Skip to main content

MSI Radeon RX 6950 XT Gaming X Trio Review: Power Hungry

Same performance, more power than other 6950 XT cards

MSI Radeon RX 6950 XT Gaming X Trio
(Image: © Tom's Hardware)

Tom's Hardware Verdict

The MSI Radeon RX 6950 XT Gaming X Trio performed similarly to the other RX 6950 XT card we've tested, but it used 13% more power on average. MSI pushed too far up the voltage and frequency curve on this model.

Pros

  • +

    Fast performance

  • +

    Robust cooling solution

  • +

    Somewhat better price than Nvidia

Cons

  • -

    Draws way too much power for minimal gains

  • -

    AMD's RDNA 3 coming this year

  • -

    Weaker RT hardware and no matrix/tensor cores

The AMD Radeon RX 6950 XT launched last month, along with the RX 6750 XT and RX 6650 XT, bringing 18Gbps GDDR6 memory along with boosted clocks and higher power requirements. The Sapphire Nitro+ Pure that we reviewed initially performed quite well. Today's MSI Gaming X Trio is just a hair faster, but in getting there MSI seems to have increased power draw substantially over the competition. The RX 6950 XT ranks as one of the best graphics cards, and even holds the top spot for 1080p and 1440p gaming in our GPU benchmarks hierarchy (but not with ray tracing), but MSI's variant wouldn't be our first pick.

Here's a look at the specs for AMD's reference 6950 XT alongside the MSI and Sapphire cards we've had in for review — AMD elected to not sample media with its reference design, helping to ensure slightly higher overall performance, just like Nvidia did with the RTX 3090 Ti

GPU Specifications
Graphics CardRX 6950 XT MSIRX 6950 XTRX 6950 XT SapphireRTX 3090 Ti
ArchitectureNavi 21Navi 21Navi 21GA102
Process TechnologyTSMC N7TSMC N7TSMC N7Samsung 8N
Transistors (Billion)26.826.826.828.3
Die size (mm^2)519519519628.4
SMs / CUs80808084
GPU Cores51205120512010752
Tensor CoresN/AN/AN/A336
Ray Tracing Cores80808084
Boost Clock (MHz)2454231024351860
VRAM Speed (Gbps)18181821
VRAM (GB)16161624
VRAM Bus Width256256256384
ROPs128128128112
TMUs320320320336
TFLOPS FP32 (Boost)25.123.724.940
TFLOPS FP16 (Tensor)N/AN/AN/A160 (320)
Bandwidth (GBps)5765765761008
TBP (watts)"340" claimed335~370450
Launch DateMay 2022May 2022May 2022March 2022
Launch Price$1,179 $1,099 $1,249 $1,999

Interestingly, MSI lists a power consumption of just 340W for its RX 6950 XT Gaming X Trio, but that feels more like the TDP for the GPU rather than the full card power. We've actually tested two different cards (the first died after a couple of days for unknown reasons), and both consumed far more than 340W at their default settings. In fact, the second card used a few more watts than the initial card. We'll get to the actual power measurements later, but we saw closer to 430W out of MSI's card, and enabling Rage mode (with its 10% bump in power limits) pushed that up to 440W. Basically, it was right in the same ballpark as the RTX 3090 Ti.

Core specs are mostly identical among the three RX 6950 XT cards, with GPU boost clocks and TBP being the only real difference. AMD gives a reference clock of 2310 MHz, Sapphire pushes that to 2435 MHz, and MSI tacks on an additional 19 MHz for 2454 MHz. While previous-generation AMD GPUs often listed a theoretical boost clock that was higher than you'd typically see in practice, that changed with the RDNA 2 architecture and the RX 6000-series GPUs. At default settings, we saw average GPU clocks of more than 2.5GHz, and with Rage mode the MSI card actually broke 2.6GHz.

The big concern right now with the RX 6950 XT is that we expect AMD will launch an RX 7900 XT before the end of the year, possibly as soon as October. That's not too far away, and AMD has publicly declared that it expects RDNA 3 to deliver a 50% improvement in performance per watt. It will also be the first GPU to use chiplets, and while the topology of such a design isn't entirely clear, this could be the "biggest Navi" yet. Amid falling GPU prices and the pending next-gen architectures, it's difficult to recommend rushing out to buy a soon-to-be-outdated GPU for over $1,000 right now.

Speaking of which, it's interesting that the retail prices on the RX 6950 XT have been coming down fast. Officially the GPU has a $1,099 MSRP, and at launch we saw multiple companies pushing factory overclocked models for $1,249 or more. Right now, Newegg has multiple RX 6950 XT cards (opens in new tab) selling for MSRP, and we've seen some sales come and go that dropped prices as low as $1,030. The MSI Gaming X Trio is one of the cards selling for MSRP, which does put it $150 below the Sapphire Nitro+ Pure, but when the cards launched last month, both were targeting the same $1,250 price point — MSI just happened to correct faster.

Jarred Walton
Jarred Walton

Jarred Walton is a senior editor at Tom's Hardware focusing on everything GPU. He has been working as a tech journalist since 2004, writing for AnandTech, Maximum PC, and PC Gamer. From the first S3 Virge '3D decelerators' to today's GPUs, Jarred keeps up with all the latest graphics trends and is the one to ask about game performance.

  • -Fran-
    What a terrible model... The Sapphire is way way better, like always. MSI didn't even try to make this card decent; more like just fulfilling commitments or quotas.

    Also, I wonder if toying around with the VRAM speed would yield better results than the core in terms of extra FPS'es and specially power for the 6950XT. I have the 6900XT and I know for sure it does, but it's capped at ~2000, since it starts artifacting heavily above that speed for me. I run it stock, but I wanted to test the limit of it, heh.

    Regards.
    Reply
  • King_V
    Editing nipick:
    We are not showing professional application performance with the MSI card, as it was basically the same story as we saw with our initial MSI RX 6950 XT content creation results.
    That MSI that's linked should say Sapphire.

    Still, given how little benefit pushing the extreme limits of power consumption gave to MSI, I'm really curious about how much, or rather, little, performance might be lost in backing down the power and clocks... I know nobody buys a top-of-the-line card in order to be power-efficient, but I wonder if we might have a situation here that is similar to the underclocking runs for the Vega 56.
    Reply
  • JarredWaltonGPU
    -Fran- said:
    What a terrible model... The Sapphire is way way better, like always. MSI didn't even try to make this card decent; more like just fulfilling commitments or quotas.

    Also, I wonder if toying around with the VRAM speed would yield better results than the core in terms of extra FPS'es and specially power for the 6950XT. I have the 6900XT and I know for sure it does, but it's capped at ~2000, since it starts artifacting heavily above that speed for me. I run it stock, but I wanted to test the limit of it, heh.

    Regards.
    I poked around a bit at VRAM speeds when I was doing the Sapphire review. Ultimately, I didn't say much about it, but even though you can push clocks higher, I don't think you get the gains that I'd expect. There's something goofy with the VRAM speeds on these 18Gbps modules where you often don't get anywhere near the theoretical boost in performance relative to the existing 16Gbps cards. I suspect memory timings (which you can't directly see on the GDDR6) are somehow at play.

    For example, and I know this is a specific use case, but the cryptocurrency mining speed of the RX 6950 XT was consistently far lower than the RX 6900 XT, regardless of what I tried. You can get ~65 MH/s out of the RX 6900 XT after tuning, but the best I ever managed on the RX 6950 XT was about 54 MH/s. "Stock" (factory) performance with a tweak to the maximum GPU clock did better than any attempted memory overclock.
    Reply
  • -Fran-
    JarredWaltonGPU said:
    I poked around a bit at VRAM speeds when I was doing the Sapphire review. Ultimately, I didn't say much about it, but even though you can push clocks higher, I don't think you get the gains that I'd expect. There's something goofy with the VRAM speeds on these 18Gbps modules where you often don't get anywhere near the theoretical boost in performance relative to the existing 16Gbps cards. I suspect memory timings (which you can't directly see on the GDDR6) are somehow at play.

    For example, and I know this is a specific use case, but the cryptocurrency mining speed of the RX 6950 XT was consistently far lower than the RX 6900 XT, regardless of what I tried. You can get ~65 MH/s out of the RX 6900 XT after tuning, but the best I ever managed on the RX 6950 XT was about 54 MH/s. "Stock" (factory) performance with a tweak to the maximum GPU clock did better than any attempted memory overclock.
    That is so weirdly interesting... I wonder if the higher clocks were at the expense of way way looser timings?

    Regards.
    Reply
  • Sleepy_Hollowed
    Wow, what on earth is this card for? Expensive, inefficient space heater?
    Since even messing with voltages does not seem to make performance better, this is an absolute head scratcher, probably a spec-hunter card only.

    That being said, other versions of this card will get some real usage with AMD's FSR 2.0 and it will make absolute sense even with zero tensor cores. Losing ~7 frames per second to nvidia is neglible at those resolutions and with comparable quality as well.

    Let's see if next gen and DLSS 3.0 might be different, but DLSS 2.x is not.
    Reply