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AMD’s RX 5600 XT is now even faster, but that’s not as awesome as it sounds

In the 11th hour before AMD released its RX 5600 XT graphics card, the company did something unexpected: It made the card even faster. A new BIOS update improved clock speeds for both the core and the memory, making it a much more capable card. The only problem is that some cards may have shipped without it, and other cards may never be even given the option to upgrade.

The RX 5600 XT was an expected, but welcome announcement during AMD’s CES 2020 press conference. Its solid performance looked set to make it one of, if not the best of the 1080p gaming graphics cards available, finally replacing the aged GTX 1060. That proved true when the card launched and reviewers revealed its true capabilities. On average, the card performed around 10-20% faster than an Nvidia GTX 1660 Ti, which sits at around the same $270-$280 price. In many ways it was closer in performance to the RTX 2060, which is exactly why Nvidia’s dropped the price of that card to $300 just days earlier.

Clearly expecting such a move, AMD had actually pushed out a BIOS update for the 5600 XT just prior to sending it out to reviewers, making sizable performance improvements to both core and memory clock speeds, and leading to a more than 10 percent uplift in real-world performance. That’s fantastic news for buyers since they’re getting a card that can often outpace an RTX 2060 for less money. The only problem is, there’s no guarantee you’ll get that kind of performance out of the box.

Some board partners didn’t have time to apply the new BIOS to every 5600 XT they have, meaning those who bought the 5600 XT on day one may be sent a card that isn’t running at the same specifications as the card is capable of, nor what they saw in the reviews that may have encouraged them to make that purchase. Although the number of affected buyers is likely to be low at this point, there’s also no guarantee that a 5600 XT you buy, even a few weeks from now, hasn’t somehow been missed off in the BIOS update schedule, and ships with the default performance instead.

That’s not the end of the world, as most manufacturers will provide that updated BIOS to buyers through their support websites, allowing them to unlock that added performance entirely for free. But for the uninitiated, BIOS updates are not something to be approached lightly. They are far easier today than they used to be, and sites like GamersNexus have created whole video guides to walk you through the process of updating this very specific card. But BIOS updates have the potential to brick your card if you lose power during the process or load the wrong BIOS for the update.

The new BIOS will also increase power and thermal demands, in some cases placing additional load on a cooling solution that was not designed with it in mind.

Worse still, some manufacturers will not be issuing the new BIOS and will instead ship multiple versions of the 5600 XT. Some slower, some faster. That gives them a broader range of pricing for their products (and potentially opens up some savings for those willing to try installing a BIOS from another manufacturer), but that’s not something everyone will be aware of and could mean some buyers missing out. There’s also the added confusion from a range of cards that are almost identical, other than this one performance tweak, which makes the already crowded budget GPU space in 2020, all the more confusing.

If you find yourself with an RX 5600 XT that needs BIOS flashing, we’d recommend taking extreme caution in doing so, and following a verified guide like the GamersNexus one. It’s also a good idea to take advantage of a dual-BIOS switch if you have one too, so that you can load the safe BIOS up if something goes wrong.

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Jon Martindale
Jon Martindale is the Evergreen Coordinator for Computing, overseeing a team of writers addressing all the latest how to…
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