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AMD Radeon RX 5600 XT Review (SAPPHIRE PULSE)

By Damien Gula on January 21, 2020 | Hardware Reviews | 0

At CES 2020, AMD announced the latest addition to their line-up of Navi-based GPUs, the Radeon RX 5600 XT. The goal? To continue applying pressure within the mid-range market of GPUs and deliver the ultimate in 1080p gaming. Did they succeed? Let’s get into how it works!

Thanks to our friends at AMD and SAPPHIRE, we got our hands on the latest Navi-based GPU to hit the product stack. Within this review, we are going to be putting the SAPPHIRE PULSE Radeon RX 5600 XT through our battery of tests to determine how it falls within the product stack and whether or not it could be an upgrade to suit your needs.

Specifications

  • MSRP: $289.00
  • Game Clock: 1615 MHz (1460 MHz - Silent Mode)
  • Boost Clock: 1750 MHz (1620 MHz - Silent Mode)
  • Memory: 6 GB 192-Bit GDDR6
  • Memory Clock: 14 Gbps (12 Gbps- Silent Mode)
  • Stream Processes: 2304
  • TGP: 160W - Performance BIOS, 135W - Silent BIOS
  • Bus: PCI-e 4.0
  • Ports: 3x Display Port, 1x HDMI
  • Cooling: Dual-X Cooling, Dual Fan
  • Size: 2 Slot
  • BIOS: Dual UEFI (Silent- and Performance modes)

If you haven’t taken a look at them recently, Steam analytics show that the dominant population of PC gamer are running their games at 1080p - 69.27% to be exact. Out of that population, these analytics show that the highest percentage of gamers are running their games on 3 or more year old GPUs with 20.30% using the GTX 1060. With this in mind, AMD introduced the Radeon RX 5600 XT to entice this subsection of gamers to get onto more modern hardware, providing an upgrade path for gamers who haven’t wanted to take out a small loan in order to find it.

Promising a performance bump to appeal to the masses, the RX 5600 XT is an interesting release. It is positioned as THE premium choice for 1080p gaming, right on the heels of the Radeon RX 5500XT… which was also positioned for optimal 1080p performance as well as the successor to the Polaris-based RX 500 series.

Built around AMD’s 7nm process Navi 10, the RX 5600 XT shares the same core and stream processors found within the RX 5700, but the bandwidth and bus interface are reduced. This does not mean that AMD is planning on replacing the 5700 with the 5600 XT, but adding to the lineup for a tighter product stack.

Without any more exposition, let’s get into how it works!

Benchmark and Thermal Performance

Before we get into the numbers, here are the system specifications for our test bench:

  • CPU: AMD Ryzen 7 3800X
  • Cooler: Corsair Hydro Series H100i RGB Platinum SE (Closed loop cooler)
  • RAM: 16 GB Patriot Viper Gaming RGB, 16 GB Silicon Power Gaming Turbine
  • Motherboard: ASUS TUF Gaming Pro X570-PLUS
  • GPU: SAPPHIRE PULSE Radeon RX 5600 XT
  • Storage: 1TB WD_Black SN750, 1 TB Seagate FireCuda
  • PSU: NZXT E850
  • Case: NZXT H510 Elite

Since the RX 5600 XT is advertised as the flagship 1080p card, we will be focusing much of our test numbers within the 1080p range. We will be showing the RX 5600 XT in comparison to the others cards within the RX 5000-series as well as a series predecessor, the Radeon RX 580. For this comparison, we will be using PowerColor Red Devil RX 580. Since the RX 5600 XT falls in between the RX 5500XT and the RX 5700/5700XT, we will be testing it in 1440p as well to see how it splits the difference in between the two. Standing in for the RX 5700XT and RX 5500XT, we will be using samples from MSI’s Gaming X series.

Our first synthetic test is the 3DMark Time Spy Extreme. This benchmark shows SAPPHIRE PULSE Radeon RX 5600 XT takes an impressive leap from where the 5500XT left off. This is promising, because you will notice in both 1080p and 1440p, the 5500XT was nearly neck and neck with the RX 580. That means that the RX 5600 XT takes the crown for being both a true successor in both architecture and performance over the previous generation.

In our gaming tests, we used the highest settings available in these modern titles to give us as close a comparison as possible between GPUs. When digesting these numbers, keep in mind, we are pushing the RX 5600 XT to see just what AMD means when it talks about it being the premium choice for 1080p gamers. Here is a look at the numbers:

Overall, we see that the Radeon RX 5600 XT performs extremely very well in the 1080p range, keeping average performance around or above 80 frames-per-second with some tests averaging in the triple digits! In a most cases, our tests showed the GPU capable of achieving over 60 FPS at 1440p as well. We saw the highest rate of success in Shadow of the Tomb Raider. Even at extreme settings in a title that favors NVIDIA, the RX 5600 XT breaks through.

The story is very similar in the Final Fantasy XIV: Shadowbringers benchmark. While the RX 580 and the RX 5500XT are nearly indistinguishable, the RX 5600 XT joins its big brother in the ranks of high performance in an MMO setting. Even in a barrage of spell effects, we saw high digits.

It isn’t all chart busting improvements. Much like the RX 5500XT, the RX 5600 XT took some serious performance hits in the Final Fantasy XV Benchmark, showing some of its lowest scores. This does seem to be a bit of a trend with Navi and this particular test with the RX 5700XT pushing through beyond the 60 FPS mark at 1440P. While may of the sequences within the benchmark ran smoothly, the overall score left us a bit wanting. This test does, however, favor NVIDIA GPUs.

Both Far Cry 5 and Warhammer: Vermintide 2 show a bit more of the spread in the product stack and the improvements over the previous generation. Where the RX 580 - the previous generation’s card targeting esports and the 1080p range - struggled, the 5600 XT shows a true leap forward. However, this is where we have to go off-chart for a moment.

It is worth noting that within our testing window, NVIDIA announced a price reduction in the RTX 2060. In response to this, a vBIOS update was released for the SAPPHIRE PULSE to increase voltage to the GPU, upping the operating frequency. You can download it here. The numbers listed above reflect the performance after updating the BIOS and we did see a marked improvement in performance after the update. With this voltage increase in mind and with Navi’s poor showing in previous overclocking tests, we did not push the RX 5600 XT with any overclocking tests.

While we did see a bump to put the RX 5600 XT post update, it was not enough to put it into the same performance bracket as the RTX 2060. In Far Cry 5 - which the RX 5600 XT performed far better than both the RX 580 and RX 5500XT, we saw the 5600 XT perform at an average of 85 frames per second at 1080p whereas the RTX 2060 pulled in 104 frames per second* at 1080p. Keep in mind that this data is a bit anecdotal. We are comparing notes with another writer within the MMORPG.com team on a PC with different specifications than today’s test rig.

Thermal performance and power consumption are two hallmarks of the 7nm process Navi GPUs. The promise of Navi is to deliver power without sacrificing efficiency. While we have seen a bump to the voltage use with SAPPHIRE’s vBIOS update, it did not impact the thermal performance by much - around ~3C at most.

Looking purely at thermal performance, we have seen a steady trend with the Navi GPU of sustained lower (under 80C) temperatures during testing without major fan ramping. Whereas the highest sustained temperature during testing in Destiny 2 with the RX 580 was 87C, that same only hit 75C on the SAPPHIRE PULSE RX 5600 XT. Keep in mind: this is without employing any of AMD or SAPPHIRE’s special software for thermal management.

It was impressive to see the very low fan speeds out of the SAPPHIRE PULSE in comparison to MSI’s RX 5500XT Gaming X. On the other side of that scale, our observations versus Power Color’s RX580 are quite significant in both temperature and fan speeds to maintain those temperatures.

While it is worth keeping an eye on with any manufacturer, it is great to see AMD getting out from underneath a past of high power draw, high temperature components.

Build Quality of the SAPPHIRE PULSE

While most of this review has focused on the performance of the Radeon RX 5600 XT, it is important for us to take a look at the overall construction of the card provided for the review.

The PULSE line by SAPPHIRE Technology is one of two tiers of graphics cards produced by the Hong Kong-based company. With the NITRO+ line representing the premiere experience, PULSE offers consumer value and performance. These delineations tracks fairly well with the overall build quality, especially with GPUs within this price range. 

The GPU has a large, finned heatsink, which runs the length of the card. It also has three heat pipes connecting to different points heatsink itself. To assist with these more passive cooling elements, the SAPPHIRE PULSE has a twin fan design with each fan having two bearings apiece. The shroud with fans are connected to a stylized metal back plate with branding and a few cutouts, making parts of the PCB visible.

While inspecting the GPU, I did notice point in which the plastic shroud does not line up flush with other parts. Initially, I though this might just be a loose screw from shipment. It was not. It does match the profile, design-wise, of the rest of the card, but it is a potential snag point while handling the card itself.

Speaking on aesthetics, this card’s branding carries a red, black, and gray theme throughout the GPU. It does an LED logo in the side of the card that glows red to match. It is not addressable.

All in all, the PULSE Radeon RX 5600 XT is a descent entry-level card that performs well in pure FPS and in thermal management. 

Final Thoughts

The Radeon RX 5600 XT represents a true leap forward over AMD’s previous mainstream generation of GPUs. While the RX 5500XT beat the RX 580 in thermal tests and power consumption, they were fairly matched in overall performance. This is a positive thing for new budget system builders, it didn’t quite make sense as an upgrade path for the PC gamer looking to upgrade old hardware. The RX 5600 XT, on the other hand, falls within a price point and a performance leap that is rather appealing.

If you are looking to upgrade to a modern GPU from a card of yesteryear and do not want to crest the $300 mark, the RX 5600 XT delivers on its promise of premium performance at 1080p with the option for solid 1440p operation as well. SAPPHIRE’s offering to the RX 5600 XT family provided card cool that produced great numbers overall. With one small hitch…

At the time of writing this review and as mentioned earlier, NVIDIA slashed the price on the RTX 2060 (non-SUPER) to within $11 of the SAPPHIRE PULSE RX 5600 XT. Judging solely by AMD’s own product positioning, the RX 5700 (non-XT) retails for $31 more than the RX 5600 XT and it supposed to be the closest competitor to the RTX 2060.

Without having either on hand to run a full set of tests for comparison, it leaves the RX 5600 XT in an odd spot and put potential users into a bit of a predicament. If it came down to purely features and money, are NVIDIA features like DLSS and real-time ray-tracing worth the extra $11 and have more appeal to the end user or do AMD’s Radeon Boost, Image Sharpening, and Integer Scaling as well as an extra $11 in the user’s pocket make more sense?

Regardless of what you do with this information, it is good to see AMD filling the space in between the RX 5500XT and the RX 5700 in both price as well as performance. Not to mention the most important factor of this release: having competition within every level of the GPU product stack is pushing AMD to up their performance and NVIDIA to lower its prices. Both are wins in my book. 

Pros

  • Reaches well above 60 FPS in 1080p; with enough tweaking could be used at 1440p
  • Thermal performance, even after a BIOS bump, remain in good territory
  • Great successor in performance to the RX500 series

Cons

  • Performance bump via vBIOS update helps, but not enough to compete in RTX 2060 territory
  • Some parts PULSE do not line up well, feel weak

The product discussed in this article was provided by the manufacturer for the purposes of review.


Pastor_Dame

Damien Gula

Born in the heyday of mullets and the El Camino to a tech-foward family, Damien joined the MMORPG.com team back in 2017 to review hardware and games as well as provide coverage for press preview events. He has participated in a number of MMOs over the years, including World of Warcraft, RIFT, Guild Wars 2, and the Destiny series. When he isn't writing for MMORPG.com, Damien is a pastor by trade who loves talking with anyone interested about life, God, and video games (in no particular order). He also co-hosts a podcast dedicated to these conversation with fellow MMORPG writer Matt Keith called Roll The Level.