Radeon R9 Nano Small Form Factor Video Card Review

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.

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Detailing our Build

We are starting with a Cooler Master Elite 110 case. We have placed an MSI Z170I GAMING PRO AC motherboard inside. This is a mini-ITX motherboard. We are using an Intel Core-i7 Skylake model 6700K CPU at 4.2GHz. We are using 16GB of Corsair Vengeance LPX DDR4 @ 2666MHz. We talked about overclocking the CPU, but in this case it made sense to lock the CPU clock at 4.2GHz for testing since thermals were already high inside this case without even overclocking. In our better cooled Corsair 250D we will overclock the CPU. Our SSD is positioned on the top bracket next to the PSU.

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We have a Corsair Hydro Series H70 liquid cooler installed on the inside of the front of the case. We used this cooler with the smaller radiator to allow better airflow inside the case as we wanted to make room for PSU cabling. In the front panel we have the included Cooler Master intake fan positioned to blow air over the radiator, pushing the air inside the case as an intake. This all configured as is specified by Cooler Master’s instructions. The Corsair CS550M PSU (550W) is positioned with fan-side up as Cooler Master recommends for installation in this case. Those are the only two fans installed in this system, there are no other fans besides the video card fan.

The Cooler Master Elite 110 case has the advantage of having vents on all sides, top and back of the case. The way the video card is positioned it is able to flow fresh air from the outside through the side-vent. While operating we can feel hot air escaping the vents on all sides leading to a positive pressure scenario.

We have used many cable ties to create clean cable routing inside our tiny case, however there is one power cable installed between the end of the video card and the front of the case but it does not touch the video card. When both video cards exhaust air we actually feel this hot air coming out of both the back of the video card as well as the front panel.

Our full build sheet for our system can be found on PC Hound. (You will see PC Hound compatibility warnings since we are showing two video cards in this system which violate both expansion slot and TDP level rules set by PC Hound.)


The Video Cards

XFX Radeon R9 Nano

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As you may or may not know, AMD did not sample HardOCP an AMD Radeon R9 Nano for this launch. However, we were asked to help Paper Launch the Nano. For whatever reasons AMD felt HardOCP fit its Paper Launch profile, but not its hardware review profile...so we purchased our own.

We purchased the XFX Radeon R9 Nano (4SF6) model. This video card operates at stock default reference AMD Radeon R9 Nano specifications.

The GPU clock speed operates "Up To: 1000MHz." What this means is that if conditions are "right" it can clock up to 1000MHz (default on Fury X is 1050MHz), but if "right" conditions are not present, it will dynamically adjust the GPU clock speed to whatever it can at any given time based on power and temperature. It has 4GB of HBM memory operating at 500MH (1GHz) for 512MB/sec of memory bandwidth. It contains 4096 stream processors and is a full Fiji GPU just like the Fury X. The TDP is 175W.

The XFX Radeon R9 Nano uses the reference AMD design. The video card measures 5.98" making it the smallest video card we are evaluating today. It is a dual-slot video card, not single-slot. The minimum PSU requirement is quoted as "750W PSU." However, XFX goes further and on their webpage and recommends an "850W PSU." The simple fact is that these power levels are not needed on our sparse system and we wanted a PSU with a smaller footprint to allow better airflow in our case. There is one external 8-pin PCIe power connector on the video card. This video card supports DisplayPort 1.2 (3 ports) and HDMI 1.4a (1 port.)

This Nano video card is in-stock at Amazon, Newegg, and Tiger Direct ranging from $610 to $630. So we have seen street prices drop below the $649 MSRP.

GIGABYTE GeForce GTX 970 N970-IX-OC

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As we stated, there isn't much to choose from in the realm of video cards shorter than 8" that are modern video cards using the latest GPU architectures. There was only one NVIDIA GPU based video card in a small form factor format, and that is one based on the NVIDIA GeForce GTX 970 (Maxwell) GPU.

We found that both ASUS and GIGABYTE make a small form factor GeForce GTX 970 based video card meant for mini-ATX and mini-ITX motherboards.

Checking prices we actually found that the GIGABYTE version was less expensive online. From looking at these it also appeared to us the GIGABYTE version might have better cooling with those extended copper heat-pipes. Since we also have it in mind to overclock the GTX 970 we went for the GIGABYTE option.

We are going to use the GIGABYTE GeForce GTX 970 N970-IX-OC video card for this evaluation. The GIGABYTE GTX 970 N970-IX-OC measures exactly 168mm (6.6 inches.) For comparison, the XFX Radeon R9 Nano we are using measures 5.98" inches. The Nano is certainly smaller.

The GIGABYTE GeForce GTX 970 N970-IX-OC is factory overclocked. The base clock runs at 1076MHz and the boost clock runs at 1216MHz. For comparison a stock GTX 970 runs at a base clock of 1050MHz and a boost clock of 1178MHz. It isn't a very high factory overclock, but this is a small form factor video card measuring 6.6."

With the nature of GPU Boost 2.0 it can dynamically clock the GPU clock speed as needed based on TDP and thermals, it could be lower, or higher than the boost clock depending on the demand. Suffice it to say, for a small form factor video card this is a GTX 970 with a good factory overclock and clock speed potential.

The GIGABYTE GTX 970 N970-IX-OC has 4GB of GDDR5 VRAM on a 256-bit memory bus. The PSU requirement is only 400W PSU with this video card, compared to 750W with the Nano. This video card also has one external 8-pin PCIe power connector. This video card also provides 3 DisplayPort connectors but one-ups the Nano with a full HDMI 2.0 port. It also goes even further by offering two DVI ports, one DVI-D and one DVI-I allowing up to 4 simultaneous displays. This could be important if you are aiming your small form factor case for a living room type TV connection or multi-display setup.

This GIGABYTE GTX 970 N970-IX-OC video card is only $330 right now with a free game provided. That is a $280 savings versus the Nano.