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Tech For Everyone #4: My Radeon RX 6700 XT Review (Hypothetically)

Tech For Everyone
Tech For Everyone #4: My Radeon RX 6700 XT Review (Hypothetically)
By Jason Evangelho • Issue #4 • View online
Welcome to your Wednesday! Get comfy, grab your favorite beverage, and let’s chat about the new Radeon launch. Just don’t let your aging PC see this edition. It might get jealous…

Let's talk about the Radeon RX 6700 XT
When I covered the announcement of AMD’s Radeon RX 6700 XT in issue #1, my friend and More Sun songwriting partner Jerry Morrison responded with a statement so relevant and so profound, I’m going to steal it for at least the next two years.
Here’s what he said:
All hardware launches are hypothetical at this point.”
Well here I am, sitting in my office, writing this newsletter, staring down the review embargo of that Radeon RX 6700 XT graphics card, and I’m faced with what feels like a paradox.
It FEELS real...
It FEELS real...
I’m holding AMD’s new graphics card in my hand, getting ready to take some photos of it. I’ve spent the last few days using it on my test bench to play Call of Duty: Cold War multiplayer in crisp 1440p with maxed-out visuals (“St. Patrick’s Stockpile” is my current jam, and I’m killyourfm#1175 if you want to get connected on Blizzard). 
Certainly, this card exists in my slice of reality. But I’ll allow for the possibility that it could be a strictly hypothetical hardware launch in your reality. And that makes this beautiful offering from the Red Team nearly impossible to properly review. 
Especially in a world dominated by “Performance Per Dollar” charts, which are now meaningless for pretty much every midrange to high-end GPU that’s launched since 2017! Especially in a world where we both know that you won’t pay anything close to AMD’s suggested price of $479, despite AMD’s best efforts. 
Gamers vs Scalpers vs Miners
We’ve been conditioned to treat the prospect of buying new hardware almost like it’s a war. Gamers vs miners. Gamers vs scalpers. Gamers vs gamers. 
We expect cryptocurrency miners to snatch them up by the crate, and for greedy scalpers to buy them resell them for up to triple the MSRP. We’ve been trained to jump at the chance to buy overpriced GPUs and consoles because hey, who knows if that one unit in stock will ever be available again!? 
It will be gone within 5 seconds. Mouse finger feeling itchy yet?
This post-pandemic consumer hardware mindset makes it difficult to discuss any sort of value proposition and conclude how it competes against Nvidia’s stack. Maybe that discussion will become valid by the end of the year? Maybe it never will, at this point.
I can tell you that once again, just as it did with the RX 6800 XT, AMD has hit a home run with its reference design. The build quality is outstanding, the cooling solution rivals what many of AMD’s board partners will put forward, it’s quiet and it’s pleasing as hell to look at sitting in your rig. 
I’ll take it a step further and say it’s a point of pride. AMD tells me they will continue to sell the “reference design” of the RX 6700 XT via AMD.com for the foreseeable future, and that’s a wise decision.  
12GB of VRAM was the right decision…
Last week the tech press had a deep dive with AMD, and the company repeatedly emphasized that the RX 6700 XT is built for “sweet spot” 1440p gaming. That is, cranking up all the dials (except DX Ray Tracing, let’s be honest) at 2560x1440. 
To justify that decision, AMD pointed to the 44% increase in 1440p monitors year-over-year. 
And just to rub some salt into the wounds of Nvidia customers who succumbed to the RTX 3070 hype (it only has 8GB of VRAM), AMD slapped 12GB of video memory into their offering and emphasized how much VRAM some of the most popular games use at 1440p. 
I can vouch for these numbers. I also tested Shadow of the Tomb Raider’s VRAM consumption, and on maxed-out settings at 1440p it uses 7.9GB of VRAM. Turn on any level of ray tracing, and that number climbs higher, all the way up to 11.1GB at 1440p. 
1440p Benchmarks: Time To Upgrade Your RX 580?
Due to both time constraints and the (ahem) hypothetical nature of this hardware launch, I decided to focus my testing on the potential upgrade story. Assuming you can buy one, is it time to finally upgrade your RX 580? 
To find out, I tested several games at 1080p and 1440p using both canned benchmark routines (like Borderlands 3, Forza Horizon 4, etc)  and real-world gaming (Apex Legends, Call of Duty: Cold War, Cyberpunk 2077). 
And with the exception of Cyberpunk 2077, I cranked up all the visual dials because I believe if you’re spending this kind of coin, and AMD is selling you the ultimate 1440p experience, that’s the exact experience you should have. 
Can we hit a solid 60FPS at 1440p without compromising? Let’s have a look. 
What you’re looking at are the average framerates (FPS) for my Sapphire Nitro RX 580 with 8GB of VRAM (blue) and the reference AMD Radeon RX 6700 XT (white) at 1440p. My test bench is a liquid-cooled AMD Ryzen 5900X with 16GB of RAM clocked at 3400MHz. 
You’ll notice I made an exception to my “maxed out settings” stance for Cyberpunk 2077, because that game straight up punishes GPUs. Setting it to anything above Medium resulted in extremely jerky, blurry gameplay on the RX 580, and that’s a dealbreaker. 
The upgrade story is a pretty compelling one, with the RX 6700 XT frequently churning out almost double (CoD: Cold War, Borderlands 3) and sometimes close to triple (Gears 5, Shadow of the Tomb Raider, Forza Horizon 4) the framerates as the aging RX 580! 
With Borderlands 3 as the single outlier, the 7 other titles are clearing north of 75FPS, making the overall gameplay smooth as silk. Even smoother if you’re rocking a FreeSync display. 
That RX 580 though!
But seriously, can we take a moment and appreciate how competent the RX 580 still is in 2021? Several of these games weren’t even available when the RX 580 launched, and I’m pushing it hard at 1440p resolutions. With the exception of Borderlands 3, it’s managing to average 30FPS, and in games like Apex Legends and CoD: Cold War where “frames win games” it’s pushing 60+FPS. 
(It’s worth noting, however, that an RX 580 equipped with 4GB of VRAM wouldn’t fare this well.)
✅ Newsletter exclusive: What about 1080p gaming?
So you’re more of a 1080p gamer? Well good thing you’re here! I tested all of the above at 1080p, and those results are exclusive to this little newsletter. Nope, they’re not even on Forbes! You’re special and this is a small way of saying thanks for subscribing.
Hug it out? Ok, let’s hit these benchmark results:
At 1080p, I actually think the RX 6700 XT upgrade story is a bit less compelling, owing to the staying power of the RX 580. On the one hand, sure, the newest Radeon card is ridiculously power-efficient compared to its predecessors, and you can even crank up Cyberpunk 2077!
On the other hand, turn your graphics knobs down a degree or two, and the RX 580 is still surprisingly capable – provided you have a model with 8GB of video memory.
Conclusion?
Snark aside, I have nothing negative to say about the RX 6700 XT except when it comes to its existence at retail. It’s a murky, confusing, frequently overpriced and frustrating landscape for PC gamers right now. If you can snag it for close to its $479 MSRP (the simultaneous launch of several board partner cards will hopefully keep the price realistic), it’s a monumental upgrade to your RX 580 or GTX 1060 gaming rig. 
Your Feedback Wanted!
Thanks for making it this far! I’m going to skip the “Top Tweets” section today because I’m on a deadline.
But if you’re hungry for more benchmarks, I’m taking requests! I’ll be testing the RX 6700 XT on Linux in the near future (probably Pop OS), and I’m happy to test a game or two for you on either Windows or Linux.
Just reply to this email and let me know, or reach out to me on Twitter @killyourfm. I’ll do my best to meet your requests.
I’ll see you in the next issue. Until then, take care, and take care of each other!
~Jason
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Jason Evangelho

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