Look, I’ll level with you: reviewing a GPU amidst a global chip shortage is ludicrous enough to count as dark comedy. Your ability to buy new, higher-end GPUs from either Nvidia or AMD has been hamstrung for months—a fact borne out by their very low ranks on Steam’s gaming PC stats gathered around the world.
As of press time, AMD’s latest “Big Navi” GPUs barely make a ripple in Steam’s list. That’s arguably a matter of timing, with their November 2020 launch coming two months after Nvidia began shipping its own 3000-series GPUs. But how much is that compounded by low supplies and shopping bots? AMD isn’t saying, and on the eve of the Radeon RX 6700’s launch, the first in its “Little Navi” line, the company’s assurances aren’t entirely comforting.
In an online press conference ahead of the launch, AMD Product Manager Greg Boots offered the usual platitudes: “a ton of demand out there,” “we’re doing everything we can,” that sort of thing. He mentioned a couple of AMD’s steps that may help this time around. For one, AMD’s “reference” GPU model is launching simultaneously with partner cards, so if the inventory is actually out there (we certainly don’t know), that at least puts higher numbers of GPUs in the day-one pool. Also, Boots emphasized stock being made available specifically for brick-and-mortar retailers—though he didn’t offer a ratio of how many GPUs are going to those shops, compared to online retailers.
But then he offered an assurance that sent my eyebrow to the ceiling: “We’re working with retailers to prevent bots, like we did with the 6800.”
I’m sorry, what?!
I asked again, pointing to ample evidence that the 6800 and 6800XT’s combined launch was an online-retail disaster, and Boots said he “couldn’t get into too many details on what exactly we’re doing.” Minutes later, one of his associates admitted otherwise: a memo AMD had sent to online retailers had leaked on Reddit. I was unable to find the memo in question, but it appeared to include advisory statements about purchases per account and other standard anti-bot practices, as opposed to any high-end trade secrets.
Moments later, Boots seemed to admit defeat: “At the end of the day, [retail partners] are either going to make use of that or not. That’s up to them.”
None of this makes AMD particularly special as a GPU manufacturer, mind you. Nvidia hasn’t been a glowing steward of bot prevention or GPU supply control, either, and rapid-fire sellouts of its most recent GPU launch, February’s RTX 3060, proved that out. In either manufacturer’s case, we’re going to have to play this broken record of “can you actually buy it?!” madness before every review until things change.
In particular, the typical “bang for the buck” conversation is currently moot. MSRP, or “manufacturer’s suggested retail price,” doesn’t mean diddly in an eBay wasteland; your least favorite five-star retailer couldn’t give two hoots about what AMD or Nvidia suggest, so long as desperate gamers and ethereum miners put the supply-and-demand curve in scalpers’ favor.
Make sure to leave milk and CUDA cores
Despite these market realities, MSRP at least gives us a sense of each GPU’s intended range, and the $449 RX 6700XT lands closest to Nvidia’s RTX 3060 Ti, “priced” at $399. If you’d like to read this review in a classic Sears catalog way, dreaming that St. GPU Nicholas might one day fill your stocking with teraflops, this head-to-head showdown makes the most sense as a story of Team Red vs. Team Green—both focusing on high-end 1440p performance with these products, not 4K.
AMD would probably prefer that we compare the 6700XT to Nvidia’s more recent $329 offering, the RTX 3060, and if those are the only two cards in stock, and we’re not measuring store prices, the conversation tilts further in AMD’s favor. As I reported last month, the RTX 3060 and 2019’s RTX 2060 Super are neck and neck performance-wise, and you’re more likely to have an RTX 2060 Super to compare this to, so I’ve put it in my benchmarks. My charts also include 2016’s GTX 1070 as a “baseline” card and last year’s AMD RX 6800. I’m using the latter to help you potentially measure the curve of what a hypothetical RX 6700 (non “XT”) could look like in terms of stepping down from one model to the next.
All of this article’s benchmarks were conducted on my standard Ars testing rig, which sports an i7-8700K CPU (overclocked to 4.6GHz), 32GB DDR4-3000 RAM, and a mix of a PCI-e 3.0 NVMe drive and standard SSDs.
Generally, tests of gaming software at 4K resolutions do the best job of demonstrating a GPU’s full potential for your system, even if you’re not planning to play games at 4K resolutions. Setting a game’s resolution to 4K does a better job of taking a CPU’s impact on a game out of the equation for these measurements, at which point you should check percentage differences between my tests and guess accordingly. The same goes for the overkill I slap onto each benchmark’s settings, which I usually set to either the highest possible or next-highest setting—and in your actual gameplay, it’s generally better to turning off certain expensive effects, which will result in higher frame rates than seen here (often with negligible hits to how your favorite games look in action).
Still, AMD has recently insisted that its GPUs are tuned to crank at 1440p resolution, so I’ve taken the company’s reps at their word and included 1440p tests for every benchmark above (albeit with overkill graphics settings). Sure enough, that sales pitch checks out to some extent, especially when comparing the 6700XT directly to the 3060 Ti.