AMD's US$199 Radeon RX 6500 XT is here, bringing both real-time ray tracing and affordable graphics cards back to the masses—if it can stay well-stocked enough to remain on store shelves for close to its suggested pricing, that is. This ain't your average graphics card though. AMD needed to tweak and tune the Radeon RX 6500 XT to (hopefully) keep cryptocurrency miners at bay and hit the coveted, crucial sub-US$200 price point.
Putting this GPU through its paces took quite a bit more effort and explaining than usual. Head over to our comprehensive Radeon RX 6500 XT review for the complete rundown, but for folks who don't feel like wading through thousands of words and dozens of charts worth of analysis, here are five key facts you need to know about the Radeon RX 6500 XT.
1. This is a great graphics card for beginning PC gamers…
PC gaming picked up serious steam over the pandemic, but newcomers haven't had a shot at investing in affordable new gear, with most graphics cards going for double MSRP or more thanks to a mixture of a chip crunch, logistics woes, booming demand from cryptocurrency miners seeking profits, and more. We've resorted to suggesting a CPU with good integrated graphics as the best budget graphics card for gaming. Ugh.
That changes with the Radeon RX 6500 XT. Not only is this card affordable at US$199, it will absolutely chew through competitive e-sports titles at high frame rates, and play modern triple-A games at a fast pace using Medium to High settings at 1080p resolution. It also supports modern features like ray tracing, AMD's Smart Access Memory, FidelityFX Super Resolution, Radeon Anti-Lag, and Radeon Boost, and all but ray tracing can help make this graphics card run even faster. Groovy.
If you already have a graphics card like the GeForce GTX 1650 Super or Radeon RX 580, though, the Radeon RX 6500 XT doesn't provide enough of a performance uplift to be a compelling upgrade (unless you want access to those features).
2. …if you stick to what it's good at
Crafting a sub-$200 graphics card in these trying times required AMD to turn to some unorthodox design decisions. The Radeon RX 6500 XT packs a scant 4GB of GDDR6 memory over a minute 64-bit bus unheard-of in modern gaming GPUs, though those memory chips are clocked at a blazing-fast 18Gbps and come augmented by AMD's radical Infinity Cache technology. It also, somewhat shockingly, only supports four PCIe lanes rather than the usual 16.
Those decisions mean that while the Radeon RX 6500 XT excels at what it's designed for—e-sports, and triple-A gaming at Mid to High settings at 1080p resolution—if you crank the eye candy to Ultra or jack up the resolution beyond 1440p, you could run into performance issues (like slow frame rates or lag spikes). Start at 1080p Medium graphics presets in your favorite games and nudge knobs up from there if you're able.
3. It's built to evade crypto miners
AMD also announced a Radeon RX 6400 graphics card exclusive to prebuilt systems, with slower clock speeds and a much lower power draw. Image: AMD
While many of AMD's design choices were no doubt made to hit the Radeon RX 6500 XT's juicy US$199 suggested pricing, it's a bit more complicated than that when it comes to the memory system. If the GPU world wasn't so crazy right now, releasing a 1080p graphics card with just 4GB of RAM and a 64-bit bus in 2022 would get AMD laughed out of town. But in today's wild graphics card market, those limited specifications are almost genuine features, as the memory configuration will make the Radeon RX 6500 XT unappealing for mining Ethereum, the popular cryptocurrency fueling a lot of the sky-high graphics card demand. Ethereum thrives on memory bandwidth, and mining it requires your graphics card to have more than 4GB of memory.
There's a lot of dynamics that are involved in the availability of the GPUs we have, Radeon vice president Laura Smith said to PCWorld as part of a small roundtable with journalists during CES. We have really optimized this one to be gaming first….You can see that with the way we've configured the part. Even with the four gigs of frame buffer, that's a really nice frame buffer size for the majority of triple-A games, but it's not particularly attractive if you're doing blockchain-type or mining activities. We've tried to make some gamer-first transitions for the things we don't control, but we have influence over, to optimize that card to be as accessible as possible to the use of gamers.
We'll see if that translates into actual widespread availability at its $199 suggested price, but the Radeon RX 6500 XT has a better shot than most modern graphics cards at actually being obtainable—including Nvidia's imminent $250 GeForce RTX 3050. Fingers crossed. For more info, check out our explainer on why less memory could mean more in AMD and Nvidia's budget GPU battle.
4. Don't worry about using the Radeon RX 6500 XT in an older PC
After its reveal, gamers worried that the Radeon RX 6500 XT's four limited PCIe lanes would translate to terrible performance on any gaming PC more than a few years old. That's because those lanes work best on modern computers featuring the much-faster PCIe 4.0 interface. Older PCs have PCIe 3.0, and people feared that detail, mixed with the minimal number of available lanes, would choke off frame rates.
Using the Radeon RX 6500 XT in PCIe 3.0 mode doesn't devastate performance like some gamers feared, if you're using reasonable graphics settings for this GPU. Image: Brad Chacos/IDG
Spoiler: It does, but not to a degree worth worrying about in most games, thanks to the helping hand provided by AMD's fast GDDR6 chips and 64MB of on-chip Infinity Cache. Across our 11-game test suite, we saw two major outliers—Rainbow Six Siege performed identically on both PCIe 3 and 4, while Total War: Troy suffered a major 18.4 percent loss on PCIe 3.0—but otherwise, games were only an average of 6.4 percent slower in PCIe 3.0 mode. That's noteworthy but doesn't significantly alter the value proposition of the graphics card. It's still usually in the same performance ballpark as GPUs like the Radeon RX 580 and 5500 XT, or Nvidia's GeForce GTX 1060 6GB and GTX 1650, regardless of which version of PCIe being used.
That said, you need to keep the Radeon RX 6500 XT's intended usage in mind. Stick to those Medium to High graphics settings at 1080p and only nudge things up as you can. If you try to play on Ultra settings in intense games, or at 1440p resolution, you're likely to exceed the 4GB frame buffer on this card and if that happens over PCIe 3.0, lag spikes and performance slowdowns could get real nasty, real fast.
5. Other missing features
AMD also stripped out some other features in its quest to hit the US$199 price point, albeit ones the company claims that most people don't use in this pricing bracket. The Radeon RX 6500 XT lacks AV1 decoding as well as H.264 and H.265/HEVC encoding capabilities. (There are H.264 and H.265 decode, though.) AMD also only slapped singular HDMI 2.1 and DisplayPort connections on this GPU. The combination means that the Radeon RX 6500 XT won't be a great choice for home theater PCs, and people looking to stream their gaming adventures will probably want to look elsewhere as well.
That's it for our roundup of must-know facts. For much, much more info, be sure to check out our full comprehensive Radeon RX 6500 XT review.