Today, AMD has launched its Radeon RX 6500 XT graphics card. The Radeon RX 6500 XT is a graphics card that gamers especially have been waiting on for a long while now, hoping it would have been released sooner. With rumors of the entry-level/mainstream GPU market dying off, it was unknown if new architectures would trickle down to the everyday gamer. With video card shortages and outrageous prices, we’ve needed a more affordable video card, a video card we can all get our hands on. The Radeon RX 6500 XT is AMD’s answer to these cries. But is it enough?
At its heart, the AMD Radeon RX 6500 XT is based on a brand new ASIC, and AMD said they built this GPU from the ground-up, brand new with this design in mind. It’s based on TSMC’s N6 (6nm) node, the first for a consumer GPU. This is fantastic and allows some incredibly high clock speeds on the GPU. This is great and gives us a glimpse into the future of what we could expect of GPUs moving forward. Could we see them push past the 3GHz barrier? Very much, there is that potential with new nodes like this as they mature.
Being based on the RDNA2 architecture, and TSMC N6 node, the Radeon RX 6500 XT has the markings of being a highly engineered and bleeding edge level GPU. But there are a few design choices, which could ultimately hold it back. First, let’s explore the actual, real-world, gaming performance that we experienced.
In our testing today, we focused on a scale of image quality settings up and down from highest to lowest at 1080p on the GIGABYTE Radeon RX 6500 XT EAGLE 4G video card. We wanted to see what settings would be a bottleneck on the video card in games, and what settings allow the best gameplay performance. If you want to aim for 60fps, for example, you can look at the graphs and determine what game settings will allow that to happen.
We started off in Forza Horizon 5, without Ray Tracing and quickly found Extreme settings to be a bottleneck. Moving down to Ultra helped, but was ultimately still too slow. However, we got a big boost at High settings, and it was here where the video card performed well. Compared to the Radeon RX 5500 XT though, it wasn’t much faster, just a few percent faster. However, compared to the GeForce GTX 1650, we easily saw a 34% improvement in performance, backing up AMD’s claims.
In Far Cry 6, we found that using HD Textures was impossible, the framebuffer cannot handle it. Even with FSR, the game was choppy with HD Textures. In fact, even without HD Textures, the VRAM indicator in Far Cry 6 said we were over the line, all the way down till we hit the Low settings. We did find the game choppy at Ultra, but it was better at High, and very smooth at Medium settings. Once again Medium seemed to be the best setting overall. Performance compared to the RX 5500 XT though was just on par, no better really.
Cyberpunk 2077, if it is any indication of future gameplay performance, showed the GIGABYTE Radeon RX 6500 XT EAGLE 4G performing worse than the SAPPHIRE PULSE Radeon RX 5500 XT. At every quality setting, performance was slower on the newer Radeon RX 6500 XT. It could be due to PCIe bandwidth, it could be other reasons, but whatever the reason, it’s real. The only setting that was remotely playable was Low, but even at Low, the game was not that enjoyable performance-wise.
Godfall also seemed to choke at Ultra settings and even High settings. Even at High, it was choppy, it wasn’t until we went down to Medium that the game was smooth. However, you could get away with FSR at High, if you really wanted to. In terms of performance though, once again the Radeon RX 6500 XT was not much faster than the 5500 XT, only at Medium was it different.
Horizon Zero Dawn performed rather well, but not at Ultimate, it was choppy at Ultimate settings. Below that, however, the game performed much better. If you want the smoothest performance, use the Original setting. If you enable FSR you should be able to play at Favor Quality well, as long as FSR is enabled. In terms of performance here, once again we aren’t much faster than the Radeon RX 5500 XT.
Amongst all the games, Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020 Game of the Year Edition in DX12 mode showed the most benefit with the Radeon RX 6500 XT. We think this is mostly down to the newer RDNA2 architecture. The older generation of video cards did struggle in this game, but RDNA2 cards do a lot better. In that regard, the GIGABYTE Radeon RX 6500 XT EAGLE 4G is much better for this game than the Radeon RX 5500 XT. However, you will still need to lower the game to High-End or Medium to get the best performance, Ultra will be way too choppy.
The GIGABYTE Radeon RX 6500 XT EAGLE 4G
Let’s talk a little bit about the GIGABYTE Radeon RX 6500 XT EAGLE 4G video card itself. GIGABYTE has put together a well-made video card, it’s solid in the hand, light in weight, and very compact in size. It should fit in small cases. It’s also very quiet, it doesn’t make a peep, it stayed very cool while we were gaming, and doesn’t consume a lot of power.
We were excited to see this video card sustaining 2900MHz while gaming. The frequency was consistent and stayed that high during gaming. This is well above the AMD quoted specs for the GPU, and gives us hope of very high overclocks, which we intended to do in the future, so stay tuned. We are also interested to see if there is any headroom in the memory overclock since it does seem to be memory bandwidth constrained.
Overall, we think GIGABYTE did a great job engineering the video card, and we’d look forward to taking a look at the GAMING OC version to see how it differs.
While there is a lot of good going for the Radeon RX 6500 XT, there are also some very glaring and questionable choices made in the name of reducing cost. Reducing cost is important, don’t get us wrong, in today’s market anything AMD and NVIDIA can do to reduce cost for AIBs is important. However, sometimes you have to ask yourself if the cost savings you are making is worth the detriment to performance, features, and the end-user who is spending an inflated amount of money on the video card already.
In this industry, you get points for adding or maintaining features from generation to generation, not removing features from generation to generation.
The cut down of the PCI-Express connection to a PCIe 4.0 x4 lane is one of those questionable cuts. While this card is on a PCI-Express 4.0 (or PCIe 5.0) motherboard, like AMD X570 or Intel Z590 or Z690, it will perform well enough with a 4GB framebuffer. The problem is, moving down to a PCI-Express 3.0 platform (which is where most people still are who are looking to upgrade) will bottleneck the video card pretty severely.
Consider that the very GeForce GTX 1650 cards that AMD wants to replace are primarily going to be in PCI-Express 3.0 systems, putting this card in those systems to upgrade those video cards is going to be a major bottleneck for this video card. In addition, not every new CPU or APU supports PCI-Express 4.0. Those shiny new AMD Ryzen 5600G and 5700G APUs that were just released? Yep, those are limited to PCI-Express 3.0, no matter what chipset motherboard you have. AMD X470, or X370, or B450 or A series motherboards? Yep, those are limited to PCI-Express 3.0. It is also only recently that Intel adopted PCI-Express 4.0 with its Rocket Lake launch in early 2021. Everything before it, PCI-Express 3.0.
In 2022 we shouldn’t be having these PCI-Express bandwidth constraints on a video card, we just shouldn’t. We are up to incredible PCI-Express bandwidth potential on motherboards now with PCIe 4.0 and now 5.0. There simply is no excuse for bottlenecking a video card by the PCI-Express bus bandwidth, there are plenty of other factors where bottlenecks should be, and the PCIe bus should not be one of them in this day and age.
The other major cut down is the removal of the media encoding engine, VCE, also called Video Coding Engine. While it can decode VP9, H.264, and H.265, it cannot decode AV1. It also cannot encode anything in hardware, i.e., getting GPU hardware accelerated encoding of anything. While this video card is certainly being positioned as a “gaming video card”, often it is these lower-end, lower-priced video cards that content creators flock towards.
What has been the norm for so very long has been content creators choosing to save money, not needing a gaming video card, not needing to pay the gaming video card price tag, and getting the lower-end model to utilize the media encoding capabilities and functions. Often these cards have been great additions for content creators to upgrade to hardware-accelerated GPU media encoding, at a more reasonable price.
In addition, streamers today are large in numbers. There are more and more streamers, either playing games simultaneously or even just for non-gaming purposes. Streaming with programs like OBS can utilize the GPU to offload encoding to free up resources. The GPU media encoder is faster than your CPU and is thus able to stream at higher bitrates and bandwidths because it’s just faster and better for the task. However, AMD has taken this ability away from the Radeon RX 6500 XT. You will have to rely completely on your CPU for streaming, and any content creation. Keep in mind this was a functionality that existed in the AMD Radeon RX 5500 XT.
Another potential issue is the framebuffer itself. The AMD Radeon RX 5500 XT had two models basically, a 4GB and 8GB. Many AIBs sold 4G and 8GB models, there were 8GB Radeon RX 5500 XT’s. That is not so with the Radeon RX 6500 XT, 4GB only, no 8GB option.
Finally, the last dirty little detail is that the physical display output ports have been reduced. On the Radeon RX 6500 XT, you will find only 1 DisplayPort and only 1 HDMI port. Indeed, our GIGABYTE RX 6500 XT EAGLE only had one DP and one HDMI. This is half of what the Radeon RX 5500 XT offered. Our SAPPHIRE PULSE RX 5500 XT has three DisplayPorts and one HDMI, a total of 4 ports versus 2 on the 6500 XT.
The AMD Radeon RX 6500 XT is an interesting video card. Overall, our testing of performance wasn’t that bad, at the right settings. Some games were slower than the Radeon RX 5500 XT, some games were the same, and some games were faster. It was definitely faster than the GeForce GTX 1650 and would constitute an upgrade. We validated and backup AMD’s claims in regards to its performance versus the GTX 1650.
In regards to comparing it against the Radeon RX 5500 XT, it seemed to jump back and forth, depending on the game. It wasn’t a clear win, but neither was it a clear loss, except in Cyberpunk. Some of that performance may be down to the PCI-Express bandwidth, and or that and a combination of the 64-bit memory bus and how that interacts with the Infinity Cache in some games on the RX 6500 XT.
Once the Infinity Cache fills up, you are down to swapping out on a 144GB/s memory bus, and then over a slower PCIe connection, with a small 4GB framebuffer. This can cause inconsistency in games; they will behave differently. Some games will be more detrimental to performance, and others won’t mind at all and still perform well. It depends on the game. Unfortunately, we don’t know what the future has in store, but we can assume that games will keep utilizing and needing more VRAM, even at 1080p. That constrained PCIe bus is going to play a bigger part as we move forward in time with games.
Overall, this video card we found is best suited for Medium gameplay settings at 1080p in current games. If a game supports FSR, then you might be able to play at High. For sure Ultra and Ultimate settings are out of the question. In the more intensive games, you are likely to find yourself in the Medium to Low gaming setting category. Even in Cyberpunk, Low wasn’t low enough though. Future games will only get more demanding.
We didn’t do any in-depth Ray Tracing testing, frankly, that feature is just there to check a box. It is not practically playable with Ray Tracing. You can turn it on, see what it looks like, and then you’ll end up turning it off so you can get higher performance and a smoother experience.
The AMD Radeon RX 6500 XT has limitations and bottlenecks that may put a damper on it in the long run. The PCI-Express bus, the Media Encoder, the Framebuffer options, and the Display Ports are areas where we think some compromises could have been made between saving cost, and features and performance. Giving us an 8GB framebuffer or option might mitigate the PCIe issues most of us have. Did the Media Encoder really need to be pulled?
Those two things alone would have eased up on tensions people are feeling right now. But we can’t go back to what isn’t, we have to look at what is front of us right now. This is a card for those that really need a new card, have no other options, and just want something that’s available and at a decent price in today’s market. Just know it’s a very focused card, gaming-oriented, but “Medium-to-Low” 1080p gaming. It’ll get you out of a bind, but its longevity is questioned.
The GIGABYTE Radeon RX 6500 XT EAGLE 4G is a fine basic, no-frills, video card, if you are looking for a Radeon RX 6500 XT it should be on the lower end of pricing, and hopefully more affordable and available for you. We won’t even get into pricing, it is what it is, and the only saving grace of the Radeon RX 6500 XT is that it actually be available, in stock, and as close as it can be to MSRP.