XFX Radeon RX 6700 XT Merc 319 review: Big, beautiful, and utterly silent

Stay frosty.
  • Brad Chacos (PC World (US online))
  • 19 March, 2021 21:00

The Radeon RX 6700 XT is here, and once again, XFX returns with an absolutely spectacular custom spin on AMD’s new GPU—if you have room for it in your case, that is.

The $570 XFX Radeon RX 6700 XT Merc 319 costs $90 more than the reference card (and will no doubt sell for much more than that on the street during today’s crippling GPU shortage), but you get a lot for your cash: A big, bold, barn-burning graphics card capable of fueling no-compromises 1440p gaming experiences without making a peep. Seriously, this graphics card is downright inaudible. It looks amazing too, with one of the cleanest and most aesthetically pleasing custom designs in recent memory.

Let’s dig in.

XFX Radeon RX 6700 XT Merc 319 specs, features, and design

xfx radeon rx 6700 xt merc 319 7 Brad Chacos/IDG

The XFX Merc 319 is built around the same “Navi 22” GPU as all Radeon RX 6700 XT models (including the Sapphire Nitro+ we reviewed yesterday). That means it includes screaming-fast clock speeds, support for Smart Access Memory and real-time ray tracing, access to all of AMD’s modern Radeon Software features, and an ample 12GB of GDDR6 memory bolstered by 96MB of ultra-fast on-die Infinity Cache.

For a deeper look at the best new features found in the Radeon RX 6000-series, be sure to check out our RDNA 2 deep dive. (RDNA 2 is the name of the energy-efficient graphics architecture powering AMD’s latest GPUs.)  Here’s a refresher on the Radeon RX 6700 XT’s specific technical details next to the RX 5700 XT it’s replacing:

spec comparison AMD

…and here’s a rundown of the XFX Merc 319’s particular product specifications.

merc 319 specs XFX

XFX tuned its flagship RX 6700 XT variant to run faster than the reference version, with Game Clock speeds rated up to 2,548MHz and a higher 211-watt power limit, up from the default 186 watts. We observed the card actually landing close to those speeds, with the GPU clock hovering between 2,535MHz and 2,548MHz during a looped F1 2020 run.

As you’ll see in our benchmarks, that from-the-factory boost made no practical difference in gaming frame rates, but it’s an encouraging sign for people who want to put the Merc 319’s beefy custom cooler to work with a manual overclock. The card comes with a pair of 8-pin power connectors, up from the 8-pin and 6-pin reference configuration, to further assist in those endeavors.

xfx radeon rx 6700 xt merc 319 11 Brad Chacos/IDG

The XFX Merc 319's power connectors, with the tiny dual-BIOS switch just to their left.

Speaking of overclocking, XFX helpfully outfitted the Radeon RX 6700 XT Merc 319 with a dual-BIOS switch. Usually vendors equip each of the toggles with different BIOS profiles—one faster and with a higher power limit, the other slower with lower noise levels. XFX decided to slap the exact same high-performance BIOS on both toggles, but it makes sense in this case because the Merc 319 is utterly silent even at full tilt. You can use the performance tuning options in AMD’s native Radeon Settings application to rejigger either BIOS with different settings if you’d like, however.

merc 319 cooler XFX

A blowout rendering of the XFX RX 6700 XT Merc 319's custom cooler.

No matter how you decide to run the GPU, this graphics card is up to the task. The Radeon RX 6700 XT model brings back the design of XFX’s 6800 XT Merc 319 to stunning effect. We dove into the cooling system in greater detail in that review, but at a high level, XFX equipped the card with a full 7+2 phase digital PWM power design to push the GPU. The company then focused heavily on heat dissipation, giving the Merc 319 a trio of fans with 13 blades each: Dual 100mm fans bracket a slightly smaller, slightly offset 92mm fan in the middle.

A copper-plated cold plate contacting the GPU connects to five 6mm heat pipes that snake throughout a utterly massive 2.6-slot heat sink. XFX crammed thermal pads over the GDDR6 memory, VRMs, and other key components to increase heat dissipation even more, and went so far as to put thermal pads between the backside of the PCB and the solid metal backplate so that it can help keep things cool. It’s remarkably effective, besting even the excellent thermal results we witnessed with the Sapphire Nitro+ RX 6700 XT.

xfx radeon rx 6700 xt merc 319 10 Brad Chacos/IDG

The Merc 319 is substantially larger than AMD's reference Radeon RX 6700 XT.

That backplate features several large cutouts to maximize airflow, and it helps the graphics card stand strong, too. The XFX Radeon RX 6700 XT Merc 319 is humongous, measuring 3 slots deep and nearly 13 inches long. You’ll definitely want to ensure it’ll fit in your system before you buy it. XFX’s rigid aluminum backplate and cast shroud help protect against the sort of bending and sagging you sometimes see with large graphics cards.

xfx radeon rx 6700 xt merc 319 12 Brad Chacos/IDG

The Merc 319 remains jaw-droppingly gorgeous, too. Here’s what we said in our evaluation of the 6800 XT version, and it holds just as true for this 6700 XT iteration:

“XFX is known for its aggressive-looking designs. Last generation’s Thicc models, for instance, evoked the feel of muscle cars of yesteryear. The Merc 319 refines that aesthetic. I love the industrial black-and-silver vibe of this card, and RGB haters won’t find an ounce of unicorn puke anywhere.

The XFX and [Radeon RX 6700 XT] logos on the side are illuminated though, and in a surprisingly striking fashion. Their white lights (red, for the “RX” lettering) shine much more cleanly and clearly than the logos do on rival graphics cards—sort of like the difference between standard car headlights and LED headlights. These pictures don’t capture how nice it looks."

xfx radeon rx 6700 xt merc 319 3 Brad Chacos/IDG

"Then there’s the logo. XFX emblazoned the word “Merc” in big, stylized white letters across the top of the backplate. It definitely fits the vibe of the card, as well as XFX’s general branding, but if you prefer your hardware to look less “edgy,” you might not appreciate it. There’s no way to avoid seeing it if your case includes a tempered glass side panel. Me? I dig it. Your mileage may vary.”

Finally, the XFX Merc 319 sticks to the same video connections as AMD’s reference card, bracketing a single HDMI 2.1 port inside a trio of DisplayPorts. Now let’s get to the benchmarks.

Next page: Our test system, benchmarks begin

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Our test system

We’re in the process of moving to a new AMD Ryzen 5000-series test rig to be able to benchmark the effect of PCIe 4.0 support on modern GPUs, as well as the performance-boosting AMD Smart Access Memory and Nvidia Resizable BAR features (which are both based on the same underlying PCIe standard). Currently, we’re testing it on an open bench with AMD’s Wraith Max air cooler; in the future, we’ll both moving the setup into a case and adding an NZXT Kraken liquid cooler to the mix. Most of the hardware was provided by the manufacturers, but we purchased the storage ourselves.

  • AMD Ryzen 5900X, stock settings
  • AMD Wraith Max cooler
  • MSI Godlike X570 motherboard
  • 32GB G.Skill Trident Z Neo DDR4 3800 memory
  • EVGA 1200W SuperNova P2 power supply ($352 on Amazon)
  • 1TB SK Hynix Gold S31 SSD

We’re comparing the $570 XFX Merc 319 against the $480 reference version of the Radeon RX 6700 XT, of course, as well as the step-up $580 Radeon RX 6800 and last-generation’s $400 Radeon RX 5700 XT. On the Nvidia front, we’ve included results for the $500 GeForce RTX 3070 Founders Edition and reference-spec’d $330 EVGA RTX 3060 XC Black Gaming. We unfortunately had to lean on the premium, overclocked EVGA FTW3 Ultra for our results of the ostensibly $400 RTX 3060 Ti because our Founders Edition card wasn’t immediately available for testing.

xfx radeon rx 6700 xt merc 319 4 Brad Chacos/IDG

The XFX Merc 319 on our test bench.

This review will stick to standard gaming benchmarks at 1440p and 1080p resolution, the target audience for the RX 6700 XT. It’s not an ideal 4K gaming option, though it’s definitely capable of playing at that resolution, especially if you don’t mind reducing visual settings a bit. If you want to see how well it handles real-time ray tracing and the performance uplift possible with Smart Access Memory, be sure to check out our original Radeon RX 6700 XT reference card review, which contains detailed information about those extra features.

We test a variety of games spanning various engines, genres, vendor sponsorships (Nvidia, AMD, and Intel), and graphics APIs (DirectX 11, DX12, and Vulkan). Each game is tested using its in-game benchmark at the highest possible graphics presets unless otherwise noted, with VSync, frame rate caps, real-time ray tracing or DLSS effects, and FreeSync/G-Sync disabled, along with any other vendor-specific technologies like FidelityFX tools or Nvidia Reflex. We’ve also enabled temporal anti-aliasing (TAA) to push these cards to their limits. We run each benchmark at least three times and list the average result for each test.

Gaming performance benchmarks

Watch Dogs: Legion

Watch Dogs: Legion is one of the first games to debut on next-gen consoles. Ubisoft upgraded its Disrupt engine to include cutting-edge features like real-time ray tracing and Nvidia’s DLSS. We disable those effects for this testing, but Legion remains a strenuous game even on high-end hardware with its optional high-resolution texture pack installed. 

wdl Brad Chacos/IDG

Horizon Zero Dawn

Yep, PlayStation exclusives are coming to the PC now. Horizon Zero Dawn runs on Guerrilla Games’ Decima engine, the same engine that powers Death Stranding.

hzd Brad Chacos/IDG

Next page: gaming benchmarks continue

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Gears Tactics

Gears Tactics puts it own brutal, fast-paced spin on the XCOM-like genre. This Unreal Engine 4-powered game was built from the ground up for DirectX 12, and we love being able to work a tactics-style game into our benchmarking suite. Better yet, the game comes with a plethora of graphics options for PC snobs. More games should devote such loving care to explaining what flipping all these visual knobs mean.

You can’t use the presets to benchmark Gears Tactics, as it intelligently scales to work best on your installed hardware, meaning that “Ultra” on one graphics card can load different settings than “Ultra” on a weaker card. We manually set all options to their highest possible settings.

gears Brad Chacos/IDG

Wolfenstein: Youngblood

Wolfenstein: Youngblood is more fun when you can play cooperatively with a buddy, but it’s a fearless experiment—and an absolute technical showcase. Running on the Vulkan API, Youngblood achieves blistering frame rates, and it supports all sorts of cutting-edge technologies like ray tracing, DLSS 2.0, HDR, GPU culling, asynchronous computing, and Nvidia’s Content Adaptive Shading. The game includes a built-in benchmark with two different scenes; we tested Riverside.

wolf Brad Chacos/IDG

Metro Exodus

One of the best games of 2019, Metro Exodus remains one of the best-looking games around, too. The latest version of the 4A Engine provides incredibly luscious, ultra-detailed visuals, with one of the most stunning real-time ray tracing implementations released yet. The Extreme graphics preset we benchmark can melt even the most powerful modern hardware, as you’ll see below, though the game’s Ultra and High presets still look good at much higher frame rates.

We test in DirectX 12 mode with ray tracing, Hairworks, and DLSS disabled.

metro Brad Chacos/IDG

Borderlands 3

Borderlands is back! Gearbox’s game defaults to DX12, so we do as well. It gives us a glimpse at the ultra-popular Unreal Engine 4’s performance in a traditional shooter. This game tends to favor AMD hardware.

borderlands Brad Chacos/IDG

Strange Brigade

Strange Brigade is a cooperative third-person shooter where a team of adventurers blasts through hordes of mythological enemies. It’s a technological showcase, built around the next-gen Vulkan and DirectX 12 technologies and infused with features like HDR support and the ability to toggle asynchronous compute on and off. It uses Rebellion’s custom Azure engine. We test using the Vulkan renderer, which is faster than DX12.

strange brigade Brad Chacos/IDG

Next page: gaming benchmarks continue

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Total War: Troy

The latest game in the popular Total War saga, Troy was given away free for its first 24 hours on the Epic Games Store, moving over 7.5 million copies before it went on proper sale. Total War: Troy is built using a modified version of the Total War: Warhammer 2 engine, and this DX11 title looks stunning for a turn-based strategy game. We test the more intensive battle benchmark.

total war troy Brad Chacos/IDG

F1 2020

The latest in a long line of successful racing games, F1 2020 is a gem to test, supplying a wide array of both graphical and benchmarking options, making it a much more reliable (and fun) option that the Forza series. It’s built on the latest version of Codemasters’ buttery-smooth Ego game engine, complete with support for DX12 and Nvidia’s DLSS technology. We test two laps on the Australia course, with clear skies on and DLSS off.

f1 2020 Brad Chacos/IDG

Shadow of the Tomb Raider

Shadow of the Tomb Raider concludes the reboot trilogy, and it’s still utterly gorgeous a couple of years after its debut. Square Enix optimized this game for DX12 and recommends DX11 only if you’re using older hardware or Windows 7, so we test with DX12. Shadow of the Tomb Raider uses an enhanced version of the Foundation engine that also powered Rise of the Tomb Raider and includes optional real-time ray tracing and DLSS features.

sotr Brad Chacos/IDG

Rainbow Six Siege

Rainbow Six Siege still dominates the Steam charts years after its launch, and Ubisoft supports it with frequent updates and events. The developers have poured a ton of work into the game’s AnvilNext engine over the years, eventually rolling out a Vulkan version of the game that we use to test. By default, the game lowers the render scaling to increase frame rates, but we set it to 100 percent to benchmark native rendering performance on graphics cards. Even still, frame rates soar.

rb6 Brad Chacos/IDG

Next page: Power, thermals, noise, and conclusion

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Power draw, thermals, and noise

We test power draw by looping the F1 2020 benchmark at 4K for about 20 minutes after we’ve benchmarked everything else and noting the highest reading on our Watts Up Pro meter, which measures the power consumption of our entire test system. The initial part of the race, where all competing cars are onscreen simultaneously, tends to be the most demanding portion. 

This isn’t a worst-case test; this is a GPU-bound game running at a GPU-bound resolution to gauge performance when the graphics card is sweating hard. If you’re playing a game that also hammers the CPU, you could see higher overall system power draws. Consider yourself warned.

power Brad Chacos/IDG

Nvidia GPUs prevent our computer from fully going into idle in the five minutes of downtime we use for this test, though it does so after a longer duration. That’s new to this Ryzen 5900X platform; we didn’t see it on our old Intel-based testbeds, nor with AMD Radeon graphics cards installed. We’ll have to change our methodology going forward and poke around the behavior to understand it more fully. 

The XFX Merc 319 draws slightly more energy than the reference Radeon RX 6700 XT, but that’s to be expected given its higher power limit and faster clock speeds. This hotrod still draws less power than the RTX 3070 and roughly the same energy as EVGA’s overclocked (but slower) RTX 3060 Ti, however, which shows just how power efficient AMD’s new RDNA 2 architecture is.

We test thermals by leaving GPU-Z open during the F1 2020 power draw test, noting the highest maximum temperature at the end.

temp Brad Chacos/IDG

It takes a lot of heavy metal and abundant thermal pads but the XFX Merc 319’s bespoke cooling design rocks our socks. The card stays over 10 degrees cooler than AMD’s reference board while running in absolute silence. While it’s not reflected in the chart above, XFX’s Merc 319 manages to keep internal components (like memory and the hotspot GPU temp) anywhere for 3 to 5 degrees Celsius cooler than even Sapphire’s fantastic Nitro+. If you want to overclock your graphics card, the XFX Merc 319 is more than up to snuff.

Should you buy the XFX Radeon RX 6700 XT Merc 319?

Reiterating what we spent several hundred words on in our reference Radeon RX 6700 XT review, you probably shouldn’t buy any graphics card right now. Cards sell out instantly and appear on resale sites for twice the price or more. I’d recommend most people sit on the sidelines and stream their PC games via Nvidia’s GeForce Now service until the dust settles. In a sane world, the Radeon RX 6700 XT is priced about $80 too high, and the XFX Merc 319 adds another $90 to that to hit its $570 price point. By contrast, last generation’s equivalent XFX Radeon RX 5700 XT Thicc III Ultra launched at $440.

xfx radeon rx 6700 xt merc 319 6 Brad Chacos/IDG

But we’re not living in a sane world, and in today’s reality, the XFX Radeon RX 6700 XT Merc 319 is well worth the money. AMD’s latest GPU plays games at 1440p and high refresh rate 1080p with no visual compromises in traditionally rasterized games. XFX’s best-in-class custom cooler isn’t just frigid, it’s downright inaudible—and flat-out gorgeous. Pairing such a potent cooler with upgraded dual 8-pin power requirements and a BIOS switch means the XFX Merc 319 should also be on your shortlist if you’re looking to push performance even further via manual overclocking.

There are a few minor nitpicks to make. The graphics card is physically massive--make sure it can fit in your case before you buy. XFX’s nice factory overclock makes no difference to practical gaming performance, so this card isn’t tangibly faster than the much cheaper reference model. AMD’s weak ray tracing performance is limited to 1080p with reduced visual settings until the company rolls out a rival to Nvidia’s DLSS feature. And while I adore this card's hot-rod vibes, the Merc 319's clean aesthetic lacks an option to customize onboard lighting. If you’re an RGB enthusiast, consider Sapphire’s rival Nitro+ RX 6700 XT instead.

Don’t let those tiny qualms dissuade you if you’re somehow able to actually land your paws on this. The XFX Radeon RX 6700 XT Merc 319 is a fantastic graphics card, full stop.