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AMD Radeon RX 6800 review

A worthy rival to Nvidia's RTX 3070?

When AMD unveiled their pair of next-gen Big Navi graphics cards at the end of 2020, there was hope that they'd bring some much needed competition to Nvidia's latest crop of RTX 30 GPUs. Leading the pack was AMD's Radeon RX 6800 XT, a £600 / $650 graphics card that aimed to take on Nvidia's more expensive GeForce RTX 3080. Alas, the 6800 XT fell short when it came to matching the RTX 3080's raw performance speeds, and AMD's continued lack of any kind of frame rate-boosting DLSS competitor technology meant its ray tracing performance was also a bit underwhelming. Now, I've finally been able to test the other Big Navi card in AMD's initial RX 6000 line-up, the RX 6800. While its pricing and availability are all over the shop these days, this normally £529 / $579 graphics card is supposedly primed to sit alongside Nvidia's similarly-priced RTX 3070. Can it succeed where the 6800 XT failed?

Right now, the short answer is not quite. While its raw performance is more or less identical to the RTX 3070 in my benchmarking tests, its ray tracing capabilities continue to be rather lacklustre. That's because AMD are still working on their answer to Nvidia's upscaling DLSS tech, the catchily-named "FidelityFX Super Resolution", and there's no information on when it might be available.

Of course, it's a rather moot point at the moment given you can't actually buy either the RX 6800 or the RTX 3070, so here's hoping AMD manage to get it out the door by the time the current GPU stock shortage situation dies down a little. I will, of course, be retesting both the RX 6800 and RX 6800 XT once their FidelityFX Super Resolution tech comes out to see how it compares with DLSS, but at time of writing, the RTX 3070 still very much has the upper hand.

Whereas the RX 6800 XT was cheaper than the RTX 3080, the vanilla RX 6800 is - in theory, at least - actually a tad more expensive than the RTX 3070, coming in at £529 / $579 versus Nvidia's starting price of £469 / $499. That's what the Nvidia Founders Edition of the RTX 3070 cost, admittedly (third party cards were more expensive at launch, sitting around a similar £530 mark in the UK), but both cards are fundamentally very similar.

AMD Radeon RX 6800 review in a nutshell

AMD's Radeon RX 6800 is one of the best 1440p graphics cards around, offering significantly faster speeds than the RTX 3070 in a number of today's biggest games, but it falls into many of the same pitfalls as the RX 6800 XT, including lacklustre ray tracing performance at both 1440p and 4K, and no answer (yet) to Nvidia's DLSS tech to help boost performance at higher resolutions.

The good...

  • Outstanding 1440p performance, offering 80fps+ speeds on max settings
  • Can deliver 4K 60fps speeds on Medium to High settings
  • Double the VRAM of the RTX 3070

The bad...

  • More expensive than the RTX 3070 (at normal prices)
  • Ray tracing performance is quite a bit slower than the RTX 3070 at both 1440p and 4K
  • Currently very expensive due to low stock levels

Both require at least a 650W power supply; most variants are similar in size, taking up just two PCIe slots (and aren't so long that they'll cause problems fitting inside your case); and almost all of them use the same 2x 8-pin power connectors for easy installation. A couple of RTX 3070 models still require three 8-pin power connectors, while Nvidia's Founders Edition uses their special 12-pin adapter, but the vast majority only need the usual pair of 8-pin connectors, just like the RX 6800.

From a practical point of view, then, the RX 6800 isn't too different from its Nvidia rival. Instead, the main advantages you get with the RX 6800 are: more VRAM (16GB of GDDR6 versus the RTX 3070's 8GB of GDDR6), faster VRAM (clocked at 16 Gbps as opposed to Nvidia's 14 Gbps), and a higher boost clock speed (2105MHz on AMD's reference model, up from 1730MHz on Nvidia's RTX 3070 Founders Edition).

A side-on photo of the AMD Radeon RX 6800 graphics card on top of the RX 6800 XT.
The RX 6800 (top) is exactly the same size as the RX 6800 XT (below), just a bit thinner.

The 16GB of VRAM is very welcome here. We've already seen the memory requirements of some 2020 games such as Watch Dogs Legion butt up against the 8GB you'll find on the RTX 3070, for example, and it means the RX 6800 will be better equipped to deal with the demands of even more memory-intensive games down the line - particularly when it comes to ray tracing.

Right now, though, those additional spec bumps you get with the RX 6800 struggle to make themselves felt. As you'll soon see from my benchmark results below, the RX 6800 is more or less on an equal footing with the RTX 3070 when it comes to 4K gaming, producing 60fps speeds on either Medium or High settings, but ray tracing at this resolution is out of the question until AMD's FidelityFX Super Resolution gets on the scene.

Meanwhile at 1440p, the RX 6800 establishes a clearer lead over the RTX 3070, capable of delivering flawless 60fps+ speeds on max settings, but it's still a very closely fought race here and one the RTX 3070 eventually wins once you throw ray tracing into the mix. The same goes for its 1080p performance, too - although I should note there's no need to spend this kind of money on a 1080p graphics card, as there will be plenty of cheaper cards coming later this year that are much better suited to that resolution. Ultimately, it all comes down to what you want to use it for.

A photo of the AMD Radeon RX 6800's display outputs.
The RX 6800 comes with two DisplayPort 1.4 outputs, one HDMI 2.1 output and one USB-C port.

AMD Radeon RX 6800 benchmarks

Let's start with the RX 6800's 4K benchmarks. It put in a decent performance across the board here, easily hitting a smooth average of 68fps in Shadow Of The Tomb Raider on Highest with its basic SMAA anti-aliasing setting enabled, while Assassin's Creed Valhalla came in with an impressive 59fps average on High. That's a whole 10fps in front of the RTX 3070's Valhalla result, while its Tomb Raider score leads by 6fps.

That said, Tomb Raider's DLSS tech will boost the RTX 3070's figure to an even smoother 76fps without ray tracing switched on, as well as a still very agreeable 52fps with its RT Ultra settings enabled. The RX 6800, meanwhile, struggled to maintain a steady frame rate with the same RT Ultra settings in Tomb Raider, averaging just 37fps overall.

It was a similar picture in Metro Exodus, too. While the RX 6800 inched ahead of the RTX 3070 on High settings at 4K, averaging 62fps versus Nvidia's 59fps, its ray tracing speeds saw that number get chopped in half. With RT High enabled, the RX 6800 only managed a choppy 32fps at 4K High, whereas the RTX 3070 managed an average of 38fps, or 50fps with DLSS switched on. The latter is still by no means perfect, of course, but it does give you a lot more flexibility to at least attempt ray tracing at 4K, as long as you don't mind a slight dip in frame rate. 50fps is still perfectly playable, after all, and I know I'd definitely try giving it a go at that kind of speed if I had the option.

Instead, if you want to experience any of the current ray tracing games on the RX 6800, you'll probably have to settle for playing them at 2560x1440, or worse still, 1920x1080 - but more on that in a second.

A face-on photo of the AMD Radeon RX 6800 graphics card.

Sticking with its 4K performance for a bit, the RX 6800 does put up a pretty good fight against the RTX 3070 here, but most of its victories are pretty small. In Total War: Three Kingdoms, for example, it managed an average of 52fps on High over the RTX 3070's 50fps result, while Horizon Zero Dawn put it firmly over the 60fps line with an average of 62fps on Ultimate Quality, up from the RTX 3070's average of 58fps.

The RX 6800 fell slightly behind in Final Fantasy XV (unsurprisingly, as this game has always favoured Nvidia hardware), but its average of 50fps on Highest with all of the extra Nvidia effects turned off was still pretty decent all things considered. Indeed, the RTX 3070 was only just ahead with an average of 55fps on Highest, although again, the addition of DLSS here will bump that figure well beyond 60fps on its default settings, and give you a lot more headroom to start adding in its lovely HairWorks and TurfEffects features, too.

The RX 6800 picked itself back up again in Monster Hunter: World, averaging an identical 62fps on High settings to the RTX 3070, but yet again, Nvidia players have the upper hand thanks to the game's DLSS support. Indeed, switch this on and the RTX 3070 can hit a smooth 65fps on the next preset up at 4K, which simply isn't possible on its AMD rival.

Even the RX 6800's Forza Horizon 4 result came in with the same 118fps average as the RXT 3070 on Ultra 4K settings, and that's a game AMD cards normally do very well in. Similarly, it's unlikely that older games will run better on the RX 6800 either, as it only managed an average of 61fps on Ultra settings in The Witcher 3, which is actually two frames behind what the RTX 3070 managed.

As an entry-level 4K graphics card, then, the RTX 3070 is arguably the better choice, at least until AMD get their FidelityFX Super Resolution tech up and running. While their raw gaming speed is pretty much identical, Nvidia's DLSS tech gives the RTX 3070 an undeniable leg-up when it comes to overall performance, giving you more options to try higher quality presets on supported games.

Admittedly, DLSS becomes less of an issue when you take a look at its 2560x1440 benchmarks, as the RX 6800 has more than enough power here to satisfy even high refresh rate monitor owners on max settings.

A photo showing the rear side of the AMD Radeon RX 6800 graphics card.

In Monster Hunter: World, for example, the RX 6800 managed a super smooth average of 83fps on Highest at 1440p, matching the RTX 3070 frame for frame and negating the need for a DLSS-alike to give it a leg up. Similarly, since Final Fantasy XV only supports DLSS at 4K resolutions, both cards were on a much more level playing field at 1440p, producing a nigh-on identical average of 90fps apiece without any of the extra Nvidia effects switched on.

Instead, the RX 6800's lack of DLSS tech only becomes apparent when we go back to that clutch of ray tracing games again. In Metro Exodus, for example, the RX 6800 is really only equipped to deal with the game's High RT settings on Ultra at 1440p, averaging 54fps overall in its tough dedicated benchmarking tool. That's down from a non-ray tracing average of 83fps.

The latter is technically just ahead of the RTX 3070's 81fps average, but Nvidia's ray tracing cores are clearly that bit more efficient compared to their AMD counterparts, as the RTX 3070 was able to manage a superior 57fps on Ultra RT settings on Ultra, and an even smoother 68fps average with DLSS switched on.

It's a similar picture in Shadow Of The Tomb Raider, too. On Highest with its top SMAA x4 anti-aliasing setting enabled, the RX 6800 managed an impressive average of 79fps, which is just a few frames behind the RTX 3070's score of 83fps. Throw Ultra ray tracing into the mix as well and the RX 6800 copes admirably, but its average of 47fps just isn't quite as smooth as the RTX 3070's raw 51fps, and certainly nowhere near its DLSS-ified 81fps average, either.

Of course, I'm hopeful that this gap will close once AMD's FidelityFX Super Resolution tech is ready - at which point, the RX 6800 may well be the better choice if a steady set of prices fall in its favour. For instance, the RX 6800 has a considerably larger lead on the RTX 3070 in titles such as Horizon Zero Dawn and Forza Horizon 4, averaging 110fps in the former on Ultimate Quality settings and 163fps in the latter on Ultra. That's quite a bit faster than the RTX 3070's respective scores of 96fps and 148fps, and its gains don't stop there, either.

The RX 6800 also came out on top in Assassin's Creed Valhalla, too, soaring past the RTX 3070's average of 63fps on Ultra High with a hugely impressive 81fps average in its built-in benchmark. Its victory in Total War: Three Kingdoms was a little smaller, all told, averaging 75fps on Ultra settings versus the RTX 3070's 70fps average, but it's a win all the same.

A photo of the AMD Radeon RX 6800 XT behind the RX 6800.

Should I buy an AMD Radeon RX 6800?

That's quite a set of results compared to what you get on the Nvidia side of the fence, and so if you're mainly after a top-flight 1440p card and aren't that fussed about ray tracing, then I reckon these kinds of performance boosts are more than enough to justify the RX 6800's slightly higher cost if and when prices return to normal. Besides, the RX 6800 still makes a pretty good fist of ray tracing at 1440p, and given there are still only a handful of ray tracing games in existence at the moment, it will probably do well enough to tide you over until AMD's FidelityFX Super Resolution tech arrives.

It's only when you start pushing into 4K that the RX 6800's limitations start to make themselves known. Its performance lead over the RTX 3070 become a lot smaller, if not non-existent, and right now the addition of DLSS lets you do a lot more with Nvidia's RTX card than anything you can achieve on the RX 6800. Again, this may change once AMD's DLSS competitor arrives, but we still don't know when that's going to happen.

This leaves the RX 6800 in a rather difficult spot. As a 1440p GPU, it's one of the best graphics cards around for 60fps+ speeds on max settings, and it handily beats the RTX 3070 in a number of today's biggest games. Nvidia still have the edge when it comes to ray tracing, but as long as you don't mind making a few concessions here and there, the RX 6800 can definitely hold its own at this resolution.

If you want a card that will give you a bit of breathing room for moving up to 4K down the line, however, then I'd probably err on the side of Nvidia here, at least for the time being. I will reassess once AMD's Fidelity FX Super Resolution tech becomes available, and when prices start to stabilise again.

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