While the AMD Radeon RX 6500 XT does deliver on what it’s looking to do, namely 1080p gaming at medium-high settings, it fails to improve performance over its last-generation counterpart, which makes this graphics card feel more like a stagnation than an actual new product.
Solid 1080p gaming performance
Low power requirements
Doesn’t get hot
Expensive for what it is
Doesn’t improve over last generation
Ray tracing is a waste of time
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The AMD Radeon RX 6500 XT really couldn’t have arrived soon enough. This current generation of graphics cards, led by the AMD Radeon RX 6800 XT and Nvidia GeForce RTX 3080 has, through no fault of AMD or Nvidia, been one of the most expensive times to get into PC gaming. Luckily, this graphics card should at least partially solve the problem – at least until stock runs out.
However, with the level of performance on offer with the 6500 XT, it’s not hard to jump to the conclusion that it would be even cheaper in a time when graphics cards aren’t having their value inflated due to the global silicon shortage. Because at the end of the day, while it is 65% less expensive than the AMD Radeon RX 6600, there are plenty of titles where the next-tier-up graphics card will nearly double the AMD Radeon RX 6500 XT in performance.
Don’t take that to mean that this graphics card is a complete waste, though. It’s still an affordable card that has no problem delivering solid performance in most PC games - especially if you’re fine keeping the graphics settings at ‘High’ rather than cranking every setting up all the way.
And, it’s not like Nvidia has released anything that is anywhere near as affordable yet – at least until the Nvidia GeForce RTX 3050 hits the market after its CES 2022 announcement.
Price and availability
The AMD Radeon RX 6500 XT will be available on store shelves today starting at $199 (about £150, AU$270), with third-party versions of the graphics card obviously going up from there. AMD has assured us there will be plenty of cards available at this MSRP, but only time will tell, as retailers will be free to raise prices depending on the demand – as we’ve seen with other graphics cards this generation.
Because AMD isn’t releasing its own reference design of this GPU, like with its more high-end RDNA 2 graphics cards, we’re not sure which version of the graphics card will be available at the $199 base price. So, it’s probably best to shop around a little bit – with what little time you have before the stock is gone.
Because prices can go up drastically these days, our advice would be to get a version of a card that’s as close to the $199 MSRP as possible, mainly because of the vast difference in performance against the Radeon RX 6600.
And, if you see a Radeon RX 6600 that’s close in price to the version of the 6500 XT you’re looking at, you should just spend a little extra and go for the Radeon RX 6600 instead. In normal times, this wouldn’t be the case, but with pricing the way it’s been the last couple of years, anything goes right now.
Features and chipset
While the AMD Radeon RX 6500 XT is much less powerful than the RX 6600, it’s still based on the RDNA 2 architecture, and brings all of AMD’s next-generation features to the budget graphics card segment. Features like ray tracing and Smart Access Memory are here, although this GPU really isn’t that great at handling the former.
The Radeon RX 6500 XT has 16 RDNA 2 Compute Units, which makes for 1,024 Stream Processors (SPs) and 16 ray accelerators. The closest card in AMD’s current lineup would be the Radeon RX 6600, which has 28 Compute Units, or 1,792 SPs. That’s a pretty substantial step down here, and combined with the lower memory bandwidth means that the RX 6500 XT is a much weaker card.
That memory bandwidth is around 231 GB/s when the VRAM is combined with the 16MB of Infinity Cache. That’s similar to what you would find in the RX 570, although the GCN card relied entirely on the speed of the memory and the interface – and the Radeon RX 6500 XT can’t really compete there. The new GPU is equipped with just 4GB of GDDR6 VRAM on a 64-bit bus, which is both a low capacity and speed for a graphics card releasing in 2022.
The RDNA 2 Infinity Cache doubtlessly picks up a bit of the slack here, but it’s not enough to keep this card ahead of even its predecessor in most cases – more on that later.
What’s also going to help this card stay competitive is that it has access to all the software features that the rest of the AMD RDNA 2 lineup has. FidelityFX Super Resolution (FSR) is the big one here, and is going to be key for this graphics card to deliver solid performance in the most demanding games. FSR is essentially a temporal upscaling algorithm that developers can work into games to give you more performance by lowering the rendering resolution, then using an algorithm to scale it back to your native resolution without much impact to image quality.
It’s a very solid solution, and gives the Radeon RX 6500 XT a chance to actually turn ray tracing on in games like Far Cry 6, where usually the lack of pure processing power would make it a slide show.
AMD is also working on a driver-wide solution as well, called Radeon Super Resolution, or RSR. This will be a setting you can just enable system-wide and will allow you to upscale any game from a lower resolution. However, this is not available quite yet, so we aren’t able to test it.
The silver lining to the Radeon RX 6500 XT not being very powerful, though, is that it doesn’t really take much power to run. In our testing, the graphics card maxed out around 80W, which is about 50% less power than the Radeon RX 5500 XT took to run. Performance between these two cards is comparable, but this means that you can get the Radeon RX 6500 XT running in very low-power PCs, which should make it a hit with folks that just want to toss a graphics card in their non-gaming desktop PCs.
This also means less of a demand for cooling, and you should find plenty of Radeon RX 6500 XT GPUs that are low-profile, so they’ll fit in very small PC cases.
Because the AMD Radeon RX 6500 XT is such a low-power card, you likely won’t find many versions of the GPU that are much bigger than 5- or 6-inches long, and they likely won’t have much in the way of fancy cooling.
The Gigabyte Radeon RX 6500 XT Eagle 4G we got in for review is around 5.5-inches long, and only has one 6-pin PCIe power connector, making it an easy choice for anyone with a small case that needs some decent graphics horsepower.
But while the graphics card is short, it’s still more than sufficient at keeping temperatures low. In our testing, we only peak at around 62C, which leaves plenty of thermal headroom before it will ever start to thermal throttle.
As for ports, there are only two: one HDMI and one DisplayPort. It’s kind of disappointing that this graphics card doesn’t get the same amount of ports as the RX 6600, but it kind of makes sense. After all, this GPU doesn’t really have the power to run a ton of displays anyway.
This is the system we used to test the AMD Radeon RX 6500 XT
CPU: Intel Core i9-12900K (16-core, up to 5.2GHz)
CPU Cooler: Corsair H150i Elite Capellix
RAM: 32GB Corsair Dominator Platinum @ 5,200MHz
Motherboard: MSI MPG Z690 Carbon Wifi
SSD: ADATA XPG SX8200 Pro @ 1TB
Power Supply: Corsair AX1000
Case: Praxis Wetbench
The AMD Radeon RX 6500 XT is intended purely for 1080p gaming, and not exactly high-end gaming at that resolution. This is a graphics card that will be able to play pretty much any game that’s out there, but you’re likely going to have to tweak with settings a bit to hit the coveted 60 fps sweet spot in the most demanding titles.
Games like Metro Exodus and Cyberpunk 2077 are the big examples here, and you’re probably going to end up closer to the Medium preset than the Ultra preset in games like that. This is reflected in our testing, as well.
For this graphics card, we ran through our test suite sticking to High presets rather than max, to more realistically portray what this graphics card is actually trying to do. And in most games at these settings, the Radeon RX 6500 XT does admirably, and even surpasses the 60 fps mark in Forza Horizon 5 and Far Cry 6 – although with FSR set to Balanced.
The card struggles a bit with Metro Exodus, though, only managing 51 fps with ray tracing disabled. And, while this is a ray tracing-capable GPU, turning on ray tracing in Metro Exodus shows why you might want to think twice – it gets just 18 fps with quality settings on high, with ray tracing also on high. That’s also reflected in the 3DMark Port Royal benchmark. The Radeon RX 6500 XT gets a measly 500 points, while the next GPU in the stack, the Radeon RX 6600, gets 3,866 – a 7x performance increase.
So while this is technically a ray tracing graphics card, we don’t advise ever really turning it on – at least beyond seeing what it looks like before disabling it so you can actually play the game.
One of the most curious things about this graphics card, though, is how it compares to its last-generation counterpart, the AMD Radeon RX 5500 XT. Priced at the same $199 price point, the 8GB RX 5500 XT either matches or even beats the Radeon RX 6500 XT in most games. Ray tracing titles are obviously the exception, as the RDNA graphics card doesn’t have Ray Accelerators.
But it also means that there’s no real reason to go for the Radeon RX 6500 XT instead of the RX 5500 XT – at least until the 5500 XT is completely discontinued. But with the hardware shortage being what it is, it might be more prudent to just find a second-hand Radeon RX 5500 XT instead of the RX 6500 XT, especially if you can find a decent price on it – because you’re really not going to lose much in the way of performance.
Buy it if…
You want 1080p esports gaming
The AMD Radeon RX 6500 XT is primarily meant for folks looking to play lightweight games at 1080p, rather than the latest AAA hits at 4K. If that’s what you’re looking for, the Radeon RX 6500 XT will do a fine job.
You have a small PC case
Because of the low power and cooling requirements for the AMD Radeon RX 6500 XT, there should be plenty of aftermarket card designs that will fit even the smallest PC cases.
You’re really struggling to run games
The AMD Radeon RX 6500 XT doesn’t really introduce any better performance in its price tier, but if your graphics card is on its last leg, and you only have a couple hundred bucks or quid lying around, you can’t really go wrong with this GPU.
Don’t buy it if…
You have a relatively recent graphics card
If you have a graphics card like the Nvidia GeForce GTX 1060, GTX 1660, AMD Radeon RX 580 or similar, the AMD Radeon RX 6500 XT really isn’t going to be that big of an upgrade.
You actually want to enable ray tracing
While the AMD Radeon RX 6500 XT can do ray tracing, it’s not really going to be able to do it without severely impacting performance. There will be games like Far Cry 6 where it’s acceptable, but that’ll be through the use of software solutions like FSR.
You want to play the latest AAA games with all the eye candy
While this graphics card should be able to play most games, you’re going to have to compromise on visual quality settings in most of the biggest games. If you’re looking to play Elden Ring with every setting cranked when it comes out, you might want to save up a bit longer.
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Jackie Thomas is the Hardware and Buying Guides Editor at IGN. Previously, she was TechRadar's US computing editor. She is fat, queer and extremely online. Computers are the devil, but she just happens to be a satanist. If you need to know anything about computing components, PC gaming or the best laptop on the market, don't be afraid to drop her a line on Twitter or through email.