AMD Radeon R9 Nano - Best Mini-ITX Card Ever?

AMD today released the tiny six inch long Radeon R9 Nano into the market. The AMD Radeon R9 Nano is a very interesting graphics card since it features a fully enabled AMD Fiji XT GPU that has a core clock of up to 1000 MHz and a TDP of just 175 Watts. The Radeon R9 Nano was paper launched back in August, so all of the specifications have already been published. AMD Radeon R9 Nano Specifications The Radeon R9 Nano features the full AMD ‘Fiji’ GPU with 4096 Stream Processors and 64 Compute units running at 1000MHz. This is good for 8.19 TFLOPS of GPU compute performance or 1.365 TFLOPS per inch! The 4GB of HBM 1 memory running at 500MHz uses a 4096-bit bus and has 512 GB/s of memory bandwidth. When it comes to power the card is shown as using 175W under typical scenarios and has just one 8-pin PCIe power connector on the end of the card. The AMD Radeon R9 Fury X is a 275W card, so AMD will be lowering clock speeds and voltages to get the R9 Nano to fit in the power envelope that it is designed for. This means that it will likely be running in the 800-1000 MHz range and if the card hits 85C it will be thermally constrained by the cards software.  [gallery ids="172059,172050,172046,172049,172052,172047,172057,172056,172055,172054,172053,172058,172051,172045"]   AMD went with a ‘premium industrial design’ for the cards GPU cooler. This means you have a dual vapor chamber and heat-pipe copper block that helps transfer heat to the cooling fins. The Nano card also has a dedicated heat-pipe for Voltage Regulator cooling. The GPU cooler is topped off with a full metal shroud. AMD says that this cooler will prevent the Nano from being thermally constrained. We should make it clear that AMD is now allowing any of their board partners to build custom Nano boards, so of the AIB partners will be just adding stickers to this card to differentiate themselves from one another. fiji-cooler When it comes to performance the folks over at AMD believe that the AMD Radeon R9 Nano is the fastest Mini-ITX graphics card to ever be released. They included some 4K performance results against the NVIDIA GeForce GTX 970 Mini-ITX graphics card to show that this tiny card is superior and has enough horsepower to beat one of NVIDIA’s flagship series cards. AMD Radeon R9 Nano Peformance The one big hurdle that the AMD Radeon R9 Nano has is its suggested retail price of $649 or £520 for our friends across the pond. AMD is hoping that the smaller form factor design will win over the hearts and minds of enthusiasts and make them willing to pay a premium. The Gigabyte GeForce GTX 970 Mini ITX Overclocked 4GB video card is priced at $304.99 shipped after rebate and the ASUS GeForce GTX 970 Mini-ITX 4GB card is priced at $334.99 shipped after rebate, so the AMD Radeon R9 Nano is $314 to $344 more expensive than competing cards from NVIDIA's board partners. gtx970-radeon-r9-nano Today we'll be taking a look at the AMD Radeon R9 Nano ($649) and will be comparing it to the ASUS GeForce GTX 970 Mini-ITX card to see who has the fastest graphics card for those looking for something really tiny!

Test System

Before we look at the numbers, let's take a brief look at the test system that was used. All testing was done using a fresh install of Windows 10 Pro 64-bit and benchmarks were completed on the desktop with no other software programs running.  There has been some concern of people testing a cold card versus a hot card, but we've always done out testing 'hot' since the site started back more than a decade ago. Video Cards & Drivers used for testing: nano-test-system

Intel X79/LGA2011 Platform

The Intel X79 platform that we used to test the all of the video cards was running the ASUS P9X79-E WS motherboard with BIOS 1704 that came out on 05/08/2015. We went with the Intel Core i7-4960X Ivy Bridge-E processor to power this platform as it is PCIe 3.0 certified, so all graphics cards are tested with PCI Express Gen 3 enabled. The Kingston HyperX 10th Anniversary 16GB 2400MHz quad channel memory kit was set to XMP Profile #2. This profile defaults to 2133MHz with 1.65v and 11-12-12-30 1T memory timings. The OCZ Vertex 460 240GB SSD was run with latest firmware available. A Corsair AX860i digital power supply provides clean power to the system and is also silent as the fan hardly ever spins up. This is critical to our testing as it lowers the ambient noise level of the room. Test System Settings Here are the exact hardware components that we are using on our test system:
The Intel X79 Test Platform

Component

Brand/Model

Live Pricing

Processor Intel Core i7-4960X
Motherboard
ASUS P9X79-E WS
Memory
16GB Kingston 2133MHz
Video Card Various
Solid-State Drive OCZ Vertex 460 240GB
Cooling Intel TS13X (Asetek)
Power Supply Corsair AX860i
Operating System Windows 8.1 Pro 64-bit
Monitor Sharp PN-K321 32" 4K
We'll be comparing the AMD Radeon R9 Nano to the ASUS GeForce GTX 970 Mini-ITX card. gtx970-radeon-r9-nano AMD Radeon R9 Nano 4GB Card GPU-Z Info: nano-gpuz ASUS GeForce GTX 970 Mini-ITX 4GB Card GPU-Z Info: 970-gpuz

Battlefield 4

bf4-screenshot Battlefield 4 is a first-person shooter video game developed by EA Digital Illusions CE (DICE) and published by Electronic Arts. It is a sequel to 2011's Battlefield 3 and was released on October 29, 2013 in North America. Battlefield 4's single-player Campaign takes place in 2020, six years after the events of its predecessor. Tensions between Russia and the United States have been running at a record high. On top of this, China is also on the brink of war, as Admiral Chang, the main antagonist, plans to overthrow China's current government; and, if successful, the Russians will have full support from the Chinese, bringing China into a war with the United States. bf4-settings This game title uses the Frostbite 3 game engine and looks great. We tested Battlefield 4 with the Ultra graphics quality preset as most discrete desktop graphics cards can easily play with this IQ setting at 1080P and we still want to be able to push the higher-end cards down the road. We used FRAPS to benchmark with these settings on the Shanghai level. All tests were done with the DirectX 11 API unless noted in the chart. bf4-cpu-utilization Battlefield 4 is more CPU intensive than any other game that we benchmark with as 25% of the CPU is used up during gameplay. You can see that six threads are being used and that the processor is running in Turbo mode at 3.96GHz more times than not. bf4-1920 Benchmark Results: In Battlefield 4 with Ultra settings at Full HD 1080P resolutions we found that ASUS GeForce GTX 970 Mini-ITX 4GB averages 87.2 FPS and the AMD Radeon R9 Nano averaged 100.2 FPS. This makes the AMD Radeon R9 Nano about 15% faster than the ASUS GeForce GTX 970 Mini ITX card. bf4-4kjpg Benchmark Results: When you crank up the screen resolution to 4K Ultra HD settings we again found the AMD Radeon R9 Nano card in the lead, but this time it was by 29%! bf4-time Benchmark Results: Here is a look at the performance over time and you can see that the AMD Radeon R9 Nano was in the lead across the entire benchmark run!

Grand Theft Auto V

GTAV Grand Theft Auto V, currently one of the hottest PC games, was finally released for the PC on April 14, 2015.  Developed by Rockstar, it is set in 2013 and the city of Los Santos.  It utilizes the Rockstar Advanced Game Engine (RAGE) which Rockstar has been using since 2006, with multiple updates for technology improvements. GTA5-settings GTA5-settings2 In Grand Theft Auto V we set the game to run with no MSAA with 16x AF and high image quality settings as we didn't want the GPU to bottleneck the system too bad, but wanted a setup that your average gamer would actually play on. gtav Benchmark Results: In GTA V we ran the games built-in benchmark three times, averaged the numbers and got some pretty interesting results. The ASUS GeForce GTX 970 Mini-ITX video card was less than 1 second faster on the minimum and average results, but the AMD Radeon R9 Nano had a higher maximum frame rate. We'd rather have a higher minimum frame rate though, so the win here has to go to the GeForce GTX 970 card.

Metro Last Light

 

MetroLL-SS

Metro: Last Light is a first-person shooter video game developed by Ukrainian studio 4A Games and published by Deep Silver. The game is set in a post-apocalyptic world and features action-oriented gameplay with a combination of survival horror elements. It uses the 4A Game engine and was released in May 2013. metroll-settings Metro: Last Light was benchmarked with very high image quality settings with the SSAA set to off and 4x AF. These settings are tough for entry level discrete graphics cards, but are more than playable on high-end gaming graphics cards. We benchmarked this game title on the Theater level. metroll-cpu-utilization

We again found around 20% CPU usage on Metro: Last Light.

metroll Benchmark Results: In Metro: Last Light the GeForce GTX 970 averaged 37.1 and the Radeon R9 Nano averaged 44.9 FPS, so the AMD Radeon R9 Nano had a 21% performance lead over the GTX 970 Mini-ITX card!  metro-time Benchmark Results: Here is a look at our manual FRAPS benchmark over its entirety! We are proud that we were able to run through the level with such precision and give you a look at how the cards stack up to one another over time.

Thief

thief Thief is a series of stealth video games in which the player takes the role of Garrett, a master thief in a fantasy/steampunk world resembling a cross between the Late Middle Ages and the Victorian era, with more advanced technologies interspersed. Thief is the fourth title in the Thief series, developed by Eidos Montreal and published by Square Enix on February 25, 2014. thief-settings1 thief-settings2 thief-settings   We ran Thief with the image quality settings set at normal with VSYNC disabled. dayz-cpu-utilization Thief appears to be running on the six physical cores of the Intel Core i7-4960X processor and averages around 17-24% CPU usage from what we were able to tell from the CPU utilization meter that is built into the Windows 8.1 task manager. thief Benchmark Results: The ASUS GeForce GTX 970 Mini-ITX 4GB video card averaged 42.3 FPS and the AMD Radeon R9 Nano averaged 53.1 FPS. This puts the AMD Radeon R9 Nano up by 25.5%!  thief-time Benchmark Results: Looking at performance over time we can see that the AMD Radeon R9 Nano was in the lead the entire time.

Ashes of the Singularity DX12 Benchmark

Ashes of the Singularity Battle Today we’ll be looking at one of the very first DirectX 12 game benchmarks by using Stardock’s real-time strategy game, Ashes of the Singularity. Ashes of the Singularity was developed with Oxide’s Nitrous game engine and tells the story of an existential war waged on an unprecedented scale across the galaxy. The Ashes of the Singularity Benchmark was never designed as a synthetic stress test, but a real world test that was used internally to measure overall system performance. That internal developer tool was recently released to the public as a DX12 benchmark! ashes We ran the benchmark at 3840x2160 with MSAA disabled and found that ASUS GeForce GTX 970 Mini-ITX card did better when DirectX 11 was run and the AMD Radeon R9 Nano did better when we used DirectX 12. You can find the detailed DX12 benchmark results below. ASUS GeForce GTX 970 Mini-ITX DX12 Results:  gtx970-dx12 AMD Radeon R9 Nano DX12 Results:  nano-dx12  

3DMark 2013

3Dmark Fire Strike Benchmark Results - For high performance gaming PCs Use Fire Strike to test the performance of dedicated gaming PCs, or use the Fire Strike Extreme preset for high-end systems with multiple GPUs. Fire Strike uses a multi-threaded DirectX 11 engine to test DirectX 11 hardware.

3DMark Fire Strike

  Fire Strike Benchmark Results:

3dmark-firestrike

Benchmark Results: The 3DMark Fire Strike benchmark had the AMD Radeon R9 Nano video card coming in with an overall score of 12,127 versus a score of 9,748 on the ASUS GeForce GTX 970 Mini-ITX video card.  This benchmark has the Radeon R9 Nano being 24.4% faster than the ASUS GeForce GTX 970 Mini-ITX card!

Fire Strike Extreme Benchmark Results:

3dmark-firestrike-extreme

Benchmark Results: In 3DMark Fire Strike Extreme we again show the AMD Radeon R9 Nano in the lead. This time around it was by 28.7 percent, so the performance gap between the two cards widened as we went from 1920x1080 (Fire Strike) to 2560x1440 (Fire Strike Extreme).

Temperature & Noise Testing

Temperatures are important to enthusiasts and gamers, so we took a bit of time and did some temperature testing on the the ASUS version of the NVIDIA GeForce GTX 950 video card. ASUS GeForce GTX 970 Mini-ITX 4GB Temps: gtx970-idle The ASUS GeForce GTX 970 Mini-ITX card has fans that run at all times. At idle the fan is spinning at ~1300 RPM and the GPU was at 32C. When gaming we topped out at 74C with the fan spinning at ~1800 RPM in a room that was 68C. AMD Radeon R9 Nano 4GB Temps: nano-idle The AMD Radeon R9 Nano also has fans that run constantly. At an idle the fan is running at ~1500 RPM (GPU-Z 0.8.5 does not correctly show the fan RPMs) and the temperature is 31C. When gaming the temperature got up to 74C, which was the same temp as the ASUS GeForce GTX 970 Mini-ITX video card. The thermal properties of these two cards are very close to one another!

Sound Testing

We test noise levels with an Extech sound level meter that has ±1.5dB accuracy that meets Type 2 standards. This meter ranges from 35dB to 90dB on the low measurement range, which is perfect for us as our test room usually averages around 36dB. We measure the sound level two inches above the corner of the motherboard with 'A' frequency weighting. The microphone wind cover is used to make sure no wind is blowing across the microphone, which would seriously throw off the data.

nano-noise When it comes to noise level, the ASUS GeForce GTX 970 Mini-ITX card and the AMD Radeon R9 Nano were basically identical and they were basically a wash. The one thing that we did notice about the AMD Radeon R9 Nano is that our card unfortunately has some coil whine. AMD has only sent us two Fiji based cards and the Fury X has really bad pump whine and the Nano has choke whine. We know that AMD put a ton of time and effort into making the build quality on this card one that was said to be premium, so it's really shocking to see that another noisy card was delivered to us by AMD to review. The choke noise on the AMD Radeon R9 Nano isn't nearly as bad as the pump whine on the Fury X, but it's something we don't expect to see on a $649 video card here in 2015 where premium components are readily available.

Power Consumption

AMD Radeon R9 Nano 8-pin Power Connector For testing power consumption, we took our test system and plugged it into a Kill-A-Watt power meter. For idle numbers, we allowed the system to idle on the desktop for 15 minutes and took the reading. For load numbers we ran Battlefield 4 at 1920x1080 and recorded the average idle reading and the peak gaming reading on the power meter. nano-power Power Consumption Results: The AMD Radeon R9 Nano used more power than the ASUS GeForce GTX 970 Mini-ITX card, which shouldn't come as a big shock to anyone. In BF4 we found that the Nano used 70 Watts more power in the scene we use to benchmark the cards with FRAPS. At idle the AMD Radeon R9 Nano was found to use 5W more power, which isn't too bad.

AMD Radeon R9 Nano Overclocking

The AMD Radeon R9 Nano is heavily optimized for power efficiency, so unless you increase the power limit settings in AMD OverDrive the card will always stay at 175 Watts. This means that if you overclock the GPU clock that you'll likely end up lowering the performance you get from the card as it will lower the clock speeds even further. We tried to overclock the GPU core clock just 5% and got a lower score, so remember that raising clock speeds means that you are running higher voltages and that means more power and lower scores on this small form factor card. amd-overdrive-nano   The good news is that you can crank the hell out of the power limit settings and get better performance. We increased the power limit settings all the way up to 50% and noticed nice performance boosts across the board. bf4-oc For example in BF4 we got a 6% performance improvement by raising the power limit setting so the card can run higher than 175 Watts. core-clock Here is a look at the core clock speed on the AMD Radeon R9 Nano when running stock settings and then with the power limit maxed out. As you can see we averaged 921 MHz the card with the default settings and then with the power limit maxed out the core clock was pegged at 1000MHz for pretty much the entire time we played BF4. Every five minutes or so it might dip for a second, but it was mostly running at 1000MHz. oc-power The downside of raising the power limit is that the power consumption of the system went up by 75 Watts (21.5%) and the fan on the card was running at nearly 3,000 RPM to keep the higher temperatures at bay. AMD said they already picked the most efficient clocked settings for the AMD Radeon R9 Nano and we have no reason to doubt that claim!

Final Thoughts and Conclusions

R9_Nano_Birdseye_RGB_5inch The AMD Radeon R9 Nano is an impressive video card in that you get an astonishing amount of performance with all the flagship GPU features in a six inch form factor. The AMD Radeon R9 Nano won't be winning at price versus performance charts, but we feel that AMD is trying to get some momentum behind small form factor systems. Mini ITX motherboard sales have been slowly rising over the past five years and many gamers are starting to take note that you can build a smaller desktop PC that is still very capable with regards to gaming performance. The engineers at AMD did a great job putting enough performance for 4K gaming into a card of this size. The GPU cooler on the Radeon R9 Nano has a horizontal fin block stack that has a larger surface area than the one used on the Radeon R9 290X, despite being 40% shorter. AMD focused on using premium components on the Radeon R9 Nano and it's noticeable the from the second you pick the card up as it has a metal fan shroud and some heft to it! When it comes to gaming performance the AMD Radeon R9 Nano didn't disappoint and we found it to be faster than the NVIDIA GeForce GTX 970 Mini ITX card in the majority of the benchmarks that we looked at today. Looking back at our AMD Radeon R9 Fury X and Radeon R9 Fury performance numbers on the same test system when it had Windows 8 on it and you'll see that the Radeon R9 Nano is about 10% slower than the AMD Radeon R9 Fury X for the same price though, so while it leads the tiny card revolution it won't be too appealing for gamers with plenty of space in their towers that are looking for the best gaming performance for the dollar. You also need to keep in mind that the AMD Radeon R9 Nano lacks HDMI 2.0 support, which has been disappointing for HTPC enthusiasts. The suggested retail price for the AMD Radeon R9 Nano is $649 and a couple are already available on several popular online retailers. The Sapphire Radeon R9 Nano (21249-00-40G) is one of the cards listed at $649.00 as is the XFX Radeon R9 Nano (R9-NANO-4SF6) that is listed for $649.99 shipped, but both are listed as being temporarily out of stock. The ASUS GeForce GTX 970 Mini-ITX 4GB video card that we looked at here today is priced at $334.99 shipped after rebate, so the AMD Radeon R9 Nano does come with a rather steep price tag. You are paying a premium to have a tiny 6-inch discrete graphics card! The AMD Radeon R9 Nano isn't for everyone, but we see where AMD is headed with the Nano and we do think that there is a market for it. If you are building in a real Mini-ITX case or doing a custom build that needs a powerful small form factor video card that can handle 4K 60Hz gaming then you should give this card your consideration! LR Recommended Award
Legit Bottom Line: The AMD Radeon R9 Nano is a niche card, but we like it!