Sapphire Radeon RX 6700 XT Nitro+ Review 18

Sapphire Radeon RX 6700 XT Nitro+ Review

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Value and Conclusion

  • According to Sapphire, the MSRP for the Radeon RX 6700 XT Nitro+ is $579. Given current market conditions, we expect a price of at least $750.
  • Performance comparable to RTX 3070 and RTX 2080 Ti
  • Excellent energy efficiency
  • Idle fan stop
  • Very quiet
  • Excellent temperatures
  • Hardware-accelerated raytracing
  • Dual BIOS
  • Smart Access Memory / resizable BAR boost performance
  • 12 GB VRAM
  • Backplate included
  • Support for HDMI 2.1, AV1 decode
  • PCI-Express 4.0
  • AMD FidelityFX
  • 7 nanometer production process
  • Very limited supply
  • Actual market price will end up much higher
  • Raytracing performance loss much bigger than on NVIDIA
  • Some fan speed overshoot as the card heats up
  • Memory overclocking artificially limited
We have a total of six Radeon RX 6700 XT launch-day reviews for you today: AMD RX 6700 XT Reference, ASUS RX 6700 XT STRIX OC, MSI RX 6700 XT Gaming X, PowerColor RX 6700 XT Red Devil, Sapphire RX 6700 XT Nitro+, and XFX RX 6700 XT Merc 319.

With the Radeon RX 6700 XT, AMD is releasing a highly competitive SKU for the upper midrange—a segment for which NVIDIA launched two cards recently, the RTX 3070 and RTX 3060 Ti. This market is very important because it defines the serious gamer willing to spend a little bit extra for higher FPS or better image quality without going overboard. The Radeon RX 6700 XT uses the Navi 22 GPU, while the Radeon RX 6800, RX 6800 XT, and RX 6900 XT are powered by Navi 21. Both are built on the same RDNA2 architecture with support for Raytracing using a 7 nanometer production process—Navi 22 is basically a cut-in-half Navi 21 with 192-bit memory. The only deviation from that is that the L3 Cache (aka Infinity Cache) is 96 MB on Navi 22, whereas it is 128 MB on Navi 21.

On average, over our brand-new 22-game strong test suite, we measured the Sapphire RX 6700 XT Nitro+ to almost exactly match the AMD reference design. In some tests, it's a tiny bit faster, in others a tiny bit slower, which is as expected due to random variation between test runs. The result is still surprising because specifications show that Sapphire has the card come with a factory overclock, but it doesn't turn into a tangible performance benefit. Other custom designs tested today have exactly the same problem, so it doesn't look like it's Sapphire's fault. While it's not a huge deal—factory OCs only give you 1, 2 or 3% these days—it's still unexpected. Other reviewers are seeing similar results, I wonder what's going on.

Overall performance sits right in the middle of two NVIDIA Ampere cards. The RX 6700 XT is 8% faster than the NVIDIA RTX 3060 Ti, but 4% behind the RTX 3070. Compared to AMD's own Radeon RX 6800, the performance difference is 18%. An important result I want to highlight is that the RX 6700 XT is able to nearly match the GeForce RTX 2080 Ti—isn't that a huge achievement? Just a few months ago, most people wouldn't have dared to dream that AMD's x7xx card would be able to compete with NVIDIA last-generation flagship.

With those performance numbers, the Radeon RX 6700 XT is the perfect choice for the huge 1440p gamer crowd out there; the card also has enough muscle to run many titles at 4K 60 FPS, especially if you are willing to dial down settings a little bit. The RX 6700 XT is also a great choice for 1080p Full HD if you want to drive a high-refresh-rate monitor with 120 or 144 Hz. AMD's new card has support for raytracing, but unlike the competition from NVIDIA, it lacks hardware units for many RT tasks, which means NVIDIA has the upper hand here in terms of performance. RT performance varies greatly between the titles we've tested, I'd say you can roughly expect RTX 2080 raytracing performance from the RX 6700 XT, which is not bad at all. It really comes down to how essential you consider RT support. If you consider it an optional "better than Ultra" setting, it is not paramount to you yet—RT performance won't be a dealbreaker if you may or may not activate it. If you believe RT is the future and want to be ready for games to come, NVIDIA looks like the better option, also because they have the DLSS upscaling technology, which cushions the raytracing performance hit at the cost of a little bit of image quality.

Sapphire's Nitro+ thermal solution has delivered excellent results in all our reviews in recent years, and the RX 6700 XT Nitro+ is no exception. We measured much better temperatures and noise levels than on AMD's reference card: 70°C under load, with 27 dBA fan noise. Especially the noise levels are a huge improvement over the AMD card; the Nitro+ is whisper quiet even with the most demanding games. Our new noise testing methodology is now able to provide additional insight at the lowest noise levels, but differences here are slim even though the numbers might suggest otherwise. There's almost no subjective difference between 25 dBA and 28 dBA. Generally, all RX 6700 XT custom designs we've tested today run very quietly, barely audible. Thanks to a dual-BIOS feature, you can switch between an "OC" and "quiet" BIOS. The difference between both BIOSes is negligible, though, which feels a bit like a lost opportunity. What I definitely like is the software BIOS switch feature, which lets you toggle the dual BIOS from within the Sapphire TRIXX software—the last setting is remembered, of course. It's great to see that idle fan stop has become a standard capability nowadays—all Radeon RX 6700 XT cards, including the Nitro+ in this review, will shut off their fans in idle, desktop work, and internet browsing.

AMD shocked the world with the energy efficiency of Navi 21, which beats even NVIDIA's Ampere. The Radeon RX 6700 XT with its Navi 22 GPU is highly efficient, too, but "only" matches NVIDIA's RTX 3080. It seems AMD pushed the design a bit above its optimum operating point for efficiency, possibly to sneak the RX 6700 XT right into the performance gap between the RTX 3060 Ti and RTX 3070. With 220 W during gaming, the RX 6700 XT is gentle in its power supply requirement, as basically any power supply from a known brand will power it just fine. Power consumption in single-monitor idle and media playback has been improved considerably over Navi 21. AMD now only needs to figure out multi-monitor power, which is still higher than on any NVIDIA graphics card.

Unlike some other RX 6700 XT cards, overclocking worked well on the Nitro+. We gained around 5% in real-life performance. The AMD reference and PowerColor Red Devil needed a power limit increase for that, which suggests that Sapphire picked better power limits than those cards. It's a slap in the face of overclockers that AMD insists on artificially capping the maximum OC potential of their products by limiting the slider length in Wattman. Memory overclocked to 2150 MHz was 100% stable on every single card we've reviewed, so why not give us more? Or set no limit at all, like NVIDIA.

The Radeon RX 6700 XT offers 12 GB of memory because the underlying memory architecture uses a 192-bit interface design. With a 192-bit interface, your design options are 6 GB and 12 GB unless you're willing to mix memory chips of mismatched capacity. Obviously, 6 GB VRAM is not enough for 2021 and beyond in this market segment, so AMD really had no choice here. The only alternative would have been to go with a 256-bit wide bus interface, which would have enabled 8 GB variants while increasing the manufacturing cost of the GPU and PCB. Looking at our benchmark results, I can't find a single instance where the 12 GB RX 6700 XT significantly beats the 8 GB RTX 3070—not even at 4K, so VRAM really is no issue. From a marketing perspective, "12 GB" on the RX 6700 XT is more than "8 GB" on the RTX 3070, so that could win AMD some customers, too.

According to AMD, the Radeon RX 6700 XT comes at an MSRP of $479—a fantasy that won't last for half an hour. The supply of the AMD reference design is extremely limited, even big shops have only received a handful of units. How much stock AMD is selling on their own site nobody knows, but I'm sure bots will have grabbed it by the time you complete the checkout process manually. Thinking of these fake MSRPs, I'm wondering, shouldn't AMD shareholders start complaining that AMD is not giving them the returns they deserve? Obviously, the market is willing to pay much more for these cards, so why is shareholder money lost by selling too cheap? Another random thought: If you were an AIB with a warehouse full of RX 6700 XT cards, wouldn't it be a REALLY bad idea to sell them now, near MSRP? Just send out a few alibi cards and wait a few weeks before selling them at the real market price.

Sapphire's MSRP of $579 is $100 higher than AMD's reference MSRP, which is quite a large increase. Apparently making the RX 6700 XT at $479 is almost impossible. I talked to several manufacturers, and they say their margins are paper thin, and a $480 card is a loss for them after taking into account their other costs beyond just the production. That's why we're seeing a lot of premium SKUs at relatively high pricing across the board. At the moment all this doesn't matter. Whatever inventory there is will get sold on the same day. I'm hearing of hundreds of cards for a whole country. So what should you do? I'd say that up to $700 is very reasonable for the RX 6700 XT; it's a great card with excellent performance that's extremely competitive with what NVIDIA offers. Beyond that, definitely check the alternatives: the RTX 3060 Ti and RTX 3070, or a used RTX 2080 Ti or RTX 2080 Super, even. I would definitely be willing to pay another $50 on top for the Nitro+—the better cooler alone is worth that.
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