AMD Radeon R9 Nano Review: Small But Mighty Fiji Unleashed

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Introducing The Radeon R9 Nano

Information about the AMD Radeon R9 Nano has been trickling out for months. Even before it was officially shown off at a swank event adjacent to E3 earlier this summer, some pictures and preliminary details regarding the R9 Nano leaked to the web. Since its official unveiling, we’ve also revealed a plethora of information about the latest Radeon R9 300 series and the other products in AMD’s current line-up—the Radeon R9 Fury and Fury X—that are powered by the same Fiji GPU as the Radeon R9 Nano. And yet, the diminutive card still has a bit of mystique around it and the hardware community at large is interested in what AMD's little half-length Nano card can really do.

Today, we can finally answer your questions. Although specifications were released a few days back, they don’t tell the R9 Nano’s complete story. Strictly looking at the numbers makes this tiny graphics card appear to have some impressive specifications, mostly in-line with AMD’s current flagship, water-cooled wunderkind the Radeon R9 Fury X. As you’ll learn on the pages ahead, however, the Radeon R9 Nano is a different sort of animal—part beauty, part beast.

Let’s lay some foundation and cover the back-story before we dig in. Here are the AMD Radeon R9 Nano’s full specifications, in comparison to its two closest cousins, the air-cooled Radeon R9 Fury and the top-of-the-line Radeon R9 Fury X...
radeon r9 nano angle 2
The Tiny, AMD Radeon R9 Nano

Update 11/30/2015 – Since the initial release of the Radeon R9 Nano, AMD has completely revamped its software suite for the graphics card. The AMD Catalyst Control Center is being retired, in favor of the new Radeon Software Crimson Edition. The Radeon Software Crimson Edition has been re-architected using QT, with an emphasis on speed and reliability, and to modernize the interface. Some game specific performance enhancements have been introduced as well.

The initial release of the Radeon Software Crimson Edition has caused some issues with fan speed states on some Radeon graphics cards, but an update is due to hit the web today to address the problem.

AMD Radeon R9 Nano
Specifications & Features
R9 Nano R9 Fury R9 Fury X
Process 28nm 28nm 28nm
Stream Processors 4096 3584 4096
Compute Units 64 56 64
Engine Clock Up To 1GHz Up To 1GHz Up To 1.05GHz
Compute Performance 8.19 TFLOPS 7.2 TFLOPS 8.6 TFLOPS
Texture Units 256 224 256
Texture Fill-Rate 256 GT/s 224 GT/s 268 GT/s
ROPs 64 64 64
Pixel Fill-Rate 64 GP/s 64 GP/s 67.2 GP/s
Z/Stencil 256 256 256
Memory Configuration 4GB HBM 4GB HBM 4GB HBM
Memory Interface 4096-bit 4096-bit 4096-bit
Memory Speed / Data Rate 500 MHz / 1.0 Gbps 500 MHz / 1.0 Gbps 500 MHz / 1.0 Gbps
Memory Bandwidth Up To 512 GB/s Up To 512 GB/s Up To 512 GB/s
Power Connectors 1 x 8-Pin 2 x 8-Pin 2 x 8-Pin
Typical Board Power 175 W 275 W 275 W
PCIe Standard PCIe 3.0 PCIe 3.0 PCIe 3.0
API Support DX12, Vulkan, Mantle DX12, Vulkan, Mantle DX12, Vulkan, Mantle
FreeSync Support Yes Yes Yes
Virtual Super Resolution Yes Yes Yes
Frame Rate Target Control Yes Yes Yes

radeon r9 nano angle
AMD Radeon R9 Nano, From The Rear

If you’re not familiar with the complexities of modern graphics cards and the balance they try to strike between power and performance in the various market segments, the Radeon R9 Nano’s specifications paint an interesting picture. On the surface, it would appear that the Nano has more GPU horsepower than the Radeon R9 Fury, and save for a 50MHz lower peak GPU clock and tighter TDP, the Nano is essentially the same as a Fury X. That’s not exactly the case, though.

Yes, the GPU powering the Nano is a fully functional Fiji like the Fury X’s with all of its functional blocks enabled, and its peak frequency is only 50MHz lower than the Fury X, but that more restrictive power envelope, coupled with the smaller, single-fan air cooler means the R9 Nano is less likely to run at full tilt, all of the time and remain within its target power envelope. In fact, here’s what the Nano’s frequency scaling looks like according to GPU-Z when running 3DMark Fire Strike.

gpu z data
Although the Radeon R9 Nano has a peak GPU frequency of 1GHz, throughout this run, it only tickled that frequency a fraction of the time. Typical GPU clocks during this run mostly hovered in the mid-to-high 700MHz range to the mid-900s, and only briefly peaked at 1GHz.

We’re making this point early because understanding how the GPU clock scales on the Radeon R9 Nano with help explain the benchmark numbers you see a little later.

Before we get down and dirty, though, there’s lots of other information to cover. Since we’ve already detailed many aspects of the AMD Fiji GPU, we’re not going to run through it all again here. We would recommend checking out some of our recent coverage though:
In our Radeon R9 Fury X and Fury reviews, we cover the Fiji GPU architecture in-depth and detail the performance of both cards. We’ve also got separate articles that detail the bleeding-edge High Bandwidth Memory (HBM) used on Fiji, Asynchronous Shader Technology, AMD FreeSync, and various other Fiji-related tid-bits and details regarding the AMD Radeon 300 series. If you want to know everything that makes the Radeon R9 Nano tick, before getting all up-close-and-personal, we highly recommend spending some time digesting the articles listed above.

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