I was impressed with AMD’s answer to Nvidia’s RTX 3080 two years ago, but can team red manage to beat Nvidia’s RTX 4080 two years later? Well, the answer is yes, absolutely yes, and for $200 less.
The Radeon RX 7900 XT ($899) and XTX ($999) cards are designed to deliver next-gen gaming performance at under $1,000, and at the top end (XTX), AMD manages to comfortably beat Nvidia’s latest RTX 4080 ($1,199) card in a variety of games at 4K.
If I were in the market for a $1,000 GPU right now, I’d have to seriously think twice about spending the extra $200 on an RTX 4080 for the superior ray-tracing performance. AMD truly delivers on native 4K gaming, even if ray tracing and super sampling performance are a big letdown again.
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All of the performance improvements inside the new Radeon RX 7900 XT / XTX cards are down to AMD’s latest RDNA 3 architecture and chiplet technology. These are the world’s first chiplet gaming GPUs, with AMD using the same multiple dies connected with a speedy interconnect technology it uses in its Ryzen and EPYC CPUs.
Effectively, AMD splits up these new Radeon GPUs with a 5nm process on the graphics compute die and a 6nm process on the GDDR6 memory side. Then a 5.3TB/s interconnect lets both sides talk to each other. The end result is a more efficient GPU that delivers improved performance without hitting your energy bills. It’s similar to what Apple does with its M1 Ultra that combines two M1 Max chips.
The total board power starts at 355 watts for the Radeon RX 7900 XTX, up 20 watts from the Radeon RX 6950 XT. AMD is recommending an 800-watt power supply this time around, slightly down from the 850-watt recommendation for the 6950 XT. On the $899 Radeon RX 7900 XT, the total board power starts at 315 watts and the recommended power supply is 750 watts. AMD bumped the power draw from 300 watts to 315 watts on the RX 7900 XT just ahead of launch because it found that small increase resulted in additional performance.
Both the Radeon RX 7900 XT and XTX look very similar on the outside, with a triple fan layout all in a 2.5-slot casing. While Nvidia proudly stamps its RTX model numbers front and center, AMD leaves that for a small bit of text on the connector plate at the end of the cards. Both feature two DisplayPort 2.1 outputs, a single HDMI 2.1 output, and a USB Type-C display output.
While Nvidia has opted for the latest 12VHPWR power connector that has melted in some cases, AMD is still using the tried-and-true eight-pin connectors. There are two on the side so you won’t have to worry about clunky adapters or even the general length of RX 7900 XT / XTX cards. The XTX is slightly longer than the XT, but as long as third-party manufacturers don’t go too far, I’d expect these cards will comfortably fit inside most cases.
The addition of DisplayPort 2.1 on AMD’s latest GPUs means you’ll be able to use a compatible DisplayPort 2.1 monitor (due early 2023) to get high frame rates at 4K (up to 480Hz) with HDR enabled. Nvidia didn’t move to DisplayPort 2.1 with its RTX 40-series cards, but it’s great to see AMD embracing this latest technology, even if you’re probably not going to see many DisplayPort 2.1 monitors on the market for a while yet. It’s also unlikely that these cards will hit the types of frame rates to really take advantage of DisplayPort 2.1 without dialing the visual quality down in games.
The last hardware aspect on AMD’s new RDNA GPUs is memory. AMD is shipping 24GB of GDDR6 on the Radeon RX 7900 XTX, which we’ve typically only seen on the most high-end of Nvidia’s cards, like the RTX 3090 ($1,499) and RTX 4090 ($1,599). Even the 7900 XT comes with 20GB, which are both improvements on the 16GB found on the RTX 4080.
For 1440p testing, I paired both the Radeon 7900 XT and XTX with Intel’s latest Core i9-13900K processor pushing a 32-inch Samsung Odyssey G7 monitor. This monitor supports refresh rates up to 240Hz. My testing routine included a variety of AAA games, such as Forza Horizon 5, Assassin’s Creed Valhalla, and Cyberpunk 2077.
All games were tested at max or ultra settings on all of the GPUs compared, and most games apart from Microsoft Flight Simulator managed to deliver frame rates well in excess of 100fps on the Radeon RX 7900 XTX.
On pure rasterization performance, the Radeon RX 7900 XTX comfortably outpaces the RTX 4080 in most games. It loses out on Shadow of the Tomb Raider but then delivers some solid gains in Cyberpunk 2077, Assassin’s Creed Valhalla, and Watch Dogs: Legion. Where it really falls down is ray tracing and competing with Nvidia’s DLSS.
There simply aren’t enough games with support for AMD’s FidelityFX Super Resolution (FSR) upscaling technique. Only three of the games I tested have FSR support, and while it delivered gains in Microsoft Flight Simulator, titles like Metro Exodus, Control, and Watch Dogs: Legion suffer without it.
While the Radeon RX 7900 XT manages to beat the RTX 4080 in native Control, as soon as you turn on ray tracing, it lags behind even without leveraging Nvidia’s DLSS advantage. That’s really what you’re paying an extra $200 for with Nvidia: better ray tracing and DLSS in a lot more games.
DLSS 3 isn’t available in many games yet, but in Cyberpunk 2077, it pushes the performance way beyond anything AMD can deliver. Even with FSR 2.1 enabled, Nvidia still delivers superior ray-tracing performance. It’s disappointing that, two years later, AMD still lags far behind Nvidia for ray tracing, even if it has delivered some impressive performance gains over the Radeon RX 6800 XT.
AMD’s results on the 4K side are very similar. For testing at this resolution, I paired both the Radeon RX 7900 XT and XTX with a 31.5-inch Acer Nitro XV2 monitor. This monitor supports refresh rates up to 144Hz, but neither card came close to delivering performance to take advantage of the highest refresh rates.
At 4K, you’re really going to want to spend the extra $100 on the Radeon RX 7900 XTX. It comfortably outperforms the $899 Radeon RX 7900 XT, and for some demanding ray-tracing games, it still maintains 60fps instead of dipping below.
Once again, the Radeon RX 7900 XTX is the star of the show against the RTX 4080. While it loses out on Microsoft Flight Simulator this time, it matches on Gears 5 and Forza Horizon 5, all while delivering some impressive performance gains in Assassin’s Creed Valhalla, Watch Dogs: Legion, and Cyberpunk 2077.
Much like the 1440p tests, AMD once again loses out to Nvidia on ray tracing and upscaling. Cyberpunk 2077 is a strong test of 4K performance in modern graphics cards, and while the Radeon RX 7900 XTX convincingly beats the RTX 4080 at ultra settings, as soon as you enable ray tracing and upscaling, those performance gains are erased and make Cyberpunk 2077 feel less playable at less than 40fps.
Nvidia manages to deliver 82fps for Cyberpunk 2077 at ultra settings with ray tracing and DLSS 3, which is double what AMD delivers with the Radeon RX 7900 XTX. It’s really night and day when it comes to ray-tracing performance here between Nvidia and AMD.
On the software side, I’m continually impressed with AMD’s improvements. There’s a little pop-up when you start a game that tells you which AMD features are supported and whether you’ve enabled them, and the overlay lets you quickly dig into settings to control and even overclock these GPUs with ease. Conversely, Nvidia still splits up its settings between a control panel and a GeForce experience app, and I’d like to see it follow AMD and modernize settings into a single easy-to-use location.
When it comes to thermals and noise, AMD has added a special thermistor on the Radeon RX 7900 XTX that measures the ambient temperature inside a case. This will dynamically adjust performance based on thermals and airflow, and AMD says it will eventually expose this sensor to DIY builders so they can optimize fan placement and an overall case build.
Much like Nvidia, AMD’s latest cards run a little hot. AMD says the Radeon RX 7900 XTX can run at up to 110 degrees Celsius junction temperature during a typical gaming session, and I measured temperatures hitting nearly 100 degrees during demanding games. With that comes some noise, too. The fans were noticeable on the 7900 XTX, and while the 7900 XT was slightly quieter, both produced some coil whine in high frame rate games like Counter-Strike: Global Offensive. Nvidia’s cooling solution is superior here, but then you pay the price in the pure size of the RTX 4080.
AMD’s Radeon RX 7900 XTX is clearly the card to buy if you’re looking at GPUs around $1,000. The $899 RX 7900 XT doesn’t come as close to the RTX 4080, but if you want to save the extra $100, then it’s certainly an option.
AMD delivers some impressive performance per dollar, and it’s only really let down by the ray-tracing and upscaling performance. If you don’t care about ray tracing and you want pure rasterization performance, then the Radeon RX 7900 XTX will likely deliver. It excels in modern games, and for $200 less than the RTX 4080, it really puts the pressure on Nvidia’s pricing for this latest generation of GPUs.
Photography by Tom Warren / The Verge