AMD Radeon RX 5500 XT review: Bleeding-edge on a budget

It'd be a lot better if it cost $30 less.

sapphire pulse radeon rx 5500 xt 5
Brad Chacos/IDG
At a Glance

When it comes to graphics cards, AMD’s owned the sub-$200 price point for years. Nvidia’s GeForce GTX 1060 and 1660 series graphics cards couldn’t hold a candle to the value proposition of the Radeon RX 570 and 580, nor its predecessors, especially once AMD started bundling them with games galore. Those Polaris-powered GPUs are downright ancient, however, and suck down obscene amounts of power compared to modern graphics cards.

Enter the new $169 Radeon RX 5500 XT, launching today after being teased in October.

The Radeon RX 5500 XT brings AMD’s “Navi” GPU, built using the company’s next-gen RDNA graphics architecture, to the masses. Navi debuted in the Radeon RX 5700 and 5700 XT, which immediately became our go-to recommendations for 1440p gaming. Navi’s loaded with cutting-edge tech: The Radeon RX 5500 XT is one of the first consumer GPUs built using 7nm process technology, and to support the bleeding-edge PCIe 4.0 interface. It’s upgraded to ultra-fast GDDR6 memory. The card packs AMD’s latest and greatest media encoders, and fresh display technologies that enable 4K, 144Hz monitors without the need for messy chroma subsampling (though you won’t game at anywhere near those levels with this humble graphics card). It’s tremendously more power-efficient, too.

Yet despite all those advances, and all AMD’s previous wins with Polaris and Navi, the Radeon RX 5500 XT can’t lay claim to the mainstream crown. Nvidia’s just-launched $160 GeForce GTX 1650 Super puts up a tough fight for the budget graphics card market. While AMD’s card is only $169, it’s still priced too high for the performance it delivers.

AMD Radeon RX 5500 XT specs, features, and price

As mentioned above, the Radeon RX 5500 XT uses a cut-down version of AMD’s “Navi” GPU.

radeon rx 5500 xt specs AMD

Radeon RX 5500 XT specs.

Where the Radeon RX 5700 series packed 2,304 stream processors into the $350 Radeon RX 5700, and 2,560 SPs in the faster $400 Radeon RX 5700 XT, AMD’s mainstream-focused Radeon RX 5500 XT reduces that to 1,408 stream processors. The Radeon RX 5500 XT’s effective clock speed during play splits the difference between the two RX 5700 cards, with a rated 1,717MHz Game Clock. A bug in AMD’s new Radeon Software Adrenalin 2020 Edition prevented us from verifying that speed under load, but should be fixed shortly after this card’s launch, the company says.

Compared to the “Polaris” GPU-based graphics cards that the Radeon RX 5500 XT replaces, the shift to Navi is a big deal, delivering all those snazzy new features as well as vastly improved power efficiency. But the change in memory helps reduce power needs, too. AMD’s latest GPU packs ultra-fast, energy-efficient GDDR6 memory. Paired with a 128-bit bus, it’s good for an overall memory bandwidth of 224GBps. For comparison, the older Radeon RX 570 with GDDR5 memory hit the same speed but required a much wider 256-bit bus to do so, while Nvidia’s $160 GeForce GTX 1650 Super achieves 192GBps with its 4GB of GDDR6 memory.

Both 4GB and 8GB models will be available starting at $169 and $199 respectively. AMD says that 4GB is the better price-to-performance option for most people, and it should deliver identical frame rates in many games—but not all. The AMD-supplied slide below shows the 8GB Radeon RX 5500 XT outpunching the 4GB model in some key games. We were sent a 4GB model for review.

radeon rx 5500 4gb vs 8gb AMD

Among all the various improvements, AMD claims that the Radeon RX 5500 XT delivers up to 1.6 times the performance-per-watt of the two-generation-old Radeon RX 480, with 12 percent more absolute performance at 30 percent less power draw. Actual performance results vary game to game, as you’ll see later.

The Radeon RX 5500 XT requires 130W of power for the board, which means that all models will have to include at least a 6-pin power connector. The Sapphire Pulse Radeon RX 5500 XT we reviewed came equipped with an 8-pin connector, along with an HDMI port and a trio of DisplayPorts.  

radeon rx 5500 perf per watt AMD

This 1080p Navi GPU debuted in desktops and laptops alone, in the form of the Radeon RX 5500 and RX 5500M. The Radeon RX 5500 XT destined for DIY systems is basically a faster version of the non-XT RX 5500, and unlike the Radeon RX 5700 series, it won’t be available in a reference card version. The Radeon RX 5500 XT launches today with a wide variety of custom models available from AMD partners like Sapphire, XFX, Asus, Gigabyte, and others. To sweeten the pot, AMD’s tossing in a free copy of Monster Hunter World: Iceborne Master Edition and three free months of Microsoft’s superb Xbox Game Pass for PC.

Next page: Meet the Sapphire Pulse Radeon RX 5500 XT

At a Glance
  • AMD's Radeon RX 5500 XT brings its next-gen navi GPU architecture to the masses, with mixed results. It's a good budget gaming option that's priced slightly too high.

    Pros

    • Good 1080p gaming performance
    • Fast GDDR6 VRAM, PCIe 4.0 support
    • Great power efficiency
    • Bundled with Monster Hunter World: Iceborne Edition and 3 months of Xbox Game pass
    • Sapphire's cooler is whisper quiet and very cool
    • Sapphire Pulse has great features for the price
    • Trixx Boost software uses smart downscaling for FPS gains

    Cons

    • Doesn't outperform RX 580 or GTX 1650 Super in many games
    • Costs more than GTX 1650 Super and 8GB RX 580
    • Some cutting-edge Navi features aren't beneficial in budget GPUs
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