1080p Rasterized Gaming Is Not an Acceptable Target for a $379 GPU
According to AMD, the newly launched Radeon RX 6600 XT is a 1080p rasterized gaming card. To its credit, the company is very explicit about this. The company’s press releases and public statements mention rasterization in particular and make little mention of ray tracing. Our Radeon RX 6600 XT review and deep dive into memory bandwidth limitations and the impact of the GPUs reduced L3 cache show that while the card does indeed deliver excellent 1080p performance, it starts to hit bottlenecks at 1440p with ray tracing enabled and definitely struggles in 4K whether ray tracing is enabled or not.
Looking at the data, I can see why AMD chose to emphasize rasterized 1080p gaming. In 1080p, the gap between the 6600 XT and 6700 XT is minimized and the L3 cache shines. THG’s data shows the 6600 XT outperforming the 5700 XT by about 6 percent, but with dramatically improved power consumption. If you only look at 1080p, the 6600 XT looks like a great deal compared to the 6700 XT — only about 80 percent the price and up to 90 percent the speed.
Every company chooses to play to its strengths and AMD is no exception. The company is not being dishonest when it talks up its 1080p game. Furthermore, we have to acknowledge the reality of the COVID-19 pandemic, its impact on component and semiconductor pricing, and the ridiculous price inflation on GPUs as a whole. AMD’s $100 price bump may be unwelcome, but it is not the reason why GPUs have been selling for 1.5x – 3x MSRP over the past 10 months.
But having said all of that: 1080p is not an acceptable resolution target for a $379 graphics card. It also doesn’t accurately represent the capabilities of the 6600 XT. We use detail settings intended to stress memory bandwidth (which the 6600 XT lacks), and our 1440p rasterized tests still came back with an average frame rate of 67. THG reported in the low to mid 80s:
The RX 6600 XT delivers perfectly playable rasterized frame rates at 1440p, but the same can’t be said of ray tracing, where we saw sharp disparities opening between the 6700 XT and 6600 XT.
What’s more worrisome is that AMD went out of its way to call out the RX 6600 XT for 1080p rasterized gaming, specifically, as opposed to emphasizing its capabilities in ray tracing or in 1080p more generally. The reason AMD didn’t do this is likely because the RX 6600 XT’s ray tracing performance compares quite poorly against Nvidia’s cards.
If this was 2018, AMD’s decision to double down on rasterization would be a lot more defensible. Today, Microsoft and Sony advertise the $500 PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X as 4K gaming systems with ray tracing on top. Back in 2018, I criticized Nvidia for raising GPU prices on the dubious near-term value that ray tracing (or DLSS) represented at the time. Today, ray tracing is an increasingly common feature in AAA titles. While that doesn’t mean every title will deploy it effectively or in a “must-have” sort of way, any gamer dropping $400 on a video card today should be able to expect to use that card for 3-5 years.
AMD chose to compare against the GTX 1060 from 2016, but it may not have considered the implications. The GTX 1060 was a $249 card in 2016 that performed like a $549 GTX 980 from 2014. The 6600 XT is a $379 card in 2021 that performs slightly better than a $400 GPU from 2019. Furthermore, the GTX 1060 may well remain the most popular card on the Steam Hardware Survey less for any special property it continues to possess in 2021 and more because neither Nvidia nor AMD have offered a GPU in its price bracket gamers broadly felt was worth paying for.
Nvidia’s RTX 3060 is in a somewhat different position than the 6600 XT. While it slightly lags the 6600 XT’s performance in 1080p and 1440p in many reviews, it’s also (theoretically) a bit cheaper, which balances this out. The RTX 3060 arguably represents a better deal than the 6600 XT thanks to substantially better ray tracing performance and its larger pool of VRAM. There’s also the matter of DLSS, which is more likely to see wider support than AMD’s FSR if historical trends hold true.
I’m not thrilled with the value the RTX 3060 represents either, to be clear — I think both AMD and Nvidia have somewhat starved the midrange — but on the whole, it seems less fragile than the 6600 XT. AMD’s decision to gimp its own memory bandwidth seems like a bit of a self-own as far as the GPU’s likely longevity is concerned. This is actually a bit surprising, because ample memory bandwidth and lots of VRAM have been a hallmark of AMD designs going back at least as far as the HD 7970 with its 3GB VRAM buffers versus the then-current GTX 680 with 2GB.
The idea of ranking GPUs into resolution bins is intrinsically attractive because it offers gamers an easy, intuitive way to understand what they’re buying. The simultaneous push to redefine 1080p as a premium resolution deserving of a $379 price point is not. We accept, of course, that the pandemic may be responsible for the unwelcome GPU positioning, but if that’s true, 2022 needs to bring an official reversion back towards the mean. If AMD doesn’t feel like its $379 GPU can handle some aspect of 1440p well enough to be advertised as a superior solution in that resolution, it needs to either sell a better GPU at that price point or change how it markets its products. Cutting-edge 1080p performance is a great feature if we’re back in 2008. In 2021, it’s table stakes. It ought to be treated as such, by both companies.
I can’t claim to set a hard and fast rule for companies to live by, but here’s my own proposed rule of thumb: Anybody buying above a midrange card (say, $330 or more) has a vested interest in gaming at detail levels and/or resolutions that are a step beyond the typical. A gamer planning to drop 70 percent of the cost of a console solely on his or her GPU ought to be able to count on 1440p gaming at a minimum. In 2021, counting on 1440p gaming as a good value means counting on both ray tracing and rasterization performance. A $379 (at theoretical MSRP) GPU that can’t deliver on that front is not worth your gaming dollar. There are more cracks in the 6600 XT’s value proposition than we’re comfortable with.