The first of AMD’s RDNA2 line of cards, the Radeon RX 6800 and RX 6800 XT have just been released. Now, for the first time in a while, AMD has graphics cards that are competitive with the competition from Nvidia
AMD’s newfound resurgence in the graphics card segment does raise an interesting dilemma for those looking to upgrade, especially with Nvidia’s supply issues (and the hardware issues with early cards from add-in board manufacturers). Do you stick to reliable old Nvidia, or do you finally jump ship to AMD? Hopefully, this small guide we’ve put together can help you with that decision.
The RX 6800 and RX 6800 XT win in raw power and efficiency
When the cards were first revealed, AMD dropped a number of charts showing that their new cards just about beat their Nvidia counterparts. Based on the many reviews and performance tests that have come out from third-party sites, AMD wasn’t lying.
In terms of raw rendering, especially at lower resolutions (such as 1080p), the RX 6800 and RX 6800XT match and even surpass their Nvidia counterparts – the RTX 3070 and RTX 3080 – in performance.
On top of that, they’re more power-efficient as well. AMD claimed that both cards drew less power than their Nvidia counterparts, and so far that seems to be the case with both cards drawing 20 watts less.
Nvidia’s RTX 30 still has the lead in a few key areas
RDNA2 is AMD’s first line of cards to feature ray tracing and it shows. Both cards are outperformed by the RTX 3070 and RTX 3080 when the feature is turned on.
This is most likely because AMD’s cards don’t actually feature any dedicated ray tracing cores, unlike those from Nvidia. Instead, they rely heavily on DirectX 12’s ray tracing implementation, with ray tracing itself built into each cards compute units.
In addition, AMD’s cards will not support ray tracing in games that use proprietary Nvidia ray tracing extensions, such as Quake RTX and Wolfenstein Youngblood. That isn’t to say that AMD won’t be getting games that only support ray tracing on its cards. Currently, Counterplay Game’s Godfall currently received an update that enables ray tracing solely on AMD’s cards, though RTX support is supposedly coming sometime down the line.
Perhaps the bigger factor that pushes things in Nvidia’s favor is DLSS. Short for Deep Learning Super Sampling, DLSS allows Nvidia’s RTX 30 series cards to render a scene at half the resolution, then use machine learning to upscale it to a higher resolution. This allows Nvidia’s cards to run much faster when running (with ray tracing on) at higher resolutions – since they’re actually only rendering at a lower resolution, just using AI to upscale it.
AMD does have its own, deep learning-based, super-sampling solution, called “Super Resolution.” This feature, however, has not yet been released, likely in time for the RX 6900XT’s December release (or so we hope).
One of RDNA2’s best features works only with Ryzen 5000
While Nvidia still leads in a few key areas, AMD does have some features that help its cards stand out. The new RDNA2 cards come with what AMD is calling “Smart Access Memory.”
Traditionally, a computer’s CPU can only small, 356 MB chunks of a video card’s memory at a time. With Smart Access Memory, however, CPUs will be able to access all of an RDNA 2 card’s memory, that is if it’s a Ryzen 5000 series CPU.
Now Ryzen 5000 is currently considered to be the new gold standard for gaming CPUs, taking the crown formerly held by Intel. That said, this means that gamers simply upgrading their existing PCs, and not building a new one, may not be able to take advantage of this feature (unless they’re already on an AMD CPU and decide to upgrade to Ryzen 5000 as well).
All this might not matter if you can’t get either Nvidia or AMD’s cards anyway
As mentioned earlier, the big issue that continues to plague Nvidia’s RTX 30 cards is one of supply. The cards remain sold out in many places, leaving gamers unable to get them.
Well, it turns out that AMD may be facing the same issue as well. Both the RX 6800 and RX 6800 XT are listed as sold out on both AMD’s online store as well as other retailers’ stores.
The situation has caused some to call the launch of AMD’s new cards a “paper launch.”
Frank Azor, AMD’s Chief Architect of Gaming Solutions and Marketing, however, has rejected the paper launch accusations.
“Paper launch has always meant to me no supply. We are producing chips and cards in volume,” Azor said on Twitter. “The demand for gaming devices has grown exponentially this year & beyond anyone’s best forecasts.”
“We want nothing more than to put more cards in the hands of gamers. Working to do so,” he added.
Maybe it would be better to just wait
With both companies experiencing supply issues for their cards, perhaps the real answer here is to just wait a bit longer. In addition to having to solve their supply issues, both companies still have things in the works for their video cards.
As mentioned before, AMD is still working on rolling out its “Super Resolution” smart upscaling features. In addition, it also has yet another card in the works, the RX 6900 XT which looks to match Nvidia’s RX 3090 while massively undercutting the latter.
Nvidia, on the other hand, rumored to be working on more versions of its RTX 30 cards, with recent leaks pointing to an entry-level “RTX 3060 Ti.” (Read: Nvidia could launch its RTX 3060 Ti in late October)
At the same time, it’s hard to believe that AMD isn’t working on its own, RDNA2-based, entry-level cards.
With this in mind, waiting a bit longer for both companies to fix their issues and reveal more products could be the best choice moving forward.