Articles

Radeon R9 Nano Small Form Factor Video Card Review

Author:Brent Justice

Editor:Kyle Bennett

Date: Tuesday , November 03, 2015

This evaluation will compare the new retail purchased Radeon R9 Nano with a GIGABYTE GeForce GTX 970 N970-IX-OC small form factor video card in a mini-ITX Cooler Master Elite 110 Intel Skylake system build. We will find out if the higher priced Nano is worth the money for a 1440p and 1080p gameplay experience in a tiny footprint.

Introduction

At the beginning of the summer, AMD announced two different video card lines moving forward for this year. The first model of GPUs relied on a re-brand of what we already had in the marketplace. This was the AMD Radeon R9 300 series. At the same time, AMD also announced a brand new GPU and model name of video cards called the AMD Radeon R9 Fury series. The AMD Radeon R9 Fury series would be based on the new AMD "Fiji" code-named GPU using the latest technology. This series of video cards would not be a re-brand, but a new breed of video cards that would offer a higher level of gameplay performance.

At the top-end of this new line of video cards is the AMD Radeon R9 Fury X utilizing a full Fiji GPU and closed loop liquid cooling solution for $649. Moving down we find an air cooled AMD Radeon R9 Fury for $549. To fill the gap AMD held up another Radeon R9 Fiji based video card at its launch event, this time being called the AMD Radeon R9 Nano.

AMD Radeon R9 Nano

The AMD Radeon R9 Nano was to be launched at a different date to follow. What made this video card unique was that AMD claimed it had a Fiji GPU on board, but the video card was tiny in size (small form factor) and only incorporated one fan for cooling. This video card really got everyone talking at the time, and a lot of hype was built up around the Nano in the intervening months.

It wasn't until the paper launch on August 27th, 2015 that information on the AMD Radeon R9 Nano was known. To everyone's surprise we found out it was going to be a full Fiji GPU that shared the same specifications as the AMD Radeon R9 Fury X. However, it would be offered in a small form factor video card design, air-cooled, and priced the same as the AMD Radeon Fury X at $649.

Pricing and Market Scope

This is where the debates began, and quite heated ones at that. You see, AMD has set a price point of $649 for the AMD Radeon R9 Nano. The AMD Radeon R9 Nano was targeting a specific market that is quite specialized in scope. At $649 the AMD Radeon R9 Nano is asking the same price as the AMD Radeon R9 Fury X. The problem with this is that to make the AMD Radeon R9 Nano operate in this small form factor AMD had to place power and thermal caps on the Nano that keep it from performing to its full potential as a Fiji GPU, like the Fury X.

The AMD Radeon R9 Fury X has a total TDP of 275W, however the AMD Radeon R9 Nano has an artificially capped TDP of 175W. This means that in order to keep the AMD Radeon R9 Nano within its power and temperature margins it must dynamically clock the GPU as needed, ultimately keeping it from its maximum potential of performance possible. It also means warmer environments could affect performance negatively compared to better cooled environments. Ultimately gaming performance will be lower than an AMD Radeon R9 Fury X video card.

Logically, just from a common sense perspective with those factors, your brain tells you that this doesn't make sense. A slower video card is being sold at the same price as a faster video card. Logically you would not spend the same money and yet buy the slower video card you would opt to buy the faster video card, that just makes sense.

This is where the specific market targeting for the AMD Radeon R9 Nano comes into play. AMD is targeting specific small form factor cases that cannot house full size 10.5"+ video cards. There are small form factor cases that exist in both in mini-ATX and mini-ITX formats that do support full-length video cards up to 10.5" such as a GeForce GTX 980 and Ti would fit in. However, there are smaller cases that simply do not allow full-length video cards to be installed and it is these cases AMD is specifically targeting for this video card. Video cards for those size cases are limited in what is available. AMD wants to fill that void.

Small form factor cases are a niche market, but small form factor cases that cannot fit full-size video cards today are a niche within that niche. AMD is targeting a very small segment of a market. Given that, we can then hone in what the Nano would compete with. There isn't much to compare it to. This gives AMD the leeway to charge whatever it wants as long as it performs better than what exists inside the niche.


How We Will Evaluate Nano

In order to find out if this price point of ~$649 is worth it we must test the Nano in more than one case footprint. We must test it in a case that cannot fit full-length video cards as well as a small form factor case that can.

First, we will compare what is available from the competition to the Nano in terms of form factor and find out if the higher price is worth it.

Second, we will compare the Nano in another small form factor case, but a SFF case that can fit a full-length video card and test the Nano in a price-to-price direct comparison.

We have broken up these reviews into two separate reviews, both with its own very narrow focus.

Today we will examine the Nano in a Cooler Master Elite 110 case (as suggested by AMD), which supports a maximum video card size of 210mm (8.2 inches.) This means we cannot use full-length video cards and must rely on small form factor video cards from NVIDIA and AMD. It is cramped, it doesn't have the best cooling options, but there are vents on all sides. We are also using a mini-ITX motherboard and Skylake CPU build. We will go over the build on the next page.

In the next review after this one we will take this build and move it over to a Corsair Obsidian Series 250D case which can support a full-length video card. In that case we will have better cooling, overclock the CPU, and test the Nano in a price-to-price comparison.