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AMD Radeon RX 6650 XT review: a last hurrah for RDNA 2

Not a bad RX 6600 XT upgrade, but new GPUs are coming soon

There’s nothing inherently wrong with the AMD Radeon RX 6650 XT's concept – faster clock speeds than the RX 6600 XT, to better compete with Nvidia’s RTX cards? Yeah why not – but surely its timing is questionable. Any GPU launching several months into 2022 would only ever do so under the looming shadows of Nvidia’s GeForce RTX 40 series and the AMD Radeon RX 7000 series, the latter being officially revealed in just a few days’ time. Not to mention Intel Arc Alchemist, delayed as it has been.

Still. AMD’s next-gen, RDNA 3-based GPUs are an unknown quantity, and the RTX 40 series will at first focus on high-end models like the RTX 4090. Even if its RDNA 2 architecture is on the way out, could the RX 6650 XT not find room in the pack as one of the best graphics cards for 1080p and 1440p?

To find out, I’ve been testing Sapphire’s Nitro+ Radeon RX 6650 XT, which further tunes up the maximum boost clock speed to 2694MHz – though you’re more likely to see speeds around the 2523MHz ‘Game Clock’ while playing. That comes with 8GB of GDDR6 memory, just enough for the better graphics settings in most games, and at 17.5Gbps it’s also slightly nippier than the RX 6600 XT’s VRAM. Both old and new GPUs come with 32 Ray Accelerator units, which aid the standard Compute Units when running intensive ray tracing effects.

AMD Radeon RX 6650 XT review: 1080p benchmarks

These upgrades help the RX 6650 XT trade punches with its Nvidia nemesis, the RTX 3060, more favourably than the RX 6600 XT could. In Shadow of the Tomb Raider, running at 1080p with its Highest quality preset and SMAA 4x anti-aliasing, the RX 6650 XT averaged 80fps: still short of the RTX 3060’s 84fps, but up from 74fps on the RX 6600 XT. And, with the addition of Ultra-quality ray traced shadows, the RX 6600 XT came back to beat the RTX 3060 at 65fps to 56fps.

The RX 6650 XT also racked up wins in Total War: Three Kingdoms, with 78fps on Ultra quality versus the RTX 3060’s 70fps, and Final Fantasy XV, which ran at 87fps on its Highest preset – edging past the RTX 3060’s 85fps. In a particularly impressive Metro Exodus showing, AMD’s card beat its Nvidia rival by about 17%, averaging 74fps on Ultra quality to the RTX 3060’s 63fps.

The Sapphire Nitro+ Radeon RX 6650 XT graphics card, cooler-side up.

However, in a reverse of Shadow of the Tomb Raider, adding Ultra-quality ray tracing effects to Metro took a heavier toll on the RX 6650 XT. In dropping to 45fps, it’s still playable, but the RTX 3060 and its 49fps average will make for more consistent smoothness. At sub-60fps frame rates, that 4fps difference is more significant than it looks.

Even so, the RX 6650 XT is usually the faster GPU where ray tracing is switched off or unavailable. It managed quicker, slicker 1080p performances in Assassin’s Creed Valhalla, averaging 89fps on Ultra High; Horizon Zero Dawn, where it produced 97fps on Ultimate quality; Forza Horizon 4, with 183fps on Ultra; and Hitman 3, where it pumped out a fantastic 161fps in the Dubai benchmark. In Valhalla and Hitman 3 especially, the FPS advantage over the RTX 3060 will be visible if you have one of the best gaming monitors with a heightened refresh rate.

Using standard, rasterised lighting and shadow effects, Watch Dogs Legion provided yet another victory over the RTX 3060: using the Ultra quality preset, the Radeon GPU averaged 74fps, besting the 3060’s 60fps. But, it also served to re-demonstrate the RX 6650 XT’s occasional ray tracing weakness. With the same Ultra setting but Medium-quality ray tracing effects applied, the RX 6650 XT sagged to a choppy 36fps, whereas the RTX 3060 held firmer with 41fps.

The display outputs on a Sapphire Nitro+ Radeon RX 6650 XT graphics card.

One suspects that Nvidia’s approach of giving RTX cards more single-mindedly dedicated ray tracing hardware, in the form of RT Cores, is still paying off even with outlier results like Shadow of the Tomb Raider. Again, though, the RX 6650 XT usually outpaces the RTX 3060 when ray tracing is either unavailable or switched off, so it’s going to be the faster graphics card in the majority of cases.

AMD Radeon RX 6650 XT review: 1440p benchmarks

The RX 6650 XT is a 3060-beater at 2560x1440, too. Maybe not always, and not by exclusively chunky margins – in Horizon Zero Dawn, its 73fps result (again on Ultimate quality) won’t look any different to the RTX 3060’s 72fps. And in Final Fantasy XV, I could slap on the Highest preset and mosey around the plains of Duscae at 59fps on the RX 6650 XT, but the RTX 3060 actually found a few extra frames to average 63fps. Nvidia’s card was also 5fps faster in Shadow of the Tomb Raider, with the RX 6650 XT averaging 51fps on Highest settings.

Elsewhere, it’s the Radeon that comes out ahead, even if it doesn’t hit max quality/60fps in every game at this resolution. Case in point, Total War: Three Kingdoms, in which the RX 6650 XT scored 46fps (on Ultra) to the RTX 3060’s 43fps. In Ultra-quality Watch Dogs Legion, the RX 6650 XT crept ahead once again, with 54fps beating the 46fps posted by the RTX 3060. And it managed wider leads too, especially with results like its 134fps in Forza Horizon 4 (Ultra quality), 63fps in Assassin’s Creed Valhalla (Ultra High quality), and 74fps in Metro Exodus (Ultra quality).

The Sapphire Nitro+ Radeon RX 6650 XT graphics card, sat sideways with its backplate showing, on a desk.

Hitman 3 also ran very smoothly at 1440p/Ultra, averaging 107fps in the Dubai benchmark; the RTX 3060 ‘only’ managed 92fps. Unfortunately, trying to add ray tracing confirmed that the RX 6650 XT still hasn’t shaken the RX 6600 XT’s weakness with these upgraded effects. Switching on Hitman 3’s RT effects murdered the frame rate as thoroughly as 47 himself could, that swish 107fps plummeting to just 19fps.

Of course, ray tracing is rarely an essential upgrade (even if it can drastically improve the look of certain games, like Marvel’s Spider-Man Remastered). And often, it will be possible to claw some frames back using Fidelity FX Super Resolution (FSR), AMD’s upscaling tech that reduces rendering strain with only a modest dip in visual quality.

That said, almost any mention of FSR invites comparison with its Nvidia equivalent, DLSS. And despite FSR's many improvements over the past year, DLSS is still better. It’s just as capable of big FPS boosts as FSR, but its more intelligent upscaling tends to produce sharper, less processed-looking frames, with custom anti-aliasing that’s just about always sharper than what even FSR 2.0 manages.

A Sapphire Nitro+ Radeon RX 6650 XT graphics card, installed and running in a gaming PC.

Not to add fuel to pointlessly tribal Nvidia vs. AMD “debates”, but the prospect of willfully missing out on DLSS does make the RX 6650 XT’s non-upscaled benchmark wins seem somewhat less exciting. And it doesn’t even go both ways – DLSS is only usable on GeForce RTX graphics cards, but any modern GPU can run FSR, including Nvidia ones.

And, unfortunately for this enhanced Radeon card, the RTX 3060 isn’t the only Nvidia GPU it must compete with. At £426 / $362, this Sapphire model is one of the cheaper RX 6650 XT partner cards, but at least in the UK, such pricing puts it on a collision course with the GeForce RTX 3060 Ti. The same RTX 3060 Ti that can break 100fps in Shadow of the Tomb Raider at Ultimate-quality 1080p, and could average 89fps in Horizon Zero Dawn at 1440p with Ultimate settings, and produced 65fps – that’s 20fps faster than the RX 660 XT – in Metro Exodus at 1080p, juggling both Ultra graphics settings and Ultra-quality ray tracing. Choosing between the RX 6650 XT and the RTX 3060 comes down to how much you value rasterised performance compared to ray tracing and DLSS support, but between this and the much more powerful RTX 3060 Ti? Not even a discussion.

Then there’s the matter of timing. Yes, sometimes you need a new GPU right this instant, perhaps to replace one that went unexpectedly kaput. And it might, understandably, be frustrating to wait for potentially upcoming graphics cards that haven’t been announced yet. But the RX 6650 XT has released so soon before the RDNA 3 generation that even AMD must be expecting potential customers to play the waiting game, and while they could follow Nvidia’s example in leading with the 4K/top-end stuff, more affordable GPUs are likely in the works for 2023 at the latest. From Nvidia, as well.

A Sapphire Nitro+ Radeon RX 6650 XT graphics card.

The RX 6650 XT, then, is a GPU that just kind of… exists. It’s a good 1080p card and a decent 1440p choice, but one that you probably shouldn’t buy right now, given both the incoming next-gen hardware and price cuts on the RTX 3060 Ti. Neither of which are its own fault, so you can’t even rue its existence, like with the weedy RX 6500 XT.

I will say that Sapphire’s customisations are superb, blocky aesthetics notwithstanding. This Nitro+ model is ghostly quiet and keeps GPU temperatures on the right side of cool, never going above 65°c even after hours of benchmarking. This might not be your next new graphics card, but on the strength of the Nitro+ design, it might well be worth considering Sapphire models for the Radeon RX 7000 and RTX 40 series.

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About the Author
James Archer avatar

James Archer

Hardware Editor

James had previously hung around beneath the RPS treehouse as a freelancer, before being told to drop the pine cones and climb up to become hardware editor. He has over a decade’s experience in testing/writing about tech and games, something you can probably tell from his hairline.