Meet Radeon R9 Nano - The Newest $499 Video Card Around

When the AMD Radeon R9 Nano graphics card received a price cut yesterday we were excited about it as the third card based on AMD's Flagship Fiji GPU core was frankly overpriced and AMD was hoping that people were willing to pay a premium to have a small card. The problem is that gamers care more about performance than anything and at $649 they could get either the Radeon R9 Nano or the GeForce GTX 980 Ti. The NVIDIA GeForce GTX 980 Ti beats every card in the Fiji lineup, so the Radeon R9 Nano never really stood much of a chance on the performance front. So, after being on the market for four months the folks at AMD finally decided to slash the price by $150 and that brings the MSRP of the Nano down to $499. With the AMD Radeon R9 Nano priced at $499 that means it is now in the same price category as most NVIDIA GeForce GTX 980 video cards. That is not so good news for those that already bought one, but it is a great opportunity for those that have not to get possibly the best performing graphics card at the $499 price point. Radeon R9 Nano Versus GeForce GTX 980 We've spent the past couple days benchmark the AMD Radeon R9 Nano with the latest AMD Radeon Software Crimson Edition 16.1 drivers against the NVIDIA GeForce GTX 980 with Geforce 361.43 drivers to see how the cards perform with the latest video card drivers. We've already published in-depth launch articles covering the Radeon R9 Nano and the GeForce GTX 980, so be sure to reference those if you would like a deeper look at the cards themselves! Radeon R9 Nano vs. Geforce GTX 980 The AMD Radeon R9 Nano is a small graphics card (just shy of 6-inches) that has a compact air cooler on it. It almost looks like a toy video card sitting next to the NVIDIA GeForce GTX 980 reference card that is 10.5-inches in length!  The AMD Radeon R9 Nano needs just one 8-pin PCIe power connector and the NVIDIA GeForce GTX 980 needs two 6-pin PCIe power connectors. Radeon R9 Nano and Geforce GTX 980 video outputs When it comes to video connectors the GeForce GTX 980 wins with a Dual Link DVI-I, HDMI 2.0 and three DisplayPort 1.2 video outputs. The AMD Radeon R9 Nano features one HDMI 1.4 port and three DisplayPort 1.2 video outputs. This means that the AMD Radeon R9 Nano is limited to 30Hz for Ultra HD display owners that need to use HDMI. The fact that the GeForce GTX 980 came out in 2014 and can drive 4Kp60 TVs with ease is pretty impressive!
NVIDIA GeForce GTX 980 AMD Radeon R9 Nano
GPU Architecture 28nm Maxwell 28nm Fiji
CUDA/Shader Cores 2048 4096
GPU boost clock 1216MHz N/A
GPU base clock 1126MHz 1000MHz
Texture Units 128 256
Texture Fillrate 144.3 GTexel/s 256.0 GTexel/s
Memory 4GB GDDR5 4GB HBM1
Memory clock 1753MHz (7012MHz) 500MHz (1000MHz)
Memory interface 256-bit 4096-bit
Memory Bandwidth 224.4 GB/s 512.0 GB/s
0dB Fanless Idle No No
Length 10.5-inches 5.98-inches
Recommended PSU 500 Watts 550 Watts
Power Connectors 2 x 6-pin PCIe 1 x 8-pin PCIe
Street Price  $479.99  $499.99
When you compare some of the main specifications of the GeForce GTX 980 and the Radeon R9 Nano it looks like it should be an easy win for the AMD Radeon R9 Nano, but let's take a look at what the benchmarks have so say. On to the benchmarks!

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 11-13-13-30 2T 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 and gives us more accurate sound measurements. 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 10 64-bit
Monitor Sharp PN-K321 32" 4K
  NVIDIA GeForce GTX 980 Video Card GPU-Z Info: gtx980-gpuz AMD Radeon R9 Nano Video Card GPU-Z Info: r9-nano-gpuz Let's move on to the Battlefield 4 benchmark results!

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. bf4-1440 Benchmark Results: If you game on a 2560x1440P display and play BF4 the NVIDIA GeForce GTX 980 and AMD Radeon R9 Nano are virtually the same when it comes to performance. There was just a 2 FPS difference on the average FPS and both to the cards dropped below 60 FPS on the low side. bf4-2160 Benchmark Results:  When it comes to 4K Ultra HD gaming the AMD Radeon R9 Nano had slightly better performance on the average and maximum frame rates, but was tied with the GeForce GTX 980 on the minimum frame rate.

Fallout 4

Fallout4 Fallout 4 is an open world action role-playing video game developed by Bethesda Game Studios and published by Bethesda Softworks. Fallout 4 is set in a post-apocalyptic Boston in the year 2287, 210 years after a devastating nuclear war, in which the player character emerges from an underground bunker known as a Vault. Gameplay is similar to Fallout 3.  The title is the fifth major installment in the Fallout series and was released worldwide on November 10th, 2015. fallout4 settings Fallout 4 was benchmarked with ultra image quality settings with TAA and 16x AF. These settings are tough for entry level discrete graphics cards, but are more than playable on high-end gaming graphics cards. V-Sync can't be disabled in the games options, so we edited the necessary INI files and disabled vsync in the driver software as well. We used FRAPS to benchmark Fallout 4 after you emerge from the vault and are in The Commonwealth. fallout-1440-nano Benchmark Results: In Fallout 4 at 2560x1440 the GeForce GT 980 4GB reference card was found to be 2-3 FPS slower than the AMD Radeon R9 Nano 4GB reference card on the min/avg/max frame rates. fallout-2160-nano Benchmark Results: When we increased the resolution to 3840x2160 for some 4K gaming goodness the performance gap remained the same.

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. We used the games built-in benchmark utility to have at least one game we used that could be compared to your setup at home. We averaged all the five of the default benchmark runs and omitted the maximum values as those results are garbage for some reason. gtav-1440 Benchmark Results: After running the games built-in benchmark and averaging the runs together we found that the AMD Radeon R9 Nano was faster (~75 FPS) than the GeForce GTX 980 (~68 FPS) on the average grame rates. The minimum frame rates were very close to one another. gtav-2160 Benchmark Results: The GeForce GT 980 was averaging about 33 FPS versus 38 FPS on the Radeon R9 Nano in GTAV. The  minimum frame rate on both cards dropped below 20 FPS and it was interesting to see the GeForce GTX 980 have a higher minimum frame rate. 

Star Wars: Battlefront

Star Wars Battlefront Star Wars: Battlefront is a series of first- and third-person shooter video games based on the Star Wars films. Players take the role of soldiers in either of two opposing armies in different time periods of the Star Wars universe. Star Wars: Battlefront is built on the Frostbite 3 engine. Thief is the fourth title in the Thief series, developed by Digital Illusions CE and published by EA DICE/Disney Interactive on November 17, 2015. Starwars Battlefront Graphics Settings We ran Star Wars: Battlefront with the image quality settings set at Ultra and VSYNC  was disabled. We used FRAPS to benchmark with these settings on Battle on Tatooine. starwars-1440-nano Benchmark Results: The performance gap between the GeForce GTX 980 and Radeon R9 Nano were wider in Star Wars: Battlefront than any other benchmark. We found the Radeon R9 Nano had a 15 FPS lead over the GeForce GTX 980 at 2560x1440.  starwars-2160-nano Benchmark Results: When moving up to 3840x2160 the  Radeon R9 Nano had smaller a 7.5 FPS lead over the GeForce GTX 980.

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:

firestrike-nano

Benchmark Results: The 3DMark Fire Strike benchmark had the GeForce GTX 980 scoring 11,426 points versus the 12,232 points on the Radeon R9 Nano.

Fire Strike Extreme Benchmark Results: FireStrike Extreme NANO

Benchmark Results: In 3DMark Fire Strike Extreme we see different scores, but basically the same scaling and performance results. The GeForce GTX 980 scored 5,919 points versus the 6,430 points on the Radeon R9 Nano.

Temperature & Noise Testing

Since gaming performance is basically a wash one of the most important things when picking out a GeForce GTX 980 Ti 6GB will be the noise, temperature and power consumption numbers and the temperatures and noise levels on these cards does vary greatly. NVIDIA GeForce GTX 980 Idle and Load Temps: 980-temps AMD Radeon R9 Nano Idle and Load Temps: nano-temps When it comes to temperatures the AMD Radeon R9 Nano was about 5C cooler at idle and 7C cooler at load! Keep in mind that the GeForce GTX 980 is using the NVIDIA reference cooler that is hard to find in the retail market and the AMD Radeon R9 Nano is using the reference cooler that is common on partner boards. nano-temp Here is a chart that shows the temperatures of the Nano and GTX 980 versus some other high-end desktop cards.  

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.

noise-testing The AMD Radeon R9 Nano is slightly louder at load and both cards were found to be the same noise level when gaming. ** The AMD Radeon R9 Fury X reference card that we are using was the original model with a loud water pump that whines. AMD changed the pump design before the cards hit the retail market, but wasn't willing to replace ours. We expect retail cards to perform quieter for this and hopefully AMD will send us a replacement card for proper noise testing. **

Power Consumption

Radeon R9 Nano vs. Geforce GTX 980 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 3840x2160 and recorded the average idle reading and the peak gaming reading on the power meter. power-consumption Power Consumption Results: The AMD Radeon R9 Nano used 4 Watts more power at idle and ~50W more when gaming, so NVIDIA wins on the power front if you are concerned with power. Let's wrap this review up!

Final Thoughts and Conclusions

Radeon R9 Nano vs. Geforce GTX 980 AMD cutting the MSRP of the Radeon R9 Nano from $649 to $499 made it available to a whole new class of buyers. If you have $500 to spend on a graphics card the AMD Radeon R9 Nano is a pretty solid choice as it did perform better than the NVIDIA GeForce GTX 980 reference card in virtually every game title that we benchmarked. The performance between the two cards was close in some benchmarks, but the tiny Radeon R9 Nano proved to be the winner overall. At the old $649 price point it wasn't competitive with NVIDIA GeForce GTX 980 Ti and got it's ass handed to it, so we are glad that AMD slashed the tiny card premium and is going after NVIDIA at the $500 price point. The NVIDIA GeForce GTX 980 is available for as little as $479.99, so while the card is a tad slower in the benchmarks, it is also slightly less expensive. Things start to get a little complicated though when you look online and find the AMD Radeon R9 Fury is available for $499 as well some of the AMD Radeon R9 Fury cards. We expected the AMD Radeon R9 Fury to get it's MSRP reduced to $449-$479, but AMD didn't adjust that cards price. That means AMD fans will be able to pick between a Nano and a Fury card for the same price. We would have loved to include the Sapphire Radeon R9 Fury Tri-X OC that we reviewed last year in our charts, but that card a short term loaner and had to be returned. We are working on getting a new Radeon R9 Fury to benchmark in the meantime. Hopefully you enjoyed the updated performance numbers on the AMD Radeon R9 Nano and the NVIDIA GeForce GTX 980! Hopefully you'll find some useful information here as we did use the latest video card drivers and some more recent game titles! Legit Bottom Line: The AMD Radeon R9 Nano remains the best Mini-ITX card on the market and the new price cut will likely make it more enticing for some small form factor (SFF) owners that are looking for maximum performance.