AMD made a claim for the middle of the market with the 5600XT – but the launch did not go smoothly and Nvidia’s reaction with the RTX 2060 discount means there’s good options at the $300/£300 price point.
In this article we’ll discuss the RX 5600XT and compare it to the offering of the discounted RTX 2060. We’ll make some recommendations of GPU versions and highlight some pitfalls you’ll want to avoid when choosing between these cards.
AMD brings Navi to the midrange with the RX 5600 XT
AMD’s new 7nm ‘Navi’ architecture has already been put to good use in the RX5700XT, giving performance levels rivalling an RTX 2070 Super but $100 cheaper. The most recent use of this technology sees them tackle the crowded mid-range market with the RX 5600XT, a GPU with 6gb VRAM and a price originally aimed squarely at the Nvidia RTX 1660ti.
Now, there’s plenty that can be written about the RX 5600XT launch, NVIDIA’s reaction, and ultimately AMD’s reaction to that. It creates a perilous landscape for the consumer looking to get the most for their money, because a number of factors impact the ultimate performance you can expect from your particular RX 5600XT. It all hinges on memory bandwidth.
The RX 5600XT was intended for the high end 1080p market and specifically the GTX 1660 Ti – a $280 graphics card with 6Gb ram and strong performance. AMD’s product lead time is evident here because NVIDIA took two very predictable steps to protect their products: Firstly a mid cycle refresh saw the launch of the 1660 ‘super’ GPU at $230, offering within a hairs breadth of the Ti’s performance for $50 less. Secondly, just 2 weeks prior to the 5600XT launch Nvidia announced a global price cut to the RTX 2060 line. This second move in particular shifted the goalposts as AMD lined up to take the kick – the 5600XT suddenly had to bear comparison to the next GPU up Nvidia’s hierarchy.
How AMD made the 5600 XT slower than the RX 5700 – then tried to make it faster again in Firmware
If you compare the core specs of the RX 5600XT and 5700 the bulk of the GPU is very similar: It has the same 7nm fabrication process and uses the same 2nd Gen 7nm RDNA GPU core. It has the same number of Stream processors, Texture units and Render Output units. The 5600XT core specification is differentiated only with slightly lower core clocks – but crucially the VRAM is where AMD reigned in the performance (and cost) of the GPU. It uses 12Gb/s VRAM across a 192 bit Bus Vs the 14Gb/s 8Gb VRAM across a 256 bit bus found in the RX 5700 and 5700XT. This cuts the memory bandwidth from 448GB/s in the big brother cards to just 338GB/s in the 5600XT – a substantial difference.
So this is how the cards were specified to board partners and many initial GPU’s were shipped with 12Gb/s VRAM.
Things changed when AMD, in response to the news that they were now going toe to toe with the RTX 2060 and not the GTX 1660 Ti, decided to undo some of that product segmentation with a VBIOS update that lifted the memory speeds to 14Gb/s, and raised core clocks and power limits. In effect this is an aggressive factory overclock designed to lift performance – and it does, with a roughly 10% gaming performance boost or 500 point increase in 3D Mark Firestrike extreme, for example.
Hints of the issues this strategy would cause were evident in the review units sent to media outlets – Sapphire, AMD’s official board partner – provided the cards with no other board partner cards available for initial pre-embargo testing, and a last minute note for reviewers to apply the VBIOS update prior to testing.
But the problems don’t end with giving tech reviewers headaches. The Specification for other manufacturers RX 5600XT’s was 12Gb/s ram, and many manufacturers adhered to that specification only to be told that the cards would now be expected to run stably at 14Gb/s. That’s a pretty heroic overclock and many partner cards simply aren’t stable at that memory speed. MSI reported that of their initial 5600XT’s, just one in four ran stably with the updated VBIOS. Other GPU manufacturers had shipped boards already and no doubt some early adopting consumers as well as parts shop shelves will have 12Gb/s RX 5600XT’s with original VBIOS and lower performance.
So where does this leave us today?
The 5600XT is a difficult recommendation to make. It lacks the 8gb VRAM and overclocking headroom of the RX 5700 – where a VBIOS update may yield RX 5700XT rivalling performance. The AMD official VBIOS is technically an overclock and should approach the physical limits of the GPU, and that means that there’s less overhead for enthusiasts to eke out with their own tweaking. Provided you get a good card, and we’d recommend the Sapphire Pulse for a number of reasons, performance at 1080p will be excellent. You should see 90+ FPS in demanding AAA titles such as Shadow of the Tomb Raider, Metro Exodus or Battlefield V, with the most demanding games like Red Dead Redemption 2 hitting a stable 60 FPS at 1080p and high settings. Better optimised and E-sports titles will easily exceed a 144fps refresh rate, making good use of a fast gaming monitor.
The Radeon RX 5600XT then continues AMD’s trend of ‘quirky’ navi GPU’s – If you’re an enthusiast, play games that the GPU likes, are prepared to hunt for the right card and work again to ensure you’re using the best BIOS and drivers, then it provides good performance at the price. If you’re looking for a plug and play option, however it’s a harder card to recommend. Buyer needs to be very much aware of the nuances of this particular card, and prepared to live with them, before taking the plunge.
Best RX 5600XT Aftermarket Card– Sapphire RX 5600 XT Pulse
Sapphire have long been AMD’s premium board partner and their version of the 5600XT has a number of reasons to commend it. Primarily it has a dual bios, meaning that you can attempt VBIOS flashes and still have a back up option to recover the card should something go wrong. When AMD insist on releasing firmware after the hardware has shipped, that’s a valuable feature. They also ship with 14Gb/s VRAM meaning they are stable with the updated VBIOS. Sapphires proven cooler build quality ensures reasonable temperatures and sound levels under load. With numerous ‘gotcha’ options for this GPU, we heartily recommend the Sapphire Radeon RX5600XT as the card to get.
RTX 2060 – Nvidia’s price drop and a ‘Knock Out’ edition GPU
Meanwhile, the RTX 2060 took a price drop to bring it into competition with the 5600XT, so it’s worthwhile reviewing the value on offer here. The RTX 2060 was always a hard sell at around $350. The RTX features really don’t make sense when they give such a severe performance hit on the less powerful Turing based GPU’s. However the 2060 has always been a powerful performer in simple raster rendering and includes the Turing ‘NVENC’ encoder to provide a video stream without impacting the CPU’s performance. Again, aimed at 1080p it excels at this resolution, offering 100+ FPS in AAA titles such as The Witcher 3, Shadow of the Tomb Raider. It’ll even exceed 60FPs in Battlefield V with Ray tracing enabled, allowing you to sample the technology at playable framerates. In short, at $300 it has comparable performance to the RX 5600XT, but bundles in Ray tracing and a hardware stream encoder, as well as a more stable and predictable driver environment than AMD offerings.
Best RTX 2060 Aftermarket Card – The EVGA RTX 2060 ‘KO’
EVGA added a little spice to the announcement of the RTX 2060 Price drop, by breaking embargo before NVIDIA was ready in announcing their new ‘KO’ version of the RTX 2060. Priced keenly at $299 this GPU had one little quirk up its sleeve that it took in depth reviews to uncover: At its heart the 2060 KO uses the Turing TU104 GPU Core instead of the TU106 that forms the foundation of most RTX 2060’s. This was originally aimed at RTX 2080 class GPU’s, but NVIDIA cuts down the die to 30 instead of 48 Streaming processor units. They clearly didn’t completely shut down the GPU’s performance though, because whilst they game exactly like any other RTX 2060, in certain compute and acceleration tasks they perform much more in line with the now end-of-life RTX 2080. This small quirk is unlikely to matter or even be noticed by the vast number of causal users, but if you dabble in video editing or rendering you may just grab a performance bargain by opting for the EVGA 2060 KO.
EVGA have also updated the cooler design from their questionable choice of single fan 3 slot coolers for their first generation RTX 2060. It now spots a twin fan dual slot design including a metal backplate, and is backed with EVGAs 3 year warranty and strong customer support reputation. That’s why it gets the Premium Builds RTX 2060 Recommendation.