It’s an odd time to be in the graphics card market. After nearly two years of chip shortage and GPU scarcity, inventory is finally starting to return and it’s starting to be possible to find cards at or near MSRP. That said, we’re also nearing the end of the current GPU generation’s life cycle, as Nvidia is expected to unveil its RTX 4000-series cards sometime later this year, and the same is likely true for AMD and the RX 7000-series.
In the meantime, we do have a few new models from the current generation hitting the market: last month it was Nvidia’s colossal RTX 3090 Ti, which brought top-notch power with an equally massive price tag attached; Today I’m looking at team red’s top-end answer, the AMD Radeon RX 6950 XT, which along with the RX 6750 XT and 6650 XT serve as the (likely) final refresh in AMD’s current-gen GPU cycle, and it’s an impressive showing in all ways but one.
MSI RX 6950 XT Gaming X Trio – Photos
AMD Radeon RX 6950 XT – Design and Features
The RX 6950 XT is built on AMD’s Navi 21 GPU, with 80 RDNA 2 compute units. The version we were sent for review is MSI’s Gaming X Trio variant, which measures 325 x 140 x 55mm and features MSI’s Tri Frozr 2 thermal design. This makes it a large card, but not quite as enormous as the triple-slot behemoth scale of the RTX 3090 and 3090 Ti. MSI includes a GPU brace in the box to help prevent the card from sagging under its own weight, but it didn’t feel nearly as necessary with the 6950 XT as with the 3090 Ti.
The RX 6950 XT offers three DisplayPort 1.4a outputs as well as a single HDMI 2.1 that supports 4K at 120Hz, 8K at 60Hz, and variable refresh rate. Base and boost clocks sit at 2100/2300MHz. It has 16GB of GDDR6 memory and an effective memory bandwidth of 1728.2 GB/s. It’s powered by three 8-pin power connectors, with a maximum power consumption of 340W, a slight increase from the reference board’s 335W.
The fans have a nice metallic look to them, giving the card an elegant, streamlined feel. Other MSI touches include an RGB light bar that can be controlled via the MSI’s Mystic Light software.
AMD Radeon RX 6950 XT – Performance and Gaming
Despite being AMD’s “halo” card, the RX 6950 XT feels more like a direct competitor to the RTX 3080 Ti, which sits at the top of Nvidia’s “not absurd” product stack. With a starting price of $1,099 it’s also cheaper than the 3080 Ti ($1,199), again making that card the most accurate point of comparison instead of pitting it against Nvidia’s $2,000 monster, the RTX 3090 Ti.
Starting with the synthetic benchmarks, the RX 6950 XT comes out of the gate swinging, beating the RTX 3090 Ti by a healthy margin in 3DMark Fire Strike Ultra and basically matching it in Unigine Heaven. This is an impressive showing considering AMD’s card costs half as much as Nvidia’s behemoth.
Moving on to the ray tracing synthetics, however, Nvidia retakes the crown as AMD’s hardware simply isn’t equipped to handle the job. The 6950 XT falls behind even lower-powered cards like the RTX 3080 – and by a large margin, too. As you’ll see in a moment, this holds true in our gaming tests as well. Put simply, if you care about ray tracing, Nvidia is still the way to go.
MSI RX 6950 XT Gaming X Trio – Gaming Benchmarks
In our gaming benchmarks, the RX 6950 XT proved quite impressive as long as ray tracing remains off. You’ll see its effects most clearly in the Metro Exodus numbers, where it also lacks the boost from Nvidia’s DLSS. But in our other gaming tests, it trades blows with all of Nvidia’s upper-echelon cards, depending on the game and resolution.
Aside from Metro, where Nvidia holds the advantage for obvious reasons, Gears Tactics in 4K is where the 6950 XT fares worst, relatively speaking, with a score of 76 fps compared to 91 and 88 fps for the RTX 3090 Ti and 3080 Ti, respectively. Total War: Three Kingdoms was a similar story, with the 6950 XT scoring 50 fps in the 4K battle benchmark, compared to 59 and 51 for the RTX 3090 Ti and 3080 Ti. In Borderlands 3, on the other hand, the 6950 XT still loses out to the 3090 Ti, but beats all of Nvidia’s other cards by a margin of at least 5%.
1440p, on the other hand, is where the RX 6950 XT shines. In those same two games, the AMD card sits fairly evenly between Nvidia’s two best. It can’t quite match the RTX 3090 Ti – but again, that card is roughly twice as expensive. The 3080 Ti, on the other hand, is bested by a decent margin despite it being the pricier card.