. It’s a small thing, but we’d like to see the latest technology utilized on a premium card.

ASRock doesn’t specify a TDP for the Taichi, though it does recommend a PSU wattage of 800W or more. The card also requires three 8-pin PEG power connectors, which in theory can deliver 450W of power, giving the card a peak power delivery of 525W when combined with the 75W of the x16 PCIe slot. (It didn’t come close to hitting that mark, though maybe an adventurous overclocker with LN2 could do so.) In our testing, the Taichi used a bit less power than the other custom cards. It averaged 332W in Metro Exodus (still 10 percent more than the reference 6800 XT) and 352W in FurMark. Overclocking pushed power use up to 344W in Metro and 400W in FurMark. That means there’s still potential for higher overclocks, but we generally seem to hit a similar limit with all of the 6800 XT cards of around 2.5GHz.

Digging into the overclocking specifics, for now, we’re still somewhat restricted in what utilities we can use on RX 6000 cards, as MSI Afterburner doesn’t fully support the new GPUs yet. AMD’s own Radeon Software seems the best option, and we used it to increase the power limit by 15 percent, set the GPU to a maximum clock of 2580 MHz, and bumped the GDDR6 speed up by 150 MHz (to 17.2 Gbps). Combined with a more aggressive fan curve, we reached a stable OC where clocks in Metro Exodus averaged 2529 MHz, compared to 2391 MHz at factory stock settings. That’s a 6 percent increase in GPU clocks and 7.5 percent on VRAM clocks, which improved performance in our test suite by 4-5 percent overall. 

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ASRock offers its Tweak software for tuning, which is sufficient for modest overclocking but doesn’t really do much more than AMD’s own Radeon Settings. You can see the default power limits (289W, or 317W in OC mode), but that’s just for the GPU power — the VRAM, VRMs, and other components will also use power. Ultimately, we didn’t see much reason to install the custom ASRock Tweak software, since the core functionality is already present with AMD’s drivers.

Technically, the ASRock Taichi ended up as the slowest of the three custom cards, but that’s very much splitting hairs. It’s within 0.5 percent of the other two cards at stock, and it’s within 1.5 percent of the faster Asus card when overclocked. Performance when overclocked is also basically tied with the stock RX 6900 XT. It’s also up to 2 percent faster than the reference 6800 XT.

Frankly, performance and even pricing are sort of a non-issue for now, as none of the cards are readily available for purchase. If you want a 6800 XT and can find the Taichi in stock somewhere, and you’re willing to pay $900 or more for it, be our guest. Our general advice is to wait for supply to improve and hopefully for prices to end up closer to MSRP. With the recent tariffs on graphics cards further impacting pricing, however, it could be a long and painful wait.

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Asus ROG Strix LC RX 6800 XT

 Pros:

+ Excellent thermals

+ Lots of RGB

+ Great if you want an AIO

Cons:

– Higher price thanks to the AIO

– Requires 240mm radiator mount

– Negligible performance increase

Asus has traditionally stayed away from the AIO graphics card market, but that changes with the ROG Strix LC. Not only does it come with an AIO (all-in-one) liquid cooler, but it includes a relatively large 240mm radiator. Some people will love that option, but it comes at a higher price and can be cumbersome to install — for someone like me that swaps GPUs regularly, AIO cards are more trouble than they’re worth.

The external radiator adds a lot of bulk to the package, with the card plus radiator weighing in at 2166g. That’s about as much as the RTX 3090 Founders Edition, but the good news is the x16 motherboard slot only has to deal with a 1340g card, with the rest of the bulk secured to the PC chassis. Thanks to the large radiator, the Strix LC can also get by with a traditional 2-slot thickness and a single blower fan on the main card, and the blower doesn’t really have to work that hard.

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The main graphics card measures 277x131x43.6mm, but the radiator is an additional 276x120x51.7mm. Make sure your case has a good mounting location before taking the plunge. If you’re also using a 240mm or larger AIO for CPU cooling, speaking from experience, you’ll definitely want to verify both coolers will fit properly before buying.

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The ROG Strix line is known for being Asus’s top offering, and the Strix LC takes that one step further. Besides the RGB lighting on the graphics card, the two radiator fans also have RGB lighting. The above photos don’t really show the RGB properly, but if you have a reasonably dark room and the radiator mounted in a case, there’s plenty of RGB to go around. As with many other graphics cards, however, the RGB on the front of the card will end up facing the bottom of your PC in most builds, which sort of defeats the purpose.

Asus lists a relatively tame PSU requirement of 750W, which is technically sufficient based on our testing, but we recommend at least 850W. Actually, with most of the high-end graphics cards, you can make a legitimate argument for 1000W power supplies. PSUs often hit peak efficiency with a load of around 50 percent, and in a high-end PC build, that means the entire PC will consume close to 500W (depending on CPU and other factors) while gaming. If you do plan on using a lower wattage PSU, make sure it’s a high-quality offering because the Asus card can hit power draws of over 400W when overclocked.

The big selling point with the Strix LC is, of course, the liquid cooling, and what that does for thermals. Despite having a similar power use and clock speed relative to the other two cards, thermals are far lower even with a modest fan speed. At stock, the Asus card has an excellent temperature of just 53C in FurMark, and that didn’t change with our overclocked settings (though fan speeds did have to go up). Temps and fan speeds are even better when playing games, which are generally not as demanding as FurMark when it comes to power. Overall, the Asus card runs 15-20C cooler than the other two custom cards, with the same level of performance, and it delivers a bit more headroom for overclocking.

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Speaking of overclocking, you can use Asus’s GPU Tweak II (and GPU Tweak III) software suite in addition to the built-in Radeon Software options. By default, like many of Asus’s graphics cards, the 6800 XT ROG Strix LC will run at ‘gaming’ clocks, and you need to install GPU Tweak II and select the OC profile to unlock the full potential. We did this for our testing, though the difference between ‘gaming’ and ‘OC’ modes is pretty minimal.

Is the Strix LC worth the price, though? Originally released with a $900 MSRP, Asus is one of several companies that has recently increased prices due to US tariffs and other factors. The Strix LC 6800 XT now shows a price of $1,080 at the Asus store, and it’s still out of stock. It’s hard to recommend spending that much money on a GPU that has a nominal price of $650, but then again, that nominal price is nowhere to be found. Maybe we’ll eventually see RX 6800 XT cards selling at $700 or less, but for now, they’re more commonly in the $1,000+ range. By the time supply improves, we might have other GPUs that represent a better overall value. 

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Sapphire Nitro+ RX 6800 XT

Pros:

+ Relatively lightweight with good cooling

+ Smarter RGB location

+ TriXX Boost

+ Theoretically less expensive

Cons:

– Finding one for sale

– Requires a large case

The Sapphire RX 6800 XT Nitro+ is perhaps the most traditional of the three custom cards we’re looking at today. It’s not quite as large and certainly not as heavy as the ASRock card, but the cooling still gets the job done and the card runs cool and quiet. It’s actually lighter than AMD’s reference card, despite being slightly larger physically. The Nitro+ measures 310x134x55.3mm, so it’s a bit shorter than the ASRock card but still occupies 2.7 slots. However, it only weighs 1232g, over 500g less than the ASRock, and 350g less than the AMD reference design. (AMD’s card measures 267x120x49mm and weighs 1500g, if you’re wondering.)

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Sapphire often has three different models of each GPU. The base model is the Pulse, the Nitro+ is a step up and offers a higher factory overclock and more RGB lighting, and sometimes a Nitro+ SE kicks things up another notch. The top GPUs may also get a Toxic variant, which boasts the highest overclocks and pulls out all the stops, often with extreme pricing. Due to the limited quantity of Navi 21 GPUs currently available, Sapphire doesn’t have a Pulse 6800 XT right now, or a Toxic. Maybe those will come in the future, but currently all of Sapphire’s 6800 XT cards are from the Nitro+ line.

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The main difference between the Nitro+ we’re looking at and the Nitro+ SE is that the SE has RGB fans. If you want extra bling, the SE might be what you’re after. Our take is that Sapphire actually has a smarter RGB setup than many other GPUs, as the fans typically face the bottom of the PC case and aren’t even visible. The Nitro+ has all of its lighting on the ‘top’ of the card (which would face the side of your PC case, right where the window would be) and also puts an RGB icon on the back of the card (which would face upward in your typical case). There’s a light strip on the top along with the Sapphire logo, and while it’s not quite as in-your-face as other cards, it gets the job done.

Sapphire is also the only company to specify a higher 350W TDP on its Nitro+, though all three custom cards use similar amounts of power in practice. No surprise there, since they’re all rated at 2360 MHz boost clocks (and can often exceed that speed in games). Sapphire also recommends an 850W power supply. With a pair of 8-pin power connectors, plus the PCIe slot, the Nitro+ has access to 375W of power and uses nearly all of it. Overclocking does push the card beyond 375W, but the extra power comes from the 8-pin PEG rather than the x16 slot, which is good. Even overclocked, the highest PCIe slot power we measured for the Nitro+ was only 45W. Sapphire also has new fans with an integrated rim to improve static pressure, and the thermals and noise levels are very good.

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One extra that Sapphire offers is its TriXX software suite, which now has a new trick that’s perhaps work checking out. TriXX Boost leverages AMD’s own RIS (Radeon Image Sharpening) and supports upscaling of content. In most games (specifically, games that don’t detect your monitor’s native resolution and then internally scale from that), TriXX Boost lets you create a custom resolution that will then get scaled to the normal native resolution, and the sharpening helps to avoid the normal blurriness.

How does it perform? At 4K, upscaling from 85 percent resolution (3264×1836) to 4K, we measured performance that was anywhere from 20 to 30 percent higher than native. Did it look worse? Using screenshots and comparing, sure, there was a slight loss in fidelity, but it’s not something you’d really notice in motion. 20-30 percent higher fps, though? Yeah, that was very noticeable. It’s perhaps not as sophisticated as Nvidia’s DLSS technology, but it’s worth considering for relatively minor upscaling of around 10-15 percent.

Interestingly, because of TriXX Boost, Sapphire specifically discourages end-user overclocking and doesn’t support it via TriXX. You can check the fans and tweak the lighting, but overclocking requires some other utility. Considering overclocking can void your warranty and cause instability in pursuit of usually 5 percent more performance, toying with resolution scaling generally delivers far more noticeable performance improvements.

Thanks to the traditional design, Sapphire officially has the lowest price of the custom cards we’ve looked at so far. Whether it will remain at $770, or jump to a higher price segment (we’re seeing a ‘suggested’ price of $1000 at Newegg right now), however, isn’t clear. Is the Sapphire Nitro+ 6800 XT a good value? That depends on actual prices. For now, good luck finding one in stock. In fact, supply of AMD’s Big Navi chips appears to be even worse than Nvidia’s Ampere GPUs, which is why the retailers are charging extra. If you can find the Sapphire Nitro+ at a more reasonable price, we have no qualms recommending it. At $1,000 or more, though, we’d suggest biding your time. 

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TOM’S HARDWARE GPU TEST PC

We’ll shift away from the specific cards for the next several pages and look at gaming performance and other test results. We’ve tested all of the RX 6800 XT GPUs using AMD’s most recent 20.12.1 drivers, and we’ll include a few other GPUs as reference points in the charts. Our standard test bed hardware is listed to the right, and it includes a stock clocked (4.7 GHz all-core) Core i9-9900K processor with overclocked DDR4-3600 CL16 memory.

While our CPU reviews focus on performance with the CPUs at full stock, meaning DDR4-2666 memory on the 9900K, my take is that enthusiasts will at least enable the memory XMP profile, and DDR4-3600 kits are readily available. We looked at performance scaling with similar memory kits (all running at DDR4-3600) with Core i9-10900K and Ryzen 9 5900X, and while there are instances where the newer CPUs do better — particularly at 1080p — in general the top three current CPUs are all within spitting distance of each other.

Our testing for the RX 6800 XT cards will use our expanded test suite from recent reviews, which includes the same nine games that we’ve used for the past year, plus four newer releases. We’ve tested all of the games at ‘ultra’ settings (or whatever the highest preset is called — or in the case of Red Dead Redemption 2, we set all of the advanced settings to the minimum option and then set the basic settings to maximum).

Only two of the games we’ve tested have ray tracing enabled, and one of those (Dirt 5) is an AMD-promoted game using a still-in-beta DXR patch. We didn’t enable DLSS on any of the games, though it can boost performance quite a bit, especially at 4K. We also want to note that our testing suite is decidedly slanted toward AMD right now, with half of the games as AMD-promoted titles, and two of the newer additions (Assassin’s Creed Valhalla and Dirt 5) relatively strongly favoring AMD. If you want to view the larger picture of how the various GPUs stack up, we recommend looking at the full set of results, including DXR testing that we’ve done in other articles, including the RX 6800 XT and 6800 launch review. Since we’re mostly focused on the custom 6800 XT cards here, any inherent bias in our game selection is less of a factor.

We’ll start with 1080p results and then move up to 1440p and 4K on the following pages, and wrap up with power and thermal testing. We have both stock and overclocked results for the four RX 6800 XT cards in the charts as well, which generally clump together. We’ll focus our commentary on the main results, with the individual gaming charts as background detail.

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Given the mix of games and APIs used, it’s not too surprising that the top four GPUs (RTX 3090, RX 6900 XT, RX 6800 XT, and RX 3080) end up relatively close in performance. The overclocked 6800 XT cards end up tying the 3090 and 6900 XT, but we’re also hitting CPU bottlenecks in many of the games. While you can make the argument that 1080p is still the most popular resolution, and it’s also the only place where you can get 240 Hz and 360 Hz displays right now, the latter is really only beneficial for a few select esports games. Out of the 13 games we tested, only Strange Brigade (which isn’t exactly a popular game) breaks 240 fps at 1080p, and five of the games don’t even get above 144 fps at the settings we’ve used.

As far as the four 6800 XT cards go, the results are pretty close to margin of error differences. The Asus Strix LC does take first place at both stock and overclocked settings, and the AMD reference card does take fourth place, but in general, you wouldn’t be able to tell the cards apart when actually playing games.

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Looking at the individual games, there’s a bit of variability in some instances, like The Division 2, but nothing that gives us any real indication that any of the custom cards are clearly superior. Aesthetics, availability, features, and pricing are going to be much greater factors than pure performance. 

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We still feel like 1440p gaming is the sweet spot for most people. Reasonably high frame rates are possible on quite a few GPUs, high refresh rate displays with adaptive sync technology can be had for under $300, and even 144Hz IPS and VA panels are commonplace. In our 1080p testing, we noted that a lot of games couldn’t break 144 fps even at the lower resolution, but G-Sync and FreeSync make that less of a concern. CPU bottlenecks also become less of a factor at the higher resolution. Which doesn’t actually change the overall standings much. 

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At stock settings, the three custom 6800 XT cards are within 0.2 fps of each other, emphasizing once again how little difference there is among cards with the same GPU. The reference card does fall a bit off the pace, largely because it’s using less power we’d wager, though even with our overclocked settings it can’t quite close the gap. Interestingly, despite having three 8-pin PEG connectors and a large cooler, the ASRock card doesn’t do any better than the Sapphire card — actually, it’s a bit worse. It could be the luck of the draw, or just variance between benchmark runs, but our results consistently put the ASRock a bit below the other two AIB cards.

In the larger scheme of things, the overclocked 6800 XT cards continue to basically match the reference 6900 XT. The RTX 3090 starts to pull away from the other GPUs a bit, now that CPU bottlenecks are reduced, while the 6800 XT still leads the RTX 3080. It will be interesting to see what happens if Nvidia actually does release a 20GB 3080 (or 3080 Ti) card in the future, though the pricing on such a GPU would be higher than the current 3080. Well, theoretical 3080 prices, since most cards are selling for quite a bit more than MSRP and supplies are still very limited.

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There’s a bit more variation in performance this time, but nothing particularly noteworthy. The Sapphire Nitro+ takes the top spot in both stock and overclocked modes in several games, but most of the results are within 1-2 percent of each other at most (among the 6800 XT custom cards).

Looking at frame rates, even at stock clocks all of the games run at well over 60 fps, often into the 100+ fps range. Only a few break 144 fps, but again, that’s why G-Sync and FreeSync are useful. There’s one exception, naturally: Watch Dogs Legion with ray tracing enabled is a beast to run, as are most DXR games without DLSS. The 6800 XT can only manage high-30s performance, and it’s worth mentioning that the DXR reflections on AMD and Nvidia still aren’t the same. Check out the extra images in that chart gallery to see what we’re talking about.

Whether you want or need ray tracing is debatable, but with consoles now supporting the tech, we expect to see additional DXR games. Will they also support DLSS, or AMD’s upcoming FidelityFX Super Resolution? And will they be ‘dumbed down’ for the console GPUs? Those are good questions, and considering the RX 6800 is faster than the Xbox Series X, we suspect limited RT effects on console games will be more common than more robust implementations like we’ve seen in Cyberpunk 2077

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The next-gen consoles are supposed to tackle 4K gaming, but there’s 4K gaming and then there’s 4K gaming. 4K via upscaling and ray tracing effects targeting 30 fps is most likely what we’ll see from the PS5 and XSX. 4K native at 60 fps, even without ray tracing, is going to be more difficult, even on high-end PC hardware. 

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The good news is that many games easily reach 60+ fps at 4K on the RX 6800 XT cards, along with other extreme performance GPUs. The custom AIB models all end up around 2 percent faster than the reference 6800 XT at stock, which isn’t actually that great considering they also use about 10 percent more power. Overclocking pushes the cards into 370W and higher territory, again for relatively minor performance improvements.

It’s important to remember the mix of games and settings used when looking at this overall chart as well. If we toss out the newer games that strongly favor one GPU brand, like Assassin’s Creed Valhalla, Dirt 5, and Watch Dogs Legion, the relative performance can shift around quite a bit. But we figure we at least capture a relatively large cross-section of the overall market with 13 games. The 3080 ends up just slightly ahead of the 6800 XT cards at stock, mostly thanks to its significant advantage in WDL. Do you need DXR to make a game fun? Absolutely not. However, it’s also disingenuous to suggest that DXR doesn’t matter at all; it’s just going to take longer to get to the point where DXR and RT become the norm rather than an option for extreme hardware. 

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Individual gaming charts at 4K mostly echo what we’ve seen already, just with lower frame rates. Every game outside of Watch Dogs Legion easily surpassed 60 fps at 1440p ultra, but there are a few more exceptions at 4K. Assassin’s Creed Valhalla and Dirt 5 join WDL in the sub-60 group, though they’re both relatively close to 60 fps on the 6800 XT. On the other hand, Watch Dogs isn’t even close — it falls below 20 fps on the custom 6800 XT cards we’re focusing on. Radeon gamers will definitely need to disable DXR reflections or run at a lower resolution if they want to play that game at acceptable frame rates. 

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Wrapping up our performance testing, the power and thermal results are actually more interesting than the raw performance. At least there’s more variation between the cards in these areas, though all three custom cards stay reasonably cool and should run fine in any PC large enough to accommodate the hardware.

For these tests, we’re using Powenetics software to gather the actual power draw of the graphics cards. GPU-Z is used to collect thermal, clock speed, and fan speed data. We also have an SPL meter that we set up 15cm from the side of the cards to capture noise. However, we don’t have an anechoic chamber or anything particularly fancy. External noise (e.g., from traffic) means we have to simply eyeball the meter rather than logging data and generating a chart. We test all of these metrics using Metro Exodus, set to loop five times, and FurMark running at 1600×900 in stress test mode.

Let’s quickly talk about the noise levels first. Recent changes to my office mean the new setup isn’t identical to the old one, but the noise floor (when traffic isn’t driving by) is now 34 dB. The SPL meter is kept close to the GPUs in order to isolate the noise from the card and not pick up as much fan noise from the CPU cooler, though differences in card design can be a factor. All of the latest GPUs support 0 dB fan technology, which means idle noise levels are all the same: 34 dB. Literally any other noise, like typing or someone walking around, registers at much higher levels than that, so it’s pretty quiet.

Under load, the GPUs start to show their differences. For example, the Asus has two large 120mm fans on the radiator that move quite a bit of air, while the third fan on the card itself is basically silent. Asus ended up being the loudest of the three GPUs in the gaming test, measuring 45.6 dB peak and generally hovering in the 43-45 dB range, but the actual fan noise tends to be lower and, to my ears at least, not as noticeable as smaller fans. ASRock peaked at 44.5 dB in gaming, again with a range of around 41-44 dB. Sapphire showed the most variation, running as quiet as 37 dB but peaking at 42.1 dB.

Results under FurMark are more consistent, but the cards deal with the extreme power draw in different ways. As a result, ASRock was the loudest card in FurMark, peaking at 45.6 dB and basically staying in the 45+ dB range. Asus came in second at 44.1 dB, while the Sapphire card was the quietest of the three and only ran at 39.5 dB. Again, we didn’t make charts because it’s just the three cards, but none of the cards are particularly loud. Pay attention to the actual GPU clocks and thermals below when looking at noise levels, however, as all of these metrics are interrelated.

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As mentioned earlier, the three custom AIB cards all have higher power use than the reference 6800 XT. In the Metro test, the ASRock uses the least power at around 332W, 30W more than the reference model. The Asus card uses 341W, though it has a pump and two larger fans on the radiator that undoubtedly use more power than the three smaller fans used on the other two cards. The Sapphire card ends up with the highest power use of 344W, which is as much as some of the other cards use even when overclocked. Overclocking isn’t even that bad when you consider that performance improves by 4-7 percent (in Metro), while power use increases 1-6 percent. (Except for the reference card, which used 13 percent more power.)

FurMark takes power use to even higher values, ranging from 352W for the ASRock to 358W on the Asus and Sapphire cards. Overclocking pushes the three cards into the 400W and higher range, again with Sapphire using the most power of the 6800 XT models.

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At factory stock settings, all of the RX 6800 XT cards meet or exceed the official boost clock, though in-game clocks will vary by game. In Metro, the custom cards reach 2386-2394 MHz average clocks, with overclocking pushing all three cards into the 2500 MHz and higher range. FurMark is a different story, with the GPUs reigning in clocks in order to keep thermals and power use in check, but 2.1GHz while running FurMark is still quite impressive, and overclocking takes that up to around 2.25GHz. 

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Temperatures have a direct correlation with fan speed and noise, so they can’t be considered on their own. As noted earlier, the Asus card had the highest noise levels, and while the fan speeds are quite low, two large 120mm fans still move a lot of air and can create more noise and turbulence than three 90mm fans. Still, the Asus runs over 15C cooler than the other custom cards in Metro, and over 17C cooler in FurMark, all while hitting similar clocks. Somewhat surprisingly, the Sapphire card has lower fan speeds than the ASRock but tends to be just as loud while running a bit hotter. Still, 72-75C isn’t particularly high for a high-end GPU playing a demanding game.

You can also see how the significant ramp in fan speed to help with overclocking affects things. Temperatures are actually lower than stock, but that’s because overclocking puts enough of a strain on the GPU that we didn’t want to risk instability in pursuit of lower noise levels. If you want low thermals with a decent overclock, the Asus liquid cooler ends up being far superior to traditional air cooling.

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The performance, features, power, and aesthetics for these RX 6800 XT cards doesn’t do much good if you can’t actually buy the product, unfortunately. That’s where we find ourselves right now. Theoretically, the Radeon RX 6800 XT is a good product, particularly if you’re not as concerned about ray tracing performance. It’s also theoretically slightly less expensive than the competing GeForce RTX 3080. In practice, however, it’s all for naught.

As bad as the supply is on GeForce RTX 30-series cards, it might be even worse on AMD’s alternatives. It’s difficult to ascertain exactly how many of any of the cards are actually being shipped and sold, though, and both feel like ghost products right now. Tell someone you actually saw any of the latest GPUs in stock and they’re liable to put you away. Which makes reviewing these cards a bit weird, but such is the way of the tech world right now.

The problem is that it’s not just one thing causing the shortages. COVID plays a big role, and that impacted worldwide shipping as well. More people working and schooling from home, or just wanting to play games, means more demand. And in the case of the AMD RX 6800 XT, AMD uses TSMC’s N7 process, which is in high demand from other companies as well. In the latest TSMC news, you can see that TSMC only does about 55-60 thousand wafers per month. How many of those go to Apple and Nvidia, and how many are for AMD? And of the AMD wafers, there will be Zen 3 CPUs, PS5 and XSX console APUs, and RDNA2 GPUs.

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Suppose AMD gets one-third of TSMC’s N7 production. That’s perhaps 20K wafers. However, the PS5 and XSX consoles probably use up 75 percent of the allotment, meaning only 5K wafers for GPUs and CPUs. And right now, the Zen 3 CPUs are more lucrative (smaller chips means more per wafer, and higher profit margins). It’s entirely possible that AMD is only doing a few thousand (or less) Navi 21 wafers per month. With a 520mm square die size, that’s at best around 100 GPUs per wafer. Even that might be optimistic, as based on what we’ve seen it seems like less than 100K RX 6800 XT cards exist. Or maybe demand is simply so much higher than the supply that even with hundreds of thousands of cards, it wouldn’t be enough.

If you want an RX 6800 XT and can find one of these cards in stock at a price you’re willing to pay, have at it. The same applies to most of the other recent GPU launches. What everyone really wants to know is when these cards will be readily available at anything close to the launch price of $650-$700. Sadly, we don’t know. Maybe in a few months, but we heard multiple companies at CES 2021 suggest that graphics card shortages are likely to continue until June at least. And if Bitcoin and Ethereum prices stay high, that would only make the situation worse, plus tariffs are also impacting prices in the United States.

It’s annoying, and that’s putting it nicely. In July, I wrote that it was a terrible time to buy a graphics card and updated that article after the new cards launched and immediately sold out. In retrospect, if you bought a previous-gen RTX 20-series or RX 5700-series GPU at MSRP or below right before the new cards launched, that was a smart buy. An even better buy would have been purchasing an RTX 20-series card back in 2018 because you’d then have over two years of enjoyment from it, and you could probably still sell it at close to the original price.

The winner of the current GPU battle will be whichever company can produce the most GPUs first and ship them at reasonable prices, with features, performance, and all the other aspects being secondary concerns. If we take the RX 5700 XT and the RTX 2060 Super as $400 graphics cards for our baseline, the RX 6800 XT is around 75 percent faster than the 5700 XT and 90 percent faster than the 2060 Super. That means we could reasonably accept prices of $700-$800. Anything more than that and we recommend waiting and searching for a better deal.

We know for certain that, just as the 2017 GPU shortages eventually came to an end, the current shortages will also pass into history at some point. Hopefully, that happens sooner rather than later.

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