Surprisingly, while we work with MSI a lot of coverage I didn’t end up getting in any of their RX 5700 or RX 5700 XT’s. With AMD's new cards MSI made changes to their designs, so I was excited to hear that they were up for sending over one of the new RX 5500 XT’s. They sent over the RX 5500 XT Gaming X with 8GB of memory. I’ve had the Gaming X cards in before and they have a specific styling that they have had for years now. Things have changed some, dropping the bright red for example, but the new Navi Gaming X cards are completely different so I’m excited to check them out more. This specific card has a boost clock up to 1845 MHz which is right in line with the PowerColor card I took a look at with the RX 5500 XT launch so I’m curious to see how they compare.
Product Name: MSI RX 5500 XT Gaming X 8GB
Review Sample Provided by: MSI
Written by: Wes Compton
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As always I do take a look at GPUz before starting my testing to confirm that the specifications line up. The GPUz clock speeds haven’t always been right with all of the Navi cards but the boost clocks and base clocks do line up with the specs. GPUz also helps document which driver our testing was done on and the BIOS revision as well.
For the packaging on the RX 5500 XT Gaming X, it is mostly similar to what MSI has done in the past. They dropped the diamond print design and went with a full black background which I like and the front has a full picture of the video card. Every PC component should really have a product picture on the front, its crazy that a lot don’t so MSI is ahead of the game there for those buying in a retail store. Everything is rotated with the box being vertical, not horizontal like normal but it looks good. The red wrap around from AMD looks good on the black as well and that is where you get your model name, then the Gaming X logo is above that. The 8GB VRAM is important because the 5500 XT can also be found with 4GB and that is over on the left and really it could be a little larger and easier to see. The back of the box is where all of the good info can be found. MSI has three features that highlight an important feature like the backplate, the fans, and the Twin Frozr 7 cooler. They also have specifications, but only a basic amount. What is missing for me though are the card dimensions, clock speed, and a picture or drawing of the connection options. All three of those things are important when picking out a card.
Inside the box the card comes sunken down in its own foam bed, cut to the shape of the card. It is also wrapped in a static protective bad. On top of that was foam with an envelope that had all of the documentation. This includes a card that explains where to register the card. A universal user guide, an ad that shows off other MSI products, and then a cool comic book. The comic has the MSI Gaming dragon showing you how to upgrade your video card. The comic is cool, but beyond that, there isn’t anything special or important. No stickers or other swag as well. Just what you need and that’s it.
Card Layout and Photos
So here is the new look of the MSI Gaming X. Past Gaming X cards have had sharp edges and a lot of angular designs in them. This new shroud design is the complete opposite of that really. In fact, it reminds me a lot of the PowerColor card I took a look at for the 5500 XT launch. It is boxy with a flat front and it wraps around the top, end, and the bottom about ¾ of an inch. MSI designed a cleaner, simpler design which in my opinion is a lot better looking than the old look. They then added styling using materials and to a lesser extent with colors as well. It has two black sections, both of those have a more traditional plastic finish then the grey areas are all finished with a brushed finish similar to brushed aluminum. Then there are three sections with small amounts of red trim around the fans. I’m not 100% sold on the red trim, I know it is one of MSI’s Gaming colors, but I still prefer the color neutral look. But other than that I really like the new look. Now this card is tall, you can see it is almost an inch taller than the top of the PCI bracket and for length, it is 247mm long which isn’t huge, but that is longer than the PCB.
As for the fans, the Gaming X has two axial fans that blow down through the cooler. They are MSIs Torx 3.0 fans which are thin and have a high blade count with blades that have a twist to them. Every other blad also has small raised bits as well. Then in the center, it has the MSI logo with a tiny red line, just like the red trim around the fans on the shroud. Looking down through the fans we can learn two things about the Twin Frozr 7 cooler that MSI used on the Gaming X. It has a traditional sheet metal heatsink design which is good. The fin layout is horizontal which I haven’t been a big fan of with cards like this with axial fans. Vertical normally works better because the air has a shorter distance to go but I will have to see about that later.
Looking around on the edges helps us learn even more about the cooler. Like that it uses four heat pipes that go from over the GPU down across the bottom of the card then back up, with three of those being on the far right side to help pull the heat out to that end. There is a gap under the heatsink in some areas, but mostly on the far end of the card. This is especially true at the end where the PCB ends and the heatsink extends over. So it looks like a lot of the airflow is expected to go out the two ends of the card, not the top and bottom like with most coolers. This does mean less hot air going down on the motherboard or on your M.2 slots, but in my experience, this layout is a little worse at cooling.
Up on the top edge of the card, you have the power connection all the way at the end of the PCB which puts it an inch and a half away from the end of the card. MSI stuck with the 8-pin which is the same as the PowerColor. PowerColor also went out past the PCB as well. Farther from the end of the PCB than MSI did, but MSI’s PCB is custom and longer and the PowerColor 5500 XT is actually shorter overall. Also on the top edge is the branding that will face out when the card is installed. While MSI changed a lot, they kept the white section here like they did on past designs and it has the MSI logo along with their Gaming dragon. I’ve said it in the past, but this white just stands out and I’m not a fan. It is backlit with RGB though. I’m also not a big fan of backlit branding in general, it is starting to feel like every brand just wants your PC to have their name all over it when I like a little styling over branding.
In addition to the new look out front, the back of the card is completely changed as well. The backplate is actually metal, not plastic like a lot of the mid-range cards are starting to get. It has a few cutouts in the back as well with a few wide gaps right over the back of the GPU to help with improved cooling. The backplate’s best feature is the use of two different finishes. You can see three sections which all have a brushed finish where in the center it is more of a normal texture. At first glance, I thought they used different pieces to do this but looking at it they actually bent the card up in the brushed areas then added the brushed finish. Given that the backplate is the largest portion of the card visible in most cases, I like that they spent time on it. It does have the MSI logo and a small MSI Gaming dragon logo which still looks like a sad pepe to me when upside down, sorry MSI I can’t unsee it! Up in the top left corner, it does drop down to leave room to access the power plug and it also gives you a peek at the heatsink as well.
For display connection options on the PCI bracket end of the 5500 XT Gaming X, you get basically exactly what most cards are coming with these days. That gets you three DisplayPort connections and then one HDMI. I like that the HDMI is down at the bottom, not mixed in the middle of the DisplayPorts like most cards do. But I do have to wonder if having a DVI would be good, like PowerColor did, simply because of the price range and the expected performance. I feel like cards focused on 1080p are still potential buys for people upgrading cards, but sticking with their older monitors where higher-end cards are for systems running 1440p or 4k or any of the ultra-wide resolutions as well as those with new 1080p monitors with high refresh rates. Not having a DVI does open the card up at the end and MSI did keep the ventilation good, but not being a blower card not nearly as much hot air goes this way. But with the horizontal heatsink fins that could be different on this card.
I have a picture of the card's lighting as well, which for this card is just the white pad up on top with the MSI Gaming logo and the dragon. I don’t like the look of that section much with the lights on, but in the dark with the RGB on it does look good. It would be cooler if it showed the model name rather than branding IMO, but yeah the RGB on the Gaming X is simple and not over the top at all.
Test Rig and Procedures
Motherboard: Asus Crosshair VIII HERO WiFi
Storage: Corsair MP600 2TB
Cooling - Noctua NH-U12S
Power Supply - Corsair AX1200w
Case - Primochill Wetbench
As always I like to start off my testing with a few synthetic benchmarks. 3DMark especially is one of my favorites because it is very optimized in both Nvidia and AMD drivers. It's nice to not have to worry about it being favored too much either way and the repeatability of the results makes it a nice chance to compare from card to card. Going in I’m curious how the two RX 5500 XT’s compare, but like in our launch review I am also keeping an eye on the MSI RX 5500 XT Gaming X compares with Nvidia’s offerings like the GTX 1650, GTX 1650S, GTX 1660, and GTX 1660S and the older cards from AMD as well like the RX580 and RX590. For the first test, I ran 3DMark’s Fire Strike benchmarks which all three are DX11 based and cover a few different detail levels. The MSI and the PowerColor are right with each other with just a hair edge to the MSI and in these, at the lower detail, the 5500 XT runs just above the GTX 1660 but behind the RX580 and RX590. Then in the higher detail, they edge past the older AMD cards.
Next, I ran both 3DMark Time Spy tests. The Nvidia cards have been doing really well in this DX12 based test and it does show, with the GTX 1660 pulling up ahead of the 5500 XT’s and the older AMD cards here.
My last test was in Superposition which is based on the Unigine engine. I tested both times at 1080p, one with medium detail and the second with the extreme detail setting that slows even the best cards down. Here the MSI was a hair behind the PowerColor 5500 XT. The GTX 1660 is out ahead of both on both tests with the RX580/RX590 both behind the 5500 XT’s.
As for Virtual Reality, I love it but it is more demanding than traditional gaming. This is partially because of the resolutions needed to render for two eyes and because they render more than what is immediately visible. But also because of post effects to get the proper “fisheye” effect for it to look proper in your eyes with the HMD. You also have to have much higher expectations for frame rates in VR, skipping frames or lower FPS can actually cause motion sickness in VR. Because of that, I ran a few tests.
My first test was again in Superposition. This time I tested the VR Maximum and VR Future tests using the Vive resolution. Like in the other Superposition test I tested at an extreme detail which this time is the VR Future test and a more reasonable detail which is the VR Maximum test. The Gaming X is basically right with the Red Dragon here, but that still keeps them behind the GTX 1660 and ahead of the RX580 and RX590. This was the same on both tests.
In VRMark my tests were similar to in Superposition. I run two tests, the blue room and the cyan room tests. The blue room is future-looking and very demanding and the cyan room test is testing for current day high detail games. The blue room results show that every card still struggles on that test. But the Cyan room does have the Gaming X out ahead of the FPS target by 23 FPS. The Gaming X is also again right with the Red Dragon and a hair ahead in both results.
Now we finally get into the in game performance and that is the main reason people pick up a new video card. To test things out I ran through our new benchmark suite that tests 9 games at three different resolutions (1080p, 1440p, and 4k). Most of the games tested have been run at the highest detail setting and a mid-range detail setting to get a look at how turning things up hurts performance and to give an idea of if turning detail down from max will be beneficial for frame rates. In total, each video card is tested 48 times and that makes for a huge mess of results when you put them all together. To help with that I like to start off with these overall playability graphs that take all of the results and give an easier to read the result. I have one for each of the three resolutions and each is broken up into four FPS ranges. Under 30 FPS is considered unplayable, over 30 is playable but not ideal, over 60 is the sweet spot, and then over 120 FPS is for high refresh rate monitors.
So how did the PowerColor RX 5500 XT Red Dragon perform? Well going into this, having already tested one RX 5500 XT I knew about what to expect in the overall numbers and I didn’t see any big surprises here. The RX 5500 XT is solidly planted as a mid-range 1080p card. This is obvious once you look at the performance at 4k and 1440p. At 4k only 4 of the tests were playable at over 30 FPS, the other 12 results were under 30 FPS and not what I would really consider playable. 1440p is better with 3 results even being in the 60+ FPS range and only one is completely unplayable. But with everything falling between 30 and 59 FPS it isn’t ideal. But it is good to know that if in the future you upgrade to a 1440p monitor you will at least be able to get by. Then at 1080p things improve significantly with 11 out of the 16 results being over 60 FPS leaving 5 in the 30 – 59 FPS range. Most of those are on the edge, close to 60 but we have to draw a line somewhere. This is why I would consider it a mid-range 1080p card as well, there are other options that will start to get some results up over 120 FPS and wouldn’t have as many under 60.
As always I don’t just include our compilation results and leave it at that. I do have each of the full graphs with results across 28 different cards. I just leave them down here because for some people it is just too much information. So for comparisons between the Gaming X and the Red Dragon, in almost every test they really ran right together within fractions of an FPS. There were a few weird results like Total War where the Red Dragon came out ahead a lot more than it should but overall the Gaming X is ahead of the Red Dragon in more of the results. I should also point out that I did retest both cards with the same driver, retesting those oddities multiple times as well. They were consistent but confusing. With them being so close together its not a surprise that they trade blows with the GTX 1660, with the Gaming X ahead of the GTX 1660 in exactly half of the test results.
Now some people don’t need a video card for gaming, they need the processing power for rendering or 2D/3D production or in some cases people who game also do work on the side. So it is also important to check out the compute performance on all of the video cards that come in. That includes doing a few different tests. My first test was a simple GPU Compute benchmark using Passmark’s Performance Test 9 and the Gaming X was once again running right with the other RX 5500 XT, only this time the GTX 1650 SUPER slipped in right between the two.
In my favorite compute test, I use the Blender Benchmark which does two renders in Blender and times the total time to complete. It's actually impressive that both 5500 XT’s still come in around a 10th of a second apart. They both have a clear separation between the 5500 XT’s and anything else with the older RX590 and RX580 over 40 seconds and more slower as well as the GTX 1650 SUPER. Then the GTX 1660 s a minute faster.
The same goes for Basemark, in both tests. The AMDs still struggle a lot in the OpenGL test here but even in the DX12 test the GTX 1660 comes out slightly ahead as does the RX580 as well.
My last compute tests were using Geekbench and I ran the older Geekbench 4 as well as the newer Geekbench 5 where I also tested with Vulkan and OpenCL. I continue to be impressed by how the Gaming X and the Red Dragon manage to come in so close together even if the compute performance of the 5500 XT’s still leaves a lot to wish for with the older RX580 out performing in a lot of the tests including all three Geekbench tests. The Vulkan performance in Geekbench 5 is especially lacking, coming in even behind the GTX 1650 by a good amount.
Cooling, Noise, and Power
My last round of tests are all focused on areas that I find important, but don’t always have anything to do with gaming performance like most people are worried the most about. Here I test power usage, noise from the fans, and cooling performance. Once you have decided which GPU model you want, beyond clock speeds, these are the areas where different models from the same company and cards from multiple companies can stand out against each other. In this specific case, the MSI RX 5500 XT Gaming X that I am testing today has to contend with the PowerColor Red Dragon that I tested at the 5500 XT launch.
To start things off, I’m going to look at power usage. Stock for stock it should normally be about the same. But when it comes to overclocks, each company has their own idea of what amount of voltage is needed for a safe overclock. More means it can be more stable and with a lot of the auto overclocks these days more voltage can also mean some GPUs will run at a higher clock speed. But it also means more power usage and often more heat as well. To test this I use a kill-a-watt on our test system to measure total power draw in wattage and run two different tests. 3DMark Fire Strike during the combined test that loads the video card and CPU similar to a demanding game. Then I do a GPU only test using AIDA64’s stress test only on the GPU which puts even more load on the video card but doesn’t have any extra CPU power being pulled. In the 3Dmark test the Gaming X pulled 269 watts which was 3 watts more than the Red Dragon. This put both cards up above the stock clocked GTX 1660. Then in the AIDA64 load test, the Gaming X pulled 222 watts which was 27 watts more than the Red Dragon which is surprising. I guess when put under the hard load the Gaming X voltage is running higher. That big jump also pushed the Gaming X up past the GTX 1660 Ti with an overclock and put it very close to the stock RX 5700!
For the next test, I look at the noise output of the cooler. For this, I set up our decibel meter 18 inches away from the test bench and I run three tests. I do a manual speed test with the card set to 50% and 100% fan speeds, which by the way the AMD driver still freaks out when doing this requiring a reboot to get the fan speeds to drop back down. Then I do a third with the card under an AIDA64 load for over a half-hour where I test the noise level of the card in a worst-case scenario with the stock fan profile. So you can see the Gaming X at 100% fan speed wasn’t quiet, the two fans reached 60.9 decibels which was right up there with high-end cards. The 50% fan speed was similar with just the reference RX 5700’s being louder. But the load test on the other hand, the Gaming X is at the bottom of the chart. Clearly, there is a lot more fan speed left beyond what the stock fan profile is running it. I also include the 100% fan speed RPMS just for reference which normally these will be close to 100% fan speed noise levels, but clearly, the cooler design on this model is a lot less noise efficient at the higher RPMs. I suspect it has to do with that horizontal fin layout on the cooler.
My last set of tests are the most important, thermal testing. For this, I use the AIDA64 Stress Test again. I run the test for a half hour or longer, waiting on the temperatures to level off. I do the test twice, once with the stock fan profile and then again with the fans running at 100% fan speed. This gives us a look at what to expect for temps in a worst-case when gaming and then 100% lets us see how much room is left. So with the stock fan profile, the Gaming X was running at 72 degrees which is surprisingly hot for this GPU. The Red Dragon was on the complete other end of the spectrum with 54 degrees in this test. That fan profile that kept things really quiet most likely plays a big part in this. It is still better than most reference style cards run. The second test at 100% fan speed did cool things down a lot, from 72 down to 49 degrees which is a huge delta. The Red Dragon does still do better here as well. In addition to the fan profile, that horizontal fin layout does seem to limit cooling.
When doing the stock fan profile test, I do also get a few thermal images of the Gaming X to see how things are looking. It's interesting you can still see a lot of heat out of the top, but the end of the card which on most cards isn’t hot at all is obviously pushing a lot of the heat out. Up under the card where the motherboard gets hot on the vertical fin cooler designs is noticeably cooler here which is a nice bonus for the horizontal layout.
Overall and Final Verdict
Now that I have taken a look at the MSI RX 5500 XT Gaming X and ran it through all of our tests. Let’s get the rundown on the good and bad. First off, I love the new look that MSI went with. It’s much cleaner looking than the previous Gaming X styling. The simple design is a little more style, while I’m still a 15 year old at heart. I still prefer my builds to look a little cleaner and not really have a full “gaming” look and I think this new design better fits that. I also like that they used different textures and the black and grey to make the boxy look still have some style. I could go without the red accents though, same with the white patch on top with the backlit branding. I’ve really been wanting to see more companies use their RGB lighting for accents rather than to light up my PC with more branding. The new backplate, like with the fan shroud is also a nice change. They used the multiple textures here again, but this time on the all-aluminum backplate. Frankly, the RX 5500 XT is in a range where not all cards are going to have a backplate or they may go with a plastic version. So having a quality aluminum design here was a welcome addition and they also made sure the back of the GPU could breathe with a few vents right behind it.
As for performance, the MSI RX 5500 XT Gaming X ran right with the PowerColor Red Dragon in every single test. That means the 1080p performance is still solid like I mentioned at the launch. The 5500 XT isn’t a high-end card or even a high end 1080p card. You get good performance and you can expect every game to be playable at 1080p which is all a lot of people want or need. Compute testing, like in the other 5500 XT tested, didn’t really impress. But I don’t think most people looking to do rendering and video work on the side will be looking at the 5500 XT.
The Cooler on the Gaming X was a bit of a mixed bag in our testing. It did run extremely quiet when I did the under load testing. But if you do plan on turning the fan up it does ramp up the noise significantly. The thermal performance left a little be desired with that same fan profile as well, but the cooler did have a lot of headroom left. Overall the cooler design, while being one of the MSI Dual Frozr coolers that almost always perform extremely well, has a horizontal fin design that seems to hold it back. On the plus side, it doesn’t vent down against the motherboard and around your M.2 slots though. MSI’s RX 5500 XT also pulled a lot more wattage in testing that I would have expected as well.
As for pricing, well the 5500 XT Gaming X 8GB is listed currently at $224.99 which is on the high end for the RX 5500 XT. They are bundling this and the other RX 5500 XT’s with the Xbox Game Pass and Monster Hunter World which is a nice addition. The Red Dragon that I tested against this card is slightly cheaper at $219.99 which makes picking the Gaming X a little hard given the difference in cooling performance and them both having similar styling. But I think both cards are a little too high overall. From MSI I think the RX 5500 XT Mech 8GB might be a better choice given its lower price. In addition, if you are on the fence if you want the 5500 XT or you think you might want a little more performance I would hold out to see how the recently announced RX 5600 XT tests as well.
Live Pricing: HERE