Small form-factor (SFF) is serious business. What started out as an effort to build small desktops that are sufficiently powerful for everyday tasks graduated into a mad quest to miniaturize bleeding edge hardware, fueled by the emergence of BYOC e-sports events, which evolved from old-school LAN parties that turned into major money-spinning events, and people taking their desktops to the living room. Case and PSU vendors also chipped in with premium aluminum cases and the exciting new SFX power supply form-factor. Sadly this enthusiasm by the industry wasn't reciprocated by the consumer graphics companies.
High-end SFF graphics cards remained an oxymoron because a high-end VGA is not just the GPU, but also its cluster of memory chips and VRM, which typically take up enormous PCB real-estate and keep the card outside of SFF proportions.
There had been efforts to squeeze performance-segment chips like the GTX 960 and R9 285 into this form-factor, but they barely complement high-end CPUs and memory and aren't really GPUs that professional gamers can take to their events. AMD is on a mission to change that by launching the industry's first high-end SFF graphics card, the Radeon R9 Nano.
The Radeon R9 Nano is the fruition of AMD's gamble of integrating stacked high-bandwidth memory (HBM) and a 4,096 SP pixel-grinder into a compact multi-chip module that eliminates the need for external memory chips, freeing up large swathes of PCB area. This, in addition to HBM being more energy-efficient than GDDR5, enabled AMD to design the impossibly compact Radeon R9 Nano that can run anything at 1440p and doesn't shy away from 4K Ultra HD. The card draws power from just a single 8-pin PCIe power connector and has a typical board power rated at just 175W, making for a cracker of a proposition.
AMD is placing this card as a "co-flagship" entry into its product-stack, right up with the Radeon R9 Fury X. The two products share the $649 price-tag. Think of this as AMD's attempt at a halo product akin to NVIDIA's GTX TITAN family because NVIDIA has absolutely no answer to this product.
What makes this product particularly interesting is its power management. It retains the core configuration of the R9 Fury X, with all its 64 GCN compute units enabled, which works out to 4,096 stream processors and gigahertz clock speeds at just a typical board power of 175W. In comparison, the R9 Fury X and its 3,584 SP sibling, the R9 Fury, are rated at 275W. AMD has obviously worked some miracle in bringing its typical power draw down by 36 percent.
Price-wise, AMD is asking a hefty $649 for the R9 Nano, which limits its affordability to only the most enthusiast small-form-factor system builders.
We also purchased a retail Sapphire Radeon R9 Nano, and its results are included in this review as well.
GTX 780 Ti
|Radeon R9 |
|Radeon R9 |
GTX 980 Ti
GTX Titan X
|Shader Units||1664||2816||2816||2880||2048||4096||3584||4096||2816||3072||2x 2816|
|Graphics Processor||GM204||Hawaii||Hawaii||GK110||GM204||Fiji||Fiji||Fiji||GM200||GM200||2x Hawaii|
|Memory Size||4096 MB||4096 MB||8192 MB||3072 MB||4096 MB||4096 MB||4096 MB||4096 MB||6144 MB||12288 MB||2x 4096 MB|
|Memory Bus Width||256 bit||512 bit||512 bit||384 bit||256 bit||4096 bit||4096 bit||4096 bit||384 bit||384 bit||2x 512 bit|
|Core Clock||1051 MHz+||1000 MHz||1050 MHz||876 MHz+||1126 MHz+||1000 MHz||1000 MHz||1050 MHz||1000 MHz+||1000 MHz+||1018 MHz|
|Memory Clock||1750 MHz||1250 MHz||1500 MHz||1750 MHz||1750 MHz||500 MHz||500 MHz||500 MHz||1750 MHz||1750 MHz||1250 MHz|