Sapphire Nitro+ Radeon RX 6800 XT review: Killer software speeds it up

The Radeon RX 6800 XT is finally here, and it’s fantastic, duking it out with Nvidia’s ferocious GeForce RTX 3080 for $50 less—at least if you buy the reference model. AMD really stepped up its game with this reference design, outfitting the RX 6800 XT with a premium all-metal chassis and a trio of axial fans that keeps it both cool and quiet. That newfound standard of excellence makes it even more difficult for custom graphics cards to stand out, however. The $770 Radeon RX 6800 XT version of the fan-favorite Sapphire Nitro+ we’re reviewing today manages to do so, though it takes some minor tweaking and doesn’t come cheap.

Unlike the fantastic, yet massive XFX Merc 319, Sapphire purposefully does not use heavy metal for this graphics card’s exterior. The Nitro+ remains as sleek and futuristic looking as ever but uses a plastic shroud to reduce the weight of the card, easing the strain on your motherboard’s fragile PCIe slot. Sapphire follows through on the software side too, with support for the tremendous, performance-enhancing Trixx Boost feature that earned an innovation award from our Full Nerd podcast in 2019. It can give the GPU enough of an uplift to even topple the $1,500 GeForce RTX 3090 in some scenarios.

This is a superb graphics card, full stop. Is it enough to justify the Sapphire Nitro+’s sizeable $120 price premium over the reference Radeon RX 6800 XT? Let’s dig in.

Sapphire Nitro+ Radeon RX 6800 XT specs, features, and design

sapphire nitro radeon rx 6800 xt 8 Brad Chacos/IDG

The Nitro+ is powered by AMD’s cutting-edge graphics architecture, RDNA 2, which we covered extensively in our RDNA 2 deep-dive. RDNA 2 includes dedicated hardware for real-time ray tracing. Also, its innovative on-die “Infinity Cache” enhances memory performance beyond what the 16GB of onboard GDDR6 memory can normally do, leading to increased frame rates at all resolutions.

As for the Radeon RX 6800 XT itself, here’s an AMD-supplied look at its stock specifications, compared with the step-down $580 Radeon RX 6800 and last generation’s RDNA 1 “flagship,” the midrange $400 Radeon RX 5700 XT:

rdna 2 vs 1 AMD

Sapphire juiced the clocks on the Nitro+. The default Performance BIOS is rated for a 2,110MHz average Game Clock speed (+95MHz over reference) and a 2,360MHz maximum Boost speed (+110MHz over reference). That’s slightly ahead of the XFX Merc 319’s default “Balanced” BIOS, though identical to the XFX card’s “Rage” BIOS. Actual in-game clock speeds tend to go much higher for all of these cards as AMD’s intelligent boost algorithms adjust based on your graphics card’s available power and thermal limits, so they all offer essentially the same real-world performance.

sapphire nitro radeon rx 6800 xt 14 Brad Chacos/IDG

One BIOS, two BIOSes, thre BIOSes, ah ah ah 

Sapphire also offers a secondary Quiet BIOS that slightly reduces clock and fan speeds for improved acoustic performance. You may prefer it, as the default Performance BIOS is slightly audible. It’s what I’d use. The Nitro+ also includes a rare third BIOS switch that lets you switch between the Performance and Quiet BIOSes using Sapphire’s Trixx software, eliminating the need to open your case to physically flip a hardware switch to change between the two. It’s a thoughtful, handy touch. This third position is actually the configuration the card ships in, set for the Performance BIOS.

More importantly, the new card also supports the fantastic Trixx Boost feature found in Sapphire’s Trixx utility, which also manages the card’s RGB lighting effects. Trixx Boost debuted with last generation’s RDNA 1-based Nitro+ RX 5700 XT, and we instantly fell in love. The feature leverages AMD’s excellent Radeon Image Sharpening ability by creating custom resolutions slightly below your monitor’s actual capabilities, then using RIS to clean up the image when it’s upscaled to fit your display. It works surprisingly well in both performance uplift and visual fidelity. We’ll cover Trixx Boost in its own section after our standard benchmarks.