Without a new architecture, there's only so much AMD's RX 6950 XT can do to take on its Nvidia rivals. AMD has proven it knows how to get GPUs running at much higher clocks with RDNA 2, and RDNA 3 might be the first consumer GPU to break 3 GHz if the current trend continues. That would be pretty awesome, even if it uses a lot of power. But in the here and now, Navi 21 can lay claim to the 1080p and 1440p standard gaming performance thrones while falling behind at 4K and trailing with a large deficit in ray tracing performance.
The problem is that MSI's top-tier variant of the RX 6950 XT pushes power use far higher than its rival, without any real gains in performance. Frankly, it's flabbergasting that Sapphire can use the same GPU and effectively match MSI's performance while using 70W less power. We're not sure if the credit goes to some great engineering on the Nitro+ Pure, or poor engineering on the MSI Gaming X Trio, but if you have a choice between these two cards, Sapphire walks away with an easy victory.
Sapphire's card looks better (in my opinion), runs just as fast, and uses less power. And if you don't want to go with the Sapphire card for whatever reason, there are multiple other Radeon RX 6950 XT options that basically can't be worse than this MSI model. Okay, maybe they have 100 MHz lower boost clocks, but for $200 less, that's a far more sensible choice.
That's assuming you even want to go with an RX 6950 XT, of course. If you're not looking for the top performing AMD GPU right now, the RX 6900 XT is only about 6% slower and can be found for as little as $800, with several other models going for $900. There's also the RX 6800 XT, which is supposed to start at $650 but currently costs nearly as much as the least expensive 6900 XT. For the same price as the RX 6900 XT, you can also pick up a GeForce RTX 3080 12GB, and while it might fall behind in some games, the superior ray tracing hardware and DLSS support certainly makes that a good alternative. Even the formerly overpriced RTX 3080 Ti is worth a look, starting at under $1,100.
AMD does try to sweeten the pot a bit with some gaming extras, via its current Raise the Game Bundle, which you won't get from Nvidia. If you buy an RX 6950 XT (or any GPU from the RX 6700 XT and up), from a participating retailer, you'll get codes for the Saints Row reboot, Sniper Elite 5, and Forspoken (when it comes out). Game bundles aren't the same as buying games at retail, though, since you don't get a choice and AMD pays a lot less per game than the retail price — call it a $50 add-in if you want. That's fine, but for a GPU that costs over a grand, it's not some amazing offer.
We should see AMD's next generation architecture launch within a few months, so even with GPUs now on shelves at better prices than we've seen in two years, we still recommend waiting. If you simply have to buy a new graphics card right now, we suggest you pick up something for closer to $300 like the Radeon RX 6600 that can tide you over until RDNA 3 and Ada Lovelace arrive, rather than purchasing an extreme GPU that will invariably feel outdated and slow before 2022 wraps up.
Regardless, MSI's inefficient take on the RX 6950 XT just doesn't make a lot of sense. If it used 15% more power and provided at least a 5% boost to performance, it would be easier to recommend. Using 15% more power for the same performance, though? No thanks. More power means more heat in your case, which impacts noise levels and your PC in general. Even if you're using your PC as a space heater while gaming, we'd still prefer a card that uses less power and delivers the same performance.