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AMD Radeon RX 6800 XT Review: RDNA 2 Totally Makes AMD Great Again

AMD comes back in with a gigantic bang with RDNA 2 and the Radeon RX 6800 XT -- holy fracking sizzle, Big Navi kicks Big Ass.

@anthony256
Published Wed, Nov 18 2020 8:00 AM CST   |   Updated Thu, Nov 19 2020 5:49 AM CST
Rating: 100%Manufacturer: AMD (Radeon RX 6800 XT)

Introduction

I can't believe we're here, but we're here -- and what a wild f***ing ride it has been. There's no other way to explain it... the hype, the rumors, NVIDIA's new GeForce RTX 3070, RTX 3080, and RTX 3090 are all here -- and somehow AMD has come in with one-two punch with Zen 3 and now RDNA 2.

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VIEW GALLERY - 102 IMAGES

AMD is launching not just one but two graphics cards today: first is the higher-end Radeon RX 6800 XT which we have here in this review, and the Radeon RX 6800 which is equally as exciting. AMD will be launching the flagship Radeon RX 6900 XT on December 8 for $999.

The new Radeon RX 6000 series graphics cards are built on the brand new RDNA 2 architecture, which packs so much new and improved stuff it is almost overwhelming. AMD has truly thrown everything including the (ray traced) kitchen sink.

Pricing

  • Radeon RX 6800 XT (16GB) price: $649
  • Radeon RX 6800 (16GB) price: $579

AMD is pricing the new Radeon RX 6800 XT at $649, an excellent price point considering it offers double the performance of the Radeon RX 5700 XT -- and either close to, equal, or better performance than the GeForce RTX 3080 which costs at least $50 more, starting at $699.

But how many new Radeon RX 6000 cards will AMD have available to sell? Time will tell, but I doubt it'll be many at all. This doesn't go into consideration for my final thoughts on the review.

Detailed Specs

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AMD has effectively doubled, and in some ways over doubled what we had inside of the original RDNA-based Navi 10, with the Navi 21-based Radeon RX 6800 XT rocking a huge 26.8 billion transistors on its 7nm design on a much, much larger 512mm2 die -- up from the 251mm2 die on the Navi 10.

There's 72 Compute Units/Ray Accelerators, with 4608 stream processors -- while GPU clocks boost up to 2250MHz, and then we have 128MB of Infinity Cache helping out in a huge way.

Something that AMD has done extremely well here, is offering 16GB of GDDR6 memory on all 3 new RDNA 2 cards. The Radeon RX 6800 XT rocks 16GB of GDDR6 on a 256-bit memory bus with 512GB/sec of memory bandwidth -- something that is helped (greatly) by Infinity Cache.

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Everything You Need to Know About RDNA 2

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AMD's new RDNA 2 architecture has more changes than any previous-gen GPU architecture I can remember from AMD (and even ATi) in the last 10+ years.

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There's a lot to go over here, but we're looking at an enhanced compute unit, new visual pipeline featuring Ray Accelerators, and the all-new (and very exciting) Infinity Cache (which I'll go into on the next page. We're looking at a huge 1.54x higher performance-per-watt and 1.3x higher frequency at the same per-CU power -- impressive stuff, AMD.

Ray Accelerators

One of the largest new introductions in the new RDNA 2 architecture is the high-performance ray tracing acceleration architecture known as the Ray Accelerator. AMD doesn't have NVIDIA-beating ray tracing performance, but it's here in RDNA 2.

Each Ray Accelerator is capable of calculating up to 4 ray / box intersections, and 1 ray / triangle intersection every clock. This means the RDNA 2-based Ray Accelerators can efficiently calculate the intersections of the rays with the scene geometry as represented in a Bounding Volume Hierarchy, sorts them, and returns the information to the shaders for further scene traversal or result shading.

HDMI 2.1

This is another big deal -- HDMI 2.1 connectivity.

HDMI 2.1 ushers in the worlds of 4K 120Hz and 8K 60Hz through a single HDMI 2.1 cable to your flashy new TV or gaming monitor. Personally I own a new CX series LG OLED TV with HDMI 2.1 that drives its 4K 120Hz, so plugging my gaming PC into my TV can only be done a single way if I want 4K 120Hz -- which I kinda do.

The introduction of HDMI 2.1 on graphics cards began with NVIDIA's new GeForce RTX 30 series, and continues with AMD's new Radeon RX 6000 series graphics cards. All 3 of the new Radeon RX 6000 series cards -- the Radeon RX 6900 XT (coming soon), the Radeon RX 6800 XT (this review) and Radeon RX 6800 all have HDMI 2.1 output.

Board Design

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Another great thing AMD did with the Radeon RX 6800 XT and Radeon RX 6800 graphics cards is the board design, with the company making all 3 of the cards at a standard ~10.5 inches or so. The card is also max 2.5-slot for reference boards, which means it'll slot into virtually any PC that is capable of taking a regular-sized card.

What Is Infinity Cache?

Now this is where things get really interesting -- Infinity Cache, which provides some kick ass memory bandwidth even with it smaller 256-bit memory bus and slower GDDR6 memory.

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NVIDIA might have a superior 320-bit memory bus, faster GDDR6X -- but it has less VRAM (10GB versus 16GB) and the Radeon RX 6800 XT still kicks ass against the GeForce RTX 3080 in all resolutions and situations. But in the right situation -- like when paired with a Zen 3 processor, like I've done preliminary with the Ryzen 9 5900X -- you can get in excess of 10% more performance when you add SAM (Smart Access Memory) into the equation.

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If you've got the right hardware -- a new RDNA 2-based Radeon RX 6800 XT for example, with a Zen 3-based Ryzen 5000 series -- like the Ryzen 9 5900X that I got in the days leading into the review. I will have some numbers on those tomorrow, but I needed to get these reviews out first.

The SAM results are as good as you see in these charts, and in some cases better -- it's an impressive thing to see, and I truly can't wait to see more from Smart Access Memory technology.

Detailed Look

I did a full unboxing article right here, but here's the card out of the box and everything you need to see:

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Out of the package the new AMD Radeon RX 6800 XT is a great-looking card, I truly love it. The leaks were all correct on this one, the triple-fan cooler and 2.5-slot design. It looks great in person, and even better installed into a gaming PC!

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Here we have the back of the card with a nice 'R' in the bottom right -- it would've been nice if this lit up like the Radeon VII and its red-lit 'R' in the corner.

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From the bottom, you can see this is all heat sink, baby -- it makes the Radeon RX 6800 XT run nice and cool, but we'll have all of the details about that in the full review on November 18.

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Another time from the top, where you can see that awesome red border around the card -- the Radeon branding in the middle -- and 2 x 8-pin PCIe power connectors to get it up and running.

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A closer look at the dual 8-pin PCIe power connectors.

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Another closer look at the heat sink itself keeping the Big Navi GPU and 16GB GDDR6 memory nice and cool.

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AMD has included 2 x DP 1.4 and 1 x HDMI 2.1 output on the Radeon RX 6800 XT reference graphics card, with a USB-C connector included.

Powered on

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AMD's new Radeon RX 6800 XT turned on, and inside of our test bed.

Test System Specs

Latest upgrade:

Sabrent sent over their huge Rocket Q 8TB NVMe PCIe M.2 2280 SSD, which will be my new Games install SSD inside of my main test bed.

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I've got a new upgrade inside of my GPU test bed before my change to a next-gen test bed, where I will be preparing for NVIDIA's next-gen Ampere graphics cards and AMD's next-gen RDNA 2 graphics cards.

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Sabrent helped out with some new storage for my GPU test beds, sending over a slew of crazy-fast Rocket NVMe PCIe M.2 2280 SSDs. I've got this installed into my GPU test bed as the new Games Storage drive, since games are so damn big now. Thanks to Sabrent, I've got 2TB of super-fast M.2 PCIe 3.0 x4 SSD storage now.

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Anthony's GPU Test System Specifications

I've recently upgraded my GPU test bed -- at least for now, until AMD's new Ryzen 9 5950X processor is unleashed then the final update for 2020 will happen and we'll be all good for RDNA 2 and future Ampere GPU releases. You can read my article here: TweakTown GPU Test Bed Upgrade for 2021, But Then Zen 3 Was Announced.

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Benchmarks - Synthetic

3DMark Fire Strike

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3DMark has been a staple benchmark for years now, all the way back to when The Matrix was released and Futuremark had bullet time inspired benchmarks. 3DMark is the perfect tool to see if your system - most important, your CPU and GPU - is performing as it should. You can search results for your GPU, to see if it falls in line with other systems based on similar hardware.

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3DMark TimeSpy

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Heaven

Heaven is an intensive GPU benchmark that really pushes your silicon to its limits. It's another favorite of ours as it has some great scaling for multi-GPU testing, and it's great for getting your GPU to 100% for power and noise testing.

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Benchmarks - 1080p

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Middle-earth: Shadow of War is a sequel to the popular Shadow of Mordor, which was powered by the Lithtech engine. When cranked up to maximum detail, it will chew through your GPU and its VRAM like it's nothing.

You can buy Middle-earth: Shadow of War at Amazon.

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Metro Exodus is one of the hardest tests that our graphics cards have to go through, with 4A Games' latest creation being one of the best looking games on the market. It is a serious test that pushes GPUs to their limits, and also features RTX technologies like DLSS.

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Shadow of the Tomb Raider is one of the latest games to join our graphics card benchmark lineup, with the game built using the Foundation engine as a base, the same engine in Rise of the Tomb Raider. Eidos Montreal R&D department made lots of changes to the engine during the development of Shadow of the Tomb Raider to make it one of the best-looking games out right now.

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1080p Benchmark Performance Thoughts

Straight outta the gate and AMD is already ahead of NVIDIA with Shadow of War at 1080p, offering a huge 159FPS average -- beating the RTX 3080 by 2FPS here. The gains aren't as strong -- but very close in Metro Exodus.

AMD's new Radeon RX 6800 XT is pushing 88FPS here at 1080p, just 2FPS shy of the 90FPS on the RTX 3080. But it's far out and away from the RDNA-based Radeon RX 5700 XT which is scoring just 53FPS here in comparison. Wowzers.

Shadow of the Tomb Raider positively f***ing screams on the Radeon RX 6800 XT -- yeah, yeah, SOTTR is an AMD-friendly game -- but NVIDIA kicks ass here, too. Starting with the Radeon RX 5700 XT which scores just 137FPS average, the new RDNA 2-based Radeon RX 6800 XT pushes a huge 253FPS.

Yeah, 253FPS -- I had to run those numbers a few times, but they are correct.

Just, wow.

Benchmarks - 1440p

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Middle-earth: Shadow of War is a sequel to the popular Shadow of Mordor, which was powered by the Lithtech engine. When cranked up to maximum detail, it will chew through your GPU and its VRAM like it's nothing.

You can buy Middle-earth: Shadow of War at Amazon.

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Metro Exodus is one of the hardest tests that our graphics cards have to go through, with 4A Games' latest creation being one of the best looking games on the market. It is a serious test that pushes GPUs to their limits, and also features RTX technologies like DLSS.

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Shadow of the Tomb Raider is one of the latest games to join our graphics card benchmark lineup, with the game built using the Foundation engine as a base, the same engine in Rise of the Tomb Raider. Eidos Montreal R&D department made lots of changes to the engine during the development of Shadow of the Tomb Raider to make it one of the best-looking games out right now.

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1440p Benchmark Performance Thoughts

If you thought AMD would let up at 2560 x 1440 then you were wrong -- we have 142FPS average versus the RTX 3080 with 140FPS. But up against the previous-gen Radeon RX 5700 XT and its 93FPS the new Radeon RX 6800 XT is kicking ass and taking names.

Moving onto Metro Exodus where the Radeon RX 6800 XT pulls down 75FPS, just 2FPS away from the RTX 3080 -- while it is a huge upgrade from the 43FPS on the Radeon RX 5700 XT.

Shadow of the Tomb Raider continues to shine on the Radeon RX 6800 XT, with 178FPS average -- beating the RTX 3080 with its 171FPS and virtually double the Radeon RX 5700 XT which coughs up just 92FPS in comparison.

Incredible stuff.

Benchmarks - 4K

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Middle-earth: Shadow of War is a sequel to the popular Shadow of Mordor, which was powered by the Lithtech engine. When cranked up to maximum detail, it will chew through your GPU and its VRAM like it's nothing.

You can buy Middle-earth: Shadow of War at Amazon.

AMD Radeon RX 6800 XT Review: RDNA 2 Totally Makes AMD Great Again 115 | TweakTown.com
AMD Radeon RX 6800 XT Review: RDNA 2 Totally Makes AMD Great Again 4013 | TweakTown.com

Metro Exodus is one of the hardest tests that our graphics cards have to go through, with 4A Games' latest creation being one of the best looking games on the market. It is a serious test that pushes GPUs to their limits, and also features RTX technologies like DLSS.

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Shadow of the Tomb Raider is one of the latest games to join our graphics card benchmark lineup, with the game built using the Foundation engine as a base, the same engine in Rise of the Tomb Raider. Eidos Montreal R&D department made lots of changes to the engine during the development of Shadow of the Tomb Raider to make it one of the best-looking games out right now.

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4K Benchmark Performance Thoughts

Once again AMD is kicking ass even at 4K on the Radeon RX 6800 XT, where we have 99FPS average in Shadow of War which is just 5FPS shy of the GeForce RTX 3080. But it is a huge leap from the Radeon RX 5700 XT which scores just 55FPS in comparison.

Metro Exodus in 4K sees NVIDIA pulling more away from AMD, with the Radeon RX 6800 XT hitting 51FPS average versus 54FPS on the RTX 3080. But, it still is a gigantic leap from the 29FPS on the Radeon RX 5700 XT.

Shadow of the Tomb Raider is marvelous on the Radeon RX 6800 XT at 4K, offering 1FPS more than the RTX 3080 with 98FPS average. But compare this to the 48FPS average on the Radeon RX 5700 XT and you have over 100% more performance in 4K in Shadow of the Tomb Raider on the Radeon RX 6800 XT.

This is without SAM (Smart Access Memory) on, too -- more on that in the coming days.

Benchmarks - DXR (Ray Tracing)

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I have not had the time to do a full DXR run of benchmarks, but seriously I don't want to recommend anyone buy a graphics card purely for ray tracing. So until I get some more DXR benchmarks into my suite, I'll keep Watch Dogs: Legion and I'm also doing Shadow of the Tomb Raider coming soon, and a few others in the pipeline.

For now, we're looking at DXR performance that matches the GeForce RTX 3080 -- with the Radeon RX 6800 XT pumping out 65FPS average at 1080p in Watch Dogs: Legion with the ray traced shadows maxed out. 1440p results are just as impressive, with the RX 6800 XT matching the 49FPS average of the RTX 3080 -- impressive.

Things drop down a bit at 4K with the Radeon RX 6800 XT losing to the GeForce RTX 3080.

Expect more DXR-powered benchmarks in the coming weeks!

Overclocking

This is something I will be spending more time with in a follow-up article, but I did play around with overclocking in a few hours in between smiling from ear-to-ear playing around with the Radeon RX 6800 XT.

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I had some fun with the RAGE mode, something I'll go into in a further article.

Power Consumption & Temps

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AMD has really impressed with power consumption on the 7nm node at TSMC, where the Radeon RX 5700 XT sipped power at just 285W total in our test rig -- the new Radeon RX 6800 XT in our system uses 395W total in comparison -- less than the 430W on the GeForce RTX 3080 Founders Edition.

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Temperatures are also great, with the Radeon RX 6800 XT running at 72C under 100% loads, cooler than the 79C on the GeForce RTX 3080 Founders Edition.

What's Hot, What's Not

What's Hot

  • AMD is back, they're f***ing back: It was a big claim to get double the performance of the original RDNA architecture and flagship Radeon RX 5700 XT -- but man, they did it. AMD is back, back again -- AMD's back -- tell a friend.
  • Great reference design: I've been a big fan of some of the reference design Radeon cards over the years, in particular the Radeon VII and Radeon RX Vega Frontier Edition AMD has really delivered on the style and design of the Radeon RX 6000 series cards -- they look mean, and are mean graphics cards.
  • Overclocking fun: I was hitting close to 2500MHz -- and even sometimes over it, on my Radeon RX 6800 XT sample. I've had so much fun with overclocking that I really want to cover it in its own article because there's lots of overclocking potential with these cards -- unlike NVIDIA's new GeForce RTX 3090 and RTX 3080.
  • Feels like ATi Radeon 9700 days: I am a very old school PC enthusiast, and the only time I've felt like this about a Radeon was back in the Radeon 9700 days -- back when they were ATi. AMD has had some interesting GPU architectures and cards over the post-ATi years, but nothing like RDNA 2.
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  • Great price point: AMD pricing the Radeon RX 6800 XT at $649 -- $50 cheaper than NVIDIA's GeForce RTX 3080 -- while offering the same, if not better performance (with OC and Rage Mode/SAM) and more VRAM with 16GB... it's actually damn impressive.
  • Smart Access Memory (SAM) technology: This is something that is just outstanding to see AMD release with a new card and CPU. I love this shit, I really do. I need to spend much more time with SAM, so expect another article in the coming days showing off some SAM performance with the Radeon RX 6800 XT + Ryzen 9 5900X combo.
  • HDMI 2.1: HDMI 2.1 on a new card is a necessity in 2020 and more so going into 2021 onward, with all new high-end TVs rocking HDMI 2.1 and then we'll see more and more gaming monitors released in 2021 with HDMI 2.1 connectivity.
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  • No mandatory water cooling on reference: Unlike Vega -- which launched with the Radeon RX 64 Liquid Cooled Edition for the highest performance from the Vega GPU -- and like when Fiji launched with the Radeon R9 Fury X. This time, AMD is back to the high-end and it runs just as cool -- sometimes cooler, than NVIDIA's competing cards.

What's Not

The Radeon RX 6900 XT isn't here yet: And when it comes, it'll be another step up on the Radeon RX 6800 XT -- something that I can't wait to test. AMD will be launching the flagship Radeon RX 6900 XT on December 8 for $999 -- offering equal, or better performance over NVIDIA's current flagship GeForce RTX 3090 which sells for $1499.

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But I think that's a good thing -- I think people need to read this review, or watch a YouTuber say the same thing: AMD is back, and NVIDIA isn't the king anymore. AMD has clawed its way not just to equal footing with NVIDIA, not only is it trading blows with NVIDIA, its knocking them to the ground and they're spitting teeth out.

Final Thoughts

AMD is back and they're back in a way I couldn't have imagined 5 years ago. Rewind back to 2015 and the company sung the praises of the Fiji GPU architecture and new HBM memory at the time. It was held back by the 4GB of HBM, its heat, power, and it was just not great.

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From a technical perspective, the Radeon R9 Fury X and Fiji GPU architecture and use of HBM memory for the first time ever, was awesome -- it really was. AMD has always been good at doing this, rewinding back into the ATi days -- but it never gained a foot hold at doing this over the last half decade.

The next big release post-Fiji was the Vega GPU architecture, with even more hype behind it from Radeon Technologies Group -- which in the meantime has shed pretty much every single RTG member in the last couple of years. Once again, it didn't impress and kinda flopped onto the market.

Yeah, it was a super-exciting new GPU with even faster HBM2 memory -- but it wasn't great. It was released in the middle of the crypto mining boom, and NVIDIA continued to gobble up GPU market share.

But then came RDNA, the first post-GCN architecture that materialized into the Radeon RX 5000 series -- and AMD was close to back in action. NVIDIA had a much more superior GeForce RTX 2080 Ti -- and now GeForce RTX 3080 and RTX 3090 -- but AMD now has RDNA 2.

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RDNA 2 has so much going on inside -- major advancements in raw rasterization performance, the exciting Infinity Cache, 16GB of framebuffer, RTX 3080 levels of performance, DXR-supported ray tracing and so much more. Hell, I didn't even mention SAM (Smart Access Memory) where you get even more performance with a Zen 3-based CPU.

Seriously, AMD has so much going on I can't fit it into this review and I have never been able to say that about any other Radeon graphics card ever. I'm getting some serious Radeon 9700 PRO vibes right now, and I'm really loving it... expect much more from me with the Radeon RX 6800 over the coming weeks and months.

For now -- AMD, you've done it -- the entire team from top to bottom deserves a gigantic standing ovation. This has been a hard road for you, trust me I know, but this is your moment. You've got Zen 3 + RDNA 2 + Xbox Series X/S and PlayStation 5 -- take it, and run with it.

Gamers -- if you were on the fence, for the first time I will now recommend buying a Radeon graphics card over a GeForce graphics card for the first time in probably over 10 years. If you are building a new PC, I urge you (no, I insist) you buy a new Ryzen 5000 series CPU and then look at getting the Radeon RX 6800 XT -- you will NOT regret it.

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But there's also the mix of an AMD Ryzen 5000 series CPU and NVIDIA GeForce RTX 3080 for a potent mix, if you want the GeForce Experience side of things, ray tracing and DLSS which are super important technologies -- at least in games that support them.

But remember the flagship Radeon RX 6900 XT is right around the corner, releasing on December 8 -- a $999 card that offers even more performance than the RX 6800 XT and I can't wait to see what AMD can squeeze out of RDNA 2 for another $350.

Wrapping up -- RDNA 2 is probably the most exciting GPU architecture of 2020. Ampere was great, but it didn't introduce so much new stuff and features as RDNA 2 -- it truly is a great leap. Can't wait to dive in and play around more -- if you want to go for an All Team Red gaming PC -- your time has come.

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The Bottom Line

AMD seems to be at Peak Radeon right now, with the Radeon RX 6800 XT a total home run. The new RDNA 2 architecture is stellar, overclocking is great, everything is great -- pair this with a Zen 3 CPU and you have the ultimate gaming PC.

TweakTown award
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AMD Ryzen 9 3900X 12-core, 24-thread unlocked desktop processor

TodayYesterday7 days ago30 days ago
$446.74$449.99$439.99
* Prices last scanned on 11/29/2020 at 8:47 am CST - prices may not be accurate, click links above for the latest price. We may earn an affiliate commission.

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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