AMD Radeon R9 Nano Review

AMD Radeon R9 Nano

AMD has taken the Fury X’s Fiji GPU, put it in a dualslot card that’s just 6in long, and is claiming it’s cool, quiet and capable of high-detail 4K gaming. All of the R9 Fury X’s 4,096 cores, 256 texture units and 64 ROPs are enabled in the R9 Nano. It also has the same 4096-bit wide memory bus, which is connected to 4GB of HBM. HBM has a far smaller physical footprint than GDDR5, as it’s integrated onto the same ASIC as the GPU, which is the key enabler of the Nano’s size.

Furthermore, while Fury X is clocked at up to 1,050MHz, the Nano is rounded off at up to 1GHz, although the memory is left at 500MHz (1GHz effective). The key, of course, is the phrase ‘up to’. With Fury X, the card’s closed-loop cooler ensures it comes nowhere near its thermal limit. AMD also gives it a very high power limit, quoting 275W as its typical board power (the true limit is higher but not shared).
This limit drops to 175W for the Nano, and that’s the second key part of the size equation. Power consumption is positively correlated to heat output, so slashing the power limit is needed to keep it effectively cooled with such small dimensions. However, this setup also means the card will throttle, unlike the Fury X. Its temperature-based throttling kicks in at 85°C but the real limit is going to be power. That said, the card uses a single 8-pin PCI-E power connector and is thus technically capable of drawing up to around 225W.
Another part of the engineering is a binning process – AMD selects only its most efficient GPUs for the Nano. It also cuts the GPU VRMs from six in Fury X to four here, further reducing heat and saving space.
The final element, of course, is the cooler. It uses a single fan that’s as large as possible given the dimensions. The shroud is open and the horizontal, full-length fins will guide out hot air both through the rear I/O panel, where there’s plenty of ventilation, and back into your case.
The GPU and HBM are cooled by a copper vapour chamber, but a heatpipe and metal plate are also used to help draw heat away from the VRMs and the rest of the PCB. It’s a wellconsidered design that makes maximum use of the card’s limited volume.
Display outputs include three DisplayPort 1.2 connectors and an HDMI 1.4 plug. The lack of DVI is forgivable but missing HDMI 2.0 is silly – it’s the primary way of driving 60Hz 4K televisions. The Nano also supports CrossFire over XDMA, so no physical connector is needed, and it’s been shown to work in CrossFire with a Fury X too.
There’s no true competitor against the Nano. It’s clearly a premium card, and based on pricing alone it’s up against the mighty GTX 980 Ti. However, that would ignore the point of this card – its size. There are third-party GTX 970s that compete in this sense, but of course, they’re less powerful and cheaper.
Across our tests, the GTX 980 Ti and R9 Fury X are faster than the R9 Nano by, on average, 20 per cent and 12 per cent respectively. The Nano is closer to the GTX 980 in terms of pure performance, which it beats by 10 per cent on average.
As such, considering the size, there’s nothing remotely close to the Nano. It’s truly a mini monster, easily capable of handling games at 2,560 x 1,440 and making a surprisingly strong showing at 4K as well. At this resolution, it never drops below 30fps in three of our five games. In The Witcher III, it only passes the technically playable test with a minimum of 27fps, and it takes a game as demanding as Crysis 3 to slow it down to unplayable levels.
In our well-ventilated chassis, the card was always at least 10°C below its thermal cap, but still hovered between 850MHz and 950MHz in games (typically the lower half of this range), indicating a clear power limit. System power consumption barely rose above 300W and the fan only span up to around 35 per cent under sustained load, which was very quiet indeed. Sadly, though, there was clearly audible coil whine with an irritating pitch in every game. Considering the quality of engineering elsewhere, that’s a disappointing slip-up.
AMD Overdrive lets you increase the power limit by up to 50 per cent. Doing so saw frequencies hover much closer to 1GHz and we managed to add a further 80MHz to the maximum clock. Along with the lifted power limit, these tweaks saw performance increase by anywhere between 7 and 15 per cent. However, the fan was much more audible and the power consumption went up by almost 100W – the Nano isn’t really designed for overclocking.
As a feat of engineering, the R9 Nano is amazing. The performance is awesome considering its total volume, and it’s cool and quiet too. However, it undoubtedly has niche appeal. Even very compact cases are usually able to house full-length cards such as a GTX 980 Ti, which is faster and costs the same money – the Nano really just buys you a little more cable-routing space. We would say it’s a prime candidate for a discreet, 4K lounge gaming PC, but the irritating coil whine and absence of HDMI 2.0 scuppers it here too. The Nano is a cool bit of kit that’s sure to find its way into some sweet builds and mods  (waterblocks have already been announced), and it’s great if you have the money, and want to build the fastest and tidiest mini system possible. For most people, though, a short-PCB GTX 970 will offer much better value for money, and even a full-sized GeForce GTX 980 Ti card will fit in most mini-ITX chassis too. MATTHEW LAMBERT

A seriously cool piece of engineering, with great gaming performance, but it’s hampered by some irritating coil whine, and it has a niche target market.
Graphics processor AMD Radeon R9 Nano (up to 1000MHz)Pipeline 4,096 stream processors, 64 ROPsMemory 4GB HBM, 1GHz effectiveCompatibility DirectX 12, Mantle, VulcanPower connections 1 x 8-pin, side-mounted.

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