AMD Radeon RX 5600 XT 'Review': The Most Troubled Launch Ever?

AMD changes things too close to the NDA date of the Radeon RX 5600 XT, causing major issues at launch. We explain here.

Published Jan 22, 2020 7:20 PM CST   |   Updated Tue, Nov 3 2020 6:57 PM CST
6 minute read time


We're in the last couple of hours before AMD lifts its NDA for the new Radeon RX 5600 XT graphics card, something the company unveiled at CES 2020 -- and now have 'launched'. Now, I say 'launched' because it has been one of, if not the most troubled launch of a graphics card that I can remember.

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I was working hard on the review and then hit a snag... a really, show-stopping snag. But before we get into that, this is what AMD's new Radeon RX 5600 XT is all about. We have a new card that has some beefy specs, but I'll talk about the drama in the next few pages.

But what AMD is doing here is nailing the sub $300 graphics card market with its RDNA architecture and Navi GPU, with a replacement card for the Radeon RX 590 or NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1060, all while kicking some serious ass in AAA and esports games.

AMD's new Radeon RX 5600 XT can easily provide close to 90FPS average in AAA games at 1080p, including The Division 2, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, Gears 5, and The Witcher 3. If we're talking about esports games, then you can enjoy over 120FPS average in games like Apex Legends, Fortnite, and Overwatch.

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NVIDIA is in a similar territory to the new Radeon RX 5600 XT with its Turing-based GeForce GTX 1660 Ti, but AMD Is offering up more performance across the board with its new card. It has superior performance in virtually all games at 1080p.

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Then there's the case of the slightly higher-end GeForce GTX 1660 SUPER, with the new Radeon RX 5600 XT beating that card, too. We're looking at around 15% more performance in AAA games over the GTX 1660 SUPER, and 5% more performance in esports titles. But, these results are from AMD.

Detailed Specs

AMD has its third Navi-based graphics card with the new Radeon RX 5600 XT, following the flagship Radeon RX 5700 XT and then the Radeon RX 5500 XT late last year. The new Radeon RX 5600 XT graphics card falls right in the middle of these two and will do battle for the $250-$350 market which is one of the most important markets for gamers.

AMD Radeon RX 5600 XT 'Review': The Most Troubled Launch Ever? 06

We have a new GPU from AMD that is slightly tweaked to the specs here, something that happened in the days before the NDA release. Everything is the same apart from the TBP being increased 10W, up from the 150W on the deck here, to 160W.

Inside, the Navi GPU here has 36 compute units, 2304 stream processors, and up to 7.19 TFLOPs of compute performance. We have GPU clocks of up to 1375MHz for game clocks, and up to 1560MHz boost clock while the Radeon RX 5600 XT has 6GB of GDDR6 and a TBP of 160W.

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AMD's new RDNA architecture is much more efficient over the previous-gen GCN architecture, with a 42% increase in performance over the Radeon RX 590 and 33% less power consumption. This results in a great gain of 2.1x the perofrmance-per-watt of the Radeon RX 590 for the new Radeon RX 5600 XT.

The Week Leading Up Into Launch

Around 5 days before the launch of AMD's new Radeon RX 5600 XT, emails began flying that there would be a new BIOS provided for review samples. I was meant to have a SAPPHIRE card on the way, but there was an address stuff up and my sample was sent to my old address (I've moved house in the last few months).

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This is outside of AMD's control, but it created a situation where I didn't have a sample ready for review. I had other AIB partners reach out to me sampling me cards, which is a usual situation for a reviewer like me -- but then that introduced its own problems.

MSI sent me their flagship Radeon RX 5600 XT GAMING X graphics card, but then it only arrived in the late afternoon of the day before the NDA lifted. But as it arrived, I had communication with my contacts at MSI in regards to a new VBIOS for the card before I tested it.

Then I was told to wait until that night as their R&D department were working around the clock, in order to get their VBIOS ready for benchmarkers. Well, it didn't arrive and I woke the next morning to try and sort out the mess that was this Radeon RX 5600 XT 'review'.

Well, MSI had issues getting me a VBIOS in the last few hours of this review -- so I don't have a day one review because of AMD's last-minute changes. To the credit of AMD, the review sample they were sending me was a SAPPHIRE PULSE edition RX 5600 XT, something they had an updated BIOS ready for... but because of the address hiccup, my sample isn't with me.

12 Hours Before Launch: Lots Of Swearing

At the time of writing (1.5 hours before launch right now) I still didn't have the SAPPHIRE sample, but it is 11PM in my city of Adelaide, South Australia. I should have the card in my hands tomorrow, but then I need a few hours with the card to test it... so I'm at least 24 hours behind right now and that sucks.

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I've been doing this particular job (of reviewing graphics cards and covering all things GPU-related for TweakTown) for many years. It has been around 6-7 years of me doing this full-time, and I've been knee-deep in the graphics card and consumer PC market for over 20 years at this point. I can't remembe the last time the 24 hours before a graphics card launch, it being this much of a mess.

I had pre-release Radeon drivers, a custom MSI Radeon RX 5600 XT GAMING X... but no VBIOS to test it with the clocks that AMD and MSI are now promising on the eve of release. I don't want to have to test it before in its never-to-be-seen-by-consumers state (lower clock speeds = not the performance you'll see at retail). This would be lying on my part, and I won't have a part of it.

So around 6 hours ago I realized I wouldn't have a launch day review and thought I would go a different route. I thought I would explain what I've had to go through until now, to give you some insight into the 'other side of the fence' -- the reviewer side of the fence.

AMD felt threatened enough by the price changes of NVIDIA and its GeForce RTX 2060 being slashed in price to $299 in the week leading up to the launch of the Radeon RX 5600 XT, so much so that they tacked on 10W to the TBP and forced AIBs to release new VBIOSes offering higher clock speeds.

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This is a really shitty move, as it means that there have been thousands of cards sent out by AIB partners with lower clock speeds that require VBIOS updates before you use them. Sure, they'll work without the updated VBIOS but you'll get suckier GPU clocks, an inferior, held-back product that AMD tweaked in the hours leading up to the release.

I can't review a graphics card like that and publish a review, so I've decided to hold off for a few days on my review to give myself some real-time with the card. I'm angry at AMD for doing this, and there is absolutely zero onus on AIB partners.

AMD did this, AMD is at fault, and AMD needs to own it.

I spent half the day trying to secure my sample, talking with AIB partners to work out what would, in the end, be useless because the VBIOS is having issues, and then no review at the end. This would be one of the first times I've ever missed a launch day review and I apologize. I wanted to, and I tried -- I spent most of the last few days stressing out over this and in the end I gave up.

I used to sell these graphics cards for a living in my old job for 10 years, and I can't believe we're in 2020 and have a release where AMD is forced to send us reviewers alist of VBIOSes for custom Radeon RX 5600 XTs that I have to tell the world about and say "so hey guys, you need to update the VBIOS on your new graphics card to get the performance AMD recommends because at the last minute they decided to make the card better -- meaning they actually held the performance back and made this more of a Radeon RX 5700, but with 6GB of RAM versus 8GB".

Yeah, it's not good.

No Review, Thanks To AMD

The changes in the VBIOS in the last few days changed the results so dramatically, I have to really question what the hell AMD was thinking in the days leading up to the Radeon RX 5600 XT launch. The SAPPHIRE PULSE RX 5600 XT had some major changes in both GPU clocks and GDDR6 clocks, that it creates some big challenges for reviewers.

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The two VBIOSes come in a silent and performance BIOS, where the TGP goes from 135W to 160W and the 6GB of GDDR6 cranks from the much slower 12Gbps to 14Gbps bandwidth. But it is the game and boost GPU clocks that really change, with the silent BIOS at 1460/1620MHz while the performance BIOS cranks up to 1615/1750MHz.

Consumers. Should. Never. Have. To. Do. This.


I mean sure, you're getting GDDR6 cranked from 12Gbps to 14Gbps and higher GPU clock speeds with the new VBIOS -- but it should've been this way from the beginning. It means AMD was blindsided by NVIDIA's double-jebait on dropping the GeForce RTX 2060 price, or AMD was never confident with the Radeon RX 5600 XT and had a built-in fail-safe = new VBIOS.

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After all the momentum AMD has built, and the entire 'jebait' stunt -- I expected better from AMD in 2020 and this is how they've started it. A jumbled mess, that is going to cause confusion on launch day and I'm kind of excited to see what my fellow reviewers and YouTuber friends in the industry say in their reviews and launch day content.

Me on the other hand, I'll be holding off for a few days to get my review finished -- if I actually get a VBIOS in that time, or my SAPPHIRE sample turns up. What a mess!

Anthony joined the TweakTown team in 2010 and has since reviewed 100s of graphics cards. Anthony is a long time PC enthusiast with a passion of hate for games built around consoles. FPS gaming since the pre-Quake days, where you were insulted if you used a mouse to aim, he has been addicted to gaming and hardware ever since. Working in IT retail for 10 years gave him great experience with custom-built PCs. His addiction to GPU tech is unwavering.

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