Category Archives: Gaming

300 Nvidia GPUs Seized After High Speed Boat Chase

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As GPU prices have increased, cryptocurrency miners and gamers have resorted to once-unusual tactics for buying video cards, like paying monthly fees to bot subscription services or paying thousands of dollars on eBay.

It’s always fun to watch the cost of something explode until you can play games calculating whether the street price of various illegal substances is more or less per ounce than your average GPU. The illegal substances are generally still winning, but the skyrocketing price of cryptocurrency has had a similar impact on the cost of video cards. Driving up the cost of video cards has made them rarer and more-desired commodities, which is how we arrive at the point in this story where Hong Kong customs officials are chasing smugglers in speed boats to crack down on illicit GPU sales.

There’s a certain dark hilarity in imagining drug dealers across the world offering their clientele multiple ounces of weed or an RTX 3060, but in this case, the haul consisted of low-end 30HX CMP cards. Nvidia offers a range of CMP cards, with performance ranging from 26MH/s to 86MH/s.

The 30HX and 40HX are believed to be based on Turing silicon — the GTX 1660 Super and RTX 2070, respectively. The 50X and 90HX are harder to pin down. The 50HX is a touch faster than the known mining performance of the RTX 2080 Ti, while the 90HX is about 10 percent slower than the known mining performance of an RTX 3080. If the 50HX is based on the RTX 2080 Ti, it’s fielding a smaller amount of VRAM; the RTX 2080 Ti offered 11GB, while the 50HX has just 10GB.

We’re hoping they just took the cards *out* of the boxes rather than thinking the entire lot was shipped this way. Seawater exposure is not known to enhance overclocking performance.

We’ve been tracking the peanut-butter-and-clusterf**** sandwich that is the modern GPU (and CMP) market for several months now. There are three reasons why the GPU market looks like it does: cryptocurrency mining, Samsung yields, and pandemic-related semiconductor demand.

At the moment there’s mixed messaging on when semiconductor shortages could ease, depending on which parts you care about. CPU shortages might ease by the back half of the year, but we’re still hearing that GPU shortages could drag on into 2022. Whether they do is going to depend on which factors are starving the market today and whether the companies responsible for them can meaningfully improve the situation in the next few months. If you’re looking for a card, we’ve written a guide to the most affordable GPU options available today.

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Alienware Launches Its First AMD Laptop Since 2007

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Alienware has announced a new laptop powered by AMD’s Ryzen Mobile 5000 family, while Dell has added a new AMD gaming system to its own product matrix as well. In Alienware’s case, it’s the first time the company has offered an AMD-powered product since 2007.

When AMD’s Ryzen Mobile 4000 failed to get much market uptake last year, there were fears that the company was the victim of a plot between Intel and Nvidia to block it from gaining market share. While there are some historical reasons why people are afraid of that issue where AMD is concerned, the company has openly stated its own explanation: Ryzen Mobile 4000 was the platform that showed OEMs was serious about competing in mobile and capable of fielding a product that could power high-end designs.

We’re seeing more Ryzen 5000 systems rolling out this year because the Ryzen Mobile 4000 convinced the various OEMs AMD could power high-end systems. Winning the Surface Laptop 3 also helped establish AMD’s credentials, even if that system used a Ryzen Mobile 3000 CPU instead of a 7nm Zen 2 core.

Both the Alienware m15 Ryzen Edition R5 and the Dell G15 Ryzen Edition will offer Nvidia GeForce RTX 3000 series GPUs. The new Alienware system will offer displays with 240Hz (1440p) or 360Hz (1080p) refresh rates “to deliver smooth gameplay.” Phrasing like this is a bit like saying an RTX 3090 “delivers smooth 720p performance.” The problem with the statement isn’t that it’s wrong, per se; it’s the implication that one needs an RTX 3090 to get smooth 720p performance in the first place.

A screen with a 60Hz refresh rate is redrawn once every 16.6 milliseconds. At 120Hz, it’s redrawn every 8.3ms. At 240Hz, every 4.15ms. At 360Hz, every 2.7ms. The ever-increasing Hz numbers hide the fact that the real amount of latency reduction shrinks the higher you go. Moving from 30Hz (33.3ms refresh rate) to 60Hz (16.6ms refresh rate) is a larger improvement than moving from 60Hz to 360Hz. Keep in mind that the degree of difference you’d see in any given title depends very much on how fast the game’s engine can run in the first place. There are a lot of titles that do not run at 240-360fps at 1080p or 1440p unless you have deliberately wrecked detail settings to maximize frame rates.

There’s nothing wrong with Alienware marketing its systems to e-sports fanatics chasing every last frame, but 240-360Hz refresh rates are not required to “enable smooth gameplay.”

Alienware also claims that this is “User-upgradeable 3200MHz DDR4 memory for the first time on an Alienware 15-inch notebook.” This is an absurd untruth. iFixit has multiple teardowns and manuals of how to upgrade the RAM inside various 15-inch Alienware systems manufactured over the past decade. Alienware moved to soldered DRAM several years ago and it’s trying to spin this reversal as a new feature being added rather than the restoration of an expected baseline capability.

Thankfully, the actual system designs look better than the marketing. The Alienware m15 offers a Ryzen 7 5800H or a Ryzen 9 4900HS paired with an RTX 3060 or RTX 3070, starting at $ 1,794. The Dell G15 Ryzen Edition will use a Ryzen 5 5600H or Ryzen 7 5800H with up to an RTX 3060, reportedly starting at $ 900. The G15 will also be available with 120Hz or 165Hz panels, with a 360Hz panel option coming later this spring.

Anyone who buys a laptop with a high refresh rate display should be aware these panels will absolutely chew through your battery. Most games allow you to set your refresh rate in-game, but some titles lock your refresh rate to your Windows desktop refresh rate. I’m not sure Windows offers a way to automatically cut the refresh rate when on battery, so anyone using >60Hz on AC might want to double-check their panel settings before switching to battery.

If you’re looking at a laptop, you’re probably planning to buy an OEM system no matter what, but the incredibly high price of retail channel GPUs has made OEM systems the only game in town as far as reasonable prices are concerned. In this case, I’m grumpy about the marketing, but I’ve tested gaming PCs from both Dell and Alienware before and been pleased with the end result.

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Steam Data Shows Ampere GPUs Barely Trickling Into Market

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As the GPU shortage continues, what constitutes “success” is being rapidly recast. Several publications have recently run stories claiming that an uptick in Ampere GPU deployments according to the Steam Hardware Survey constitutes evidence that these cards are making their way to gamers and that miners aren’t soaking up all the demand. This is factually true, inasmuch as cryptocurrency mining isn’t literally consuming every single GPU. When evaluated in a historical context, however, the current SHS doesn’t support an optimistic narrative about Ampere availability.

The RTX 3070 gained 0.17 percent market share from February 2021 to March 2021. That’s the most market share any GPU gained last month. But according to past Steam data, a single GPU topping out at 0.17 percent adoption isn’t very good at all.

I’ve surveyed several multiple data points in the SHS over the past two years. In November 2019, no fewer than nine GPUs gained more than 0.17 percent market share. The RTX 2060 picked up 0.42 percent that month, for example. In February 2020, before the pandemic hit, the GTX 1660 Ti and GTX 1650 gained 0.34 percent and 0.51 percent share, respectively, with other cards above 0.17 percent. Even in March 2020, with the pandemic gearing up, cards like the RTX 2060 (0.51 percent), RTX 2070 (0.31 percent), and RTX 2070 Super (0.28 percent) saw stronger growth than what’s being reported for Ampere today.

Steam has only included data on the RTX 3070 for two months, but the RTX 3080 has been included for longer. The trend is not encouraging:

Market share data above is for the period November 2020 – March 2021. Look at what happened to the RTX 3080’s adoption rate after December. We see gaming market share more than double in a single month. Thereafter, the growth rate falls off a cliff. It took the RTX 3080 a single month to grow by 2.08x, then a further three months to grow by 1.77x. In an ordinary year, this might reflect nothing more than seasonality, but this isn’t an ordinary year. There are still a lot of would-be Ampere gamers waiting for prices to fall.

This is reflected in how the numbers for all the other cards stop moving. Anyone with a GTX 1070 Ti, RTX 2080 Super, or RTX 2080 is a potential RTX 3070 customer (the 2080 Ti is a bit too high to really see the RTX 3070 as a replacement card). In November and December, the percent of users with each of these cards bounces around. From January forward, the percentages have been nearly static. RTX 2080 Ti customers aren’t upgrading to RTX 3090’s. RTX 2080 and 2080 Super owners clearly aren’t upgrading to Ampere. The Pascal gamers that Nvidia said it was explicitly targeting with this launch remain largely wedded to their hardware. The GTX 1060 has dropped 1.14 percent since November and the 1050 Ti has dropped about 0.5 percent. The RTX 1070 is 0.36 percent less common now than in November 2020. The GTX 1080 has dropped even less.

One reason why the RTX 3070 looks good is Steam didn’t add the GPU to its tracking until it had hit 1.12 percent. If we actually had the month-by-month report, however, I’m betting we’d see exactly the same thing as with the RTX 3080 — an initial jolt, followed by slow growth for such an attractively positioned high-end part. The RTX 3060 Ti entered the SHS at 0.27 percent in January and has risen to just 0.38 percent three months later.

In aggregate, the RTX 3080 and RTX 3070’s market share is growing on par with how the RTX 2080 and 2070 performed back in 2019. At MSRP, Ampere is everything Turing wasn’t. It offers ray tracing performance we feel more comfortable recommending and much stronger AI and gaming performance. It’s also much less expensive (theoretically) than the RTX 2070 and RTX 2080 were at launch back in 2018. In this context, a 0.17 percent rise in the number of RTX 3070 GPUs in-market isn’t a ray of hope. It’s a demonstration of how bad the market continues to be.

As of this writing, anyone who needs a replacement GPU should consider AMD’s R9 290 and R9 290X the best options for a reasonably priced card. We continue to keep an eye on this situation and it continues to offer the best price/performance ratio outside of getting lucky. RDNA2 GPUs are not contemplated in the story above because Steam has not yet added these cards to its database. It can take Valve months to update the database with new cards, however, and it does not add them at a consistent market share level. By all accounts, however, AMD availability is poor.

It is not clear if these shortages are being driven mostly by cryptocurrency-related demand, by low yields, or by a mixture of both. We may get some better data on that point when Nvidia eventually gives Q1 results, but that won’t happen for another couple of months. Several GPU manufacturers have implied they can’t get sufficient GPU inventory, but cryptocurrency demand is also a known impact right now.

We don’t typically refer to the SHS for hardware information because of doubts about its accuracy. But to the extent we can rely on this data to show us anything, what it shows is not positive. Four to five cards with a >0.17 percent rise might constitute some positive sign that we’re headed back towards normal. A single GPU just illustrates how far we’ve got to go.

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Cryptocurrency Mining Could Destroy PC Gaming as We’ve Known It

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According to a recent report, Nvidia is increasing the supply of GTX 1650 cards to the desktop consumer market after having prioritized the GPU for notebooks. This is good news. The GPU market is so overheated, we’re currently recommending readers look at cards like the eight-year-old R9 290 or R9 290X if they have to buy one. Any improvement in this situation, including increased availability of low-end cards so that people have something to purchase, is a positive development.

Increased availability of a bottom-end Turing with no ray tracing capability, or a relaunched GTX 1050 Ti,  however, is not exactly what PC gaming is supposed to deliver. Supplies of Ampere and RDNA2 GPUs remain extremely tight, with recent reports from ODMs such as Asus and MSI stating the situation has gotten worse. Some of these problems are reportedly caused by yield issues at Samsung, some by the pandemic-driven semiconductor shortage, and some by new demand in cryptocurrency mining. It isn’t clear how much responsibility should be assigned to each, but reports now indicate the GPU shortage might not improve until 2022.

Shortages are tolerable in the short term. So long as your GPU doesn’t die outright, it’ll keep offering acceptable performance in older titles, and plenty of people have a backlog of older games they’ve never played. In the short term, cryptocurrency mining is an annoyance. In the long term, it could be an existential threat to PC gaming as we’ve known it since the invention of the GPU. I am not arguing that PC gaming would die — I don’t see that happening — but it could change a great deal, and not for the better.

When prices of a good or service rise above what the market can bear, people look for alternatives. In this case, the alternatives to PC gaming are consoles such as the Switch, the PlayStation 5, and Xbox Series X, and cloud gaming services such as Stadia or GeForce Now. The three consoles are suffering from their own shortages and scalping problems, but the Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5 are now much less expensive than a graphics card on eBay.

An RTX 3070 ought to be a $ 400 GPU. They’re currently selling on eBay for between $ 1,200 and $ 1,700. An Xbox Series X or PlayStation 5 will set you back $ 750 to $ 850 based on a survey of recently sold listings on eBay. So long as console prices keep trending downward and GPUs don’t, the gap will only grow.

This problem is somewhat compounded by the ray tracing issue. Right now, turning ray tracing on in an AMD or Nvidia GPU carries a heavy performance hit that isn’t always mitigated by 1080p. Both Ampere and RDNA2 offer more ray tracing performance at a lower price than Nvidia debuted with Turing in 2018, but gamers who specifically want ray tracing cards have to buy in at a higher price point if they also want acceptable performance. The PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X support ray tracing out of the box, at a much lower price point than you’d pay for Ampere or RDNA2.

These results from our 6700 XT review show how heavy the hit can be. Turning on ray tracing on an RTX 3070 or 6700 XT can tank the frame rate depending on the game. Gamers who want ray tracing, even in 1080p, need to buy a higher-end GPU that can handle it.

What Happens When PC Gamers Can’t Buy New GPUs Long-Term?

Not all PC gamers build their own hardware and not all builders game. But considerable overlap exists between gamers and the DIY market, especially if you include people who might buy an OEM PC but upgrade the GPU. If the add-on board market for PCs stays this way, we’re looking at a future where paying OEM prices for component upgrades looks like the sane option. This does not bode well for the DIY gaming market or the CPU retail channel. If enough gamers are cut off from buying upgrades, developers will respond by targeting the capabilities PCs have, not those they don’t.

It’s tempting to say that this is a short-term problem that will work itself out, but this is the third cryptocurrency-driven shortage in seven years. By the time we hit Pascal’s five-year anniversary in May, the GPU market will have been overheated and overpriced for 29 out of 60 months. AMD and Nvidia may wind up launching replacements for RDNA3 and Ampere without the current generation ever being widely and regularly available at MSRP.

High GPU prices won’t kill PC gaming outright, but the sustained loss of access to high-end 3D hardware would fundamentally change the types of games we’re able to play. One reason why desktop GTX 1650 cards have a chance in hell at sticking around is that their 4GB VRAM buffers and small core counts make them less likely targets for mining. PC gaming drove the GPU market for decades, and now gamers are forced to hunt around its edges for the scrap the cryptocurrency market doesn’t want.

In a worst-case scenario, where GPU prices stay high and keep gamers locked out of the market, we’d see changes in the types of games people launched on PC. There’d be fewer AAA titles but most likely a thriving indie scene. One can even imagine AMD and Intel buffing their integrated GPUs in an attempt to partially compensate.

Persistently high consumer GPU prices might also push gamers towards cloud services en masse. This would still count as destroying “PC gaming as we’ve known it,” but it’s not the same thing as literally destroying PC gaming. There have been several “as we’ve known it” events in the past, including the invention of 3D acceleration itself.

I do believe GPU prices will eventually come down. The pandemic shortages will ease. The crypto market will almost certainly implode again. But if the next five years look like 2016-2021, we’ll be writing about how GPUs have spent less than half of an entire decade available for sale at MSRP, come 2026. The best-case outcome, if cryptocurrency mining remains a high and irregular source of demand, is that PC upgrade cycles also become highly irregular and kick off when crypto mining is unprofitable, with at least some gamers shifting to various cloud services for AAA titles. The worst-case outcome is that people abandon the hobby altogether in favor of other devices.

Either way, we’re looking at a situation where unchecked demand further slows the pace of progression in PC gaming by choking off new hardware sales to actual gamers. Nobody wants to be left holding the bag when the bubble pops and all that extra capacity isn’t needed. This makes foundries nervous about building out to meet the needs of a cryptocurrency market that might shrink 50-75 percent by this time next year or the year after that.

The kind of damage I’m referring to happens over multiple years. It shows up over time, and it’ll be illustrated by people hanging on to cards much longer than they have before. The most ominous aspect of our current situation is the implication that GPU prices might stay elevated for at least 15 months (counting from Ampere’s launch in September 2020). That’s a longer period of time than either of the previous cryptocurrency bubbles lasted. It’s long enough for people to get tired of waiting and buy something else.

Companies like Nvidia, AMD, and Intel are all making huge amounts of money thanks to ongoing high demand, but don’t be fooled. AMD reported strong results for its Radeon business when the first cryptocurrency bubble inflated, but its market share was dropping like a rock at the same time. In the case of crypto mining, what’s good for GPU manufacturers and what’s good for gamers appear to be two different things. None of what’s happening in the market right now is good for PC gaming if you like the way it works now.

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Boutique PC Builder Launches ‘No GPU’ Boxes to Cope With Video Card Shortage

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A boutique builder has launched a new lineup of “no GPU” enthusiast PCs, specifically intended for gamers who already have a video card but need to buy everything else. So far, only one company that we’re aware of has taken this step, but several recent stories have implied GPU availability is getting worse, not better. This may be the beginning of a trend.

I’ve been a gamer long enough to remember the introduction of 3D video cards. For the past two decades, “gaming” and “GPU” have been practically synonymous, but they weren’t always. Prior to the introduction of consumer-level 3D accelerators, performance in the 3D renderers of the day (Ultima Underworld, Doom, Quake, various flight simulators) was entirely dependent on CPU performance.

I suspect one reason AMD survived the x86 desktop CPU wars of the mid-1990s, where companies such as IDT and Cyrix did not, is the floating-point unit on chips like the K6 and K6-2 was powerful enough for modest gaming. Other manufacturers could only compete with Intel in integer workloads and their designs were limited to low-end budget rigs. So long as Intel dominated both integer and floating-point math, it could dominate gaming.

Then came the era of 3D acceleration, powered by Voodoo, TNT, and Rage. Intel MMX, introduced in January 1997, was meant to be the beginning of a new era of 3D rendering in which SIMD units inside CPUs would accelerate video games. Instead, video cards and GPUs became the predominant driver of gaming performance. Even today, when integrated graphics are better than they’ve ever been, GPUs are considered a requirement for any computer intended to game above minimum detail levels and settings. Under normal circumstances, taking the GPU out of a boutique system wrecks it for its intended purpose.

The UK boutique, FiercePC, claims that these systems “will not boot up” without an external GPU, but only two of the systems use an “F”-class Intel CPU that lacks an integrated GPU. The third is a Core i7-10700 and the motherboard for this system (Asus TUF B460-PLUS) features an HDMI port. FiercePC may have disabled the integrated GPU by default, but a UEFI reset would restore it.

The point of buying a boutique PC is that you’re paying for convenience and some degree of customization. This very much includes not having to install core components yourself. Selling a platform absent the GPU implies GPU prices are rising, even for OEMs. This would make sense, given that multiple companies like MSI and Asus are planning to increase prices as availability drops. Gamers know that integrated graphics aren’t intended for gaming, and there’s not enough variance in integrated GPU configurations to build a product stack out of in the first place. Selling the systems in a “BYOG” configuration lets FiercePC avoid throwing a card in at all, and it dodges the negative associated with selling a high-end boutique PC that depends entirely on its iGPU.

The out-of-control prices on eBay imply few gamers are buying Ampere or RDNA2 at anything approaching MSRP. If more companies copy FiercePC on this and start offering gaming systems without GPUs, it’ll be a further indication of how choked the market is. It’s not a good sign for a gaming PC builder to start shipping systems without the signature component that defines a gaming PC.

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AMD Radeon 6700 XT Review: A Great GPU at a Tough Price

Earlier this week, we examined the Radeon RX 6700 XT’s IPC and power consumption improvements against its predecessor, the RDA-based 5700 XT. Our tests revealed that the Radeon 6700 XT is significantly more power-efficient than the Radeon 5700 XT when both cards are measured at 1.85GHz. Now we’re taking a fuller look at the RX 6700 XT as compared with the RTX 3070, as well as Nvidia’s previous-generation RTX 2080 and the 5700 XT.

The 6700 XT is based on the Navi 22 GPU core. Its performance against the 5700 XT has been of particular interest, as it’s a near-identical replacement for that GPU as far as core resource allocation. Our tests earlier this week showed that RDNA2 is only slightly faster than RDNA when measured clock-for-clock, but that AMD’s L3 cache and smaller memory bus have paid huge dividends in power efficiency. Here’s how the 6700 XT stacks up against the 5700 XT, as well as the competition from Team Green:

The relationship between the RTX 2080 and RTX 3070 (mostly) mirrors the relationship between the RX 5700 XT and 6700 XT. The RTX 3070 has far more cores than the RTX 2080, and its tensor core and ray tracing performance are higher overall. But the two GPUs share the same number of texture mapping units, render outputs, and ray tracing cores. Memory bandwidth on both GPUs is the same at 448GB/s, they run at nearly identical clock speeds, and they both have 8GB frame buffers.

AMD’s $ 479 positioning on the RX 6700 XT looks pretty optimistic at first glance. GPUs from different families can’t be directly compared on the basis of core counts, ROPs, or TMUs, but more of these things still tends to be better, and the RTX 3070 packs more of everything the RX 6700 XT has to offer (except VRAM and clock). The base clock of 2325MHz on the 6700 XT is no less than 1.54x faster than the base clock on the RTX 3070, and the 6700 XT offers 12GB of RAM, compared with just 8GB on other cards. We’ll run some tests today aimed at testing how much this additional VRAM matters.

Our RTX 3070 GPU is an MSI Gaming X Trio — we reviewed this card last year if you’re looking for more model-specific information.

Test Setup and Configuration

We’re switching to a new graphing engine here at ExtremeTech, so let us know what you think of the new design when you check it out below. The graph below shows our results for four video cards. You can select or de-select which cards you want to see by clicking on the color buttons next to each card.

Game results were combined for the three Total War: Troy benchmark maps (Battle, Campaign, and Siege), leading to the “Combined” score. Similarly, results from Hitman 2’s Miami and Mumbai maps were averaged to produce a single result. Gaps between the cards in these maps were proportional and this averaging does not distort the overall comparison between the three cards in those titles.

This presentation method prevents us from giving per-game detail settings in the graph body, so we’ll cover those below:

Ashes of the Singularity: Escalation: Crazy Detail, DX12.

Assassin’s Creed: Origins: Ultra Detail, DX11.

Borderlands 3
: Ultra detail, DX12

Deus Ex: Mankind Divided
: Very High Detail, 4x MSAA, DX12

Far Cry 5
: Ultra Detail, High Detail Textures enabled, DX11.

Godfall (RT-only): We only tested Godfall with ray tracing enabled, in Epic Detail. Grats to the Godfall developers for coming up with a credible name for a preset above “Ultra” that isn’t “Extreme.”

Hitman 2 Combined
: Ultra detail, but performance measured by “GPU” frame rate reported via the benchmarking tool. This maintains continuity with the older Hitman results, which were reported the same way. Miami and Mumbai test results combined. Tested in DX12.

Metro Exodus
: Tested at Extreme Detail, with Hairworks and Advanced Physics disabled. Extreme Detail activates 2xSSAA, effectively rendering the game at 4K, 5K, and 8K when testing 1080p, 1440p, and 4K. Tested in DX12.

Metro Exodus (RT): Ultra Detail, with Ultra ray tracing enabled. The only difference between Ultra and Extreme Detail in Metro Exodus is that Extreme enables 2x SSAA, effectively rendering the game at double the resolution. Hairworks and Advanced physics disabled.

Shadow of the Tomb Raider
: Tested at High Detail, with SMAATx2 enabled. Uses DX12.

Strange Brigade
: Ultra Detail, Vulkan.

Total War: Troy Combined
: Ultra detail, DX12.

Total War: Warhammer II
: Ultra detail, Skaven benchmark, DX12.

Watch Dogs Legion (RT-Only): Tested on Ultra detail with ultra ray tracing enabled and disabled.

Our test settings are aggressive and put a heavy load on GPUs, especially Metro Exodus and Deus Ex: Mankind Divided. Testing these GPUs at non-playable speeds can help expose differences in the underlying architectures.

All games were tested using an AMD Ryzen 9 5900X on an MSI X570 Godlike equipped with 32GB of DDR4-3200 RAM. AMD’s Ryzen 6700 XT launch driver was used to test both the 5700 XT and 6700 XT. AMD’s launch Radeon RX 6700 XT driver was used for all AMD GPUs and Nvidia’s 461.92 driver handled NV cards. Smart Access Memory / Resizable BAR was enabled for the Radeon 6700 XT but disabled for the 5700 XT, RTX 2080, and RTX 3070.

Performance Results and Analysis

We’ll talk about rasterization results first, then switch over and chat on ray tracing.

In 1080p, in aggregate, the RTX 2080 is 15 percent faster than the RX 5700 XT and the 6700 XT is 7 percent faster than the RTX 2080. The RTX 3070, in turn, is 11 percent faster than the RX 6700 XT. AMD refers to the 6700 XT as an enthusiast’s 1440p GPU and the data once again bears out this positioning — in 1440p the 6700 XT widens its lead over Turing to 14 percent. The RTX 3070 is still faster overall, but by just 6 percent. The gaps widen again in 4K, with the RTX 2080 winning over 5700 XT by 20 percent, 6700 XT once again 1.07x faster than the RTX 2080, and the RTX 3070 beating the 6700 XT by 1.16x.

There are some benchmarks where the 6700 XT pulls ahead of the 5700 XT by a larger-than-expected margin in 1440p, including Ashes of the Singularity: Escalation, Shadows of the Tomb Raider, Strange Brigade, and Total War Troy, particularly TWT. Total War Troy is an interesting example of a game that responds extremely well to AMD’s L3 cache in one specific resolution. Performance craters in 4K, but it craters for both AMD GPUs.

Our ray tracing results look much as we’d expect, but the 4K data, specifically, is worth your attention:

There’s some evidence to suggest that Nvidia’s decision to equip the RTX 3070 with just 8GB of VRAM really could be a limiting factor in games going forward. There’s evidence of this in both Godfall and Watch Dogs Legion, particularly WDL.

1080p and 1440p show similar patterns of performance between the three cards. Ultra detail is extraordinarily hard on both the RTX 2080 and the 6700 XT, with or without ray tracing enabled. Once we hit 4K, however, things change. Both the RTX 2080 and 3080 fall off a cliff in Godfall, where the RX 6700 XT outperforms them by over 3x.

In Watch Dogs Legion, the RTX 3070 is no less than 2.91x faster than the 6700 XT in 1440p, but loses to it in 4K. While none of the GPUs turns in a playable frame rate, the wholesale collapse of the Nvidia cards at high resolution is indicative of one thing: an insufficient VRAM buffer.

This is concerning in the case of the RTX 3070, which really ought to have enough horsepower to step up to 4K with ray tracing enabled, but can’t do so in titles you can already buy today. While overall ray tracing performance on the RTX 3070 is higher than the 6700 XT in both 1080p and 1440p (and by a significant margin), the RX 6700 XT makes a potent argument in favor of its own 12GB VRAM buffer at 4K and scores a few points in the process.

Power Consumption

Power consumption was measured in Metro Exodus and Metro Last Light Redux on the third loop of a three-benchmark run. I threw Last Light Redux back into the mix when I noticed Exodus stressed the 5700 XT a bit differently. I’ve also shown the low-power result from running the Radeon 6700 XT at 1.85GHz (to match the 5700 XT). We discussed these results more in our IPC comparison earlier this week.

There’s a much more efficient chip hiding inside the 6700 XT. Matched clock for clock against the 5700 XT, the 6700 XT is quite power efficient. At 1.85GHz, it’s actually more efficient in terms of power consumption per frame drawn than the RTX 3070. Cranking up the clock to compete with Nvidia reduces the 6700 XT’s efficiency, and the RTX 3070 is more efficient when both GPUs are run at full speed.

Compared with the 5700 XT, the 6700 XT offers a 1.20x increase in performance in Exodus at a slight increase in power consumption. This is a bit worse than its 1440p performance overall, where it offers 1.34x better performance than the 5700 XT. This is a very significant degree of uplift for a GPU that’s a near-mirror of its predecessor, and it speaks to AMD’s work optimizing RDNA2’s clock scheme and overall efficiency.

Here’s one more tidbit. The Radeon VII (not shown) hits around 1.8GHz maximum and draws about 402W in Metro Last Light. The 5700 XT pulls about 350W in this test at a 1.85GHz clock, while the 6700 XT draws 267W at 1.85GHz. Performance between all three GPUs is similar at this clock, with the 6700 XT leading modestly. This means AMD has drawn down its 7nm power consumption from 402W at the launch of Radeon VII to a hypothetical 267W today, at least in this specific test. That data point doesn’t have any direct bearing on our review, since the Radeon 6700 XT is not a 1.85GHz card, but it helps illustrate the long arc of AMD’s RDNA2 efficiency gains.

Conclusion

The 6700 XT has some solid strong points. AMD’s efforts to bring some Ryzen DNA to RDNA2 have clearly paid off. There is no sign of untoward memory bandwidth pressure on the 6700 XT except in Metro Exodus and Deus Ex: Mankind Divided — two titles we benchmark in configurations that put egregious pressure on memory bandwidth. There’s no sign of a problem in any title at settings that yield playable frame rates. AMD may be marketing this GPU as a 1440p solution, but it’s perfectly capable of driving 4K frame rates.

If you read other reviews around the net, you’ll find that the relative gap between the 6700 XT and RTX 3070 ranges from 0 – 10 percent depending on which titles reviewers’ tested. In our test suite, the 6700 XT never quite matches the performance of the RTX 3070, even at its target 1440p resolution. The RTX 3070 theoretically costs just 4 percent more than the 6700 XT and it’s more than 4 percent faster, in every resolution.

Normally, this would be an open-and-shut case, but the high-end ray tracing hit we saw from both the RTX 2080 and RTX 3070 gives us pause. AMD recommends the 6700 XT be used for 1080p ray tracing, so it’s not clear how much ray tracing fans will be doing in 4K anyway. But in some circumstances, the 8GB buffers on the RTX 3070 and RTX 2080 are not large enough for ultra detail settings with RT ladled on top.

The strongest argument in favor of the 6700 XT is the GPU’s 12GB VRAM buffer. The additional VRAM capacity clearly buffers the 6700 XT in Godfall at 4K in a way that isn’t explained by it being an AMD-friendly title, and it allows the 6700 XT to eke out a narrow win in Watch Dogs Legion after losing the first two resolutions. It is possible that the 6700 XT is a rare example of a GPU whose larger VRAM capacity will deliver meaningfully better scaling down the line when cards with less VRAM are forced to disable features like ray tracing at lower resolutions.

I’m really hoping that the next Big Navi GPUs AMD announces find a way to take advantage of the card’s power efficiency rather than relying so heavily on clock. If the Radeon 6700 follows the 5700’s lead, it’ll feature 36 CUs instead of 40 and a reduced clock. It would be nice to see AMD keep more CUs at lower clocks to play up the power consumption angle; wider, slower GPUs tend to be more power-efficient than narrower, higher-clocked GPUs.

If the market were currently normal, I’d argue that the RTX 3070 is the better value if you replace your GPU fairly often or game at 1440p and below, while the 6700 XT might be a better option if you’re concerned about the VRAM issue longer-term. I always tend to weight the here-and-now more heavily than the long-term future of any feature, and the RTX 3070 offers generally faster performance for less than the additional cost of the card in both ray tracing and rasterization.

A $ 30-$ 50 price cut would do the 6700 XT a world of good. This is closer to where the card ought to be priced, given its overall competitive performance against the RTX 3070. At $ 429, the 6700 XT would be an easy recommendation for anyone wanting to save a bit of cash over the RTX 3070 or to step up from an older AMD or Nvidia GPU.

But market prices aren’t normal and they aren’t expected to be normal until 2022, making this talk of hypothetical price comparisons a bit silly. The actual best GPU you can buy right now is the GPU you can get for something approaching MSRP, the Radeon 6700 XT very much included. With six-year-old cards like the R9 390X going for over $ 400 on eBay, a $ 479 price tag on this latest GPU, should you ever see one, is an absolute steal.

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This Copy of Super Mario Bros. Is About to Sell for a Record-Setting Sum

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Most of the hottest game releases for next-gen consoles are going to run you $ 70, an increase gamers are not relishing. That’s nothing compared with a copy of the original Super Mario Bros for NES. This sealed cartridge is set to shatter records with its auction price, which is creeping up on $ 400,000 with several days still to go. 

The Nintendo Entertainment System occupies a special place in many a nerd’s heart. Some NES games, such as the Super Mario Bros. series, have become cultural touchstones that people still play to this day, and some love these games so much they’ll pay exorbitant amounts of money to own rare physical copies. Nintendo rolled out the NES in select markets with various types of game packaging, which has led to multiple “versions” of some titles. Many of them are worth a whole lot of money, too. 

Heritage Auctions runs most of these rare NES game auctions, and its high-profile latest listing is about to set a new record. The game in question is a copy of the original Super Mario Bros., which first came out in 1985. However, this isn’t one of the early “test market” boxes, several of which have sold for substantial sums. The latest copy of SMB to hit the auction block is from a subsequent batch of game carts that were the first to be shrink-wrapped when they hit store shelves. The game is, of course, still shrink-wrapped. It will presumably remain that way, as any attempt to open it and play the game would destroy all of its (very significant) value. The box has been rated a 9.6 out of 10 by WATA Games, meaning the packaging is in nearly perfect condition. It also has an intact hangtab, indicating it was never even hung up in a store. 

The repositioned “Bros.” is what makes this copy of the game so rare.

The age, condition, and specific box properties make this copy worth a boatload. The auction price is sitting at $ 372,000 at this time, and it could climb further. Even if it doesn’t, this auction will easily set the record for the most expensive single video game. The previous record was set by a copy of Super Mario Bros. 3 with a slightly different box logo (see above) that was modified in later batches. That game sold for $ 156,000, which is nothing to sneeze at for a game that retailed for about $ 60 in 1990. 

As the years wear on, these rare copies of classic games will only become rarer and more expensive. After 30 years, only very carefully preserved copies are in good enough condition to sell for big bucks. If anyone reading this is independently wealthy and would like to steal the game out from under the current high bidder, you’ll have to put up at least $ 384,000.

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MSI Expects GPU Shipments to Continue Dropping, May Raise Prices in 2021

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Buying a video card has been an exercise in futility for the last year, and don’t hold your breath for it to get better anytime soon. During a recent investor call, MSI chairman Joseph Hsu said the company expects the supply of video cards and other in-demand gaming components will continue to drop. MSI points to dropping shipments from both Nvidia and AMD as the primary culprit, and as a result, GPU prices could increase even before they get to the resellers who are charging an arm and a leg. 

Currently, you’d be extremely lucky to find a GPU in stock at any reputable retailer. The listings available online are almost all resellers who have used bots and other sketchy methods to vacuum up the very limited supply. Then they’ll sell those cards for as much as double MSRP, and people will pay it. For example, if you wanted to pick up an RTX 3090 that should retail for around $ 700, you’ll probably have to pay about twice that. That’s if you can find one! Even scalpers are starting to come up dry. 

MSI says that its 2020 sales rose by 30 to 50 percent compared with 2019. Although profits in the final quarter of the year were softer than expected, the company still saw its highest annual profits ever. The problem going forward is that 53 percent of MSI’s revenue comes from GPU sales. With shipments expected to continue dropping, MSI says it’ll probably have to charge more for each card. The situation is unlikely to improve in 2021. MSI has projected interest in GPUs, motherboards, and gaming notebooks will continue to rise at double-digit rates. 

The shortage is the result of numerous interconnected events, all conspiring to make gaming hardware obscenely expensive. There’s the pandemic, which has made gaming a more attractive way to pass the time. The global disruptions stemming from COVID-19 also affected supply chains, leading to semiconductor shortages. Technically, it exacerbated a problem that already existed, but the results are the same. 

At the same time, the increasing price of cryptocurrency has made GPU-based mining profitable again, prompting miners to scoop up many of the cards intended for gaming. Nvidia hopes its upcoming CMP cards will loosen demand a bit. These cards are specifically designed for crypto mining — they don’t even have video outputs. Nvidia also said CMP production would not further reduce its shipments of gaming cards, but it’s just not a great time to be a gamer.

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Qualcomm May Release a Nintendo Switch Clone Running Android

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Qualcomm makes the chips that power some of the most popular mobile devices in the world, but it’s barely dipped its toe in direct-to-consumer products. That’s about the change, according to a new report from Android Police. It seems Qualcomm is branching out into gaming with a Nintendo Switch clone. The Android-powered device will have removable JoyCon-style controllers, 5G connectivity, and multiple app stores at launch, including one from Epic Games. Say hello to your new Fortnite machine… in about a year. 

The unnamed source tells AP that Qualcomm wants to use its gaming machine to demonstrate all the capabilities of the Snapdragon SoC. Sure, those chips are in millions of phones, but OEMs rarely take full advantage of what the hardware can do. The handheld will feature a slightly thicker form factor than your average phone, giving it more thermal headroom and a cooling fan. That should reduce slowdowns from throttling, even during intense gaming sessions. There will also be a 6,000 mAh battery and a 6.65-inch 1080p display. Qualcomm often makes demo hardware to show to OEMs, but the report claims this device is being designed for consumers and will be sold direct by Qualcomm. That’s not completely without precedent — the company sold its Toq smartwatch with Mirasol display technology back in 2013 and 2014.

Qualcomm is reportedly working with a “premium supplier” to design the controllers, but you won’t always use them attached to the console. Again, like the Switch, the Qualcomm handheld will support a video-out docked mode. However, it’s unclear if this will be via the USB-C port or a secondary HDMI port. Naturally, the console will also have a Qualcomm 5G modem, currently expected to be the aging X55. 

The console will run Android 12 at launch, which is currently on the docket for early 2022. It will have Google Play certification, giving you access to all the standard Android apps and games, but there will also be an Epic Game Store client. That means Fortnite is most certainly on the menu, as will many other titles. Epic has been trying to break into mobile game distribution, so it’s probably going to come out swinging with exclusive titles. 

We don’t know what ARM chip the device will use, but it’s probably going to be whatever Qualcomm’s latest and greatest is in early 2022 — the successor to the current Snapdragon 888. The company is targeting a $ 300 price tag, making it substantially cheaper than a modern smartphone. Naturally, Qualcomm has refused to comment.

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Nvidia’s RTX 3080 Ti Possibly Pushed Back Until May, Ampere in Short Supply

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The Nvidia RTX 3080 Ti, previously thought to be launching in April, may not actually debut until mid-May. There have been various capacity predictions for the new cards — 20GB units were originally forecast — but the new report suggests the 3080 Ti will only be a 12GB card.

Rumors around the RTX 3080 Ti have been all over the place. The GPU is said to offer either 10,240 cores or 10,496, with either 936GB/s (older) or 864GB/s (newer) worth of memory bandwidth. The price has generally come in around $ 1,000, but that may not hold if GPU manufacturers raise prices on existing cards.

GPUs like the MSI RTX 3070 Gaming Trio have been difficult to find during the shortage.

This would be the fifth time the 3080 Ti has reportedly been delayed. Last year, there were rumors of poor yields on Nvidia parts at Samsung foundries. There were reports that things had improved in early December, but now manufacturers are saying their supplies of GPUs are increasingly limited. According to Asus’s CEO, they’re unable to buy enough GPUs from Nvidia to adequately meet demand.

“On the graphics card question, currently the main issue is the shortage of Nvidia (GPU) shipments, so there’s a supply constraint situation. Because we lack supplies, the prices are increasing,” said Asus Co-CEO SY Hsu. “Everyone is scrambling to obtain units… We currently speculate the yield from the upstream supplier hasn’t been smooth. That’s led to such a big shortage.”

GDDR6 was in short supply at the end of 2020, but there haven’t been any major updates on the situation since. The current RTX 3080 Ti should end up very near the RTX 3090 in performance, while the new RTX 3070 Ti keeps the same 8GB frame buffer as the RTX 3070 but adds GDDR6X support. All of this assumes rumors are accurate, and rumors around these Ti cards have been less accurate than most. MSI and Asus have separately stated they will likely increase prices as a result of the semiconductor shortages

There was some hope that the “Ti” versions of these cards might not be as useful for mining as current Ampere GPUs, but new reports suggest Nvidia’s mining limiter on the RTX 3060 can be bypassed using an HDMI dummy plug, even if you don’t have the unlocked driver that Nvidia released earlier this month.

Unless the company can come up with a better solution than that, the 3080 Ti and 3070 Ti will be just as in-demand as every other card right now. If these GPUs are built at TSMC they might increase absolute GPU availability, but launching more cards out of the same limited supply of silicon helps no one.

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