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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.

Using the same settings at 2560x1440 widens the performance gulf between the Nano and the GTX 980s—with the EVGA 980 FTW claiming a sizeable 9 frames per second (fps) advantage—but activating 4x MSAA and 4x reflection MSAA at the same settings drags performance back to comparable levels (though Nvidia still claims the crown). You’re much more likely to use MSAA options at 1440p than you are at 4K.

nano mordor 4k
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nano mordor 1440
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Next up: Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor, which favors Radeon cards despite bearing an Nvidia splash screen when the game boots up. Here, we see the opposite of what we saw with GTA V: the Nano comes in slightly behind the Fury, slightly ahead of the overclocked EVGA GTX 980, and far ahead of the reference GTX 980. The one exception is at 4K resolution with all graphics options manually cranked to their highest available settings (which the default “Ultra” preset doesn’t do), where the EVGA 980 FTW ekes out a slight win.

The GTX 970s? Not even in the equation. Note that the $650 Nano doesn’t approach the performance levels of the full-sized $650 GTX 980 Ti or $650 Fury X, however.

nano dai 4k
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nano dai 1440
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Dragon Age Inquisition isn’t only one of the best PC games released in the past year, it can hammer even beefy graphics cards at 4K resolution. No card hits even 30fps at Ultra settings at 4K. The Nano, Fury, and the GTX 980s all hang closely here at both resolutions.

nano alien isolation
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Alien Isolation is terrifying, gorgeous, and scales well across all hardware. The usual suspects turn in a tight cluster of results with everything set to Ultra at 4K resolution, but the Strix Fury and EVGA 980 FTW pull ahead a bit at 1440p—though the Nano also plants itself firmly ahead of the reference GTX 980. Again, the GTX 970 duo fails to compete, with the Asus 970 DirectCU Mini falling a full 20 fps behind the Nano. AMD was right: Nvidia’s most powerful mini-ITX GeForce card simply can’t compare to the Nano.

nano bioshock infinite
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Given Unreal Engine 3’s ubiquity in the gaming world, no graphics card review would be complete without at least one UE3 benchmark. Bioshock Infinite’s our guinea pig. The performance trend we’ve been seeing with other titles continue here.


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