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Radeon RX 6700 XT tested: 5 key things you need to know

The wait is over. Today, we can tell you what we think about AMD’s $480 Radeon RX 6700 XT graphics card, ahead of its March 18 launch date tomorrow. Our comprehensive Radeon RX 6700 XT review covers everything you need to know about the card, while our RDNA 2 deep dive explains the GPU architecture that powers it.

We know not everyone has the time (or the inclination) to parse thousands of words and dozens of performance graphs. Here are five key things you need to know about the Radeon RX 6700 XT, distilled from the long hours we’ve spent benchmarking the graphics card.

1. It offers great gaming performance

hzd Brad Chacos/IDG

The Radeon RX 6700 XT offers drool-worthy 1440p and high-refresh-rate 1080p performance in modern games, keeping pace with Nvidia’s rival GeForce RTX 3060 Ti across most of our suite. It can’t keep up with the $500 GeForce RTX 3070 in most scenarios, though. Expect to hit the golden 60-frames-per-second standard at 1440p in all but the most demanding titles, and often well above it.

2. Memory won’t be an issue

While Nvidia’s RTX 3060 Ti and 3070 each come with 8GB of onboard GDDR6 memory, AMD stuffed the Radeon RX 6700 XT with an ample 12GB of RAM, bolstered by the company’s innovative on-die Infinity Cache. Only a couple of games can exceed 8GB at 1440p resolution, and only if you crank the graphics knobs to 11. Memory demands have been increasing rapidly recently, however, and will likely continue to do so given the 16GB capacity now found in the Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5. The Radeon RX 6700 XT’s 12GB buffer gives you plenty of room for growth with future games.

3. Smart Access Memory is awesome

AMD debuted Smart Access Memory as a way to let modern Ryzen CPUs access the full memory buffer of Radeon RX 6000-series GPUs. If you have the hardware needed to run it, you’ll definitely want to turn on this feature to get some extra performance.

smart access memory Brad Chacos/IDG

Radeon RX 6700 XT performance with Smart Memory Access on and off.

Smart Access Memory’s frame rate boost varies from game to game, resolution to resolution, and even depending on what graphics settings you’re using, but overall it’s worth activating. We retested our entire games suite with SAM active: While a couple of games lost a frame or two, half of the titles saw some sort of uplift. Borderlands 3 leaping ahead an astonishing 16 percent at 1080p resolution. Smart Access Memory’s extra juice helps the Radeon RX 6700 XT scoot ahead of Nvidia’s RTX 3060 Ti (which doesn’t support the feature yet) and sometimes take on even the 3070.

4. Ray tracing isn’t

Don’t buy the RX 6700 XT if you’re hyped about real-time ray tracing.

rtx wdl 1440 Brad Chacos/IDG

The smaller “Navi 22” GPU inside the Radeon RX 6700 XT sports only 40 ray accelerators, and AMD doesn’t yet offer a smart performance-boosting feature like Nvidia’s DLSS to improve frame rates with the strenuous lighting effects active. You won’t be able to hit 60 fps even at 1080p resolution in many titles unless you dial back the quality of both specific ray tracing features and the general fidelity of the game itself. It’s a major bummer in a $480 graphics card that ostensibly targets 1440p gaming.

Nvidia holds a major advantage here. The RTX 3060 Ti and 3070 can both play ray-traced games at 1440p resolution with DLSS active, no problemo.

5. The price is painful

Finally, the price is too high—but it makes great business sense for AMD.

Most gaming rigs won’t have the hardware necessary to activate Smart Access Memory. Without SAM, the $480 Radeon RX 6700 XT mostly falls just behind the $400 RTX 3060 Ti in performance. Oof. On paper that stinks, but in today’s agonizing market most graphics cards are selling for twice their MSRP on resale sites, if they’re even made available. The RTX 3060 Ti is currently going for $800 or more on Ebay and Craigslist, for example. 

dsc01518 Brad Chacos/IDG

So yes, in a sane world we would’ve liked the Radeon RX 6700 XT to cost $100 less, but pricing it higher lets AMD get in on some of the action rather than leaving all the price-gouged profits to retailers and scalpers. You’ll likely pay much more than $480 on the streets if you aren’t able to snag a reference card stock drop on AMD.com.

You should avoid buying a graphics card right now if possible. I’d even recommend playing games on Nvidia’s PC-friendly GeForce Now streaming service over drastically overpaying for a GPU if you can. The Radeon RX 6700 XT is a great 1440p and 1080p gaming option if you’re bored sitting around your home and have a wad of stimulus cash burning a hole in your pocket, though.

That wraps things up. Be sure to check out our exhaustive Radeon RX 6700 XT review for a full breakdown of everything that matters (including an analysis of AMD’s pricing in today’s GPU market), or our guide to the best graphics cards if you want insight about even more hardware you probably shouldn’t buy right now.

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