AMD just spilled the beans on its Zen 3 microarchitecture, providing the largest IPC uplift we've yet to see in the post-Zen AMD era. Nineteen percent higher IPC at the same power levels means AMD may finally lay claim to being the best CPU for gaming — it already owns the title for best multithreaded performance. That's all well and good, but Team Red isn't done yet. We know Big Navi is coming, and AMD provided some limited benchmarks at the end of its Zen 3 stream. We don't have detailed specs yet, though we have plenty of informed guesses and leaks. But now we have some official benchmarks of RDNA 2, running on AMD's new Zen 3 Ryzen 9 5900X.
There's a catch, of course: AMD didn't even say which Big Navi it's using. Theoretically, it could be the RX 6800 XT, but that seems dubious at best. This is almost certainly the RX 6900 XT, because just like AMD is leading the Zen 3 launch with 5950X and 5900X performance details, we expect it will show off the top part for Navi 21. We also don't know pricing on Big Navi, and AMD isn't demonstrating ray tracing performance (even though Call of Duty: Modern Warfare supports ray traced shadows).
AMD let us know in advance what games and settings it would be showing, so we've got some comparison points for the tests. Borderlands 3 was running at 4K using the badass preset and DX12, Gears 5 is also using DX12 and running at 4K ultra, and Call of Duty: Modern Warfare was running at 'ultra' (maxed out, except for ray tracing) settings at 4K. There's no built-in benchmark for Call of Duty, however, so we'll confine our comparisons to the first two.
Note that we're testing with our standard Core i9-9900K test PC. That shouldn't matter too much, since the benchmarks are at settings that will be largely GPU limited, even on more modest CPUs. Still, AMD's numbers are from a Ryzen 9 5900X test system, which likely puts the new card in the best light possible.
We've filled in the presumed RX 6900 XT numbers from AMD's presentation, which AMD says were taken from the built-in benchmarks using the above settings. AMD didn't provide minimum fps numbers, so we've limited comparisons to average fps only. The takeaway? Big Navi is a serious threat -- provided pricing and availability don't hold it back.
Based on AMD's numbers — as always, apply some skepticism to any manufacturer provided test results — the presumed RX 6900 XT lands at the same level as the RTX 3080 in Borderlands 3, and comes up 8% slower than the 3080 in Gears 5. Perhaps more noteworthy is that it's 83% faster than the previous generation RX 5700 XT in Borderlands 3, and 88% faster in Gears 5.
These are probably better-than-average results for Big Navi. But even so, it shows Nvidia's Ampere GPUs likely aren't going to win every performance comparison. Price is still a major wildcard, however. There are rumors and speculation that the RX 6900 XT will launch at $600, perhaps as high as $650 or as low as $550. Most of those prices end up looking like AMD will take the price-to-performance crown from Ampere, especially if the RTX 3070 'only' manages to match RTX 2080 Ti performance.
We do have questions about how fast Big Navi will be when it comes to ray tracing calculations. This will be gen1 ray tracing for AMD, so perhaps it can match Turing, but we doubt it will be as fast as Ampere. A more pertinent question: Will ray tracing even matter? We've been waiting for the killer ray tracing game for two years now. Control is the best example of the medium so far, and demos like Bright Memory Infinite and Boundary look promising, not to mention Cyberpunk 2077.
If ray tracing lands in a big way with coming games and finally makes for a sizable graphics upgrade, AMD will need to provide at least competitive ray tracing performance to keep pace with Nvidia. If ray tracing continues to be a major performance hit for only slightly improved graphics, though, it may not matter. We're hopeful that ray tracing will become more useful, considering the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X also support the feature, but it's still typically a massive tradeoff in performance for modest quality improvements.
We're looking forward to testing the hardware and answering all of these questions once Big Navi launches. And on that note, there's still no official release date. AMD will reveal more details about the Big Navi / RDNA 2 / Navi 2x architecture on its October 28 livestream, and we'll likely get final specs, pricing, and a release date at that time. Based on what happened with Zen 3, we anticipate a mid-to-late November launch.