AMD Radeon R9 NANO short test

In times when PC systems are becoming more and more compact, the pressure on manufacturers to build more complex units is increasing. With the HBM technology used in the Radeon R9 Nano, the memory complexity of the graphics card migrates into or onto the graphics chip itself.

We reported on this when the Radeon R9 Fury was launched, considered the “big brother” of the Nano. The new HBM technology allows significantly shorter circuit boards due to the disappearance of memory chips. This shrinks the length of graphics cards that use this technology.

AMD shows what is feasible with the Radeon R9 Nano. The high-end graphics card, shortened to 15 cm, has a graphics chip with 4096 shader processors, which can access a 4096 MB HBM memory connected to a 4096-bit memory interface.

The numbers speak for themselves, right? AMD specifies approx—175 watts as the maximum thermal power loss for the Radeon R9 Nano. The cooler is designed accordingly. Although this is two slots high, it is only 15.2 cm long and only has to make do with an 85 mm fan.

Furthermore, the R9 Nano only needs one PCI Express power connector, which must be 8-pin. Unfortunately, Sapphire does not include an adapter from 6 to 8-pin PCIe.

Scope of delivery of the Sapphire R9 Nano

With a total length of only 15 centimeters, the packaging does not have to be particularly bulky. Sapphire also uses this circumstance and packs the Radeon R9 Nano 4G HBM in a handy box with 23 x 29 cm dimensions.

Inside you will find a graphics card securely packed in foam, which is additionally secured by another foam block. A treat is the 1.8 m long HDMI cable that comes with the card. A driver CD and a quick start guide round off the equipment. Unfortunately, as already mentioned, Sapphire does not include a PCI Express 8-pin power adapter.

First impression of the Radeon R9 Nano

Pictures may not reflect the impression. The Radeon R9 graphics card is relatively light and compact. Only the cooling concept appears bulky, although it is not. But on such a short graphics card, the dual-slot cooler looks like it doesn’t belong here.

The design of the graphics card itself is very reserved, almost minimalist. The eye can neither discover a futuristic-looking cooler casing nor thick, protruding heat pipes. Everything is angular, edgy and has clean lines.

There are ventilation slits on the front slot panel intended to transport the warm air from the graphics card out of the case. This is especially useful in more minor Mini-ITX cases.

Since the fan of the Radeon R9 Nano only presses the sucked air against the heat sink and the cooler cladding is open on both sides. This combination ensures that the warm air is transported away via ventilation slots and partly gets into the housing. That’s not perfect – but still better than blowing all the warm air from the GPU into the case.

The rest of the equipment is alright too. The chip has a Digital Signal Processing (DSP) hardware unit, also called AMD TrueAudio. This technique provides better surround sound for stereo output devices.

The GPU also masters DirectX 12 with asynchronous shaders and a multi-threaded command buffer. AMD Freesync eliminates stuttering and screen tearing, eliminating choppy gameplay. The Frame Rate Target Control (FRTC) saves energy and reduces heat and noise development.

The GPU’s unified video decoder can decode H.264 footage in 4K. AMD LiquidVR is also advertised as a virtual reality technology that has yet to establish itself.

How much performance is there on 15cm graphics cards?

We tested the AMD Radeon R9 Nano 4GB in five synthetic benchmarks. These include the common benchmarks from Futuremark (3D Mark 11, 3D Mark Vantage, and 3D Mark Fire Strike) and the benchmarks Unigine Valley 1.0 and Unigine Heaven 4.0.

We used the benchmark in the standard settings for the first three and the two Unigine benchmarks in Extreme mode at FullHD resolution.

Our test system

Futuremark has been developing 3D benchmarks for years, which demand the latest graphics cards. 3DMark 11 relies on DirectX 11 benchmarks, whereby tessellation, depth of field, volumetric lighting, and direct computing are also used.

The previous 3DMark 11 used DirectX 10 effects as the first benchmark. Here, too, current high-end systems still work up a sweat. The outdated benchmark allows for excellent comparability with older systems.

The 3D Mark Fire Strike is the latest benchmark from Futuremark and is specially designed for high-end systems. Both physics and graphics tests load the GPU and CPU, thus capturing a meaningful overall PC performance.

Unigine Valley is the latest addition to the Unigine benchmark series and demands everything from current systems. Vast landscapes, detailed vegetation, and realistic weather conditions push the GPU to the extreme.

Version 4.0 of the Unigine Heaven benchmark tests, among other things, the tessellation performance of graphics cards. Physically correct calculations and dynamic lighting effects ensure a meaningful test.

The benchmark results of the AMD Radeon R9 Nano 4GB confirm the enormous performance of the battle dwarf. Despite everything, it is far from the recently tested Inno3D iChill GTX 980 Ti Hercules X3 Airboss Ultra. Sure: With the R9 Nano, Sapphire also targets another group of buyers – gamers who need small and compact gaming PCs.

However, we can tell them that the Radeon R9 Nano is the fastest graphics card currently available for compact ITX systems.

The Radeon R9 Nano is in operation

Thanks to the straightforward design, installing the AMD Radeon R9 Nano was quick and easy. Plugged into a standard ATX motherboard, the Nano belongs somewhere else. Now connect the power connection to the power supply unit, and you’re good to go.

First start and surprise – the expected loud noise of the fan is missing. However, brief eye contact with the graphics card confirms that the fan is running. He’s just one of the quiet kind. As expected, the graphics card cannot be heard when the case is closed.

A look at the small GPU-Z program shows us that temperatures around 35°C are entirely acceptable. We are pleasantly surprised when we connect a second monitor to the graphics card. Because despite completely different monitor models, the graphics card hardly changes its idle clock.

It fluctuated between 300 and 400 MHz under Windows while we were working. This behavior should have a positive effect on power consumption in multi-monitor operations. But now we want to put the AMD Radeon R9 Nano through our benchmark course and look at a few games.

But shock – when we started the first game, it ran for two to three minutes, and the computer shut down. Our 8-year-old Coba Nitrox power pack can’t handle the peak loads of the little battle dwarf at all. So a more modern power supply unit was needed.

This was quickly installed, and our test phase could begin. In games and benchmarks, the GPU temperature of the AMD Radeon R9 Nano rises to around 70° C. The fan can now be heard, although it cannot be described as uncomfortably loud.

On the other hand, the recurring coil whine that occurs at high frame rates (from around 200 fps) is unpleasant. Coil whine should not occur in this price range and for the intended purpose: a 4k living room PC suitable for gaming!


SAPPHIRE Radeon R9 NANO 4GB (21249-00-40G) Super small, lightning-fast, and quiet. The AMD Radeon R9 Nano is currently the fastest graphics card for Mini-ITX systems. The cooling concept of the graphics dwarf, which is only 15 cm long, is quite convincing.

Only the coil whine at high frame rates mars the otherwise excellent impression. In addition, there is a relatively high price in direct comparison to similarly fast graphics cards. These cards are almost twice as long, but also about 150 euros cheaper.

With the AMD Radeon R9 Nano, we saw a truly exclusive high-end graphics card. Because for the price-conscious buyer who wants to make his Mini-ITX PC suitable for gaming, it is certainly fast enough – but currently simply too expensive.

The hardware Scot says:

The direction in which the new HBM graphics cards are developing is right. The speed increases, and the consumption decreases. Now it’s only time this technology finds its way into cheaper models. Because more graphics cards are sold there than in the high-end area.

Here I stand and demand: “HBM graphics cards for everyone!”
Does the graphics card concept make sense?

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Hello, I'm the author and creator of I've got over 12 years of expertise in the field. In my time, I've tested and looked over hundreds of graphics cards to build custom PCs. I am confident that my experience and experience will assist you to pick the best card that matches your requirements and budget.

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