Is the world waiting for readily available, under-$200 graphics cards that will handle 1080p gaming with aplomb? You bet! Have they arrived in the new wave of cards based on AMD’s new Radeon RX 6500 XT GPU? Uncertain—whether it will be easy to buy a RX 6500 XT-based card near AMD’s $199.99 starting list price is anyone’s guess, and this GPU’s muscle is a mix of ups and downs. In our testing, the Radeon RX 6500 XT was mostly a match for the $159-list Nvidia GeForce GTX 1650 Super, a card launched in November of 2019. Also, its included ray-tracing (RT) cores might as well be tacked on for show, and it runs hotter than some cards twice its size in our stress tests. For those who just need something new that works as a 1080p, 60-frame-per-second churner today, the AMD Radeon RX 6500 XT does fill that gap, but an Nvidia challenger looms.
Low-End Ray-Tracing: Is That a Thing?
To be sure, the GPU market is desperate for a low-cost win of a card you can actually buy. But a GTX 1650 Super close to list price (if you can find one under $200; most go for around $250 to $300 these days) could be the better option for gamers if they can’t find the Radeon RX 6500 XT near MSRP. A lot of the new Radeon GPU’s value proposition hinges on just how available it will be and where the ultimate real-world pricing falls. Another option: Wait and see what the coming Nvidia GeForce RTX 3050 cards (projected to start at $249) have in store.
Looking at current-generation GPUs, the Radeon RX 6500 XT’s key competitor here in 2022 clearly will be that Nvidia GeForce RTX 3050, which was announced on the same day as the RX 6500 XT GPU at CES 2022. They’re both aimed at the 1080p market; they’re both entry-level, ray-tracing-capable options; and there’s only a $50 difference between them on base list price. (The RTX 3050 is in the pricier position, in this instance.)
However, benchmarks and reviews for that new Nvidia GPU technically won’t be out for another week. (GeForce RTX 3050 cards go on sale on Jan. 27.) For now, in terms of tested performance, we’ll have to compare the Radeon RX 6500 XT’s performance to its closest current Nvidia kin, cards based on the GeForce GTX 1650 Super GPUs.
Looking at the core specs, though, we can compare all of these, since we know most of the details on the GeForce RTX 3050, and all of the details on the rest…
At first glance, these are some confusing specs to digest. The previous model in the Radeon RX line at this tier, the Radeon RX 5500 XT, went on sale for $169.99 a little over two years ago. On paper, it looks to have more memory bandwidth, a wider memory bus, and more stream processors/transistors overall. As we all know, both supply-side constraints and inflation have changed the game a bit since 2019, but even with math from the US Inflation Calculator taken into account, AMD is still charging a premium of roughly $15 since the time it released a card at this power tier.
However, we’re in a new year, with new RT cores and pricing structures to go with it. This means neither the Radeon RX 6500 XT’s introductory price of $199.99, nor Nvidia’s upcoming offering of a $249 GeForce RTX 3050, should shock us all too much, given that they include a new set of cores (16 ray-tracing cores in the case of the RX 6500 XT) and are being launched into 2022’s hyper-constrained market for computer parts.
As a result, due to those same supply constraints, the new Radeon RX 6500 XT also finds itself in ready competition with the Nvidia GeForce GTX 1650, a GPU originally launched in 2019. The reason it’s still relevant today is that it was reincarnated for a short time by Asus just last year, to help shore up dwindling GPU stock.
The Makeup of the Radeon RX 6500 XT
Radeon RX 6500 XT models will come from AMD’s usual card partners. The Radeon RX 6500 XT model we tested features 4GB of GDDR6 video memory, as will every model (including overclocked options) in the rest of the lineup being offered by the partners. The Gigabyte Radeon RX 6500 XT Eagle 4G card we have in hand is one of a host of third-party designs based on the Radeon RX 6500 XT GPU and featuring its own cooling solution; AMD is not offering an official reference version or a house-brand card.
Like other RX 6000 series GPUs, the Radeon RX 6600 is built on the company’s RDNA 2 architecture. It features a new TSMC 6nm lithography on a 107-square-millimeter “Navi 24” GPU die.
Perhaps the most interesting innovation on offer with the launch of the Radeon RX 6500 XT line is what AMD is referring to as TSMC’s “6nm” fabrication process. This represents a shift away from the company’s staple 7nm process technology, which anchored all previous entries in the RDNA line of discrete desktop Radeon GPUs. Not a lot is known about 6nm tech, and AMD was mum on 6nm details both in its reviewers’ materials, and prior to this review when queried via email.
Does this separate process node mean a better, more capacious supply of RX 6500 XT models will be available at launch and into 2022? What we do know comes from a recent talk; speaking on the GPU supply shortage, AMD’s CEO opened up about how things have looked from its end during a roundtable after the company’s CES 2022 keynote:
“Dr. Lisa Su: I think the overarching message for gamers is, we really look at this as a portfolio where we want to support the full range of gamers from top of stack to more mainstream. We understand that there haven’t been enough GPUs out there in 2021. We did actually ship a lot more desktop GPUs in the second half of ’21, than we did in the first half. So not everyone has gotten them, but more people have definitely gotten them in the second half of ’21. And you’re going to see many more in 2022. We’re positioning the launch such that—and I know, you guys always say, ’Well, yeah, they’re just saying that’—but we really are positioning the launch at a $199 price point. It is sort of affordable to the mainstream. You know, we intend to have a lot of product out there.”
The dual-slot, dual-fan Gigabyte RX 6500 XT is just 7.56 inches long, which is just fine for both builders and upgraders of compact PCs, as well as owners of standard-size rigs. Our test card, though, is just one of many different styles (including single-fan and triple-fan options) that will be available when the RX 6500 XT goes on sale today.
Speaking of going on sale, at this power and price tier, this is the first GPU release from either AMD or Nvidia in a quite a while that might not be peppy enough to capture the attentions of cryptocurrency miners. The model we tested runs at just 107 watts, while certain OC options will push that to 120 watts. Unfortunately, we’ve also entered a bit of a “tulip mania” situation, in which the mere hint of a new GPU on the market may mean hardware scalpers are poised to fire up their bots, forcing most buyers to resort to second-or-third-party market shopping sources and their untold (many will say, unholy) markups.
On that, AMD’s Laura Smith, co-vice-president of Radeon Graphics, commented at the previously mentioned roundtable…
“Laura Smith: I would suggest that there’s a lot of dynamics that are involved in the availability of the GPUs. We have really optimized this one to be gaming-first at that target market. And you can see that with the way that we configured the part. Even with the four gigs of frame buffer. That’s a really nice frame buffer size for the majority of AAA games, but it’s not particularly attractive if you’re doing blockchain-type activities, or mining activities. And so we’ve tried to make some real gamer-first transitions for the things that we don’t control, but we have influence over [how] to optimize that card to be as accessible as possible to that use of gamers.”
The RX 6500 XT is also right in the price and power range of GPU where AMD has claimed that its so-called “Infinity Cache” VRAM, first introduced on the AMD Radeon RX 6800 XT, would have the greatest impact. (You can read more about it in our review of that card here.) Did hold up in testing? One last bit on specs before we jump in.
On the port selection for the RX 6500 XT we tested, the back of our Gigabyte card is as stripped-down as two-slot cards come, with just a single DisplayPort 1.4b output and one HDMI 2.1 port. As for power delivery, the Gigabyte card requires a single six-pin lead from the power supply.
Okay, now let’s see what those numbers look like!
Testing the Radeon RX 6500 XT Eagle 4G: It’s All About the 1080p
PC Labs ran the Gigabyte Radeon RX 6500 XT Eagle 4G through a series of DirectX 11- and 12-based synthetic and real-world benchmarks. Our test rig, used for all cards in the charts below, is based on an Intel Core i9-10900K processor and employs a PCI Express 3.0, not 4.0, motherboard (an Asus ROG Maximus XII Hero Wi-Fi). It’s equipped with 16GB of G.Skill DDR4 memory and a solid-state boot drive. Given our tests with the Core i9-10900K and recent Ryzen 9 CPUs, this platform is the best reasonable configuration at the moment to take the CPU out of the equation for frame rates.
For our testing, we focused some of the effort on the Radeon RX 6500 XT’s esports aspect with games like Counter-Strike: Global Offensive (CS:GO) and Rainbow Six Siege. We also ran the card through the rest of our standard benchmark regimen, which tests a GPU’s abilities to handle AAA games at the highest possible quality settings, as well as how it does in synthetic tests that stress the card in a variety of ways.
Almost every test we run (aside from the esports titles) is done at the highest possible visual quality preset or settings. If you have a high-refresh-rate gaming monitor and are worried your card might not make the frame-rate grade, it could still be possible with a combination of lower settings. Not only that, but some of these titles (including Death Stranding, Shadow of the Tomb Raider, and F1 2020) have both DLSS and FidelityFX Super Resolution compatibility. This can yield performance boosts of up to 40%, depending on the setting and the card you’re playing with. (See our guide to these technologies, Sharpen & Speed Up Your PC Games: Testing AMD’s FSR, Nvidia’s DLSS 2.2 & More, for more.)
And so, onward to our test results. Note: If you want to narrow down the results below to a specific resolution (i.e., the resolution of the monitor you plan to use), click the other two resolution dots in the chart legends below to suppress them and see a single set of results. Our list of AAA titles includes a mix of recent games, as well as some older but still reliable pillars of the benchmarker’s toolkit like Shadow of the Tomb Raider and Far Cry 5.
A note before we get into testing: Shortly before the 6500 XT launched, PC-enthusiast site TechSpot published an article claiming the Radeon RX 6500 XT could be due for some trouble on PCIe 3.0-bus systems versus those equipped with PCIe 4.0. Without breaking into too much detail, our anecdotal testing testing showed almost identical results between the two platforms, regardless of differences in the PCIe generation being tested on. (Our PCIe 4.0 testbed consisted of an MSI MEG X570S Ace Max motherboard and an AMD Ryzen 7 5800X eight-core CPU, with 16GB of DDR4 RAM clocked to 3,200MHz.)
Results: Synthetic Benchmarks
Synthetic benchmarks can be good predictors of real-world gaming performance. In UL’s 3DMark, the circa-2013 Fire Strike Ultra is still a go-to approximation of the load levied by mainstream 4K gaming. We’re looking only at the test’s Graphics Subscore, not the Overall Score, to isolate the card’s performance. Meanwhile, we also ran 3DMark’s Time Spy Extreme, which is a good test of how well a card will do specifically in DirectX 12 games at 4K resolution. 3DMark’s Port Royal, until recently run only on GeForce RTX cards, measures how well a GPU handles ray-tracing tasks (thus the absent bars for most of the AMD Radeon cards). Also here is a pair of GPU-acceleration tests (Furmark and LuxMark); more details on those at the “how we test” link above.
The Radeon RX 6500 XT is far too low on the power totem pole to be considered for any serious rendering or production tasks, and its synthetic benchmark results reflect that. The main takeaway here comes from the Port Royal run, which shows significantly slower results than both previous entries in the Radeon line, as well as competing GeForce RTX options in Nvidia’s 2000 and 3000 series of GPUs.
This is the first instance where we saw the Radeon card pull ahead of the GeForce GTX 1650 Super in some graphics testing (with early wins in 3DMark’s various Graphics Subscore results), but those, among others, will be traded out for some losses to Nvidia as we get deeper into what everyone really came here for—the games testing.
Results: Recent AAA Games
For the following real-world games, we typically benchmark using the highest-quality preset and, if available, DirectX 12.
In many of the AAA tests we ran, the Radeon RX 6500 XT stayed competitive with Nvidia’s last true launch in this tier, the GeForce GTX 1650 Super. Whether in Red Dead Redemption 2 or Far Cry 5, we saw regular shootouts and win exchanges between the two GPUs. Most were photo-finishes, or close to it, regardless of the tested resolution.
When compared with AMD’s next-step-up $329 Radeon RX 6600 on titles like Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey, a card that’s roughly 65% more expensive at list price than the model we reviewed today, the performance difference scales nearly in tandem, with the RX 6600 putting up frame rates around 60% to 70% higher, depending on the title.
Results: Multiplayer Games
Though we max out the eye candy in most of PC Labs’ game tests to push cards to their limit, multiplayer gaming is all about balancing graphical fidelity and frame rate. With that in mind, we’ve kept CS:GO, Rainbow Six Siege, and Final Fantasy 14 tuned to the optimal combination of necessary improvements in settings (higher anti-aliasing and lower shadows, for instance), while still trying to keep 1080p frame rates above 144fps.
Why 144fps? That’s an ideal target for competitive esports gamers who have high-refresh-rate 120Hz or 144Hz (or faster) gaming monitors. For more casual players with ordinary 60Hz displays, a solid 80fps or 90fps at your target resolution, with some overhead to account for dips below 60fps, is fine.
This is one area in which cards like the Radeon RX 6500 XT really need to show their mettle, and thankfully for AMD and multiplayer gamers everywhere, the card held strong at the resolution settings that matter the most to the masses. In CS:GO, it’s faster than 240fps at 1440p; that is plenty fast enough for that game, since 240Hz is the current limit for monitors at that resolution, barring some upcoming 360Hz 1440p models announced at CES 2022. And it landed just over the 165fps barrier in Rainbow Six Siege during our 1080p run with that title. That’s barely enough to comfortably max out a high-refresh gaming monitor like the 165Hz-capable MSI Optix MAG274R2.
Results: Legacy AAA Titles
We also ran some quick tests on some oldies-but-goodies that still offer an enjoyable AAA gaming experience. These legacy tests include runs of Tomb Raider (2013), Bioshock: Infinite, and Sleeping Dogs.
If you’ve been keeping up with our AMD coverage since the launch of RDNA 1 back in 2019, these results should not surprise. We’ve tested more old games than this on an array of cards, and discovered the problem of frame rates lagging behind comparably powerful Nvidia GPUs persisted throughout the RDNA 1 and RDNA 2 stack. These results suggest that that issue persists here in January 2022. If your main PC-game squeezes are older DirectX 11 games, be warned that the Radeon RX 6500 XT likely won’t provide price-competitive performance until AMD addresses driver shortfalls on older games.
Overclocking and Thermals: A Hot Pocket
Onward to temperature-testing and overclocking the card. We subjected the Gigabyte Eagle 4G to a 10-minute stress test in 3DMark Port Royal, and the card peaked at a temperature of 71 degrees C. We consider this fairly high for a card at such a low power tier, especially considering the Gigabyte-branded Radeon RX 6600 XT’s result of just 59 degrees C in the same test.
Most of this heat was collected and dumped into the middle of the backplate, according to what we saw through a FLIR One Pro thermal imaging camera aimed at our testbed during the stress test.
When it came time to overclock the card using AMD’s Radeon Software utility, we weren’t able to achieve any sort of stable overclock profile that produced useful results. Any applied overclock would either return the same results as the card at stock settings, or hurt the score if the card had more than 150MHz applied to the maximum boost clock.
An Oasis in the 1080p Desert, or a Mirage?
The AMD Radeon RX 6500 XT is a fine 1080p engine that works well for both AAA games at 60fps and multiplayer games at high refresh rates, and it held strong in all of our test runs save our handful of legacy AAA titles, a known stumbling block for RDNA-based Radeon GPUs.
However, the inclusion of ray-tracing cores for such a low-power card, especially in its introductory price range, seems overly optimistic to our eyes. In the same way some monitor manufacturers might include the bare-minimum HDR spec on a display just to have the logo on the box, ray-tracing cores on a $199 graphics card prove mostly pointless, at least without any form of AMD’s Radeon Super Resolution (RSR) applied. We have plans to put RSR through more vigorous testing in the coming weeks, but until we have that bank of numbers to compare from, we’ll stick to the conclusion from our testing regimen: The RX 6500 XT is too underpowered to handle ray-tracing effectively above even 30fps at 1080p resolution.
But we also know what the GPU stock situation is like out there. As long as you don’t plan on spending most of your PC-gaming time around the still fairly limited number of titles that even support ray-tracing in the first place, the AMD Radeon RX 6500 XT might fill your list of requirements. Number one: It’s available (in theory). Number two: If it’s available, is there even a number two?
As for that availability: The RX 6500 XT launches just under the threshold where a GPU starts being effective for mining operations, so there’s at least a chance that you will be able to find the RX 6500 XT at list price (if you can find it at all) for a little while after this review goes live. And if you can land one at MSRP, you should consider it if 1080p play and moderate multiplayer battles (under a 165Hz refresh rate) are your aim. It will do its best work for competitive esports players playing at high refresh rates and lower detail settings at 1080p. But it will still fill a gap for the AAA-gaming set in a 60fps pinch.
For everyone else who didn’t get their RX 6500 XT at MSRP in time? Back to digging in the eBay salt mines for the best deal you can find on a GTX 1650 Super!
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