AMD Radeon R9 Nano Review

How We Tested

Test System

Since the specifications of our 4.2GHz Intel Core i7-5930K-based test system haven’t changed, the following table is just an overview. The only notable change is our update from Windows 8.1 to Windows 10, keeping us current and enabling the adoption of DirectX 12.


Test Method
Contact-free DC Measurement at PCIe Slot (Using a Riser Card)
Contact-free DC Measurement at External Auxiliary Power Supply Cable
Direct Voltage Measurement at Power Supply
Real-Time Infrared Monitoring and Recording

Test Equipment
2 x HAMEG HMO 3054, 500MHz Digital Multi-channel Oscilloscope with Storage Function
4 x HAMEG HZO50 Current Probe (1mA - 30A, 100kHz, DC)
4 x HAMEG HZ355 (10:1 Probes, 500MHz)
1 x HAMEG HMC 8012 Digital Multimeter with Storage Function
1 x Optris PI450 80Hz Infrared Camera + PI Connect

Test System
Intel Core i7-5930K @ 4.2GHz
Raijintek Triton All-In-One Water Cooler
Crucial Ballistix Sport, 4x 4GB DDR4-2400
MSI X99S XPower AC
2x Crucial MX200, 500GB SSD (System, Applications and Data, Storage)
be quiet! Dark Power Pro, 850W Power Supply Unit (PSU)
Windows 10 Pro (Completely Updated)
Drivers
AMD: 15.201.1102-150806a-188638C Pre-WHQL
Nvidia: ForceWare 355.82
Gaming
Benchmarks
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
Grand Theft Auto V (GTA V)
Metro Last Light
Bioshock Infinite
Tomb Raider
Battlefield 4
Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor
Thief
Ashes of the Singularity

Comparison of the Tested Graphics Cards

AMD’s Radeon R9 Fury X is set as the top of the field to allow for a direct comparison to the new Nano. A factory-overclocked MSI GeForce GTX 980 Gaming 4G should have approximately the same performance level as the Nano across the benchmarks and resolutions. Next, MSI's R9 390X Gaming 8G is expected to provide similar performance as well, and it sports 8GB of memory, which is the largest amount in this test line-up.

Finally, we round out the field with a Gigabyte GTX 970 OC Mini. It actually competes twice, once at stock settings and once after being manually overlocked. Still, this smaller graphics card should be considered a step down in performance. Then again, it’s the fastest out there for mini-ITX.

Benchmark Settings and Resolutions

The benchmarks are set to taxing detail presets, since that's what we expect someone who buys a graphics card in this price range to do. In order to demonstrate differences between the cards at progressively higher resolutions, we’re using Full HD (1920x1080), QHD (2560x1440) and Ultra HD/4K (3840x2160).

QHD is a good compromise between the two other resolutions. We include it since even the Radeon R9 Nano isn’t always able to provide playable frame rates at 4K. In the end, most people would rather turn down their settings than endure choppy playback. The QHD results are a good indicator for this. By and large, QHD at high settings runs about the same as 4K with low settings.

Frame Rates and Frame Time Variance: What’s New?

We completely updated how we represent frame time variance. In the end, percentages just don’t tell the whole story for longer benchmarks, which can have very different sections when it comes to rendering speed. We’ve settled on two ways of representing the results. First, we show how long it takes to render each individual frame, which tells you a lot more than bar graphs or an FPS graph that’s based on averages. Second, we plot two different evaluations of each frame’s time.

We start by normalizing each frame time by subtracting the average of the overall benchmark’s frame times. This puts all the curves for all the graphics cards at a common average on the x-axis. This allows us to more easily spot outliers. After doing this, we assess the curve’s smoothness, which is to say that we’re looking at the relative differences in render time between the frames. This helps us to find subjectively annoying stuttering or jumps more easily without having the actual frame time influence the curve.

Power Consumption Measurement Methodology

We measure the power consumption of these graphic cards as described in The Math Behind GPU Power Consumption And PSUs. It's the only way we can achieve readings that facilitate sound conclusions about efficiency. We need two oscilloscopes in a master-slave setup to be able to record all eight channels at the same time (4x Voltage, 4x Current). We measure each PCIe power connector separately.

We use a riser card on the PCIe slot (PEG) to measure power consumption directly on the motherboard for the 3.3 and 12V rails. The riser card was built specifically for this purpose.

Infrared Measurement with the Optris PI450

We’ve identified a method to confirm what our sensors tell us and to spice up our usual temperature graphs a bit in the form of the PI450 by Optris. This piece of equipment is an infrared camera that was developed specifically for process monitoring. It allows us to shoot both videos and still shots at a good resolution, providing us with not just the the peak temperatures, but also a good view of any weak points in the graphics card's design.

The Optris PI450 supplies real-time thermal images at a rate of 80Hz. The pictures are sent via USB to a separate system, where they can be recorded as video. The PI450’s thermal sensitivity is 40mK, making it ideal for assessing small gradients.

Noise

As always, we use a high-quality microphone placed perpendicular to the center of the graphics card at a distance of 50cm. The results are analyzed with Smaart 7.

The ambient noise when our readings were recorded at night never rose above 26 dB(A). This was noted and accounted for separately during each measurement. The setup was calibrated on a regular basis as well.

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115 comments
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  • nikolajj
    I love this segment. If I was building today, I would do a small build for sure!
  • Eximo
    Looks like the table had a hiccup. GTX970 (OC) is showing a lot of the numbers from the R9-390X, and maybe a few numbers from the 980 column.
  • Yuka
    It is a nice card and I agree, but... It's not USD $650 nice.

    This card is a very tough sell for AMD, specially since ITX cases that can house current long cards are not hard to find or weird enough to make short cards a thing.

    It's nice to see it's up there with the GTX970 in terms of efficiency, since HTPCs need that to be viable and the card has no apparent shortcomings from what I could read here.

    All in all, it needs to drop a bit in price. It's not "650 nice", but making it "~500 nice" sounds way better. Specially when the 970 mini is at 400.

    Cheers!
  • FormatC
    @Eximo:
    The table will be fixed, this was a copy issue :D
  • sna
    no HDMI2.0 in itx small system near the 4k TV is unforgivable AMD , what were you thinking?
  • sna
    73949 said:
    It is a nice card and I agree, but... It's not USD $650 nice. This card is a very tough sell for AMD, specially since ITX cases that can house current long cards are not hard to find or weird enough to make short cards a thing. It's nice to see it's up there with the GTX970 in terms of efficiency, since HTPCs need that to be viable and the card has no apparent shortcomings from what I could read here. All in all, it needs to drop a bit in price. It's not "650 nice", but making it "~500 nice" sounds way better. Specially when the 970 mini is at 400. Cheers!



    well this card is for the smallest case ... not the easy to find huge long itx case.

    I personaly find long itx cases useless ... they are very near to Matx case in size .. and people will pick up MATX ovet ITX any time if the size is the same.

    BUT for 170mm long card ? this is a winner.

    the only thing killing this product is the lack of HDMI2.0 which is very important for itx .. ITX are the console like PC near the tv.
  • Cryio
    The 390X was slower or as fast as a mini-970 in 1080p-1440p in all cases. What gives?
  • FormatC
    As the manually oc'ed version. Please compare it with the 970 Mini @stock :)
  • heffeque
    Quote:
    no HDMI2.0 in itx small system near the 4k TV is unforgivable AMD , what were you thinking?

    I guess that they were thinking about DisplayPort?
  • Nossy
    I'd go with the 950 GTX for a mini ITX build for a 1080pgaming/4k video HTPC.

    For a $650 bucks video card. I'd go with a 980TI and use a Raven RVZ01 if I want an ITX build with performance.
  • caiokn
    Nice to see such a nice product from AMD. I expect their next CPU line to be surprisingly good as well.
  • rhysiam
    While it's great to see a high end AMD card competing with Nvidia on efficiency, I wonder how aggressively they've had to bin the chips to get the Nano down to its TDP. Given the CLC and additional VRMs on the FuryX, these Nano's would have a substantially lower BOM and yet retail at the same price, making them a higher margin product. Reasonable bet they'll be getting the cream of the Fiji crop at the moment.

    It would be interesting to see whether under volting/clocking a FuryX could approach similar efficiency, but I wouldn't be surprised to find that most of them draw a chunk more power. Still, if you told me 6 months ago that AMD would have a high end card that's competitive with Maxwell in both performance and efficiency (particularly the latter), I'm not sure I'd have believed it.
  • tomc100
    The price is a bit high but Nvidia doesn't have a small form factor gpu with this much power and it's good to see AMD not pricing their gpu at ridiculously low prices and selling themselves short in order to compete with Nvidia. Time for Nvidia to drop prices. Now hopefully, their cpu division can keep up with Intel.
  • Au_equus
    AMD and the discrete GPU market needs this badly, but the lack of HDMI 2.0 is just another misstep for AMD. Its like they designed a sports car with the big engine, the high strength chassis, and the wide base with the road gripping tires. Then they put in an automatic transmission without the option for manual...
  • TallestJon96
    "Enthusiasts fond of space-saving gaming PCs have dreamed of a graphics card that runs as fast as a factory-overclocked Nvidia GeForce GTX 980 at Full HD resolution, and even faster at Ultra HD, while being smaller, lighter and even a bit less power hungry."

    They did? And that's oddly specific...

    Anyway, it's a good card, but too expensive, as the extra performance over a 970 isn't worth $300.

    Also, nvidia needs only to release a mini it's 989, and this niche will be filled.

    It's actually a great card, and I would use it if I had it, but the value just isn't there.
  • filippi
    mini it's 989? This is new...
  • XiPH3R
    great conclusion
  • AS118
    This is definitely a strong product for its niche, but I think that the regular Fury X is also a good small card. If I was building a small rig, I'd definitely consider that too.

    I wonder if working with Apple's rubbed off on AMD, they seem to be thinking of small form factors more often lately.
  • Xorak
    I suppose if you absolutely must pack the most power into the smallest case, than so be it. But even then, even the smallest cases seem to have at least one 120mm vent where you could sick the radiator of the Fury X and have a better, cooler solution for the same money. Assuming you could buy one of those, which realistically, you can't right now either.. Just my two cents. I got a 290x and freesync, I'm sitting this round out unless high end prices come way down. But I predict that the next full cycle will be a bigger step up than this one was. We should actually get that die size decrease and maybe 8gb of HBM will be cost effective by then.
  • jkhoward
    This card manages 30 FPS in most titles at 4K which isn't "playable" for most gamers. When paired against the 970 Mini in 1080p they are just about neck and neck.

    I am far from being a NVIDIA fanboy but... I guess I don't see the point in this product if it is $300 more expensive than the 970 Mini and cannot handle 4K with at least 60 FPS.
  • rgd1101
    they should replace the non-X fury with this, and at $500-$550.
  • Benthon
    Who spends $650 on a GPU but wouldn't spend $50+ buying a case that houses 10.5inch graphics cards?

    Nobody. That's the answer.
  • DONC314
    Sorry but I just don't get it. Spec wise it's a pretty good card, no question about that.
    At 600 bucks it is an answer to a question no one asked.
    Hopefully after it's out a while the market will determine a more realistic price.
  • FormatC
    414219 said:
    Who spends $650 on a GPU but wouldn't spend $50+ buying a case that houses 10.5inch graphics cards? Nobody. That's the answer.


    Mini-ITX is a good solution for living room PCs. All this funny gaming towers are too big and ugly to use it in a well-designed room. And to be honest: the whole world is a big market with a lot of different trends.

    I'm just preparing a mini-ITX DIY/Roundup with shorter cards and different Skylake CPUs to show which card goes well with which CPU. Starting with R7 360, over GTX 950 Mini, 960 Mini, 380 ITX, 970 Mini and up to R9 Nano. I'm not sure about a further translation into English, but we got in Germany so much positive response for all of our different mini-ITX projects, that I'm sure it is worth to build real rigs to find an objective conclusion.

    I have a MSI GTX 980 Ti Lightning in my hands, but it is definitely nothing for my living room. I'm playing in my lab :D