Note: This article was first published on 21 January 2020.
The NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1060 6GB is still the most widely used graphics card, at least according to the December 2019 Steam Hardware Survey. But that's a nearly 4-year-old card, one that AMD says no longer quite cuts it for 1080p gaming in 2020, and I'd be inclined to agree. After all, NVIDIA has since released a bunch of other mainstream cards that deliver an attractive boost in performance, such as the GeForce GTX 1660 Super.
Back at CES, AMD announced the Radeon RX 5600 XT, which slots in neatly between the Radeon RX 5500 XT and Radeon RX 5700. It's positioned as the card you want for modern 1080p gaming, capable of pushing over 60FPS in AAA games and 90FPS in less demanding esports titles.
While the Radeon RX 5500 XT is also technically a card designed for 1080p, it falls short when you crank up all the eye candy. Modern games can require a ton of raw memory bandwidth, which can be thought of as the number of lanes on the highway between the memory and GPU. To help with that, the Radeon RX 5600 XT comes with a wider 192-bit memory bus, which gives it 336GB/s of bandwidth, 40 per cent more than the Radeon RX 5500 XT. Unlike the Radeon RX 5500 XT, it's also got the full 16 PCIe 4.0 lanes compared to the latter's eight, just like the Radeon RX 5700 series cards.
In addition, the card utilises a pared down version of the Navi 10 GPU, which the Radeon RX 5700 series cards are also based on. The Radeon RX 5600 XT has 2,304 stream processors, around 10.5 per cent fewer than on the Radeon RX 5700 and 5700 XT. It's also got just two active memory controllers compared to the three on the latter cards, so the L3 cache has been reduced to 3MB.
Elsewhere, the Radeon RX 5600 XT ships with 6GB of GDDR6 memory, the first Radeon GPU to come with a 6GB configuration. The memory is clocked at 14,000MHz, the same as the Radeon RX 5700 models. Separately, AMD is also releasing the Radeon RX 5600, but that's a SKU that will be reserved for OEM builds only, and it is identical to the XT version in every way, save for the number of Compute Units, which has been cut down to 32 from 36.
At US$279, AMD is positioning the Radeon RX 5600 XT as the so-called ultimate 1080p gaming GPU. It'll go head-to-head with the NVIDIA GeForce RTX 2060, which just saw a price drop from US$349 to US$299.
However, something quite interesting actually happened between the card's announcement and its hard launch today. While AMD initially said that the card would have a 1,375MHz Game clock (this is the clock speed you're most likely to see when gaming) and 1,560MHz Boost clock, it's since pushed out a BIOS update that confers a hefty frequency jump, likely in response to NVIDIA's price drop.
After flashing the new BIOS, the Sapphire Pulse Radeon RX 5600 XT AMD sent me now has a 1,615MHz Game clock and 1,750MHz Boost clock, a significant increase from before. The Total Graphics Power (TGP), which refers to the power consumption of the card as a whole, also sits at 160W. The Sapphire card also comes with a secondary BIOS, which puts it in Silent mode. This reduces the Game clock to 1,460MHz and Boost clock to 1,620MHz, while also bringing down the effective memory clock to 12,000MHz. This in turn drops the TGP to 135W.
So while NVIDIA made its card cheaper, AMD in turn made its own offering faster, which just translates into more good news for gamers. However, I've been told by some brands that the BIOS update arrived so late that the first batch of their cards won't have the new BIOS, so you'll probably have to flash it yourself if you grab one of the early units.