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AMD Radeon R9 Nano review: A powerful taste of the PC's incredible shrinking future

Brad Chacos | Sept. 11, 2015
There's no other graphics card quite like the AMD R9 Nano, which packs full-size performance into its six-inch frame—but it's not for everyone.

That seems like a recipe for stuttering and frame rate issues, but nope: Games ran like a champ, while the card stayed cool and relatively quiet. AMD said the Nano would outpunch the older Radeon 290X flagship while using drastically less power, and spoiler alert: It does.

It also drastically outperforms the GeForce GTX 970, the most powerful mITX graphics card in Nvidia’s arsenal. Heck, the downclocked Fiji GPU in the Radeon R9 Nano even trumps a full-sized GTX 980 in most cases.

Segue!

PCWorld’s faithful graphics card testing system was pressed into action yet again for this review, loaded with all sorts of high-end parts to avoid introducing bottlenecks that don’t stem from the GPU itself. Our build guide for the PC has all the nitty-gritty details, but here’s the Cliff’s Notes version:

The $650 AMD Radeon R9 Nano is an odd little beast, so we compared it against numerous other graphics cards. On Team Red, we pit the Nano against the older Radeon 290X that AMD’s so keen to compare it against, as well as the aftermarket $470 Asus Strix version of the Radeon 390X, the $650 Fury X, and the air-cooled $580 Asus Strix Fury. On Nvidia’s side, there’s the GTX 980 Ti of course, because it’s the same $650 price as the Nano. We also included both the reference GTX 980 as well as EVGA’s overclocked, custom-cooled GTX 980 FTW. And because the most powerful mITX graphics card Nvidia offers is the GeForce GTX 970, we also tested an AMD-supplied mITX Asus GTX 970 DirectCU Mini, as well as the full-sized EVGA GeForce GTX 970 FTW, which sports similar tweaks to EVGA’s GTX 980 FTW.

Every game was tested using in-game benchmark tests at both 4K and 2560x1440 resolutions, with the default graphics settings stated unless noted otherwise. V-Sync and any vendor-specific features were disabled.

nano gtav
Click on image to enlarge.

Let’s kick things off with Grand Theft Auto V, which traditionally favors GeForce cards. That holds true here, but look at where the Nano lands: Far ahead of the GTX 970s, roughly equal with the air-cooled Asus Strix Fury, and lingering near the GTX 980s in most configurations. At 4K resolution with all graphics settings jacked to “Very High,” FXAA enabled, anisotropic filtering set to x16, and all sliders cranked to the max, the Nano actually outperforms the reference GTX 980. That’s crazy for such a small, cool-running card.

 

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