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

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

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Should you buy the AMD Radeon RX 5500 XT?

The Radeon RX 5500 XT is a decent budget 1080p gaming option, but most people would probably be better off buying Nvidia’s GeForce GTX 1650 Super. AMD’s affordable card is still priced too high against the competition.

Nvidia’s GPU is effectively equal in performance or flat-out faster than the Radeon RX 5500 XT in most of the games we tested and starts at $10 less. Luxurious custom versions like the Asus ROG Strix GTX 1650 Super we reviewed previously cost the same $170 that the Radeon RX 5500 XT uses for baseline pricing. GeForce GTX 1650 Super stocks are limited on Newegg, but you’ll find single-fan models still available for $160, and several dual-fan versions on Amazon.

sapphire pulse radeon rx 5500 xt 6 Brad Chacos/IDG

The Sapphire Pulse Radeon RX 5500 XT.

Moving past Nvidia’s options, I can’t even see the Radeon RX 5500 XT as a clear recommendation over its ancient predecessors. Newegg’s selling several Radeon RX 580s at or under the RX 5500 XT’s $169 starting price, and they all come with free games and 8GB of GDDR5 memory—double the capacity of the RX 5500 XT. The Radeon RX 580 equals or even beats the newer card’s 1080p performance in many of the games we tested, too, albeit at drastically higher power consumption.

You can find some even faster 8GB Radeon RX 590 models starting at $180 on Newegg. But most people should buy a GeForce GTX 1650 Super instead.

AMD’s new mainstream GPU has some merit. The Radeon RX 5500 XT delivers satisfying performance for the price at Medium to High graphics presets, best-in-class power efficiency, and a slew of bleeding-edge features that its Polaris-based predecessors lack. On the other hand, PCIe 4.0 capabilities deliver no real-world gaming improvements for graphics cards right now, though AMD’s implementation helps improve this card’s power efficiency, and most people aren’t pairing budget GPUs with 4K, 144Hz panels.

sapphire pulse radeon rx 5500 xt 1 Brad Chacos/IDG

Overall value plays a big part in buying decisions in this price range. AMD tosses in a free copy of Monster Hunter World: Iceborne Master Edition and three free months of Microsoft’s excellent Xbox Game Pass for PC, and those goodies could tip the scales enough to sway some people to Team Red. You could buy the Radeon RX 5500 XT without spending extra on games for at least a quarter of a year. That’s compelling, especially if you were already considering picking up MHW.   

Definitely consider the Sapphire Pulse if you want to buy a Radeon RX 5500 XT. The graphics card comes loaded with some nice extras you don’t normally find in affordable custom models—a dual BIOS switch, idle fan stop, and a metal backplate—and runs very cool and almost imperceptibly quiet. It’s great.

Better yet, the company’s innovative, thus-far-unrivaled Trixx Boost feature helps push performance further, matching the GTX 1650 Super in worst-case scenarios and teeing up against the $200 GeForce GTX 1660 in the best. Trixx Boost kicks ass, full stop, though it kicks less ass for the budget Radeon RX 5500 XT than it does in the more potent (and much pricier) Sapphire Nitro+ Radeon RX 5700. The Radeon RX 5500 XT performs best at 1080p resolution, meaning you can’t tap into Trixx Boost’s downscaling as aggressively as you can with all the pixels shooting forth from the 1440p-focused RX 5700, reducing the potential performance uplift. We had to adjust the feature’s default 85 percent scaling up to 90 percent for games to look good to our eye, though that’ll differ for everyone.

dsc00804 Brad Chacos/IDG

Bottom line: The AMD Radeon RX 5500 XT moves the needle forward in terms of features and power efficiency, but not in performance compared to what Polaris-based Radeon cards have been selling for over the past year. If the card cost $20 or $30 less, we’d like it a lot more in this value-obsessed section of the market. Sapphire’s Pulse design and fantastic Trixx Boost feature deserve praise, however. If we were reviewing a (non-existent) reference version of the Radeon RX 5500 XT, we’d award it 3 stars. The extra value provided by Sapphire’s custom model bump it up to a 3.5. The Sapphire Radeon RX 5500 XT is a great custom cooler design built around a good AMD GPU with a too-high price.

Riding the bleeding-edge of features ain’t cheap, but for budget graphics cards, every dollar matters.

This story, "AMD Radeon RX 5500 XT review: Bleeding-edge on a budget" was originally published by PCWorld.

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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