AMD Radeon RX 6000 series: Everything you need to know

Powered by the same RDNA 2 microarchitecture found in Microsoft’s Xbox Series X and Sony’s PlayStation 5 consoles, AMD finally is entering the high-end PC graphics card market with its Radeon RX 6000 series GPU. The 6000 family will allow AMD to compete against the best graphics cards from rival Nvidia, and consists of the mainstream Radeon RX 6800 XT flagship, high-end Radeon RX 6800, and enthusiast-class Radeon RX 6900 XT. These GPUs bring support for ray tracing for the first time to the Radeon family while supporting 4K gaming at 60 frames per second (fps).

The Radeon RX 6800 is designed as a competitor to last year’s Nvidia RTX 2080 Ti flagship, while the Radeon RX 6800 XT will take on this year’s RTX 3080 powerhouse. For enthusiast gamers, data scientists, and creative professionals who need even more performance, the Radeon RX 6900 XT will go up against Nvidia’s BFGPU, the GeForce RTX 3090.

At the heart of the Radeon RX 6000 family is the RDNA 2 microarchitecture, which is also known as Navi 2x and colloquially referred to as “Big Navi” by gamers. RDNA 2 is the second generation of AMD’s RDNA architecture, and like the move to RDNA from the older GCN architecture, RDNA 2 delivers significant performance uplifts. AMD claims that moving from GCN to RNDA resulted in a 50% improvement in performance-per-watt, and a similar boost is also coming to gamers who transition from RDNA to RDNA 2. For this generation, AMD is focused on matching Nvidia’s support for ray tracing, improving performance-per-watt, and delivering better power efficiency.

Price and availability: Radeon RX 6800 and 6800 XT

AMD revealed during its October 28 event that its new PC graphics cards based on the RDNA 2 architecture will be available to gamers beginning on November 18, with pricing starting at just $579 for the Radeon RX 6800, a GPU designed to compete against the RTX 2080 Ti. For comparison, Nvidia priced the Founders Edition of its 2080 Ti card at $1,199 at launch.

If you’re looking at an AMD GPU to compete against Nvidia’s current generation of GPUs, you’ll want to step up to the $649 Radeon RX 6800 XT. Given its competitive performance, AMD is pricing this graphics card at the same price as Nvidia’s flagship RTX 3080. In the past, AMD had been aggressive on price, but it looks like this trend is coming to an end as the company is able to deliver better performance for its cards.

In press presentations throughout this year, AMD CEO Lisa Su said that as AMD realizes its investments in graphics deliver significant value to gamers, the company has slowly been increasing the prices of its GPUs in recent years in an attempt to generate better margins. It looks like AMD is finally confident enough to raise prices for its cards to match what its rival is doing in the space, so don’t expect significant discounts across the board.

Hopefully, when these cards become available to purchase, AMD won’t suffer from the same supply shortages that affected its rival. Prior to the Radeon launch event, AMD executives poked fun at Nvidia, stating that it will have plenty of inventory for its fans and gamers.

Price and availability: Radeon RX 6900 XT

The Radeon RX 6900 XT is the enthusiast-level card. Unlike the other two cards in the RX 6000 family, the 6900 XT will be available slightly later, on December 8, and the card will be priced starting at $999.

For comparison, Nvidia’s RTX 3090 is priced at $1,500. At the very high end, going with Team Red will save you $500. Depending on which AMD GPU you select, there is still some value in choosing Team Red over the GeForce counterpart.

Radeon RX 6000 and the RDNA2 architecture

The Radeon 6000 brand was confirmed during AMD’s October 28 event,where AMD unveiled its RDNA 2 architecture. “I’m really excited to show you the new RDNA 2 architecture and our full stack of Radeon RX 6000 series products,” Su stated in her opening remarks, noting that this is the most powerful series of graphics card that her company has ever built. “Many of you have asked us to compete at the highest end of gaming GPUs as well. And today, we’re ready to show you exactly what we’ve been working on.”

With the Radeon RX 6000 family, AMD is promising an aggressive performance-per-watt improvement of at least 50% compared to the first-generation RDNA family, more power efficiency when compared against rival Nvidia’s competing GPUs, and architectural changes that bring better bandwidth, reduce bottlenecks, and improve speeds. In total, these changes help AMD deliver on its promise of 4K gaming at 60 fps. On PCs, these GPUs will launch as the Radeon RX 6800, 6800 XT, and 6900 XT. AMD did not indicate if more GPU variants will be joining the Radeon RX 6000 family in the future.

It’s also unclear what AMD’s strategy will be for the Mac, given that Apple recently announced that it will begin transitioning from Intel’s processors to its own Apple Silicon for the Mac. The RX 5000 series is available on the iMac as the Radeon Pro 5300, 5500XT, 5700, and 5700XT. When Apple’s transition is fully realized, it will use its own integrated GPU solution on its custom ARM-based processors.

RX 6000 coming to APUs

In addition to premium GPUs and consoles, the Big Navi platform will be headed into AMD’s APUs as an integrated GPU solution, according to AMD Chief Financial Officer David Kumar. It’s a move that’s similar to what rival Intel is doing with its Intel Xe graphics architecture.

AMD’s Ryzen 4000 APUs with integrated Radeon graphics offer enough performance to play many 1080p titles using the game’s lowest graphics settings. This would allow basic desktops — and mobile laptops — to play basic games without requiring a costly or more bulky setup with discrete GPUs. When AMD compared its Ryzen 7 4700G desktop APU to Intel’s Core i7-9700, it showed that GPU performance was up to 274% higher than its competition.

The RDNA 2-based APUs will likely provide AMD with additional boost, but Intel’s new integrated Xe architecture on its 11th-Gen processors is also coming with a significant jump in performance. Headed to Tiger Lake-based laptops this fall, Intel’s integrated Xe graphics promise 2.7 times faster content creation, more than 20% better performance with Office tasks, and 2x faster faming performance over the prior Gen 11 integrated GPU. There are 96 execution cores for a total of 768 cores with 3.8MB of L3 cache on Intel’s Xe platform.

Intel’s 11th Gen Tiger Lake will likely compete against AMD’s Renoir and Nvidia’s discrete and lightweight GeForce MX in gaming, and Intel’s own numbers show that Xe is outperforming the competition, including the Ryzen 7 4800U. With Intel turning up the heat on AMD on integrated GPU performance, it will be interesting to see how a future Ryzen APU with integrated RDNA 2 graphics will compete against the new Xe architecture.

Memory

AMD is taking a different approach from Nvidia when it comes to memory. All of the company’s latest 6000 series GPUs come with a whopping 16 GB of memory, compared to just 10 GB on the flagship RTX 3080, and 8GB on the RTX 3070.

However, AMD is using the slower GDDR6 memory format, whereas Nvidia has a slight advantage with GDDR6X memory on its high-end graphics card, at least on paper. AMD was not able to use the GDDR6X standard because it is exclusive to Nvidia as part of a partnership with Micron. To combat the memory speed bottleneck, AMD is using some hardware and software tricks to extract more performance out of its 16GB of GDDR6 memory.

“We took a new approach to solving this technical challenge for gaming and deployed a graphics-optimized, high-density, high-speed cache,” Laura Smith, Radeon chief engineer, explained during AMD’s unveiling event. “We call this the Infinity Cache.” AMD’s Infinity Cache works to minimize the DRAM bottlenecks and latencies while at the same time reducing power consumption.

“Our specialized Infinity Cache, combined with a 256-bit G6 interface, delivers more than twice the effective bandwidth of a traditional 384-bit G6 solution, and a lower power consumption,” Smith added. Infinity Cache serves as a massive bandwidth amplifier, and AMD claimed that 256-bit of 16 Gbps GDDR6 memory coupled with 128 MB of Infinity Cache could lead to a 1664 GB/s bandwidth.

This compares favorably against the GDDR6X performance on Nvidia’s GPUs. For reference, the GDDR6X memory can perform up to 760GB per second on Nvidia’s RTX 3080. With Infinity Cache enabled, AMD listed memory bandwidth for all three of its graphics processors at 512 GB/s.

Previously, it was rumored that AMD’s new cards could come in HBM — or high bandwidth memory — versions, but more recent leaks reveal that those plans have been scrapped. HBM’s high cost would have likely contributed to a higher retail cost, which is something that AMD may want to avoid as it competes against Nvidia on both price and performance. With Infinity Cache, it appears that AMD may not even need to resort to HBM to compete, even if it has to make due with GDDR6 memory rather than GDDR6X.

And even though RDNA 2 makes use of the same 7nm process node as the first-generation RDNA platform, AMD said custom libraries and high-speed design flows help the new platform achieve 30% faster frequencies and up to 54% better performance-per-watt.

Design

RX 6800

Unlike Nvidia’s controversial dual-axial fan design, AMD is sticking to a more traditional GPU design with its graphics card. AMD revealed that its 6000 family will be powered by three fans — all mounted on the same side. While Nvidia’s latest GPUs come with more muted aesthetics as it chases after data scientists, A.I. engineers, and non-gamers, AMD is sticking to a more gaming-forward design with black accents, silver hardware, and red trim to highlight the Radeon badge. AMD had previously confirmed that it will be moving away from a blower-style heat sink in favor of a more premium design.

Another way that AMD differs from Nvidia is that the new Radeon cards don’t make use of a new power connector, so upgrades should be relatively easy. All three announced cards use dual 8-pin connectors.

Also, while Nvidia uses a massive triple-slot format for its RTX 3090 GPU, AMD claims that its competing Radeon RX 6900 XT won’t be much bigger than the 6800 XT. “And you’ll see that it’s actually relatively compact for all the performance that it delivers,” Su saied. “It’s actually the same size as our 6800 XT card.” Both the RX 6900 XT and RX 6800 XT utilize a 2.5-slot format, while the Radeon RX 6800 is smaller, with a 2-slot format. All three cards measure 267mm in length.

Production process

RDNA 2 is built using the same 7nm manufacturing process as the first-generation product, and AMD claims that it has packed more than 26.8 billion transistors onto its graphics chip for 30% better energy efficiency than the prior-generation cards. In terms of performance, AMD said the move from the older Vega GPUs based on the GCN platform to first-generation RDNA brought a 50% performance uplift, and a similar 50% performance-per-watt improvement can be seen from RDNA to RDNA 2.

The top-of-the-line Radeon RX 6900 XT will ship with 80 compute units and 80 ray accelerators, with a 2.25 GHz boost clock speed, 16GB of memory with Infinity Cache, and a TDP of 300 watts. The company claims this is the card for ultimate 4K gaming performance, and it was able to achieve over 65% performance-per-watt uplift compared to the first-gen RDNA GPUs. AMD claims this card could achieve 46.08 TFLOPS of peak FP16 performance and 43.04 TFLOPS of FP32 performance. It comes with 5,120 stream processors and 320 texture units.

“It’s extremely competitive across the board, consistently delivering high frame rates and your favorite games,” Su said. “Just take a look at the performance we see against the competition in Battlefield 5, Call of Duty, and Gears of War 5. All of this is at lower power, with a smaller card form factor.”

The mainstream Radeon RX 6800 XT flagship has 72 compute units and 72 ray accelerators, a clock speed of over 2 GHz and boost speed of 2.25 GHz, 16GB GDDR6 memory with 128GB Infinity Cache, and TDP of 300 watts. This card is designed for 4K gaming at 60 fps and is competitive against Nvidia’s RTX 3080. Gamers who scale down to 1440p gaming can see 100 fps in many games. The RX 6800 XT can achieve 41.47 TFLOPS of FP16 peak performance and 24.74 TFLOPS of FP32 peak performance. It has 4,608 stream processors and 288 texture units.

The last card in the Radeon RX 6000 family is the RX 6800. This card is clocked at 1.815 GHz and comes with a boost speed of 2.1 GHz. It has 60 compute units and ships with 16GB of GDDR6 memory while consuming just 250 watts of power. AMD described this card as a “fantastic entry into 4K gaming” that delivers 18% “more performance than the [Nvidia GeForce RTX] 2080 Ti.” The RX 6800 has 3,840 stream processors, 60 ray accelerators, and 240 texture units. This card can reach 32.33 TFLOPS of FP16 performance and 16.17 TFLOPS of FP32 performance.

AMD also announced a single-click Rage Mode overclocking mode that can be enabled through the Radeon software, as well as AMD Smart Access Memory, which helps to reduce game load times, a feature that’s competitive with what Nvidia is doing with its Ampere GPUs.

When both AMD features are enabled, gamers can realize up to a 13% performance boost, the company claims. And to reduce latency, AMD also unveiled its Radeon Anti-Lag and Radeon Boost technologies that work together with FreeSync displays to deliver up to a 37% latency reduction in competitive games, like Fortnite, at 4K resolution. Radeon Boost is similar to Nvidia Reflex, which will analyze your inputs — like mouse clicks — to help on-screen latency and ensure you’re ready for action. The tool is useful for action-packed games and e-sports.

Ray tracing

AMD is working with partners like Microsoft to bring ray tracing to its GPUs for the first time.

“We partnered closely with Microsoft on Direct X 12 ultimate features, including Direct X ray tracing, variable rate shading, mesh shaders, and support for Microsoft direct storage APIs,” said Smith, the Radeon chief engineer .

The company also expanded its library of Fidelity FX features to work hand-in-hand with ray tracing compute and shader effects to bring better visual fidelity to games. Denoiser and variable rate shading algorithms help to adapt image quality based upon luminance and motion, AMD said, and a suite of compute-based effects are also available to developers.

And like rival Nvidia, AMD will also use Microsoft’s Direct Storage API to help reduce game load times.

AMD did not disclose specifics on how it will implement ray tracing during the Radeon RX 6000 product unveiling.

Performance

With RDNA 2, AMD has a shot at taking on Nvidia in the premium segment. Though AMD has an excellent track record in the midrange market, the RDNA 2 architecture will allow AMD to compete at all price points. While AMD’s current lineup is strong for gamers in the 1080p and 2K 1440p segments, Big Navi will bring “uncompromised 4K gaming,” according to a slide the company showed to investors.

When AMD unveiled its RX 6000 family, Su revealed that AMD’s latest Radeon graphics card delivers a 50% generational performance uplift, with the top-tier Radeon RX 6900 XT delivering a 64% performance-per-watt improvement over first-generation RDNA. And with AMD’s focus on power efficiency, the Radeon cards are also able to reduce power consumption by 30% while maintaining performance that’s competitive with Nvidia’s cards.

During the company’s presentation, AMD showed that 4K and 1440p performance on the Radeon RX 6800 XT was very competitive against Nvidia’s RTX 3080. Both cards achieved similar frame rates across a number of different game titles.

AMD’s metrics matched rumors reported by Igor’s Lab and Hardware Times that the latest Radeon can match the RTX 3080 in performance. Most notably, AMD is able to match the 320-watt RTX flagship’s performance with just 300 watts, the same power draw of the Radeon VII.

Though AMD is positioning its RX 6900 XT against Nvidia’s RTX 3090, it’s unclear how the Radeon card will fare. AMD showed that both cards performed similarly in gameplay at 4K with the highest game settings, with the 6900 XT edging ahead of its rival. However, Nvidia is positioning its RTX 3090 as an 8K card at 60 fps. AMD did not go as far as 8K in its released benchmarks.

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