AMD’s Radeon RX 6000 ‘Big Navi’ performance tease reveals an RTX 3080 rival

Today’s AMD event may have been Zen 3’s big reveal, but the company tossed a juicy bone to the Radeon faithful, too. After announcing the beastly Ryzen 9 5900X (among others), CEO Lisa Su then showed off gameplay footage of Borderlands 3 running on the CPU at 4K resolution with an undisclosed Radeon RX 6000-series graphics card. And yes, Internet, AMD’s “Big Navi” goes toe-to-toe even with Nvidia’s brutally fast GeForce RTX 3080.

The mysterious Radeon RX 6000 GPU averaged 61 frames per second even with the game running on its punishing “Badass” performance preset. Su also revealed that the Ryzen/Radeon combo hit 88 fps in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare (an Nvidia-partnered title) and 73 fps in Gears 5 on Ultra visual presets. AMD plans to announce the Radeon RX 6000-series “Big Navi” graphics cards formally on October 28 in a dedicated event.

In a call before the Zen 3 event, Radeon chief Scott Herkelman told me that AMD decided to tease Big Navi’s performance due to community demand for more information. It certainly was an eye-opening reveal.

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That’s fast.

Hexus tested the $700 GeForce RTX 3080 in Gears 5 and Borderlands 3 using the same visual presets as AMD did with this Radeon RX 6000 preview, on AMD’s Ryzen 9 3950X. The RTX 3080 hit 59.4fps in Borderlands 3, compared to the Radeon RX 6000’s 61fps in this preview. In Gears 5, the RTX 3080 hit 77fps, compared to the Radeon RX 6000’s 73fps. The processor makes a difference, though, because in Eurogamer’s GeForce RTX 3080 review with a Core i9-10900K, Nvidia’s card hit 65fps in Borderlands, and 80fps in Gears 5

That seemingly puts AMD’s upcoming card neck-and-neck with Nvidia’s staggeringly powerful gaming flagship, depending on the processor it’s paired with. That’s damned impressive—but it’s important to understand what AMD didn’t reveal today, too.

Dissecting the AMD vs. Nvidia chess match

Most importantly, Herkelman stressed that AMD didn’t state which Radeon RX 6000 graphics card ran these benchmarks. We don’t know whether these results come from the biggest Big Navi GPU, or a more modest offering. (Herkelman also said there’s still fine-tuning left to do before launch.) AMD’s Ryzen 9 5900X, the CPU used for the tease, also hasn’t been tested by independent reviewers.

Processors largely aren’t a performance limiter at lofty 4K resolutions, but as we showed earlier, they can affect performance results. That means that pitting AMD’s benchmarks against Hexus and Eurogamer’s is not a straightforward apples-to-apples comparison. It’s also worth noting that all three games that Su showed off in the Radeon RX 6000 teaser run on DirectX 12, rather than the more common DX11 graphics API.

While this could be a best-case showing for AMD’s forthcoming graphics cards, it could also be AMD’s sly attempt to set the stage with a best-case showing for Nvidia’s rival RTX 3080.

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