ASUS Radeon RX 6500 XT TUF Gaming Review - World's First 6 Nanometer GPU 218

ASUS Radeon RX 6500 XT TUF Gaming Review - World's First 6 Nanometer GPU

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Value and Conclusion

  • AMD has announced an MSRP of $200 for the Radeon RX 6500 XT. We feel that given current market conditions, the card will sell at a price point of around $350.
  • World's first 6 nanometer GPU
  • Compact form factor
  • Idle fan stop
  • Extremely quiet in gaming (quiet BIOS)
  • Support for ray tracing
  • 4 GB VRAM could make it unattractive for miners
  • Very low temperatures
  • Dual BIOS
  • Backplate included
  • Minimal PSU requirements
  • Very low overall performance
  • Physical PCI-Express interface only x4, serious performance loss on PCIe 3.0
  • 4 GB VRAM will be challenging
  • Terrible ray tracing performance
  • No support for AV1 video hardware decode
  • No support for VP9/H.264/H.265 video encode
  • Low efficiency (performance/watt)
  • Overclocking sliders very limited
Today, AMD has launched the Radeon RX 6500 XT, which was announced at CES just a few days ago. The RX 6500 XT is the world's first graphics card using a 6 nanometer GPU. While going from 7 nm to 6 nm doesn't sound like much, it brings with it improvements to power efficiency and allows higher operating frequencies, and an 18% transistor density gain. Starting production with a new silicon node is always a challenging task, and initial defect rates are high. That's why it makes perfect sense for AMD to release entry-level designs first, as these use a physically small silicon die. The bigger a chip, the higher the chance that a defect makes it onto that one chip. If producing multiple smaller dies, you'd just throw away the one affected die and keep the rest. That's also part of the reason why everyone is so excited about the chiplet approach that brought tremendous success to AMD'S Ryzen processor line.

Probably the most controversial publicly visible specification is that AMD includes only 4 GB of VRAM on the RX 6500 XT. Historically, AMD has been very generous with their VRAM amounts; for example, RX 6800 XT has 16 GB VRAM, whereas the competing RTX 3080 only has 10 or 12 GB. It seems that for the RX 6500 XT, cost-cutting was much more important. The memory bus width is set to 64-bit, which is half that of the RX 5500 XT predecessor—another cost optimization. Fewer traces on the PCB going from GPU to memory reduce production cost and design complexity.

Averaged over all our performance benchmarks, the Radeon RX 6500 XT can't impress, despite the factory overclock by ASUS. The ASUS card is around 2-3 faster than the baseline RX 6500 XT running at stock clocks. Even at 1080p resolution, roughly half of our tested titles can't reach 60 FPS. We are testing at Ultra settings, so you can definitely reach 60 FPS in most titles if you're willing to sacrifice some details, but then why even bother with the PC? Just buy a console if you can live with smeared-out textures and blocky geometry at a locked 30 Hz. Compared to the Radeon RX 6600 XT, the RX 6500 XT is roughly half (!) as fast—the difference between the numbers "6500" and "6600" is just 1%, on the other hand. AMD's new release really competes with aging designs from yesteryear: The Radeon RX 580 is roughly equal in performance, just like the GeForce GTX 1650 Super. The Radeon RX 570 is 15% slower, and the GTX 1060 6 GB is 10% behind. Cards like the RTX 2060, Vega 64 or even RX 5600 XT are +50% faster—that's a huge difference.

Given those performance characteristics, we can only recommend the RX 6500 XT for entry-level gaming at 1080p resolution. Even at that resolution, you will have to sacrifice some details, especially when considering future titles which will certainly have increased GPU requirements. AMD has recently released their FSR upscaling technology, which will be able to help with FPS rates, but the image quality will still suffer. In terms of features, the RX 6500 XT does check all the checkboxes, even forward-looking ones. The card has full support for the DirectX 12 Ultimate API, which includes ray tracing. What's lacking is support for AV1 hardware decode, though. Platforms like YouTube and Netflix are transitioning to that codec right now to avoid license costs for H.265. There's always the option to decode this content using the CPU, but for builders of a media PC, this probably disqualifies the Radeon RX 6500 XT.

We benchmarked ray tracing too in this review and saw massive performance drops. For example, enabling ray tracing effects in Resident Evil Village 1080p dropped the FPS from an enjoyable 81 FPS to 7.9 FPS, a 90% loss. Other titles are similarly affected: Watch Dogs Legion: -65%, Deathloop: -68%, Cyberpunk -75%. Two games, Control and Doom Eternal, simply refused to enable ray tracing, probably because of the 4 GB VRAM size. The Radeon RX 6500 XT really doesn't have the horsepower for ray tracing, but that's no big deal, I think. Ray tracing is great for providing additional fidelity if you have the horsepower to spare. However, if on a budget, you should leave it off and play with the classic details settings in games. For example, turning off shadows often makes a big difference.

Part of the reason why RT performance is so low is that the RX 6500 XT has a small framebuffer of only 4 GB. While most titles run fine with 4 GB VRAM (at 1080p), enabling ray tracing requires additional memory, which often means that system memory has to be used for the extra data, which is MUCH slower than the local graphics memory on the card. The performance hit is further amplified by the Radeon RX 6500 XT coming with a PCI-Express x4 interface only. Just to clarify, this is a physical limitation—while other cards have 16 lanes going from the CPU to the GPU (think highway traffic lanes), the RX 6500 XT only has four of them, which reduces throughput by 75%. For looks, the cards have a physical x16 connector, but don't let that confuse you, there's only traces for x4. We looked into this in more detail in our Radeon RX 6500 XT PCI-Express Scaling article.

The good thing is that AMD uses the modern PCI-Express 4.0 standard on the card, so available bandwidth is still sufficient on modern platforms. However, if you're planning to install the RX 6500 XT in an older system, it might run at PCI-Express 3.0 only, which further halves the available bandwidth. We tested this, and it results in a 13% real-life performance loss on average. I'm puzzled by AMD only adding a PCIe x4 interface on the Navi 24 GPU. It's probably due to the intended usage in laptops and other mobile devices that have limited PCI connectivity anyway, but still means AMD left some almost-free performance on the table—my estimate is around 7-10% depending on the title.

The ASUS Radeon RX 6500 XT TUF Gaming is a custom-design implementation of the RX 6500 XT using a large dual-fan triple-slot cooler. Thanks to the big cooler, temperatures are excellent, only 51°C under full load is almost laughable. Noise levels are a tad bit high, though, with 33 dBA, especially given the positioning of this card. Good thing ASUS includes a dual-BIOS feature with their card. The second, optional "quiet" BIOS drastically reduces noise levels to whisper-quiet 25 dBA, which makes the card almost inaudible. Temperatures went up a little bit, to 59°C—still not worth worrying about. That's why my recommendation is to enable the quiet mode and never look back. Just like other modern graphics cards, the Radeon RX 6500 XT comes with the highly popular idle-fan-stop capability, which shuts off the fans completely in productivity, Internet browsing, and other desktop work.

TSMC's new 6 nanometer production process promises improvements to energy efficiency, and it does look really good. With just 100 W during gaming, the RX 6500 XT consumes extremely little power—very impressive. When looking at performance per watt, though, things are different. The card is worse than all other cards we've recently tested with the exception of the RX Vega 64. The underlying reason seems to be that overall performance is simply very low, which drags down the efficiency score since it takes both power draw and FPS into account. Still, this is a complete non-issue—every power supply will be able to power the RX 6500 XT just fine.

It seems the RX 6500 XT has decent overclocking potential: we almost reached 3 GHz GPU frequency. Unfortunately, AMD decided to limit the OC capabilities of their new card—the sliders simply end very early. I'm not sure why they would do this, it's not like any other product is endangered by overclocking the RX 6500 XT. Perhaps they don't want to show off what the N6 process really can do? Either way, it's not very consumer-friendly.

AMD has announced a $199 price point for the Radeon RX 6500 XT, which sounds like a lot considering cards like the RX 580 and GTX 1060 cost the same $200 a long time ago. I still think $200 is too optimistic. Given current market conditions and taking into account the performance offered by the RX 6500 XT, I think we'll see pricing between $300 and $400. For our price/performance analysis, I've plotted various price points to put things into perspective. If AMD really can sell the RX 6500 XT for $200, the card would offer immense value—almost twice that of all other competing cards. At $300, it's still a very good deal compared to your other options: a used RX 580 or GTX 1060, or the RX 570 4 GB for $240. These are still valid and recommended alternatives if your computer only supports PCIe 3.0. If you have PCIe 4.0, I'd pick the RX 6500 XT. If actual street pricing ends up higher than $350, the RX 6500 XT will be a tough sell; NVIDIA's various entry-level cards, like the GTX 1650, 1650 Super, 1660, 1660 Super, and 1660 Ti will be a better choice.

What could turn things around is the small memory size of 4 GB, which could make the card unattractive for miners. Maybe all the drama about the PCIe x4 interface will further reduce demand for this card and we could actually see it at its MSRP of $200, which would make it an interesting option in this crazy market.
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Jun 27th, 2022 16:29 EDT change timezone

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