Today, AMD launched the first of its “Big Navi” RDNA 2 architecture Radeon graphics cards, the RX 6800 XT and RX 6900 XT. These cards compete directly against Nvidia’s RTX 3070, RTX 3080, and RTX 3090.
Like Nvidia’s RTX 3000 line, the new cards offer 60+ fps 4K gaming, with full DirectX 12 Ultimate support, including hardware-accelerated real-time ray tracing.
RDNA2 brought enormous gen-on-gen fps gains from last generation’s “little Navi” RX 5000 series—but what most people will care about is how the components compare to Nvidia’s offerings, not to last generation’s AMD. In terms of sheer GPU horsepower, Nvidia’s RTX 3000 series and AMD’s RX 6000 series appear to be in a dead heat. As always, it’s worth taking a vendor’s own private benchmarks with a grain of salt—but we don’t expect to see materially different results in private testing later as these cards filter down to the market.
AMD did not compare the RX 6800 (non-XT) with Nvidia’s RTX 3070; instead, the 6800 was compared with last generation’s RTX 2080Ti. But for most intents—and as backed up by our own Sam Machkovech’s recent testing—these cards perform quite similarly. So we can reasonably read the RX 6800 chart as comparing to the RTX 3070.
The biggest addition to the Radeon arsenal with RDNA 2 is real-time ray tracing and support for DirectX 12 Ultimate. The new cards feature one Ray Accelerator for each Compute Unit on the card, offering a roughly tenfold increase in ray-tracing performance compared to software-only implementations.
The addition of real-time hardware ray tracing brings Radeon to gaming-feature parity with Nvidia’s lineup, at least on paper. It will take some time to decipher how well Radeon’s ray-tracing support stacks up to Nvidia’s in real life—and particularly in the context of real-world games, which up until now have been advertised loudly with “Nvidia RTX” logos, even though they largely rely on a more open DirectX Ray Tracing protocol.
On the console front, Microsoft was keen on immediately reminding gamers that its next-gen consoles would leverage the “full feature set of RDNA 2 in hardware.”
The new RDNA2 architecture also brings greater power efficiency to the Radeon lineup, with the 300W 6800 XT and 6900 XT beating out their Nvidia competitors by 20W and 50W, respectively. On the lower end of the lineup, Nvidia takes the lead, with the 220W Nvidia RTX 3070 beating the 250W Radeon RX 6800.
|AMD card||AMD price||Most comparable Nvidia card||Nvidia price|
|Radeon RX 6800||$580||RTX 3070||$500|
|Radeon RX 6800 XT||$650||RTX 3080||$700|
|Radeon RX 6900 XT||$1,000||RTX 3090||$1,500|
In some ways, AMD looks like it might have gotten caught with its pants down on the RX 6800 pricing. Consumers will probably have a hard time justifying an extra $80 at that price bracket on a card with higher thermals and a more uncertain real-time ray-tracing pedigree. But in other ways, AMD might have the edge—if higher amounts of VRAM in each class are your selling point. The RX 6800’s 16GB of GDDR6 VRAM doubles that of Nvidia’s comparable RTX 3070.
The value proposition is closer to even when upgrading to the 6800XT and just about overwhelming at the top tier. That’s where Nvidia’s RTX 3090 costs a whopping 50 percent more than AMD’s RX 6900 XT for roughly the same 4K frame rates delivered. Both of these AMD cards sport 16GB of GDDR6 VRAM, as well, but that’s not clocked as highly as Nvidia’s choice of GDDR6X VRAM (11GB of it in the RTX 3080, and 24GB in the RTX 3090).
If all you’re looking for is the best raw 4K frame rates on current AAA games, ray tracing be damned, the top end of the RX 6000 series seem like clear winners. For anyone heavily invested in ray tracing, sticking with Nvidia—who brought it to market a generation sooner—might be the better bet if you can’t wait a few months to see how those features and their performance shake out in the market.
This article has been updated with more information about VRAM capacity in AMD’s newest GPUs.
Listing image by AMD