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MSI Radeon RX 5500XT Gaming X 8GB Review: Pint-sized Powerhouse

By Damien Gula on December 12, 2019 | Hardware Reviews | Comments

MSI Radeon RX 5500XT Gaming X 8GB Review: Pint-sized Powerhouse

Last month, we got our hands on MSI’s Radeon RX 5700XT Gaming X for review. We had a largely positive experience with it, however, the biggest downside (and, yes, we heard you in the comments section) was the price-point. While the 5700XT-series is one of the better no-frills, price-to-performance values on the market, it still puts builders into the $400+ range for a modern GPU.


With the only real AMD options for budget builders found in the previous generations or a gamble on the used market, AMD has released the RX 5500-series. With promises of pinnacle 1080p gaming at a more affordable price range, AMD looks to bring stiff compete with NVIDIA’s 16 series. We got our hands on MSI’s Radeon RX 5500XT Gaming X to share what the current little brother in this product stack can do. Can AMD deliver Navi power at an entry-level price-point? Let’s find out. 

Specifications

  • MSRP: $169 (4GB) and $199 (8GB)
  • Core Clock: 1845 MHz
  • Game Clock: 1737 MHz
  • Core Clock: 1685 MHz
  • Memory: 8 GB 256-Bit GDDR6
  • Memory Clock: 14 Gbps
  • Stream Processes: 1408
  • Power Delivery: 130W
  • Bus: PCI-e 4.0
  • Ports: 3x Display Port, 1x HDMI
  • Cooling: Twin Frozr 7 Thermal design with Torx 3.0 fans
  • Size: 2-Slot

The release of the RX 5500-series does not really come as a surprise. Back in October, we saw the announcement of the RX 5500M heading to Apple’s new MacBook Pro and that RX 5500 cards would be releasing in OEM desktops PCs. While we did not get much information to go on then, we now have a better picture of what a budget-friendly Navi GPU can do.

But, before we get to that, we have to talk about another major release that is equally important: AMD’s Radeon Adrenalin 2020 Edition software interface.

Over the years, AMD’s Radeon Software has seen several iterations, but this release, by far has to be the must robust and user-friendly. This isn’t just a facelift (though it is a significant one), AMD committed themselves to three areas as their core fundamentals for the user experience. Those fundamentals are features, performance, and stability.

Upon installation, Radeon Adrenalin will ask you what type of user you are and it will tailor your settings based on that answer. For example: your GPU needs are going to be largely different if you are gaming versus if you are creating content or streaming. While the software chooses preset options dependent on your choice, navigating menus to personalize these settings is far more intuitive than the past.

AMD’s Anti-Lag, Image Sharpening and Integer Scaling return, but a new Boost feature has been added. With this feature, Adrenalin will dynamically lower and raise your resolution to keep frame rates stable and image quality tight in fast moving sequences without sacrificing quality.

Another new feature allows users to chart and record their in-game perform with readouts on average frames per second, GPU temperatures, fan speeds, power consumption, and more right from Adrenalin. This window can be a full screen readout, menu that occupies a small portion of the screen, or a transparent overlay. Whichever you choose, there is easy access to performance data. It even plays nice with finicky titles like Destiny 2.

This update to Radeon Adrenalin is a huge step in the right direction, but it’s nothing without the hardware to drive! Let’s dive into just how the RX 5500XT performs!

Synthetic Benchmarks and Thermal Performance

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

  • CPU: Ryzen 5 2600X
  • 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: Gigabyte X470 AORUS Gaming 7 WiFi
  • GPU: MSI Radeon RX 5500XT
  • Storage: 1TB WD_Black SN750, 1 TB Seagate FireCuda
  • PSU: NZXT E850
  • Case: NZXT H510 Elite

Since the RX 5500XT promises to be the next premier 1080p card, we will be focusing our test numbers within the 1080p range in comparison to its predecessor, the Radeon RX 580. We will be using PowerColor Red Devil RX 580. We will be testing in 1440p to see how far we can push the 5500XT and to see how it fairs against its big brother, the RX 5700XT. Since we have MSI’s RX 5700XT Gaming X from last month’s test, we will be using it for a comparison within the same product stack. For an extra anecdotal measure, we will include test results from the Maxwell-based Titan X. While this seems overkill, in gaming processes, this particular Titan behaves very similar to a GTX 1070 - a GPU that would, in its time, have been a step up from the RX 580. The Titan will be standing in as a close proxy.

It is also worth noting that while the RX 5500XT can operate in the new PCIe 4.0 bus, our testing was done in PCIe 3.0. This should not impact performance numbers. We are also running these tests under Andrenalin’s Gaming profile.

Our first synthetic test is the 3DMark Time Spy Extreme. This benchmark shows MSI Radeon RX 5500XT outpaces the RX580 in the 1440p test, but it keeps a two are neck and neck at 1080p. Interestingly, the RX 5500XT also keeps up with the GTX 1070 proxy, but you can see the performance delta between the RX 5500XT and the RX 5700XT.

Moving along to our gaming tests, we used some of 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 throwing the 5500XT into conditions that is not meant to succeed under. Here is a look at the numbers:

Overall, we see that the Radeon RX 5500XT performs very well in the 1080p range, keeping average performance around or above 60 frames-per-second. In a few cases, our tests showed the GPU capable (with some tweaking) of achieving those same frame rates at 1440p! We saw the highest rate of success in Warhammer: Vermintide 2 - even at extreme settings.

The RX 5500XT did seem to take a performance hit in the Final Fantasy XV Benchmark, showing some of its lowest scores. However, this does seem to be a bit of a trend with Navi and this particular test.

From a purely benchmark score standpoint, the 5500XT does perform better overall than the RX 580, but frame rate capture shows that they are within the margin of error. The story is very similar in the Final Fantasy XIV: Stormblood benchmark. Both the RX 580 and the RX 5500XT are nearly indistinguishable in it and in the Shadow of the Tomb Raider test, but it is Far Cry 5 and, as mentioned above, Warhammer: Vermintide 2 where the 5500XT shows its capabilities over the previous generation.

We did attempt a quick and dirty overclock via MSI Afterburner by increasing the power limit to the GPU and increasing the fan speeds to keep up. However, our tests showed us the same thing with the 5500XT that we saw with both ASRock and MSI’s RX 5700XT: Navi just does not seem to have much overclocking potential within the XT range. We actually found that performance dipped within each of the benchmarks by a significant enough margin to recommend against overclocking in this manor.

While we all care about frames-per-second, it is not the only story to tell here about the Radeon RX 5500XT.

Thermal performance and power consumption are two hallmarks of these Navi-based GPUs. The 7nm process has promised to deliver power an efficiency and the RX 5500XT illustrates just how crazy the difference is between it and its predecessor. One of the most outstanding examples came while running the Final Fantasy XV Benchmark.

The RX 580 ran at a steady temperature of 83C with fans blazing around 3000 RPM to keep it at that temperature. While watching the power consumption, the Red Devil hovered around 170W.

MSI’s RX 5500XT hit, at its highest point 74C, but stayed close to the high 60s with the fans speed high hitting 1513 RPM - half of what it was taking the RX 580 to keep things at an acceptable, albeit very warm operating range. Get this: at its highest point, the RX 5500XT only drew 106W.

To spell this out, we are looking at half the cooling needed and a fraction of the power drawn while keeping the GPU under lower temperature loads without losing frame rate performance. This is a really, really good look for Team Red.

Build Quality

Much of this review has been focused on the RX 5500 series as a whole, but it is worth diverting our attention to the quality of the card delivering the performance we have just outlined.

MSI has done a great job with the Radeon RX 5500XT Gaming X. It is a pint-sized powerhouse at a decent price that keeps its cool under heavy load. It doesn’t quite have the same heft as MSI’s 5700XT in the same product stack, but that is not to say it is cheaply constructed.

MSI has used a similar cooling system and fan designs similar to the 5500XT’s big brother along with the same programable RGB accent to illuminate the MSI logo. The RX 5500XT Gaming X has an etched metal backplate as well. It is a slightly more compact card, so if you are looking into a mini-ATX/ITX build situation or looking to slot a smaller card into an eGPU enclosure, it is the perfect size to do so.

Final Thoughts

AMD’s release of the 5500 series is not an unexpected one, but it is very welcome one. With new competition rising in the 1080p space from NVIDIA, AMD needed an update to the three-plus years Polaris-based RX 400- and 500-series of GPUs. The biggest hurdle at this price point is that AMD is in direct competition with themselves and their aforementioned RX 500-series cards left on the market.

While our tests showed frames-per-second performance within this new budget-friendly offering fairly close to the previous generation, the reduction in power draw with increased frequencies that Navi brings to the table mean a more efficient system and less stress on the components. Coupled all of this with a robust update to AMD’s Adrenalin 2020 Edition software and you have a really solid offering in the bottom price bracket.

While we tested out the beefier, 8 GB version of the 5500-series cards, the 4 GB version would suffice for the burgeoning budget builder or the gamer who is looking for an upgrade, but can’t quite get into the realm of the RX 5700-series. MSI’s 5500XT Gaming X is a solid offering if that is you.

Pros

  • Launch price point feels right for the performance bracket
  • Lower power consumption with matched performance
  • AMD’s Adrenalin 2020 Edition is a robust update to drive Navi into the future
  • Reaches well above 60 FPS in 1080p; with enough tweaking could be used at 1440p

Cons

  • Marginal FPS upgrade from the RX 580
  • Navi does not seem to take well to overclocking

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