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AMD Radeon RX 6500 XT Review

Reviewed.com logo Reviewed.com 1/28/2022 Joanna Nelius
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Budget graphics cards below $200 all but disappeared once advanced gaming features like ray tracing were introduced. The Radeon RX 6500 XT (available at Best Buy for $259.99) is AMD’s attempt to make budget PC gaming a larger part of the graphics card market once again, but in its efforts to keep costs low, AMD cut too many corners to make this GPU an attractive card to buy. If you're simply looking for an entry-level card to play Fortnite the RX 6500 XT suffices, but it struggles in more demanding games—and leaves out some features, too.

AMD's RX 6500 XT is truly a budget GPU in every sense of the word.

About the AMD Radeon RX 6500 XT

Before we dig in, here’s a look at the RX 6500 XT’s specs:

  • Compute Units: 16
  • Boost Frequency: Up to 2815MHz
  • Game Frequency: 2610MHz
  • Ray Accelerators: 16
  • Stream Processors: 1024
  • Texture Units: 64
  • Infinity Cache: 16MB
  • Memory Speed: 18Gbps
  • Max Memory Size: 4GB
  • Memory Bandwidth: Up to 144GB/s

AMD touts that its RX 6500 XT has the fastest clocks in a gaming card, but the fastest gaming clocks don’t matter if there isn’t enough bandwidth or memory to support those clock speeds. The main issue with this GPU isn’t the clock speeds or the bandwidth, it’s the memory.

For our tests, we used the following PC configuration:

  • Processor: AMD Ryzen 5950X
  • Motherboard: Asus ROG Maximus Extreme XII X570
  • Memory: G.Skill Trident Z Royal 16 GB (2 x 8 GB) DDR4-3600 MHz
  • Storage: Sabrent Rocket 1TB NVMe PCIe 4.0 M.2 SSD
  • Power: Corsair RM1000x
  • Cooling: Corsair H150i Pro RGB

What we like

It’s an actual entry-level graphics card

The Radeon RX 6500 XT is the kind of GPU you buy for your first PC build, especially if you don’t want to spend a lot of money. It’s strictly for 1080p gaming (albeit usually not at max graphics settings) but it’s the kind of card that can set the foundation for the rest of your build.

You absolutely do not need the super-powerful Ryzen 9 5950X processor or a fancy motherboard like the one we use in our test rig to get the same frame rates out of the games you like to play. You do not need a 1000W power supply when a 500W will do just fine for this low-power GPU. A simple, no-frills graphics card like this one helps take the guesswork out of building your first rig.

Because this is an entry-level graphics card, it won’t perform gaming miracles, but it will give you smooth performance as long as you make peace with the fact that you’ll have to play most high-fidelity games on a medium or low graphics preset. For instance, to get at least 60 fps in Cyberpunk 2077, you’ll need to set the graphics preset to Medium. Assassin’s Creed Odyssey needs to be set to the High setting or lower, and Borderlands 3 needs at least the Medium preset to go over 60 fps. (High nets around 56 fps.)

The 6500 XT also has one HDMI 2.1 port and one DVI 1.4a port, so even if you have a fancier monitor you’ll still be able to plug it in directly. The HDMI 2.1 standard can support Variable Refresh Rate (VRR) and Fixed Rate Link (FRL). Both are important for playing games at the best possible quality, although just having an HDMI 2.1 port doesn’t guarantee either of those features. You’ll also need an Ultra-high-speed HDMI 2.1 cable to ensure you can take full advantage of these features.

AMD’s choice to provide an HDMI 2.1 port without including certain types of video encoding is puzzling—but more on that in a bit.


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What we don’t like

Only 4GB of VRAM

There are many aspects of a graphics card that contribute to its performance. There’s clock speed, or how fast the GPU cores can process the visuals in a game. There’s bandwidth, or how much information can be carried to and from the GPU at once. And there’s VRAM (video random access memory), which is like computer memory but for graphics cards. VRAM is a temporary stop between the CPU and the display where a game's image data is stored. The more VRAM you have, the more image data you can temporarily store at once.

The Radeon RX 6500 XT has only 4GB of VRAM compared to the 8GB in AMD’s mid-tier RX 6600 and its budget competitor, Nvidia’s RTX 3050. That has a major effect on game performance—even if you overclock the GPU or VRAM with AMD’s software. If you want a consistent 60fps or higher, you will need to set the graphics settings to medium or low for most games.

Over our spread of 13 games that we benchmark as part of our GPU tests, which includes Cyberpunk 2077, Forza Horizon 4, and Battlefield V, the RX 6500 XT averaged 67 fps at 1080p with the games set to their highest graphical settings. Far Cry 5 was one of the games to fare the best out of the bunch with 82 fps. Overwatch performed well with 183 fps, too, but had AMD given its RX 6500 XT another 4GB of VRAM, it probably would have matched the performance of Nvidia’s RTX 3050—maybe even exceeded it thanks to all that extra Infinity Cache (what AMD calls its “bandwidth amplifier” to increase frame rates) in its graphics cards.

For example, while the RTX 3050 can manage an average of 48fps in Cyberpunk 2077 the RX 6500 XT averages only 30fps. You can turn on AMD’s Smart Access Memory (SAM) in the BIOS and also overclock the VRAM to get an extra five frames at the most, but again that 4GB of VRAM is really limiting this GPU.

If you are interested in playing ray traced games with this graphics card, sorry to be the bearer of bad news but getting realistic lighting effects isn’t obtainable here. Can you get ray tracing in a low-fidelity game like Minecraft? Sure. But if you were hoping for anything more, this budget graphics card doesn’t have the oomph of Nvidia’s RTX 3050.

In our comparison tests, the RX 6500 XT couldn’t even beat one of Nvidia’s older GPUs, the GTX 1660 Super, which has similar performance to the RTX 3050—not identical because the GTX 1660 Super has 6GB of VRAM instead of 8GB. But our testing results make it painfully clear even an extra 2GB of VRAM would have helped the RX 6500 XT.

The Nvidia cards scored 9225 / 9448 points respectively in 3D Mark’s 1080p graphics benchmarking test (the RTX 3050 being the higher of the two), while the RX 6500 XT scored 7839. I confirmed these results with in-game benchmarks, which showed both Nvidia GPUs cranking out an average of 15-25 frames more than the AMD card across our entire spread of games.

It leaves out support for some video rendering formats

In an effort to cut costs as much as possible, AMD made some other big sacrifices, too. Those include which video codecs the RX 6500 XT is capable of rendering. It doesn’t support AV1 decode/encode or encode for 4K H264 or H265/HEVC. If you need an inexpensive GPU for gaming only, these missing rendering formats may not matter. But if you were hoping to build a budget desktop PC that you could also use for video work or streaming, you might be out of luck.

The RX 6500 XT supports 4K H264 decode and H265/HEVC decode, which basically means you’ll be able to do all the normal things on your PC like record gameplay footage or stream movies. But if you’re working with raw video files and you need to compress them to make them easy to transfer to another device, you can’t do that with this GPU due to its lack of encode support for the most common video codec, H265/HEVC.

The lack of AV1 decode support is less of an issue given that it’s still a relatively new codec and streaming companies like Netflix are slow to adopt it—but they are starting to. If you tried to stream an AV1 video, you would not be able to on your PC with this graphics card.

The RTX 3050 supports all that, so as far as future-proofing goes, you’ll get more mileage out of Nvidia’s card than AMD when it comes to video encoding and decoding. We’re wondering why AMD specifies that the RX 6500 XT has HDMI 2.1, which allows for higher video resolutions and refresh rates like 8K60 and 4K120, but also doesn’t have the encoding codecs that support those resolutions and refresh rates.

Should you buy it?

No, the RX 6500 XT is affordable but too limited

The RX 6500 XT is a fine graphics card for basic gaming. It can smoothly run any game as long as the graphics preset is set to medium or low—but you’ll be happier saving up some extra cash and getting the RTX 3050.

In MSRP terms, the RTX 3050 gets much better performance for $249, and supports AV1, H264, and H265 video encoding and decoding that the RX 6500 XT doesn’t. In the current GPU market, you’ll likely pay more for both cards. But even if GPU prices were normalized today, I’d still recommend the RTX 3050 over the RX 6500 XT if you have an extra $50 in your pocket.

Alternatively, something like Nvidia’s GTX 1660 Super would also be a better option than the RX 6500 XT if you don’t care about ray tracing. At the time of this writing, you can find the GTX 1660 Super for roughly the same price as the RX 6500 XT, and you’ll be getting nearly the same in-game performance as the RTX 3050.

In a bid to have the cheapest budget graphics card possible, AMD cut too many features that would have made this GPU a better competitor with Nvidia’s budget cards, whether current-gen or last-gen. AMD may have a lead over Nvidia when it comes to outputting the most frames with its higher-end GPUs, but it can’t win the budget category when its competitor's cards have more VRAM. Unfortunately, this seems to be a gamble that didn’t pay off.

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Prices were accurate at the time this article was published but may change over time.

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