Any time a product starts to reach the end of its existence as the most current model in a manufacturers range, there is usually a “last hurrah” model that takes the best of the product and drips it with bells and whistles. We see this in all sorts of categories. There are GOTY edition versions of games that have all the DLC included. Some high performance cars have limited edition run-outs. It’s a popular concept. Most recently we’ve seen this from the manufacturer of today’s review, AMD, with their Ryzen 7 5800X3D, a processor that really upped the ante as far as gaming performance is concerned.
Today we have the first in a run of three new GPUs from AMD under their Radeon range, the Radeon RX 6950 XT. The new three are slightly beefed up versions of the 6×00 cars they replace, and the RX 6950 XT is the follow-on, but not a full sequel, to the Radeon RX 6900 XT. Instead of going down the same route as we see from the Nvidia Ti cards by giving it more cores and faster clock speeds, the RX 6950 XT just has more clock speed. Given how we’re all patiently waiting for the 7000 series of cards with hopefully more Ray-Tracing performance – the one weak spot in the current Radeon lineup – it perhaps makes sense for AMD to not go too big on this new card but keep their powder dry for the next installment.
It does, however, mean that if you had a golden cored version of the 6900 XT you might have already got close to the level of performance we expect today. After all, 60 MHz extra boost is hardly going to be a massive game changer, but might smooth out some of the rough edges of the Radeon performance, particularly in more intensive games.
If this introduction sounds a little cautious, it’s that we know from our time testing the Ryzen 7 5800X3D how much better it is for games over the standard Ryzen CPUs, and the slight gains shown in the official AMD literature was all tested on that CPU. Thus we’re not certain how many extra frames per second the card itself will provide when standing alone from that newest processor. There is only one way to find out.
As you can see below the 6950 has 2GB of GDDR5 and 22 Stream Processors running on… what? Oh this is the other AMD Radeon 6950. You’d think with all the numbers in the world they wouldn’t double up. Okay let’s try again.
As you can see the RX 6950 XT has near identical specifications to the RX 6900 XT, just with higher clock speeds. Given that this is probably the last hurrah for the 6000 series of graphics cards, then we weren’t expecting a massive uptick in shaders or ray-tracing elements but a little more architectural horsepower would’ve been nice. Perhaps the oddest thing is AMD listing the RX 6950 XT as 1mm2 larger than the RX 6900 XT.
Our particular Radeon RX 6950 XT is the Gigabyte Gaming OC model. But the underlying card is, like all modern hardware, consistent enough that the results will be applicable across any brand you choose.
A triple fan cooler with the central fan running in the opposite direction of the outer ones should eliminate any thermal dead spots and guarantee that you card remains cool throughout. With the sturdy backplate and cutout that has now become so familiar a lot of that air gets pushed up to your exhaust fan, or to help give more air to your CPU cooler.
Beneath the shroud is the chunky heatsink with plenty of fins and plenty of thick copper heatpipes to keep everything cool at the immense clock speeds of which the RX 6950 XT is capable.
Gigabyte are famous for their dual BIOS and the RX 6950 XT is no exception with an OC BIOS or a Silent one depending upon your preference. We’ll obviously be running it flat out, because why wouldn’t you.
AMD Radeon RX 6950 XT
AMD Ryzen 9 3950X
ASUS ROG Crosshair VIII Formula
Corsair Dominator Platinum RGB Series DDR4 3600MHz
Corsair RM1000i PSU
Corsair iCUE H150i RGB Pro XT AIO
Corsair MP600 2TB PCIe 4.0 SSD
Corsiar Obsidian 500D RGB SE
Windows 10 x64 “May 2020” Update
The GPU clock speeds listed by AMD on their specifications seem very cautious indeed, as our Gigabyte example boosted to 2448 MHz on average and had a peak of a scarcely believable 2607 MHz. It’s fair to say that in raw horsepower terms the RX 6950 XT should deliver a nice improvement over the RX 6900 XT.
Borderlands 3 saw Gearbox Software return to developing their most famous IP following the somewhat dubious reception The Pre Sequel received. Borderlands has plenty of settings to tweak and, despite looking superficially similar to Borderlands 2, it’s significantly more demanding upon your hardware. At higher resolutions only the most performance rich need apply. Naturally we run with everything at the maximum possible settings.
Power is provided by three 8pin PCIe connectors. After the weirdness of the new Nvidia arrangement it’s nice to have some power connectors that don’t require another connector to merge them all together.
As we often see from AMD you get a choice of a pair of DisplayPort 1.4a or HDMI 2.1 outputs for whichever display you choose to attach.
Remedy Entertainment’s Control is one of those games that demonstrates everything available to you in modern engines and with modern hardware. Not only does it have destructible environments but it supports all the hardware tricks, including Ray Tracing and DLSS on hardware with either or both of those features. We’re testing in every possible combination to demonstrate how each can impact your frames per second. The first graph is all resolutions in ‘plain’ mode. The second graph with Ray Tracing on.
Oh Cyberpunk 2077. Rarely has a game promised so much and come out of the gate so absolutely bug-ridden. Thankfully CDPR are working hard to squash most of the bugs, and indeed have, but incredibly ambitious games allied to the world going into lockdown for most of its fine polishing left us all a bit disappointed. It’s still a gorgeous, sprawling title though, which is enough for our purposes. We’re running on the Ultra preset here, as gorgeous – and performance heavy – as it’s possible to make the game with the second graph in Ultra Ray-Tracing mode.
Clearly our earlier experience with the 6000 series Radeon cards remains true as they reach the end of their life. Turn off Ray-Tracing and you get smooth gameplay happy fun times. Following an issue identified with pre-launch drivers in certain scenarios, some tests have been rerun for more representative results.
The latest version of Codemasters long running Rally game has plenty of visual splendour. Sure it’s never going to be mistaken for Richard Burns Rally or any of the genuine sims out there, but if you want to get muddy and know your “medium left over crest don’t cut”s from your “5 right tightens” then it’s a good place to start.
Along with Gears of War this is one of the titles we have some 8K results in too, so just for fun we’re including those as well.
Despite being launched at a time when there wasn’t any motorsport – or any sport – in the world, F1 2020 is everything it could realistically be. No, the track list didn’t match the real 2020 F1 season, but the cars were close to their real-life counterparts and the graphics engine brings all the glorious imagery we’ve come to expect from Codemasters F1 titles. We’re running with it all to the stops, because of course we are.
Far Cry 6
Far Cry has gone through a fair number of ideas since it first appeared. Far Cry 2 was the last with something new to say thanks to the amazing fire spreading and malaria, Far Cry 3 perfected the formula even if it hid the best antagonist in gaming away for half the run time, whilst 4 was basically 3 transplanted elsewhere. Far Cry 5 took the bold step of giving you a downer ending and Far Cry 6 has launched reverting back to the Far Cry 4 formula, although ramping up the insanity so it more resembles GTA Online than anything else.
A game where we always mentally add “of War” to the title, the most recent addition to the Gears franchise saw The Coalition stick rigidly to the formula that has made this title a success on the Xbox. It’s more of a ‘best of’ than a new title, but still brings all the graphical glory to your screen as befits a game aimed at the console market. With everything turned up to ten the graphics can bring even beefy systems to their knees. The second graph is cranked up to 8K just to see how far we can push things.
Horizon Zero Dawn
Alongside God of War, Horizon is one of the best titles from this generation of games. A massive open world and story rich game with none of the ‘collect 500 tiny things’ that plagues many open world titles, the breath-taking vistas and gorgeous animation of Aloy’s adventures should be experienced by all gamers. The PC release required some fine tuning to be all it could be, but graphically it’s still jaw-dropping and with everything up to the hilt as we have here, few games look better.
Metro Exodus Enhanced Edition
The latest version of Metro Exodus – the Enhanced Edition – continues to utilise all of the potential of your graphics card in a way few other games do. No matter what you may feel about the game play style and that post-apocalypse horror aesthetic, it’s worth checking out just to see what graphical splendour modern titles can bring.
Monster Hunter World
Capcom’s Monster Hunter World might be, compared to other titles in our test suite, getting a little long in the tooth but it’s still a gorgeous title with beautiful scenery punctuated by boss fights that wouldn’t look out of place in a From Software title. The introduction of the Iceborne expansion pack boosted the graphics a little further, and as always we’re running everything as high as we can push.
Resident Evil 3
Another Capcom title, the newest instalment of the remade Resident Evil franchise continues to up the ante in graphical glory. As someone old enough to have played the originals, seeing Jill Valentine in all her high definition glory never stops being impressive, and whilst the gameplay doesn’t quite shine as brightly as the two games that bracket this in the Res line-up, it’s still fun to turn everything up to max and murder some zombies.
The Witcher 3
The original Witcher flew under the radar a little bit in the mainstream, whilst winning an army of fans amongst the RPG hardcore. The Witcher 2 brought everything to it’s knees and was the Crysis of it’s time. The Witcher 3, rightfully, is legendary amongst gamers as the perfect blend of open-world, choices matter, graphically gorgeous role playing. Comfortably one of the best games ever.
Following an issue identified with pre-launch drivers in certain scenarios, some tests have been rerun for more representative results.
Total Warhammer II
Creative Assembly rewrote the book for strategy games with their Total War series, and with Total Warhammer they brought fantasy into that sphere. Total Warhammer 2 took all that was great about the first entry and filled it so full of content that you can play the Mortal Empires campaign for literal years if you wish. The CPU does as much work as the GPU here, thanks to hundreds of units and vast draw distances.
Total War Saga: Troy
A game everyone probably owns thanks to the free 24 hours on the Epic Store, Troy might not have the breadth of some of the more fully-fledged entries in the long Total War series, but it’s still a good way of showing off the well-rounded nature of your system. You need every component to be finely tuned to really pump those frames out.
Watch Dogs : Legion
It’s been three games and Watch Dogs still hasn’t quite lived up to its promise, but Legion is much closer than either of the previous two titles were to fulfilling the ‘hack the world’ tagline. It’s a Ubisoft game, so you already know pretty much what to expect, just on PC we get Ray-Tracing and all the good eye candy stuff. Graph one is vanilla and graph two has RT and DLSS (where available).
With all this memory and horsepower available to you, it would make perfect sense to base a content creation system around cards at this end of the market, and with Blender covering 3D rendering and DaVinci Resolve handling video encoding, you get a good indication of what the RX 6950 XT can offer.
Temperatures and Power Draw
Modern graphics cards no longer rely upon the user to overclock them, as the drivers now make the most of any spare power or thermal headroom available to boost the clocks to give the smoothest performance. Thus the temperature graph is a little less important than it used to be unless the manufacturer has created a godly cooler, whilst Power Draw is fun on your energy bill, but most of us just care about performance rather than a handful of Watts here and there. With slight variance in ambient temperatures we’re also including the delta temperature too, so you know exactly how well the card performs relative to the air temperature.
Synthetically at least the Radeon RX 6950 XT comfortably outperforms the RX 6900 XT, even if it didn’t necessarily show that during our actual gaming testing. There is potential here, albeit still comfortably behind the opposition in ray-tracing scenarios.
The Radeon RX 6950 XT is a bit of a strange proposition, depending up your viewpoint. If you come into it expecting to see similar performance increases as you’d get from a Ti Nvidia card then it definitely isn’t that. There are no increases in either Shader count or the number of Ray Accelerators. All the benefits are to be found from the effective memory bandwidth when utilising the AMD Infinity Cache, and the raw clock speed increases on the RDNA 2 GPU itself.
Certainly if you’ve no indulged yourself in the 6000 series AMD Radeon cards, then it is comfortably the best one they can currently offer. The performance is excellent across the board, with only a few of the most demanding titles having issues at 4K. The main weakness of the RX 6950 XT is the same weakness that we’ve seen with this whole range of AMD cards, namely Ray-Tracing. This isn’t a big shock as Ray-Tracing requires a huge number of dedicated processors and the early Nvidia options were limited in this department too. No amount of GPU clock speed increase will overcome that, so if you really want to make the most of the ray-tracing capable games on the market then you’ll have to wait for the 7000 series of AMD cards to appear.
Right now this is exactly what you would imagine it to be; i.e a faster Radeon RX 6900 XT. All of which means that the same joys – performance in Far Cry 6 or the Codemaster F1 series – are exactly as brilliant as they were before, and all the flaws – ray-tracing games and certain 4K scenarios – are just as weak as they were with the 6900. Clock speed can only do so much.
The biggest benefit to the card is also the same as the 6000 AMD Radeon range when compared to their Nvidia rival, and that is one of pricing. The MSRP for the RX 6950 XT is $1099, slotting it somewhere between the RTX 3080 and RTX 3080 Ti. Clearly the performance isn’t as consistent as the latter, but in the games that suit it the RX 6950 XT is better than the RTX 3080. How much you’re willing to put up with its foibles are very much related to the type of game that you’re playing and how invested you are in the AMD brand. Certainly if you paired this with the Ryzen 7 5800X3D then you’ll get even better results than we had here today, but with that processor the results would be better almost regardless of which GPU you use, as we showed you in our recent reviews.
If you think of the Radeon RX 6950 XT as the best possible 6000 series card then there is an awful lot to like about it. If you were hoping it would be a massively upgraded version of the RX 6900 XT, then perhaps temper your expectations.