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The GPU market is a mess, I’m sure you are frustrated, I’m frustrated, and you are probably tired of hearing people how frustrated they are. Even the RX 6700 XT, which was promised to have a bit more availability was grabbed up in no time. Knowing that Mike, Eber, and I decided to give something back to the community and also give you all a chance to win a custom RX 6700 XT card.
The first part of this article is to really give back to the amazing charity Able Gamers that supports gamers with disabilities, because video games allow us to escape into different worlds, connect with other people, and just have a good time right? Many of us take for granted the fact that we can just sit in front of the computer or console or even mobile gaming and just enjoy where millions of gamers in North America alone can’t do that because of their disabilities. And it’s those members of the community that might need that gaming escape the most.
So that is where the Able Gamers charity comes in. It’s been around for over a decade, and in that time it’s helped countless disabled gamers get access to things like specialized controllers, custom setups, accessible furniture, and assistive technologies. They are using the power of gaming to bring everyone together, and that is something we can get behind. They are right in the middle of a $1 million funding drive that we want to help support so we have teamed up with XFX, Sapphire, and Gigabyte to give you guys a chance to win one of those custom cards while also helping to support this great cause with Able Gamers. Think of this as a graphics card roundup with a nice positive spin for a good cause.
Here are the details, click on this link and for every $5 donation you get entered to win one of the custom cards from XFX, Sapphire, or Gigabyte, and that gives you one entry, so $5 is one entry, $50 is 10 entries, and so on. Unfortunately for regions where this raffle does not apply we still hope that you can still contribute or donate in some way to help a great cause. Also 100% of the proceeds from this article and any GPU content we make over the next month will be donated to Able Gamers, so we do appreciate your support and spreading the word out.
Models & Specs
Now that the important portion is done let’s talk about the custom cards, talk about their performance, design, overclocking, and price, because that my friend is going to be a huge deal. I think we have a pretty good selection here with a Gigabyte Gaming OC 12G, the Sapphire Nitro+, and the XFX Merc 319. Just the size difference between these is pretty darn epic, especially compared to the reference model from AMD. All of these models are also listed as OC versions, but like with all custom GPU’s these days they are all just only a few megahertz higher than AMD’s reference version. From a performance standpoint there probably won’t be much of a difference, and also either AMD is not giving them a lot of flexibility in terms of boost clocks and frequencies in general, or board partners are not willing to push that envelope. Instead more emphasis is being put on cooling potential and maybe sometime down the road more overclocking headroom if AMD gets around to unlocking the power limits a bit more.
Now the main problem here is that some board partners seem to be completely in space when it comes to pricing. Sure, some of this is due to tariffs, but we have seen a lot of these custom cards go way above what’s normal. Luckily XFX seems to have kept things in check a little bit, but then again the retailers ended up marking up those cards too. This opens up the conversation about how realistic these suggested retail prices are, and even if the GPU craze was not going on in the world right now all the board partners tells us that it’s very difficult and almost impossible to hit that AMD the starting price some form of compromise in building the card. Instead of cutting corners board partners are focusing on upgrading custom designs with a ton of features to justify the higher prices.
Gigabyte Gaming OC
I want to get the easiest card out of the way first, so say hello to the Gigabyte RX 6700 XT Gaming OC. Other than the reference design it’s the most compact of the bunch of just over 11 inches long versus AMD’s reference 10.4 inches. However, it also takes up 2.5 slots and it’s quite a bit wider than your regular GPU, so fitting it in some compact SFF cases will still be a challenge. Other than that it’s a pretty basic overall card with the triple fan design, standard black and gray colours, a pretty clean back plate, and a small bit of RGB on the side. Gigabyte has not changed anything with the connectors either, so power is with the 8-pin + 6-pin layout and the I/O area gets 3 display ports and a single HDMI, which is what every card in this roundup has since that is AMD’s standard I/O layout.
XFX Merc 319 Black Edition
Moving on to the big boys, and here we have the monster XFX Merc 319 Black Edition. If you are just looking at it without any context it might seem sleek and compact, but it is absolutely ginormous at 2.6 slots, over 12 inches in length, and over 5 inches wide. Don’t expect to be put this thing in the vertical orientation in most cases, unless you are water cooling, otherwise it will bump into the CPU heatsink. There is some tasteful lighting without any RGB, just white and red, which actually looks quite tasteful, and build quality is awesome. Flip the card over and you will see a solid backplate with a passthrough cooler design that seems to be everywhere these days, but that also means the actual PCB is small compared to the rest of the card.
For power there are two 8-pin power inputs. Basically it feels like XFX took the design meant for a much hotter running GPU and slapped it onto this one. That is a good thing for thermals, but it might be overkill and it does add to the overall cost. They also added a BIOS switch, but right now both spots have the same settings. At least this gives you some BIOS experimentation in the future when those custom BIOSes do roll out.
And then we have the Sapphire Nitro+, which is the most expensive, but also the most feature rich card here. Size-wise is a bit more compact than the XFX at 2.5 slots, and like all of the cards and this video it has a full coverage backplate and the same tiny PCB as the XFX Merc 319. I have to give some credit to Sapphire though because they added some features I wish we would see on more GPUs. For example, the ARGB lighting looks incredible if you overlook the weird Fox face from the Nitro brand. Also while you can control the addressable RGB from their TRIXX software, there is also an addressable RGB header for direct motherboard control. There is also a triple BIOS switch where the position furthest from the backplate has a performance oriented setting and the one closest cuts the card to 186W. The middle position allows the software to determine which BIOS.
Now even though all of these 3 custom cards claim to have higher clock speeds than the reference card, they have to be really careful in how they handle frequencies when it comes to AMD GPUs because there are many factors that go into contributing that certain frequency. With that in mind, let’s take a look at how they perform versus our AMD reference card with their out-of-the-box default settings and all the BIOS switches set to performance modes.
Temps / Noise / Clocks / Power
Every one of these cards has absolutely no trouble keeping their average temperatures below the reference design. As a matter of fact, that crazy XFX card never even broke above 67°C mark and it was followed pretty close by Gigabyte too. The GPU hotspot temperatures actually play a huge role in determining on-the-fly clock speeds provided there is enough power and voltage to go around, so technically if these custom cards are allowed enough overhead they should boost to higher frequencies more often. Every one of these cards is pretty much inaudible when you put it into a case, but the Sapphire and XFX take the crown, Gigabyte does trail behind and that is probably because they sacrificed a bit of noise to get those incredibly low temperatures. So how does all this translate into clock speeds? And this is where things get interesting, but not in a good way. As I go through this you can see one huge important point, and that is the pretty pathetic increase these so-called overclocked versions give you. There is only 56MHz separating the fastest and slowest cards. The reason for this is pretty simple, since new GPUs are tuned to deliver near maximum frequencies there is very little room for board partners to play with. The Sapphire and XFX cards were marginally faster than the others, but not by an appreciable amount. Thankfully, the Merc 319 actually ended the test at higher speeds than it began. The biggest shock was probably the Gigabyte card, it might have the lowest overall temperature and the highest fan speeds, but there it was technically the slowest from a clock speed standpoint.
But why? So this is pretty important because it kind of plagues all the modern GPU’s right? Many factors go into increasing clock speeds, temperature, power, voltage, and other secondary functions. Increasing the power limit alone doesn’t necessarily increase your clock speeds if the voltage is limited or locked. In simple terms, if there is not enough voltage AMD’s algorithm will step in and the clock things back down. And that is exactly what is happening here, Gigabyte is using the reference 1.2V, but even then power consumption ended up being higher than a stock RX 6800. Our sample is pretty power hungry as a result, and it gets slapped down. This might be a bad luck of the draw, but I’m surprised Gigabyte is not binning their cores a bit more carefully for their flagship RX 6700 XT. The other cards behave like you would expect slightly higher power for a bit better performance than the reference version.
Now it’s so easy to criticize something as simple as a less efficient core, but when it comes to performance well it really doesn’t matter. None of these cards were able to offer any noticeable difference versus a bone stock RX 6700 XT from AMD, making these some of the most boring charts I think I have ever seen. Just remember these cards from Gigabyte, Sapphire, and XFX cost about $100 more than AMD’s MSRP.
Now what about overclocking right? We have these massive heatsinks and excellent cooling, so can we expect anything more than the reference design? Nope! A lot of the blame for this lands firmly on AMD’s shoulders because they are not letting their board partners flex their cards muscles by opening up higher power, voltage, or clock speed limits. That is a shame since until that is done the amazing cooling, power upgrades, and whatnot is all pretty much useless versus the reference design. The only exception was Gigabyte, not by much, but due to its core limitations it just did not want to overclock all that well and was out done by the reference card.
So where does this all leave us? Well supporting an amazing cause of course. With Able Gamers you have a chance to win one of these custom cards, so click on this link to support an amazing cause. Aside from having a positive spin of doing this for charity it’s very difficult to put these expensive custom cards in the positive light. The fact of the matter is that the term OC or overclocked out of the factory doesn’t mean what it used to, especially now when AMD (and NVIDIA) is putting these limitations on voltage and power limits. All these upgraded designs for cooling and acoustics don’t mean anything because the reference design performs just as good already, so spending hundreds more doesn’t get you much. Maybe the only reason you want to buy a custom card is because availability is there, and maybe for others it isn’t, or maybe it’s like region specific, but other than that it’s not worth it over the AMD reference design. As a matter of fact, I would actually pick the reference design because all others are gigantic inside your computer. It’s a cool thing to look at, but going bigger does not always mean better. I hope you enjoyed this a little roundup with the bonus of supporting a good cause, and once again please click on this link to check out the Able Gamers charity so we can help them achieve their goal for 2021.