Product Review: PowerColor Red Dragon RX 480 4GB

Product Review: PowerColor Red Dragon RX 480 4GB

Looking for a solid yet affordable RX 480? This may be just the card you were looking for.

Back Story

As you may know if you have been following our Let’s Chat series on YouTube, I was recently in the market for a new GPU as I thought my old HD 7950 was getting ready to visit the great recycling center in the sky. Graphical stutters, loud fan rattle and degraded performance all seemed to point to needing a new GPU. It turns out this actually wasn’t the case as I first bought an RX 470 that had fan issues but still suffered stutter and strange performance issues. A clean reinstall of Windows without making a ton of changes and registry edits eventually solved my problems. However this wasn’t before I ordered another card. Ok, so honestly how quiet the new card was sold me on the idea of getting anything to silence the single fan reference 7950 that is super loud. So I continued the hunt and found this card.

Why PowerColor?

PowerColor Red Dragon RX480 4GB Product Box
PowerColor Red Dragon RX480 4GB Box

So why PowerColor? Well honestly I found this card for the low price of $180 after I was looking to pay around $160 after rebate for an RX 470. I was actually looking for a 470 as those were mostly within my budget and 480’s seemed to be well over $200. However this model was only $20 more than what I wanted to spend and gives a noticeable performance increase over the 470. I also paid $180 for my 7950 back in 2013 so this is kind of what I found myself spending on new GPU’s so why not keep the tradition?

It’s not all about price either. I was looking for a cheaper dual fan design as reference cards were off the table with how loud my 7950 was. I have had hardware issues on many major brands (MSi, ASUS, Gigabyte etc) of components so I figured why not give PowerColor a shot? Reviews online appeared to fall into two distinct camps, those that strongly felt they were a budget brand and those that loved them and exclusively bought PowerColor. So I took the plunge and bought my first PowerColor GPU.

Packaging

Image of the box opened showing cardboard insert and GPU in antistatic bag.
Although the packaging may be bare bones, the quality lies entirely in the card itself.

Ok, so the packaging isn’t all that impressive. As you can see in these photos the card came in a cardboard encasing instead of foam like most of the other brands I have seen in recent years. Additionally there were no port covers or PCI slot cover on the card. Just the card in an anti-static bag in cardboard. Not a look that instills confidence, but this was quickly brushed aside once I actually had the card in hand.

Build Quality

Image showing back of the card and ports. Solid metal black backplate and black PCB showcased.
Solid black backplate and black PCB. Nothing more you could ask for.

From the moment I held the card by itself out of it’s packaging I got a felling of quality. Sure the box and it’s packing is anemic, but the card itself feels like quality. It has a metal backplate which is a first for any GPU I have purchased and has a nice heft to it that it feels solid. Not so much that I think it will rip the PCIe slot off my motherboard mind you as the backplate gives it support. It’s just enough to feel solid in your hands like it wasn’t quickly thrown together with cheap parts like a few other brand cards I have used in the past. The plastic shroud feels durable and solid, not cheap and flimsy and the heat pipes in the cooling system are chromed to match the aluminum fans in the heat sink. I assume this is nickle coated copper like in my Cryorig H7 but I can’t find this called out in the manual or PowerColor’s website. Regardless it’s a nice touch as the 470 I had to return had orange copper pipes, so this feels more premium.

Side of GPU showing chrome heatpipes and 6-pin power connector.
Chrome heatpipes (likely nickle plated copper) give the card a polished feel. No orange copper in sight. Also note this uses a 6-pin power connector.

Specs

RX 480

There isn’t really too much to say here. It’s an RX 480 so it has a performance floor of the reference 480’s. I don’t overclock and I currently don’t play demanding modern games to test frame rates out etc. However with that, there are already a ton of videos and showcases of what the 480 can do, so I don’t feel it is necessary for me to do my own tests.

4GB

Ok, so you may be reading this just because I said I got the 4GB instead of the 8GB 480. Why would anyone buy the 4GB? In short, I don’t plan to get into VR. Yes, there is a bandwidth difference on the memory for the cards, but from what I read in these articles: Legit Reviews: AMD Radeon RX 480 4GB versus Radeon RX 480 8GB, Eurogamer: AMD Radeon RX480 4GB vs 8GB review, GamersNexus: AMD RX 480 4GB vs. 8GB Benchmark – Is 8GB VRAM Worth It?; the difference equates to a few percent performance difference or literally only a few frames per second difference. Additionally not being big into PC gaming means I don’t have to worry about future proofing VRAM. With 8GB cards selling for a minimum of $40 more (starting at $220 when I bought this) I didn’t find this a compelling reason to go with 8GB. That and even if I was a heavy gamer, I don’t know of any games that would utilize the full 8GB unless you running VR. So 4GB was the practical, cost saving option of the two variants for me.

Dual Fan Design

Ok, so the biggest reason I purchased this card was to get something to replace the noise maker in my case, the reference 7950. This dual fan design does it’s job being dead silent at start up and doing most of my daily tasks and work. It’s dead silent doing moderate tasks including playing Source engine games and working in Unity3D. Even when I have made the fans spin up to audiable levels it is much less than the reference design I suffered with previously. Yes, it’s audible, but no it’s not unbearable. It’s actually quite what you may expect, loud enough you know it’s running and working, but not so loud you will want to rip it out of your case and replace it.

Coil Whine

This brings me to my only real issue with this card. Coil whine is present, but it seems to be only noticeable under certain tasks or circumstances when frame rate is allowed to run skyhigh unchecked. So I don’t hear this anymore in Photoshop applying filters to layers, but the menus of Sims games Allyson plays cause it to squeal. It disappears then while playing, but it is noticeable and certainly isn’t something you wouldn’t notice at times. Not a deal breaker, but it does mean my PC isn’t as silent on air cooling as I would like it to be. Yes, I know coil whine has nothing to do with cooling, but the goal was to make my PC as quiet as possible using fans and no water. This issue isn’t something that can be corrected and having everything else quiet only seems to amplify the issue as it’s dead quiet at all other times. Again, not a deal breaker as it runs well and was so cheap, but something to note.

Summary

For under $200 this card seems to be a great deal. However it looks as if the word may already be out as I have seen it go out of stock or 3rd party sellers only. If you can snag it for lower than comparable cards, I would recommend it so long as you are fully aware of the items I listed above. It’s a rather solid card that when found at the right price is certainly a bargain worth getting.

Looking to snag one of these for yourself? I found mine on Newegg.com for around $180 on sale mid November (2016). At the time of writing it was sold out, but I did find it on Amazon.com as well. Links to both product pages are below. I honestly wouldn’t say it’s a value to find at any price above $200 which was it’s MSRP when I purchased it. So don’t pass up other brands that may also be available at this price range if they are available.

External Product Page Links:

Newegg.com: PowerColor Red Dragon RX 480 4GB

Amazon.com: PowerColor Red Dragon RX 480 4GB

One thought on “Product Review: PowerColor Red Dragon RX 480 4GB

  1. Nice review.
    I’ve bought that same card now early January after the holidays and must say I’ve not had the coil whine at all on my card, the fans do break some sort of sound barrier when they really ramp up when I say leave Overwatch to play at 130+fps but skaling it down to 60fps the card is nearly inaudible.

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