AMD RADEON R9 NANO
A consumer’s look at AMD’s latest tech.
So, what are the specs?
That’s usually the first question anyone asks. How fast is it? What’s its clock speed. How much memory does the thing have; how fast is that? And for the cheeky ones “But can it play Minecraft?” (Seriously? I just don’t get that obsession. But hey, at least you’re gaming...I think)
The Radeon Nano is a whole new breed of card set to offer performance above most previous 200 series cards in a form factor that allows the imagination to go to work in new and exciting case mods or Lan/portable rigs. Have a look at its specs below.
All the key buzzwords are there. HBM, DirectX 12 & Vulcan support. FreeSync, VSR, FRTC and PCIe 3.0. So yes, it’s different than anything else you’re used to unless, of course, you already own a Fury or Fury X. I’m not going to fill you in on every aspect of each detail. AMD has already done that with press releases as well as some of my other fellow #AMDRTP members. Oh yeah, there are those review sites as well.
Since I received a reference model and had it in my hands before official launch, I got the no frills “here’s a plain white box with a card inside” package. So I can’t even speculate or comment on what the partners are going to offer with their packaging. We’ll just have to see that when it hits the shelves. To view my unboxing video of the Nano, please be sure to check it out here.
Installing the Nano was as simple as updating drivers to 15.8 Beta and swapping cards. Here’s where we get to see the true miniaturization of a modern day GPU. If you follow me on social media you’ll see I posted a couple of shots of the Nano in comparison to other items. Like…
or a R9 290X
or kidding about needing a smaller case
Like most of you, I directly compared the Nano to my current card. In this case, it was a PowerColor Turbo Duo R9 290X that I received from AMD a year ago. It’s been a great card and has handled anything I’ve thrown at with max settings on 1080P @ 60Hz. That’s the current monitor I have so I can’t comment on any other settings than that.
My rig that I do all my testing with consists of the following specs
- FX - 9590 locked to 4.7 Ghz (Courtesy of AMD)
- 32 GB G.Skill 1600 Mhz DDR3 - 4 x 8GB Config (purchased)
- Gigabyte GA-990FXA-UD7 (Courtesy of my good friend @sunderian)
- Samsung 840 Pro SSD (Courtesy of Samsung)
- 2 TB SSHD for game storage (Courtesy of Seagate)
- 2 x 6TB Enterprise HDD for storage (Courtesy of Seagate)
- LG LB5600 42” TV/Monitor ( Purchased)
- Windows 7 64bit Professional
- PowerColor R9 290X (Courtesy of AMD)
This is about where things come to a screeching halt when someone asks about my specs.
“What? Only 4.7? Only 1080/60Hz? Win 7???” Yup. That’s what I run. Stable and trouble free gaming, streaming and rendering all day long. That’s more important to me than anything else. Someday (I hope very soon) I’m jumping up to the Wasabi Mango 42” FreeSync 4K for use and testing.
So now that is out of the way and you know what I tested with, let's get on to what I tested. As you know, racing games are my genre of choice. Sure I like to BF4, but that’s more for the social aspect with my friends. But I spend hours and hours on the track, so honestly, those are the games I can give the best feedback on visual performance. Yes some aren’t overly demanding; however some newer ones are. Let’s look at the results.
Titles with Benchmark Utility
We’ll start here because they’re the numbers you are used to seeing. Now remember my test configuration. We are testing the PowerColor R9 290X against the R9 Nano, not what someone else scored on some review site. I’m doing this exactly as the average consumer would. Get the card in, fire up the benchmark, and crank the hell out of everything and see how it flies.
Dirt 3 is still a fun title but not overly demanding anymore. Even an APU such as the A10-7870K has no issues running it. The interesting portion of the test was the minimum frames results. The 290X actually bested the Nano, but only there. I’m not sure why, and I can’t only attribute it to possible driver issue. Don’t forget it’s a brand new card and more than likely they (driver team) focused primarily on modern Triple A titles. But Frames drawn ( your eye candy) and avg FPS were little higher with the Nano. I’m thinking that we are starting to see the limit of this title.
Did I mention something about modern Triple A titles? Here the Nano showed its legs with its modern tech under the hood. Strong bus speed to give it torque off the line for minimum frames and great horsepower to carry the top end.
Again another older title that doesn’t really show much of an improvement. These increases on the Nano are pure muscle of the card that is half the size and a lot less power requirement than that of a 290X. Like the titles tested above, everything was silky smooth and just gorgeous to look at in my 1080P testing.
Again we are looking at another older title where there is not much difference in stats. Interestingly, though, we did see a drop in average frames per second on the Nano versus the 290X. Not shown on the chart though, is the Nano drew 1750 more frames than the 290X. So yeah, the eye candy was there and it did look sweet. Don’t forget the GRID titles at this point could also be played on a A10-7870K without issue as well. So their age is showing.
This, to me, is the most realistic driving sim on the market right now. iRacing has messed with their physics so badly, they just need to scrap it and start new. So I didn’t test it.
Now note, I said driving sim. I’m talking about feel of the car on the track, not necessarily the appearance. ISI’s rFactor 2 has some great eye candy to it. The weather effects during a race are amazing, when you turn the details to full. The Nano was able to handle that better than the 290X, as we can see by the results. But the numbers don’t tell everything. It needs to be seen to be appreciated.
NEXT CAR GAME : WRECKFEST
This is one of my favorite fun titles to play. If you remember the FlatOut series ( FlatOut 2 needing 5 discs to install?) , these are the same people, Bugbear Entertainment. Someone bought the rights to the FlatOut series and the last couple were their doing. So they came back with this. It’s still currently in Alpha and I bought in on the initial fundraising campaign and have never regretted it. The Nano holds a slight edge over the 290X and I honestly expect that to jump once the game is finalized.
Unquestionably this is THE modern day Forza/Gran Turismo for PC right now. Try as Project Cars does, it’s not to this title’s caliber. Max the heck out of this, it is simply drop dead gorgeous. It will also make your system grunt in an effort to make it look that way.
Ok, so here it is. The bane of many Radeon users’ existence when it was released. We all know why, so I’m not going to rehash all that. There’s one setting that is critical as a Radeon user that you have to turn off in the advanced menu. That is the uber realistic grass setting. You have to turn it all the way off or you get a draw error of the grass floating on top of the track. At least at Watkins Glen. Other than that you can max it all out. While I’m not crazy about the arcade feel of the title, it does look the part. The Nano was able to pull some frames on the 290X and provide a very fluid experience.
I thought I would throw this in for reference of what to expect from the Nano. I got the game after I already had the Nano installed, but haven’t reinstalled the 290X to get numbers yet. This the first mission gameplay totally maxed out. And is it ever gorgeous!
Thief is the only game with a built in benchmark that I have, so I thought I’d see if Mantle is still a relevant deal or not with the Nano. I could have done some BF4, but there are just too many variables in an online match to grab consistent numbers, in my opinion.
Here are results with Mantle NOT enabled for the test. Weird tied avg finish, but there was a severe stutter in one section on Thief that was repeatable, so I think that drove the avg down. This is actually rounded off. The 290X did 51.7 avg. The Nano did 52.1.
With Mantle enabled.
Both cards benefited hugely from Mantle in the benchmark, though the Nano did lose a few FPS on the top end from the NON Mantle test.
Now let’s move on to Grand Theft Auto. Its Benchmark is actually composed of 5 different tests and I have the results below for it. The only thing I turned off was FXAA as it’s only a benefit to Nvidia cards. And personally, I think it doesn’t do squat for a game. MSAA is your much better option.
Grand Theft Auto Pass 0
Pass 0 - We see same minimum frames, but a few extra for the Nano in max fps. But the big difference is avg fps. Very fluid to watch.
Grand Theft Auto Pass 1
Pass 1 - The Nano registered one fps less at min fps than the 290X but pulled a good lead on the rest of the numbers. Again, very fluid to watch.
Grand Theft Auto Pass 2
Pass 2 - This test presented a larger difference of FPS in the Nano’s favor. Again fluid to watch through the test.
Grand Theft Auto Pass 3
Pass 3 held the Nano & 290X pretty even with the exception of the Avg FPS. Here the Nano edged ahead.
Grand Theft Auto Pass 4
Pass 4 - Little back and forth between both cards, but where it matters most, the avg FPS was better on the Nano.
So is it worth it?
That’s quite debatable. It all depends on your needs VS wants. This is a GPU that’s the size of a standard hard drive for a compact build, has more umph the 290X and yet draws less power. It also produces less heat & noise as well. All my tests were conducted with the card in my case; side panel on; under my desk. I never heard it , nor noticed any crazy heat blowing on my feet. A few healthy rounds of BF4 with the 290X is a different story...
The Nano shines as a compliment to the small form factor build. It provides a competent gpu that you can feel comfortable knowing will conquer 1080P and even game at 4K well.
So for that custom LAN build, small and silent HTPC gaming build for the family room, the Nano is simply the best you can get for that. If you want to replace an aging card in your main system, then the Nano won’t leave you disappointed. All I can say to that though is… you’re gonna want a smaller case.
Thanks for making it this far and it’s my hope that you found my review helpful.
Ian Johansen, aka @torn_tv #AMDRTP
About the reviewer
Ian Johansen hails from Toronto, Ontario, Canada and now reside in Las Vegas NV. He is an artistic soul who uses his talents from the custom auto body business and translates his passion for bright colors, interesting concepts, and fabulous customer service into the sign and decal business, Stick It Out. As a self-taught computer geek, he creates videos, hosts on-line racing games, and produces product reviews to be watched on his YouTube channel: tornbroadcasting.
He is a founding member of the AMDRTP and takes pride in all that the team has accomplished together. While he may be provided product by AMD under this advocacy program, his results, reviews and opinions are his alone.
He also finds it really weird to be typing about himself in the third person.