Remember those halcyon days when a $1,200 graphics card price tag seemed extortionately expensive, rather than comparatively good value after two years of chaos? While Nvidia’s all-out Ampere swansong, the GeForce RTX 3090 Ti will set you back at least $2000, AMD is hoping to tempt 4K gamers its way with the much cheaper Radeon RX 6950 XT.
Of course, the GeForce RTX 3090 Ti isn’t just a speed binned RTX 3090 with higher clock speeds – it also has two extra Streaming Multiprocessors enabled, giving it a (very slight) advantage in parallel shading power. Comparatively, the Radeon RX 6950 XT’s Navi 21 GPU is the same as that of the Radeon RX 6900 XT – it just has faster clock speeds.
In this case, though, Sapphire has paired these new speed-binned GPUs with a super-powerful PCB and cooler setup that frees the GPU to boost far beyond the stated spec. AMD quotes a typical board power of ‘at least’ 330W for Radeon RX 6950 XT cards, with a 2100MHz game clock and 2310MHz boost clock.
Comparatively, Sapphire quotes a 2162MHz game clock and 2368MHz maximum boost clock for the Nitro+ Pure Radeon RX 6950 XT, thanks to a 370W total board power. What’s more, there’s the ability to push it up to 390W with a 2425MHz boost clock in its OC mode, enabled by swapping the card to a different set of BIOS settings. It comes with a handy BIOS switch on the top of the card, which enables you to switch between modes.
However, we found that the OC mode made little difference to performance, as the Sapphire card’s extra power and immense cooling system already frees up the GPU to boost much further than the stated specs. We observed a 2660MHz peak in our game tests, with the clock speed generally running at around 2555MHz, so we happily left the card running at its default settings.
AMD has also taken this opportunity to increase the memory clock speed from the Radeon RX 6900 XT’s 2GHz (16GHz effective) to the 6950 XT’s 2250MHz (18GHz effective), and Sapphire has left this setting alone. As with the Radeon RX 6900 XT, you still get 16GB of GDDR6 memory attached to a 256-bit wide interface, but the 6950 XT’s extra clock speed boosts the total bandwidth from 512GB/sec to 575.5GB/sec. That’s still a long way off the 1TB/sec+ speeds Nvidia now command, but the Radeon RX 6950 XT can also fall back on a 128MB pool of Infinity Cache to help here.
Sapphire has really gone to town on the Radeon RX 6950 XT Nitro+ Pure, building on the existing Nitro+ cooler design to create an enormous brick of a card that still manages to look attractive. It’s wrapped in a well-engineered, two-part chunky white metal frame (the Pure in the name refers to this color) made from die-cast aluminium-magnesium alloy.
It’s peppered with large vent holes to allow the heatsinks beneath it to breathe, and the backplate part is thermally attached to the PCB with a pad. The card also has three areas of ARGB lighting – two on the back and one on the edge. The trio of fans also sport ARGB lighting, but it’s hard to see them through a case window on a card that’s this thick and, let’s face it, you’re not going to put this 3.5-slot monster in a vertical GPU mount.
The lighting can be controlled through Sapphire’s Trixx software, which also offers options for creating custom resolutions to improve performance, along with temperature and clock speed monitoring features, and the ability to switch between BIOSes.
There’s a number of lighting effects available, although custom colours are disappointingly left static, with no way to cycle between two custom colours, for example. Thankfully, Sapphire has also provided another option, with a standard 3-pin RGB cable on the edge of the PCB, which you can access under a backplate vent to tie the card to your own lighting control system.
You also get a support bracket in the box, although we found that the card’s thick metal frame already prevented the card from drooping in our test rig. It’s a well-built hunk of metal with a solid structure.
While the Radeon RX 6950 XT doesn’t offer any extra stream processors or Ray Accelerators over its predecessor, the extra clock speed does make a difference. In particular, this is the fastest card we’ve ever tested in Assassin’s Creed Valhalla – here, the Sapphire Nitro+ Pure 6950 XT even beats the GeForce RTX 3090 Ti by 3fps at 4K with Resizable BAR enabled, and by larger margins at lower resolutions, which is where extra clock speed usually makes a bigger difference.
For this game, we also forced the Sapphire card down to AMD’s reference spec to see how much more power you get from the Nitro+ Pure and there’s a stark difference. While the reference spec Radeon RX 6950 XT’s average frame rates are 3-6fps quicker than those of the Radeon RX 6900 XT, the immense boosting power of the Sapphire card pushes it much further – it gets you an extra 6fps than the reference spec at 4K, and 14fps more at 1,920 x 1,080.
In non-ray-traced tests at 1,920 x 1,080, this card is also the king of the benchmark graphs, happily beating the pricier GeForce RTX 3090 Ti. In standard game tests without ray tracing, this clocked-up RDNA2 GPU is generally competitive with the RTX 3080 Ti at 4K as well, either beating it or only being a small margin behind.
However, once you add ray tracing, the Radeon starts to struggle. The RTX 3080 Ti was 12fps faster in Metro Exodus with High ray tracing at 4K, for example. Likewise, in Doom Eternal, the Sapphire card did manage a decent average of 103fps with a 68fps 99th percentile result with ray tracing at 4K, but the RTX 3080 Ti gets better results of 140fps and 113fps respectively, and the RTX 3090 Ti is even quicker.
The Sapphire couldn’t achieve a playable frame rate in Cyberpunk 2077 with Medium ray tracing at 4K either, even with FSR enabled, although to be fair, even the GeForce RTX 3090 Ti struggles in this test.
One definite advantage of this Sapphire card, however, is its awesome cooler. It remained barely audible throughout testing, with its noise always eclipsed by the 240mm AIO liquid cooler on our CPU. That’s amazing for a card that’s regularly achieving such high clock speeds.
The latter shows that there aren’t any throttling problems too, and we measured a GPU peak temperature of 71°C during testing, with a junction temperature of 88°C (Sapphire claims 74°C and 89°C for these results respectively).
What’s more, despite the sky-high clock speeds, and the need for three power connectors (2 x 8-pin and 1 x 6-pin), the peak total system power consumption of 558W with this Sapphire card was 133W lower than with the new GeForce RTX 3090 Ti.
Graphics processor AMD Radeon RX 6950 XT, 2162MHz game clock, 2368MHz boost clock, 2435MHz OC boost clock Pipeline 5,120 stream processors, 128 ROPS Ray Accelerators 80 Memory 16GB GDDR6, 2250MHz (18GHz effective) Infinity Cache 128MB Memory interface 256-bit Card interface 16x PCI-E 4 Bandwidth 575.5GB/sec Power connectors 1 x 6-pin, 2 x 8-pin Card length 320mm Expansion slots 3.5 Lighting 3 x ARGB fans, 3 x ARGB lighting zones on cooler Extras Expansion slot support bracket, BIOS switch
The Nitro+ Pure Radeon RX 6950 XT is a triumph in terms of card design, allowing great boost clocks without making a racket, and all packaged in a satisfyingly well-built and goodlooking chunk of expansion card. Its only problem is that the GPU on which it’s based can’t handle ray tracing as well as the competition from Nvidia, and if you’re spending this much money on a new graphics card, you’re going to want to enable the top eye candy. If ray tracing isn’t important to you, though, this is an awesomely powerful, well-built graphics card.
+ Pros + Fantastic design + Amazing boost speeds + Very fast at rasterisation - Cons - Struggles with ray tracing - High price