The title is quite important for a couple of reasons. Firstly, this is not my usual Tech Babble with the naming scheme. That is, because, I find that committing to a Tech Babble actually triggers my ADHD and I 'subconsciously' feel it is too much effort and then don't commit properly and my ideas go flat and my cat is really cute, he just came into my room and went on my bed. I really love that little guy.
Anyway, the other important bit is the "vacuum" bit because as you are likely aware as a reader of this tech post, GPU pricing right now is a bit... borked. MSRPs are a distant memory of past times, and such, whatever. But the point of this post isn't to actually offer anyone advice (well, it could do, but pricing is impossible to factor in, so it is what it is), but more about my thoughts on the performance of these products with a little reference to MSRP on the "stack" of products in an ideal version of 2021 where all the cards were somehow available at MSRP.
It's just a thought post, so here it goes. I'll do that thing where I break my content into subheadings because it's easier to digest and also for me to 'structure' my potentially incoherent ramblings.
Ultra-Flagship, Top-End, Halo product show down.
A while back I made a list of things I'd like to see from AMD Radeon, and apparently most of it came true, but the point I wanted to make was the final point of that list; the "flagship performance" point. AMD truly has come back with a vengeance in the high-end Gaming GPU segment with the Navi 21 graphics processor. There's no other way about it; this GPU can slug it out with Nvidia's best silicon in the latest games without Ray Tracing enabled; often beating them, its only drawback is - you guessed it - Ray tracing. But more of that in a moment.
For me, the Radeon RX 6900 XT represents AMD's first real attempt in recent memory to create a 'halo' graphics card. It is enabled by the pretty remarkable RDNA2 graphics architecture, in its fully implemented form; Navi 21. Since I sold my RTX 3090 for a profit and bought a 6900XT (and banked about 400 GBP, woo); I have quite a lot to say about this card, and the GPU powering it. Obviously.
Ugh, the point of this post was more about the product-side of these cards, not the architectural side. Maybe I'll do that later, but right now, it's late and I am struggling to keep on task with this.
Essentially, I feel I can confidently state that AMD's RDNA2 cards, the 6800 and 6900 series truly do achieve that halo/flagship performance level where you feel you have the best, but not universally, obviously. I break down RDNA2 vs Ampere into a simple conclusion so I can keep playing Doom Eternal TAG1&2 which I was really enjoying before thinking it was a good idea to write a Babble at 5PM (meds last 8-10 hours for me).
So here it is.
If you want the fastest gaming GPU for 4K for non-tracing, or light ray tracing games, RDNA2 6800XT/6900XT are for you. These cards are just as fast, often faster, than the NVIDIA 3080/3090 models, and compared to the 3080, the 6800XT gives you more VRAM, too. For the 3090, the 6900XT is 500 USD cheaper (I know, don't judge me). Pretty clear cut. Just be aware that you will not be able to max 4K Ray Tracing on the AMD cards at anything near 60 FPS, you will need compromise there. But that's fine, these cards do well at 1440p with all the RT slapped up.
Excellent non-RT performance at 4K: Matches or is very close to NVIDIA.
Often better 1440p and 1080p high-refresh non-RT performance than NVIDIA.
More power efficient than NVIDIA.
Cheaper / More VRAM where it matters (vs 3080).
Not as Good:
Much slower in Ray Tracing than NVIDIA, especially at 4K. Flagship models will need to compromise on resolution to be playable in heavy RT games at 4K. 6900XT often similar to 3060Ti/3070 RT performance.
If you want the fastest gaming GPU for 4K and are really interested in Ray Tracing, or mainly play Ray Traced games.
Excellent non-RT performance at 4K: Matches or is slightly faster than AMD.
The best Ray Tracing performance for gaming available as of late 2021. There are games where only 3080/Ti/3090 can achieve playability without compromise in resolution.
DLSS 2.0 is a well developed and has really good results, makes the difference with RT games that feature it.
Not as Good:
Always more expensive than AMD flagships and not always faster, sometimes slower, especially at high refresh 1080p and 1440p.
You either get far too much VRAM at obscene cost, not enough, or have enough, but still less than AMD (3080 Ti 12GB vs 16GB on all 6800/6900 models), and still more expensive than the AMD flagship, by a lot.
Very power hungry. If overclocking, becomes a *insert explosion here* meme. Might have longevity concerns on boards with higher than reference power limits. GDDR6X gets hot and consumes a lot of power.
If you want the fastest gaming GPU for Ray Tracing at 4K, this is where I really can't decide on what to say. If money isn't an issue (right now) RTX 3090/3080 Ti is the card to get if you want to play current RT games at maximum settings without compromise (like Metro Exodus Enhanced). There really is no other way to put it. I really need a poo, so gonna have to cut this short.
TLDR, NVIDIA has Ray Tracing this gen, and it's meaningful (i.e, there are cases where NVIDIA is playable and AMD is not). The reverse isn't true, but AMD's cards offer better value, efficiency and performance at lower resolutions with higher refresh, and still do great at 1080/1440p with RT.
I'm just happy AMD is back in the high end. AMD definitely needs to improve the RT cores in RDNA though. Let's see what RDNA3 brings on that front.