Nvidia GeForce RTX 3090 vs. AMD Radeon 6950 XT: Which GPU should you buy?

Nvidia GeForce RTX 3090 vs. AMD Radeon 6950 XT: Which GPU should you buy?

The AMD Radeon RX 6900 XT has been an interesting GPU this generation. It’s both cheaper than the competing Nvidia GeForce RTX 3090—and sometimes faster, too. It’s now been refreshed with the RX 6950 XT, a late entrant into the tumultuous GPU market. Nvidia has also done its part with the GeForce RTX 3090 Ti, which brings impressive performance, albeit with a high cost and power draw at 450W TDP.  

With the original RTX 3090 price recently decreasing slightly, it makes for an interesting comparison against the newer AMD RX 6950 XT. The RTX 3090 Ti offers more performance, but is significantly outside of the price bracket of the RX 6950 XT. Is this AMD refresh enough to push performance for AMD ahead of Nvidia, even in the murky waters of ray tracing? More importantly, does it move the needle for high-end gamers enough for them to switch their allegiance from Nvidia to AMD? Let’s find out!

Sapphire RX 6950XT

Brad Chacos

Nvidia RTX 3090 vs. AMD 6950XT: Price

Relax. You can easily find both GPUs in stock now at most retailers, and generally at close to MSRP. The GPU market has experienced a significant downturn during the last several months, with prices quickly dropping from their stratospheric levels. 

The AMD RX 6950XT comes in at a $1,099 MSRP for the reference model, and some third-party models range from $1,199 to $1,299. A modest bump from the $999 6900XT pricing—but it does not mean they’re a great deal. With the declining GPU market and murmurs of the next-generation GPUs coming out this year, it has significantly dampened demand and enthusiasm for this level of GPU. 

The Nvidia RTX 3090 has also experienced much lower demand, resulting in quickly falling pricing. While you’re still unlikely to find a $1,499 Founders Edition at MSRP, most models such as those from the EVGA RTX 3090 lineup have experienced a significant price drop, coming in as low as $1,609 for the Black series. (The 3090 Ti debuted at $1,999, a big increase over the RTX 3090—and it’s already being discounted at many retailers, too) 

The pricing on the used market is even lower, however, with RTX 3090s dipping close to the $1,200 mark in many cases. 

Neither model is a great price-to-performance choice this late into the release cycle, however. Most high-end gamers who don’t have a top-tier GPU will likely be best served by waiting for the next generation this year.

The AMD RX 6950 XT is the latest to test its mettle against Nvidia.

Thiago Trevisan

Nvidia RTX 3090 vs. AMD 6950XT: Performance

AMD certainly threw in a surprising performance with the original 6900 XT—it was able to match or beat the RTX 3090 in certain games and scenarios. Has the RX 6950 XT finally crossed the Rubicon in all performance areas? Not quite. When it comes to ray tracing performance, the RTX 3090 is still out ahead. (Check out Brad Chacos’ review for a deeper dive on the new AMD refreshes.)

Thiago Trevisan

In games such as Watch Dogs Legion with traditional rasterization, we can see the AMD RX 6950 XT performing as well or better than the RTX 3090 (especially at lower resolutions). This trend continues in other games such as Horizon Zero Dawn, where it’s able to keep up with the RTX 3090. Game after game, both GPUs trade blows and are highly competitive with each other. 

Both GPUs have party tricks up their sleeves for performance, too. AMD has Smart Access Memory that can boost performance when coupled with a Ryzen CPU, along with Radeon Super Resolution. This will give it significant boosts in many games, besting the RTX 3090 in some cases, as shown below in Horizon Zero Dawn. Nvidia also has DLSS technology that does wonders for keeping graphical fidelity and high frames simultaneously—which is a gamer changer when paired with ray tracing.

AMD RSR Advantages

Thiago Trevisan

What happens when we introduce ray tracing? That’s where Nvidia’s RTX 3090 still holds an advantage over AMD. The 6950 XT does not have upgraded ray tracing hardware when compared to the 6900 XT, keeping it behind the Nvidia RTX GPUs in this case. 

It can be argued that there are diminishing returns for ray tracing visuals and performance, with varying results. The technology puts insane strain on performance, lowering frame rates significantly until you claw some back with the help of an upscaling technology like DLSS or AMD’s FSR. The visual impact doesn’t always make losing that performance worthwhile, either. But when it comes to the “halo” GPUs like these, ray tracing can be part of the reason you get a high-end GPU in the first place; you want to turn all the eye candy up to Ultra, including ray tracing. Paired with Nvidia’s DLSS, the performance penalty can be mitigated, and the visuals enjoyed fully.

This is one big advantage of the RTX 3090 versus the newer 6950 XT—maximum performance and visuals matter when you’re spending way over $1,000 for a GPU. AMD’s ray tracing hardware is a generation behind Nvidia’s implementation, while its DLSS rival, FSR 2.0, is great but still in its infancy, with only a handful of games supporting the fledgling technology at this point. That means ray tracing is best experienced at 1440p resolution on the 6950 XT, while you can usually crank ray traced games even at 4K on the 3090. If you’re not interested in ray tracing however, the 6950 XT is a mighty fine choice for significantly less cost. 

Let’s not forget that the RTX 3090 is certainly better geared towards content creation and other workstation use cases, as well. With a whopping 24GB of GDDR6x VRAM, it will handily beat the 16GB RX 6950 XT in most content creation tasks. The 3080 Ti would be a more reasonable competitor to the 6950 XT in this case as a pure gaming solution. 

Nvidia RTX 3090 vs. AMD 6950 XT: Power and other things to know

The RTX 3090 packs a TDP of 350W, with many third-party models eclipsing 400W. The RX 6950 XT comes in a 335W TDP, which is reasonable for the performance that it puts out. Remember, the 3090 Ti is already up to 450W TDP—so next-generation offerings will likely go up significantly in requirements. 

You’ll want a minimum of a 750W power supply for both, but we’d recommend you up that even higher for future proofing—as high-quality power supplies tend to last a long time. 

You’ll need a case with good airflow for both these options, and better clearance than lesser GPUs require. (They’re often wrapped in a nice, thick, beefy air coolers to keep their temperatures in check.) 

Which is the better option for water cooling? We’d argue that the RTX 3090 is, since it likely will have a wider range of water blocks available on the market. Plus, with its steaming-hot VRAM, it often benefits more from taking a deep swim versus the typically cooler RX 6950 XT.

So, is the 6950 XT enough to best the RTX 3090?

The 6950 XT is a slightly more powerful addition to the high-end AMD lineup, putting up an impressive performance versus the RTX 3090. It’s simple: If you’re playing at higher resolutions and want to use ray tracing, Nvidia still holds an advantage here. DLSS and the Nvidia encoders are also great technologies that serve people well. 

If you’re after pure frame rate goodness—without as much ray tracing, the 6950 XT can be often a much better choice than the RTX 3090, especially in sub-4K resolutions. AMD offers great technologies such as FSR, Smart Access Memory to really up the performance too. 

So, who wins? Unfortunately, the 6950 XT comes in too late in the release cycle to be relevant in the rapidly declining GPU market, making it an expensive option. The aging RTX 3090 is a similar story. Its high price was never a very good option for purely gaming—making better use for hybrid content creators/gamers instead. The RTX 3090 Ti is an even worse value proposition this late into the story, making it only relevant for a few high-end enthusiasts who don’t mind the price tag. 

3090 Ti: The symbol for diminishing returns in an ever changing market. Beautiful, but flawed!

IDG

The verdict: This is a good ole’ fashioned standstill. We’d wait out the market a few months as both will experience even steeper declines in price with the introduction of the next generation. Otherwise, if you really must have one now, the decision will come down to ray tracing preference and resolution you’re playing at. Both GPUs will give you good, all-around performance for years to come—but neither are a great choice right now as the GPU market is rapidly changing this year. 

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