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Nvidia GeForce RTX 4090 vs. AMD Radeon RX 6950 XT: battle of the flagships

Nvidia and AMD have been competing for years, trading blows when it comes to claiming the coveted spot of the best GPU of the year. Nvidia was often dubbed the winner in these battles, but in recent years, AMD has caught up with its RDNA 2 cards. Now, with the RTX 4090 claiming the performance crown, it’s time to match up the flagships from Nvidia and AMD and see how they compare.

Nvidia’s GeForce RTX 4090 is the crown jewel of the brand-new Ada Lovelace RTX 40-Series lineup. AMD is yet to release its new graphics cards, although RDNA 3 is on the way. As such, Nvidia’s flagship is one generation ahead of AMD’s Radeon RX 6950 XT, but the latter can certainly stand its ground. Let’s see how these two beastly GPUs compare to one another.

Specs

Nvidia GeForce RTX 4090 GPU.
Jacob Roach / Digital Trends

Although both the Nvidia GeForce RTX 4090 and the AMD Radeon RX 6950 XT are at the top of their respective lineups, they vary greatly in terms of specifications. Looking at the specs alone, this won’t be a very fair comparison.

While the RX 6950 XT was only released in May 2022, it still sports a set of specs that belongs firmly in the previous generation of graphics cards. It marks a very slight upgrade over the Radeon RX 6900 XT.

The RTX 4090, however, rules the next-generation lineup and will easily become the most powerful consumer GPU on the market — until Nvidia eventually releases the RTX 4090 Ti, of course, or AMD strikes hard with the next-gen Radeon RX 7000 lineup.

The clock speeds are somewhat similar, but the RTX 4090 absolutely dwarfs the RX 6950 XT in terms of core count, bus width, and bandwidth. It also offers GDDR6X memory as opposed to GDDR6.

GeForce RTX 4090 Radeon RX 6950 XT
Architecture Lovelace RDNA 2
Process node 5nm TSMC 7nm TSMC
Cores 16,384 5,120
Base clock 2,235MHz 1,925MHz
Maximum clock 2,520 MHz 2,324MHz
Memory 24GB GDDR6X 16GB GDDR6
Memory bus 384-bit 256-bit
Bandwidth 1,018GBps 576GBps
TDP 450 watts 335 watts

Performance

Geomean of the RTX 4090's performance at 4K.

We had the chance to review both the RTX 4090 and the RX 6950 XT, so we have an in-depth overview of the way these two cards match up in terms of performance.

While the RX 6950 XT can keep up with the RTX 3090 and even the RTX 3090 Ti at times, the RTX 4090 leaves it far, far behind. Overall, based on our testing in 4K, the RX 6950 XT provided around half the performance of the RTX 4090. Across our gaming benchmarks, the RTX 4090 averaged 108.3 frames per second (fps) in 4K, while the RX 6950 XT maxed out at 55.3.

RTX 4090's performance in Forza Horizon 5 at 4K.

These results do vary from title to title, though. In Forza Horizon 5, the RX 6950 XT outperformed every other GPU, hitting 119 fps on average. On the other hand, the RTX 4090 still reigns supreme with 176.3 fps. Meanwhile, in Gears Tactics, the RTX 4090 averaged 171 fps, while the RX 6950 XT trailed behind the RTX 3080 Ti, only managing to hit 73.1 fps.

Even in AMD-promoted titles like Assassin’s Creed Valhalla, the RTX 4090 wins by a large margin. AMD’s flagship was able to beat every other GPU, but it was destroyed by Nvidia’s latest and greatest; Nvidia scored 122.4 fps compared to AMD’s 75.1.

Geomean of the RTX 4090's performance at 1440p.

This kind of performance continues in our 1440p tests, although we don’t recommend buying the RTX 4090 if you’re only planning to play at 1440p — the card has a much bigger potential. On average, in 1440p, the RTX 4090 maintained a 68% lead over the RX 6950 XT.

The Ada Lovelace generation, which the RTX 4090 is the champion of right now, also brings an upgrade to DLSS, bumping the technology up to its third iteration. DLSS 3 predicts entire frames instead of just pixels, and while it’s not perfect, it certainly gives Nvidia another edge over AMD.

Nvidia’s new flagship is a powerful GPU, no questions asked. Comparing it to the AMD Radeon RX 6950 XT is like comparing apples to blueberries — they’re both nice but are of an entirely different caliber because they each belong to a different generation of GPUs.

The RTX 4090 is a card made for enthusiasts, with seemingly no limits in sight. Set to face content creation at the highest caliber, 4K gaming on ultra settings, and even more, the GPU will be able to plow through most tasks for a few years. The AMD Radeon RX 6950 XT is powerful in its own right, but it failed to impress us with the slight upgrade over the RX 6900 XT. It is AMD’s best graphics card right now, but that will soon change with the arrival of the Radeon RX 7000-series.

Ray tracing

A chart showing the performance of the RTX 4090 with ray tracing turned on, in 1440p, in Cyberpunk 2077.

With ray tracing turned on, Nvidia’s RTX 4090 takes such a huge lead over every other card, it’s not even funny. It vastly outperforms the RTX 3090 Ti, and unfortunately for AMD, it destroys every card made by Team Red. Historically, this has always been the case: Nvidia just does a much, much better job when it comes to ray tracing.

We took the two cards out for a ray tracing spin in Cyberpunk 2077. As you can see in the above image, at 1440p, ultra settings, the RTX 4090 leaves the RX 6950 XT in the dust, averaging 88.7 fps versus AMD’s 36.7. The Nvidia GPU was a full 152% faster than the AMD flagship, proving just how much better the RTX 4090 is when it comes to ray tracing.

Power draw

An Nvidia GeForce RTX graphics card seen from the side.
Kiklas/Shutterstock

The power requirements of Nvidia’s new flagship have been the topic of much speculation prior to its release, and no wonder — this card is one power-hungry beast. Nvidia’s Founders Edition model comes with a base TDP of 450 watts, which is the same as the previous-generation RTX 3090 Ti.

Nvidia’s RTX 4090 also comes in many custom flavors prepared by Nvidia’s board partners. These GPUs are likely to hit a higher TDP — around 550 to 600 watts is entirely possible. It’s also worth noting here that the RTX 4090 is massive, so you’re going to need a really roomy case if you want to use it.

Some of Nvidia’s add-in board (AIB) partners recommend an up to 1,200-watt power supply in order to support the card, which is, let’s face it, a pretty outrageous expectation. Nvidia itself is much more conservative, recommending an 850-watt PSU. However, if you end up getting the new flagship, remember that you should get a Gold or better 850W power supply because, combined with other components, it could still run pretty close to its limit.

Compared to Nvidia, AMD keeps things positively frugal where power consumption is concerned. The triple-slot RX 6950 XT has a maximum TDP of 335 watts, and AMD suggests that an 850-watt PSU will be needed to run the card. This makes it much more power-conservative; it even offers some small power savings when compared to the RTX 3090, which has a TDP of 350 watts.

Pricing and availability

Nvidia and AMD's CEOs side-by-side.
Nvidia CEO Jensen Huang and AMD CEO Lisa Su.

While the RTX 4090 is still brand new, the RX 6950 XT has been around for a while. It launched on May 10, 2022, and is available for sale at most of the major retailers, including Amazon. It launched with a $1,099 price tag but can now be had for as little as $900 at some retailers.

Nvidia has been more expensive than AMD, so it’s not a surprise to see the GeForce RTX 4090 arrive at a fairly high price — but in all fairness, it’s not as bad as some of us were expecting. Nvidia priced its own Founders Edition at $1,599, and we can only expect that the custom versions will cost more, given that they often ramp up the performance, too. The GPU will be available starting on October 12, 2022.

Cost per frame for the RTX 4090.

Strangely enough, because of how overpriced the RX 6950 XT is when compared to the RX 6900 XT, the GPU doesn’t fare well in our cost-per-frame tests. While the RTX 4090 is a very expensive GPU, its performance means that in this test, it proves to be more cost-efficient than the RX 6950 XT. However, this is assuming you have an unlimited GPU budget and you don’t mind spending $1,600 instead of $1,100.

The winner is clear

Nvidia logo made out of microchips.

In terms of performance, it’s hardly even a contest. The RTX 4090 blows the AMD Radeon RX 6950 XT out of the water, as it should, given that it belongs to a newer generation than the RDNA 2 GPU.

On the other hand, there’s also the price and the power draw to think about, and in both of those, the RX 6950 XT is a clear winner. However, if you’re sticking to that generation of GPUs, there are also plenty of other options to choose from, such as the RTX 3090 or the RX 6900 XT, which is barely worse than the RX 6950 XT but a lot cheaper.

The answer is clear — Nvidia’s RTX 4090 is much, much better but also more expensive. Make your call based on what you need and what your wallet can handle right now.

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