Earlier this week, AMD put a stake in the ground for its PC gaming offering. Though the company has been steadily taking share from its chief CPU rival Intel for a few years now, it has been about 7 years (by my count) since AMD has been able to compete head-to-head with NVIDIA in high-end gaming GPUs. However, all of that history is likely set to change when AMD’s Radeon RX 6000 Series graphics cards begin hitting the market on November 18th, just in time for the Black Friday kickoff to the holiday shopping season. AMD’s competitive strategy is nuanced as you might expect, however, so let’s break things down quickly.
AMD Radeon RX 6800 And 6800 XT Take On GeForce RTX 3070 And RTX 3080
Out of the gate, this AMD product launch is squarely targeted at the high-end of the market, in price bands above $500, with AMD’s previous generation Radeon RX 5700 and 5600 series servicing $400 or less price points currently. At $579 for the Radeon RX 6800 and $649 for the Radeon RX 6800 XT, AMD set its sights just north of GeForce RTX 3070 performance and on-par or slightly better performance versus NVIDIA’s GeForce RTX 3080, respectively. Wading just a little bit into the weeds on specs, the Radeon RX 6800 is a cut back version of AMD’s Big Navi GPU, comprised of 12 fewer Radeon Compute Units (CUs) and slightly lower Game and Boost clocks (versus the Radeon RX 6800 XT). It does, however, also have a full 16GB of GDDR6 VRAM on board, which makes it better suited than the RTX 3070 for 4K gaming.
Also, as part of the RDNA 2 architecture, all Radeon RX 6000 series cards have 128MB of what AMD is calling “Infinity Cache” on-GPU and in front of the GDDR6 memory interface. This new cache architecture is claimed to offer significant latency reduction and overall bandwidth gains.
Regardless, AMD compared the RX 6800 performance to a GeForce RTX 2080 Ti, likely because it didn’t have RTX 3070 reference numbers at its disposal pre-launch. However, in testing at HotHardware, we know the RTX 3070 is pretty much right on top, sometimes a little behind or a little ahead of NVIDIA’s pricey previous gen card. NVIDIA’s new GeForce RTX 3070 FE card, with only 8GB of GDDR6, retails for just $499. So, with what AMD’s is showing as definitive RTX 3070-beating performance, along with double the VRAM, we can see how the company is planning to justify it’s $579 premium for the Radeon RX 6800. The Radeon RX 6800 XT, on the other hand, takes a different strategy.
AMD’s announced pricing for Radeon RX 6800 XT at $649, is a full $50 less than NVIDIA GeForce RTX 3080 pricing, and again the 6800XT brings with it 16GB of VRAM versus 10GB on the RTX 3080. With 72 CUs (12 more) and higher Game and Boost clocks (2015MHz and 2250MHz, respectively) versus the Radeon RX 6800, AMD showed this card essentially right on top of GeForce RTX 3080 performance, winning some by a hair, or losing some, depending on the game title.
It achieves this, however, with claimed lower board power at 300 Watts, versus 320 Watts for a GeForce RTX 3080. So, in short, AMD claims we’ll get RTX 3080-class performance with 6GB more VRAM at lower power and for $50 less. This also sounds compelling. But, in typical form, AMD CEO Dr. Lisa Su had “one more thing” to show at Wednesday’s launch event.
Radeon RX 6900 XT Takes On GeForce RTX 3090 For $500 Less
AMD’s Radeon RX 6900 XT unveil was a little trickier to sift through, however. For what we know now of AMD’s RDNA 2 architecture, the RX 6900 XT is full fat Big Navi, with 80 CUs (8 more than a 6800 XT) but with the same Game and Boost clocks and also 16GB of GDDR6 memory. It also has the same 300 Watt board power rating, but AMD showed the $999 card trading blows with a $1499 NVIDIA GeForce RTX 3090. For that price, a GeForce RTX 3090 has a full 24GB of GDDR6 VRAM on board, along with higher 350 Watt board power and a much larger design that may or may not fit well in a standard mid tower chassis design.
On the other hand, AMD showed Radeon RX 6900 XT performance compared to the GeForce RTX 3090 while factory overclocked in its new “Rage Mode,” and also with a new technology enabled that the company calls Smart Access Memory. Essentially, AMD Smart Access Memory (ASAM) allows AMD’s new Ryzen 5000 series processors to access the entire 16GB of memory of a Radeon RX 6000 series GPU over its PCIe 4 interface. Host CPUs have always been able to snoop up to 256MB of GPU memory in legacy designs, but ASAM opens up the entire VRAM memory pool which can help performance in some workloads. In short, AMD’s showed how its Radeon RX 6900 XT will perform versus an RTX 3090, while overclocked and optimized to run on the latest gen AMD CPU platform. Regardless, the value proposition is again strong but performance claims, as with all products that AMD unveiled this week, will need to be proven out by independent testing. Fortunately, we’ll be digging in on just that in short order, so stay tuned.
People Not Just Technology Are Making The Difference At AMD
Before bringing things to a close here, we should touch upon what I think is a key differentiator at AMD as of late, and that would be its people. The company has made building a community a focus for its brands, which plays well for cultivating a following of passionate users, but also gives us a sense of the people behind the brands. I had a chance to catch-up with AMD Chief Architect of Gaming Solutions, Frank Azor and VP & GM of AMD’s Graphics BU, Scott Herkelman, to have a discussion about this launch and their vision. Frank is keenly focused on bringing together AMD’s platform advantages of pairing both CPU and GPU working in unison for gamers, while Scott is all about making AMD’s Radeon brand the best it can be, both in terms of its products and how its perceived in the community.
Speaking with Frank and Scott, it’s obvious they’re both highly motivated, passionate leaders that have lofty goals but are also down-to-earth with respect to their roles and how they approach what they do. Herkelman and Azor are approachable, charismatic and grounded. In fact, they’re indicative of the kind of leadership that AMD CEO Dr. Lisa Su has typified for the company.
Great technologies and products only happen when a great team is assembled to bring them to fruition. It’s no doubt going to be a battle in the trenches versus a powerhouse competitor like NVIDIA, but AMD seems to be locked on the rails and making significant progress these days, and it’s fun to watch it all play out.