AMD Radeon RX 7900 XTX revealed: 5 crucial details PC gamers need to know

After a so-called “lost generation” for graphics cards plagued by shortages and scalpers, things are finally looking up for PC gamers—and the battle for next-generation GPU supremacy has finally arrived. Nvidia launched its ferocious GeForce RTX 4090 mere weeks ago, but its monitor-melting lead isn’t going uncontested for long. This week, AMD revealed its next-gen RDNA 3 architecture and two GPUs serving as its paragon: the Radeon RX 7900 XTX and 7900 XT.

This ain’t your momma’s GPU throw-down though. AMD is doing some radically different things with RDNA 3 and the Radeon RX 7900 XTX, and we’ve never seen a graphics card quite like this before. We’ve already covered the Radeon RX 7900 XTX’s technical notes in-depth in our announcement coverage, but if you don’t feel like sifting through a discussion of dual-issue wave 32 instructions and memory-controller vagaries, here are the five key facts about RDNA 3 and the Radeon RX 7900 XTX that PC gamers absolutely need to know before the launch on December 13.

1. The Radeon RX 7900 XTX and XT are a lot cheaper than Nvidia’s offerings

Adam Patrick Murray / IDG

First, the price: It’s hard to call graphics cards that set you back four figures a bargain, per se, but it appears AMD heard the outrage generated by Nvidia’s pricing of $1,600 for the GeForce RTX 4090 and $1,200 for the RTX 4080. By contrast, RDNA 3’s flagship Radeon RX 7900 XTX will set you back “just” $999, and the single-X Radeon RX 7900 XT costs $899.

That’s the same price as the Radeon RX 6900 XT before it. Nvidia, on the other hand, increased the price of the RTX 4090 by $100 over the RTX 3090, while the RTX 4080 costs a whopping $400—50 percent—more than the RTX 3080.

2. RDNA 3 chiplets FTW

A Radeon RX 7900 XTX chip; see the six memory dies flanking the core GPU die?

Adam Patrick Murray / IDG

Part of those cost savings no doubt stem from the radical new technical design of the RDNA 3 GPUs. Traditionally, GPUs were built using huge “monolithic” dies that cram all necessary bits inside. But with RDNA 3, AMD is swiping a page from its ultra-successful Ryzen playbook. The Radeon RX 7900 XTX and XT use several chiplets working together on the same package instead: a core GPU die surrounded by up to six memory cache dies that hold the card’s Infinity Cache and memory controllers.

We wade deeper into technical details in our RDNA 3 announcement coverage, but the upshot is AMD can use TSMC’s cutting-edge 5nm manufacturing process to spit out an abundance of smaller 300mm GPU dies, then use its cheaper and more mature 6nm process for the memory dies. That helps AMD keep costs down on both nodes, and no doubt helps the Radeon RX 7900 XTX and XT achieve their more palatable prices. The central RDNA 3 GPU die measures just 300mm squared. Nvidia’s RTX 4090 die is over twice as large, and all of it is made using TSMC’s expensive cutting-edge node.

3. Powerful but not overpowered

Nvidia swung for the fences with its GeForce RTX 4090, pushing a monstrous 450 watts through that massive GPU die and cutting-edge GDDR6X memory for truly face-melting performance, power use (and melting 12VHPWR adapters) be damned.

Adam Patrick Murray / IDG

But in a world crippled by an energy crisis, power efficiency matters. AMD thankfully stayed true to its efficiency focus with RDNA 3, delivering a claimed 54 percent improvement in performance-per-watt over the already-impressive RDNA 2 graphics cards. That, in turn, let AMD stick to saner power requirements—both the Radeon RX 7900 XTX and XT only require a pair of standard 8-pin power connectors. They draw 355 watts and 300 watts, respectively. The more modest power requirements mean that AMD’s reference cards stick to slightly-chonky-but-fine 2.5-slot designs, compared to the 3- and even 4-slot monsters common to RTX 4090 models.

Bottom line? Upgrading from a recent Radeon or Nvidia graphics card to a new Radeon RX 7900 XTX won’t require reconfiguring your rig or being a beta tester for a troublesome new power connector. Yay!

4. RDNA 3 AV1, DisplayPort 2.1, and more

Mmmmmmm DisplayPort 2.1.

Adam Patrick Murray / IDG

AMD fluffs out RDNA 3 with some compelling extras, too. Unlike Nvidia’s RTX 40-series GPUs, the Radeon RX 7900 XTX and 7900 XT feature DisplayPort 2.1, which unlocks monitor refresh rates up to 4K/480 (yes, 480Hz) and 8K/165. Gotta go fast! AMD’s new dual media engine also supports simultaneous encode/decode of HEVC/AVC streams, as well as bleeding-edge AV1 encoding, joining ranks with Nvidia and Intel’s recent GPU offerings.

These upgrades may not mean much to you if you’re not a content creator, but they’re very welcome indeed.

5. Will it beat the RTX 4090? Who knows!

Finally, the elephant in the room: Will AMD’s Radeon RX 7900 XTX and 7900 XT topple Nvidia’s vaunted GeForce RTX 4090? That remains to be seen—always wait for independent reviews!—but the initial presentation leaves the prospect looking questionable.

AMD

AMD

AMD

Don’t take this the wrong way: The Radeon RX 7900 XTX will be a brutally fast performer if the charts AMD provided prove accurate. The Radeon RX 6950 XT already beat the RTX 3090, and AMD says the Radeon RX 7900 XTX is 1.5x to 1.7x faster than the 6950 XT at 4K gaming (for $250 less). Likewise, AMD added AI cores to RDNA 3, meeting a key Nvidia feature, and modified Radeon’s ray-tracing cores for up to 50 percent higher performance. But I’m not sure even that huge uptick will be enough to best Nvidia’s RTX 4090 and 4080 in ray tracing after GeForce’s similarly huge uplift this generation. And crucially, AMD’s benchmarks didn’t make any comparisons to the RTX 4090 whatsoever, even though the 4090 has been available for weeks now.  

Between those tidbits and the much lower $999/$899 price tags, the Radeon RX 7900 XTX and XT could wind up competing with the RTX 4080 instead—but with so many new technologies at play in RDNA 3 it’s hard to prognosticate too heavily. We’ll have to wait for independent reviews to launch to know for sure.

In the meantime, if you want even more nitty-gritty RDNA details, be sure to check out our much wonkier Radeon RX 7900 XTX and 7900 XT announcement coverage.

Gaming, GPUs

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