AMD Radeon RX 6900 XT Review: Powerful and Pricey

A small step up from RX 6800 XT performance, a bigger step up in price.

AMD Radeon 6900 XT
(Image: © Tom's Hardware)

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As with the recent Radeon RX 6800 XT and RX 6800 review, we have multiple test suites we'll be running. Our new suite consists of 13 games and is a superset of the old suite, so we figured this round we'd just go with that. We also have ten DXR tests (DirectX Raytracing) to assess ray tracing performance.

Several of the latest additions to our tests suite (specifically, Assassin's Creed Valhalla and Dirt 5) clearly favor AMD's latest GPUs. On the other hand, nearly all of the DXR suite favors Nvidia's RTX cards, so it sort of balances out. We only tested the 6900 XT on our main Core i9-9900K PC, but if you check the GTX 3060 Ti review, you can see that the other CPUs are only slightly faster at 1080p and 1440p, likely due in part to our choice of RAM on the various platforms.

We've run all of the tests at 1080p, 1440p, and 4K ultra. We're not using DLSS on the Nvidia cards, which, as noted in the 3060 Ti review, can boost performance by 50 percent or more in games that support DLSS 2.0. We also ran Cyberpunk 2077 benchmarks with DLSS and saw increases of 60 percent or more in some cases. Needless to say, AMD could really benefit from getting more games to use FidelityFX Super Resolution, which has now launched but is only used in a modest collection of shipping games so far — and many of those games don't really need it, particularly on a GPU like the 6900 XT.

Radeon RX 6900 XT — Extended Test Suite 

Our new suite of gaming benchmarks includes all of the games from previous years, plus four newer games from 2020. We're grouping all three resolutions for each game into a single gallery, with 4K results listed first. This is a $1,000 GPU, so we have to assume potential buyers are at least thinking about using it with a 4K display. Barring that, 1440p 144Hz displays remain the gaming sweet spot, and we recommend against spending this much money on any GPU intended for 1080p gaming (even though we're including those results).

Swipe through the galleries to check out the 1440p and 4K results, as well as the fps percentile line charts. We'll provide limited commentary on the individual games, letting the charts speak for themselves.

We've trimmed things down to just the latest generation Ampere and RDNA2 GPUs, though you can refer to our other reviews and GPU hierarchy for additional results. Given the specs, the RX 6900 XT performs just as we expected. It's generally around 5 percent (give or take 2 percent) faster than the RX 6800 XT. The drivers used for testing the RX 6900 XT are slightly newer as well and seem to have helped boost performance even more than the expected amount in a few games (Horizon Zero Dawn, specifically).

Overall, across the entire test suite, the RX 6900 XT is slightly faster than the RTX 3080, and it can beat the 3090 in a few cases. There are games where it falls behind, however, especially if a game supports ray tracing. How important is that? You'll have to decide. We generally like the RT effects in single player games but would leave them off in multiplayer where the fps drop is tough to take.

From a value perspective, of course, the 6900 XT doesn't make any sense. Would you pay hundreds of dollars extra for five percent more performance with otherwise equivalent features and design? We wouldn't recommend that. Unless you really want that custom mouse pad. Or maybe if you use professional software where the boost in performance makes it worth your while (see below).

We'll go through the individual gaming results in alphabetical order, which means Assassin's Creed Valhalla is up first. As a recent release promoted by AMD, it's perhaps not too surprising to see the RX 6900 XT at the top of the charts. Still, that's a significant lead for AMD at 1440p and 1080p. We're not sure what exactly is going on within the game code that would make it favor AMD's architecture this much, but as a DX11 game, it's entirely possible Nvidia will have updated drivers that improve performance with RTX cards. For now, AMD wins this one easily.

Borderlands 3 is another AMD promotional game, and the 6900 XT basically ties the RTX 3090 at 4K ultra. Dropping down to 1440p and 1080p, it even comes out ahead of the top Nvidia chip. We see a similar trend down through the other GPUs, with the 6800 XT leading the 3080, and the 6800 beating the RTX 3070. If BL3 is a game you care about, AMD takes this one as well.

A huge caveat here: Dirt 5 is an AMD promotional game, and we're using a beta / early access DXR patch. Given what we'll see below, either it's possible for game developers to do ray tracing in a way that dramatically favors AMD, or — more likely — the DXR implementation is very suboptimal on Nvidia right now. There are only three games currently being promoted by AMD that feature ray tracing effects, and two of those won't run on Nvidia GPUs right now, so again, these results aren't perhaps the best.

Even though this is yet another AMD promoted game, The Division 2 has been around a while and doesn't actually favor Team Red with the latest GPUs. Both the RTX 3080 and 3090 come out ahead of the 6900 XT at 4K ultra, though the gap narrows as resolution shrinks thanks to CPU bottlenecks.  All of the top GPUs can do 60+ fps at 4K ultra as well, and over 120 fps at 1440p ultra.

Far Cry 5 puts the 6900 XT and 6800 XT between the 3090 and 3080 at 4K, while CPU limits become a factor at 1440p and 1080p. Even though this is yet another game originally promoted by AMD, Nvidia delivers higher fps at CPU-limited resolutions right now. Given this is one of the oldest games in our test suite, we wouldn't put too much emphasis on FC5 — we'll be looking at replacing it with Far Cry 6 when it comes out.

Final Fantasy XIV is our first Nvidia promoted game, or at least a game that specifically makes use of some Nvidia GameWorks libraries. Nvidia's 3090 and 3080 take the top two spots across all three resolutions, though the biggest lead is still only 12 percent at 4K. With 4K fps in the triple digits and 1440p easily breaking 144 fps on the RX 6800 and above, this is another game that's not very representative of the latest releases.

Forza Horizon 4 wasn't promoted by AMD, but it definitely favors AMD GPUs. At 4K ultra, the 3090 technically has a higher average fps, but the minimum fps on the AMD side has enough weight to give AMD the lead. Dropping to 1440p, both the 6900 XT and 6800 XT lead the top Nvidia cards, again with significantly higher minimum fps, and at 1080p, even the RX 6800 tops the RTX 3090. This definitely isn't one of the better showings for the green team.

Horizon Zero Dawn is a port from PS4, so potentially the console roots help AMD a bit, plus it's a DX12 engine (the same game engine as Death Stranding). Performance is mostly a tie at 4K, but the 6900 XT pulls away at 1440p and 1080p. This is also the one game where the latest AMD drivers seem to have given RDNA2 a shot in the arm. We didn't get a chance to retest the 6800 XT, but right now, the 6900 XT is nearly 20 percent faster at 4K, and that's far more than the extra shader cores should provide.

Nvidia redeems itself a bit in Metro Exodus, with the 3080 basically matching the 6900 XT (though with slightly lower minimum fps) and the 3090 taking the top spot. This is also one of the first games to support ray tracing, and we'll look at it again with DXR enabled below. As with most of the other games, even though the 6900 XT and 3090 are higher on the charts, the 6800 XT and RTX 3080 are the better values (provided you can find them at MSRP — or in stock at all).

We didn't max out every setting in Red Dead Redemption 2, leaving the advanced options mostly at their minimum values. Still, as our first Vulkan API game, it's nice to see multiple cards now clearing 60 fps. The 3090 leads the 6900 XT again, though not by enough to warrant a 50 percent increase in price if gaming performance is your primary concern.

Another Nvidia game, the RTX 3090 leads at 4K in Shadow of the Tomb Raider. However, the 6900 XT delivers better minimum fps at 1440p and 1080p, with CPU bottlenecks becoming pronounced at the latter. This is another DXR enabled game that we'll look at again below.

Strange Brigade is our other Vulkan API game, and it strongly favors Nvidia's GPUs, even though it was originally an AMD promotional game. Not that it matters too much, as it's not a particularly popular game, and all of the GPUs hit very high fps at 4K. If you have a 4K 144 Hz display, perhaps Nvidia's GPUs are the better choice. At 1440p and 1080p, where we see frame rates approach and then cross the 300 fps threshold, however, there are better tests of a GPU's capabilities these days.

Our final game is the second with ray tracing. AMD's launch drivers for the 6800 series didn't render DXR effects properly in Watch Dogs Legion, but public drivers and 6900 XT launch drivers have fixed at least many of the rendering errors. As a result, performance has dropped by around 30 percent for the AMD GPUs, giving Nvidia it's biggest lead yet. The 3090 is 70 percent faster than the 6900 XT at 4K, 55 percent faster at 1440p, and 45 percent faster at 1080p — and that's without enabling DLSS! Even the RTX 3080 crushes AMD's top GPU by 30-45 percent in this game when using ray tracing. Turn on DLSS Quality mode, and the Nvidia GPUs can extend their lead by another 20-30 percent. 

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