PowerColor Radeon RX 6800 Red Dragon Review 13

PowerColor Radeon RX 6800 Red Dragon Review


Value and Conclusion

  • The MSRP of the PowerColor RX 6800 Red Dragon is unknown. At current market conditions, it can be found for around $950.
  • Tremendous performance gains over the last generation
  • Faster than RTX 2080 Ti and RTX 3070
  • Low temperatures
  • Overclocked out of the box
  • Excellent power efficiency
  • 16 GB VRAM
  • Extremely quiet with quiet BIOS
  • Power limit increased
  • Idle fan stop
  • Good overclocking potential
  • Dual BIOS
  • Hardware-accelerated raytracing
  • Support for HDMI 2.1, AV1 decode
  • PCI-Express 4.0
  • 7 nanometer production process
  • No stock available at any reputable retailers
  • Actual market price much higher than AMD MSRP
  • Raytracing performance loss bigger than on NVIDIA
  • Memory overclocking artificially limited
  • Fan speed overshoot on quiet BIOS
The PowerColor Radeon RX 6800 lineup consists of three SKUs at this time: Red Devil, Red Dragon, and Fighter. In today's review, I looked at the Red Dragon, which is a somewhat premium SKU, but not as over-the-top as the Red Devil. While the highest factory overclocks on RX 6800 reach 2190 MHz, the Red Dragon is clocked at 2170 MHz, so slightly lower, at least if you want to believe AMD's boost clock rating. Unfortunately, that rating doesn't seem to be very accurate. We reviewed the ASUS RX 6800 STRIX OC last week, which is clocked at 2190 MHz—it ran 2200 MHz on average in our 23-game strong test suite. The Red Dragon actually ran 2217 MHz, 20 MHz higher despite a 20 MHz lower rating. Not sure yet what exactly causes this difference, but it's something worth considering when shopping for factory-overclocked Radeon cards.

In terms of relative performance, this makes the RX 6800 Red Dragon 2% faster than the RX 6800 reference card at 4K resolution. That increase is surprisingly small—manufacturers are getting better and better at eking out the highest clocks and performance, even at stock. NVIDIA's GeForce RTX 3080 is 19% faster than the RX 6800 Red Dragon, and the RX 6800 XT is 13% ahead. NVIDIA's RTX 3070 and RTX 2080 Ti are 10% slower. Performance uplifts compared to older cards are impressive as well, as it is almost twice as fast as the RX 5700 and nearly three times as fast as the RX 590.

With these performance numbers, the Radeon RX 6800 is the perfect choice for 1440p gaming at well above 60 FPS. It can also be your gateway to 4K gaming. While it's not fast enough to get 60 FPS in every title at the highest settings, it's pretty close. If you reduce some detail settings, you should hit 60 FPS easily. Things are different once you turn on raytracing, however. Just like on NVIDIA, there's a hefty performance hit when running with the DirectX Raytracing API. We only tested two games so far, but it seems the loss in performance is bigger than on NVIDIA, who improved in that area with Ampere. Remember, this is AMD's first-generation raytracing implementation. Performance is still very respectable, reaching roughly RTX 2080 levels. Now that RT hardware is available for both AMD and NVIDIA and game developers are making console games on AMD's new RDNA2 architecture, it'll be interesting to see how raytracing performance evolves in the coming months.

PowerColor's thermal solution is not nearly as big as the one on the ASUS STRIX, which I reviewed last week, but I feel PowerColor made the most out of it, unlike ASUS, which focused on temperatures a bit too much. With 62°C, the Red Dragon runs very cool and, at 32 dBA, super quiet. This is slightly quieter than the AMD reference design, and cooler, too—an important achievement. NVIDIA's RTX 3070 Founders Edition is a little bit quieter than that. Thanks to a dual-BIOS feature on the PowerColor card, you can easily adjust the fan settings to a fan curve that's less aggressive—31 dBA and 72°C, which is still perfectly fine. I'd recommend you use the quiet BIOS at all times because there's effectively no difference between 62°C and 72°C, but you'll notice lower noise levels all the time when gaming. What's a bit unfortunate, though, is that the quiet BIOS has some fan-speed overshoot, which means the fans will be more noticeable in games that change their GPU load patterns quickly. Just like on the AMD reference design, idle fan stop is included, which provides the perfect noise-free experience during desktop work, internet browsing, media playback, and light gaming.

Idle power consumption of the RX 6800 Red Dragon is surprisingly high even though the design isn't that radically different from the AMD reference. But with 4–6 W, the increase shouldn't be a deal-breaker. When it comes to gaming, the card is actually quite efficient. Average gaming power draw tracks the AMD reference card almost exactly, yet the Red Dragon runs a bit faster. There's no huge loss in efficiency for a small performance gain from OC—this is also happening on some competing cards. Overall, the RX 6800 is the most efficient graphics card design we have ever tested, almost 10% better than what NVIDIA Ampere offers. In non-gaming states, NVIDIA has the upper hand, though.

AMD's Radeon RX 6800 Series launched in November last year, and there has since been very little supply coming in, which, paired with the high demand, led to an extreme shortage of cards. With few cards available and everybody wanting one, scalpers are listing these cards with a markup to cash in on people who are willing to pay top dollar to have a card now. The same is happening with all the other AMD RDNA2 and NVIDIA Ampere products. Officially, AMD claims an MSRP of $580 for the Radeon RX 6800, which was a fantasy even at launch—board partners wouldn't be able to achieve those prices even if there were enough GPU supply.

Current market conditions have the AMD RX 6800 at $950, and the PowerColor Red Dragon can regularly be found at this price point, which means effectively, there's no additional price premium, which is only little consolation over the high base price. These price points are extremely high compared to announced MSRPs. On the other hand, the RX 6800 at $950 isn't such a bad deal anymore if you consider all MSRPs fake and compare it to the RTX 2080 Ti, which people happily paid $1200 for last year. The card is 10% faster with much better power, heat, noise, and efficiency.

Compared to other cards at inflated prices, the RX 6800 is facing strong competition. $1100 gets you an RTX 3080, a card that's 20% faster and has better raytracing performance. Another alternative could be the RTX 3070, which is $850, a bit slower than the RX 6800, but ahead in raytracing—if you believe that's the future. RX 6800 does have 16 GB VRAM, which will not make a substantial difference unless you look 5 to 10 years ahead, and at that point, the card will simply be too slow anyway.

I still feel like it's reasonable to give our Recommended Award to the RX 6800 Red Dragon—it's one of the cards I would be looking for if I wanted an RX 6800 now. While the Red Dragon cooler is not nearly as powerful than the one on the much more expensive ASUS STRIX, PowerColor found more balanced fan settings and didn't just go brute force on low temperatures. Overclocking potential was a little bit better than on the ASUS STRIX; not hugely different, it's definitely not like you need the top-end variants for meaningful overclocking potential. If you are willing to consider other cards, definitely do some research on the RTX 3080 and RTX 3070, too.
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