AMD Tricked Everyone! Radeon RX 5600 XT Review

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This is our very first GPU review of 2020, and it’s going to be an interesting one. Back at CES AMD announced the RX 5600 XT, which is priced at $280 USD, and it’s supposed to sort of slot in between the RX 5500 XT 8GB and the RX 5700 in their lineup. They showed some specs and had a few performance lines that showed it beating the NVIDIA GTX 1660 Ti by a pretty convincing margin. That means it could also goes toe-to-toe against the RTX 2060. So guess what happened? NVIDIA decided to lower the price of their RTX 2060 to $300 USD, but good luck finding one for that price.

Things took a little bit of an interesting turn because last week AMD pulled a last minute trick on everyone who knew the specs of the RX 5600 XT by rolling out an official BIOS that increased board power, core frequencies, and memory speeds, and the effect on performance is pretty drastic. So we needed to scramble since our RX 5600 XT testing was already done, and I’m pretty sure NVIDIA is scrambling too since they have nothing that can compete.

A Last Minute Update

All right, so let’s start things off with the specs since even without the new BIOS the RX 5600 XT was a pretty interesting card. It uses the same 7nm Navi 10 RDNA-based GPU core, which is also found on the RX 5700, and it even has the same number of stream processors, texture units, and ROPs. The real differences were lower clock speeds and a 192-bit memory interface instead of the 256-bit one on the RX 5700. Some people thought that pricing was a little bit too high at $280 USD, since even though the 5700 XT officially costs $350 USD you could pick it up for between $320 and $340. However, then the new BIOS happened. And what did that do? Well the power limit was increased by about 10 watts, the Game Clock, which is where the GPU will spend most of its time, jumped up by almost 200MHz. The Boost Clock got a nice bump as well, but the biggest surprise was the memory that shot up from 12Gbps to 14Gbps.

Not only that, but AMD’s board partners like Sapphire, XFX, and PowerColor are taking things even further with their overclocked versions. Let’s take a look at this Sapphire Pulse 5600 XT for example. It’s Game Clock goes even further to 1615MHz, and for those of you keeping track that’s 240MHz higher than the RX 5600 XT was supposed to hit. The boost clock hits up to 1750MHz, and those specs get really close to the stock RX 5700. There is also a Silent BIOS, which is pretty pointless since the card is whisper quiet with its Performance BIOS setting.

Performance Boost

So how much did this new BIOS affect performance? Let’s take a look at the Pulse 5600 XT from Sapphire, remember this is a pre-overclocked GPU, but right now it is running at those speeds that I just showed. You can see that in these games there’s a pretty significant boost in frame rates, but right across every title we tested the performance increase was somewhere between 12% all the way up to 20% depending on how well the game reacted to those clock speeds. That really changed the RX 5600 XT’s outlook.

However, there is one little issue. The new BIOS was rolled out at the very last moment, and so the first batch of shipments to retailers won’t have them installed. And that’s messed up because buyers will have to find the new BIOS, the updating tool from their respective manufacturer’s website, and flash it themselves. So if you have an RX 5600 XT it’s out-of-the-box performance won’t be anywhere close to what you’re going to be seeing in the benchmarks. That kind of sucks, but it’s great to see what a BIOS update can do to the performance. However, this almost feels like a bit of a bait-and-switch by AMD. I mean it’s great to show awesome results and reviews, but you guys won’t be able to get those numbers without jumping through a few hoops first. Not only that, but it’s impossible to figure out if a card has an updated BIOS until you get it home and run AMD’s update tool. This could be a huge mess, and I’m hoping AMD and their partners make this process very clear.

The Sapphire Pulse 5600 XT

Speaking of their partners, let’s quickly take a look at the Sapphire Pulse 5600 XT. It looks like all of their previous Pulse GPUs, and that means it has two large fans and a super compact heat sink. It’s only 10 inches long and takes up two slots, so nothing extreme here. I love the fact that Sapphire doesn’t feel like they need the biggest GPU on the block to look cool. This thing is clean, good looking, and it should fit into most compact cases without any problems. There’s even a back plate to complete the overall look, and cut into that is a small bios switch. For those of you wondering, the position closest to the I/O connectors has the Performance BIOS, which is what we use for testing. While the position towards the power input holds a silent profile, that one has lower clock speeds, reduced fan speeds, and runs at a lower power envelope. As for power input, there’s an 8-pin connector and that’s about it.

Gaming Benchmarks

Let’s move onto the results. For this test, I’ll be using the above benchmarking setup, and the following graphic cards: The RTX 2060 Founders Edition, the ASUS GTX 1660 Ti OC, the EVGA GTX 1660 Super Black Gaming, the Sapphire Pulse RX 5700 OC, and finally the Pulse RX 5600 XT. As for the results, let’s kick things off with Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, and right away the RX 5600 XT is absolutely dominating the RTX 2060 and almost comes close to the RX 5700. In CS:GO, the NVIDIA cards do come out on top, especially with their 1% lows, but it should be noted we were experiencing some CPU bottlenecking here. Even though the AMD GPUs have better overall averages, I would actually choose an NVIDIA card for Fortnite since they deliver a much smoother experience. Jedi: Fallen Order shows what’s really amazing about the RX 5600 XT, which is that it can almost match the RX 5700 in many cases. The Outer Worlds really seems to favor NVIDIA cards when it comes to averages, but the RX 5600 XT delivers a much more playable experience without constant stuttering, especially when compared to the GTX 1660 cards.

In Overwatch we’re back again to RX 5600 XT domination, where it clearly beats the RTX 2060 and leaves the GTX 1660 Super in the dust. Rainbow 6: Siege is one game that benefits from the RX 5700’s 8GB of memory, especially with the HD texture pack. However, the RX 5600 XT is still super competitive against the RTX 2060. The fact that we got Red Dead Redemption running at all is a miracle, but here the RX 5600 XT is right where we would expect it to be. As for Shadow of the Tomb Raider, the RX 5600 XT is leading the RTX 2060 again, but moving onto Warhammer 2 and it’s pretty evident that this is a tough game on any system. The RX 5600 XT really struggles to compete on 1% lows, but overall frame rates are pretty good. And guess what, we brought back Witcher 3, it’s here mostly as a reminder to check out the awesome TV series and to go back and enjoy this amazing game. You can also be confident that the RX 5600 XT is more than good enough to play the game as well.

Power Consumption

And finally we’re onto power consumption, and even with the higher clock speeds the 5600 XT manages to be a pretty efficient GPU when compared to the RTX 2060. The problem with that card is all the extra die space used for ray tracing and AI capabilities that end up having a negative impact on efficiency. But honestly it looks like we might have a low leakage core on our 5600 XT, but we will only be able to confirm that with more samples. Either way, I think this is a huge win for AMD since they have struggled to compete with NVIDIA from a performance per watt standpoint, but now they have won big in almost every way.

Conclusion

Well AMD did it again with the Radeon RX 5600 XT. Now the last minute change didn’t allow us to run all the benchmarks that we wanted to, and I’m sure it’s going to cause a lot of issues for buyers who will have to go through the process of updating the BIOS to get expected performance. However, I have to say that at $280 USD this GPU is really good, because even at the performance setting it runs super quiet, it’s super efficient, and it offers tons of performance at 1080P. Now NVIDIA did try to compete by lowering the price of the RTX 2060 to $300, but keep in mind that is the Founders Edition and it is suspiciously sold out. Even if you were to find one at that price point, it’s really difficult for me to recommend that GPU over something like the RX 5600 XT.

Here’s the deal, plain and simple, if you want an awesome card for 1080p gaming and you can afford it the RX 5600 XT is a massive improvement over the GTX 1660 Super. In some cases it almost hits RX 5700 performance levels. Although that causes some problems for the RX 5700, that cards extra memory can come in handy for some games. Sure, AMD took a while to release this mainstream model, but right now I feel like they did a really good job of creating really affordable and high performance for gamers. I can’t wait to see what they have planned out for the rest of 2020.

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