Specs and Hardware
The AMD Radeon Nano graphics card is unlike any product we have ever tested at PC Perspective. As I wrote and described to the best of my ability (without hardware in my hands) late last month, AMD is targeting a totally unique and different classification of hardware with this release. As a result, there is quite a bit of confusion, criticism, and concern about the Nano, and, to be upfront, not all of it is unwarranted.
After spending the past week with an R9 Nano here in the office, I am prepared to say this immediately: for users matching specific criteria, there is no other option that comes close to what AMD is putting on the table today. That specific demographic though is going to be pretty narrow, a fact that won’t necessarily hurt AMD simply due to the obvious production limitations of the Fiji and HBM architectures.
At $650, the R9 Nano comes with a flagship cost but it does so knowing full well that it will not compete in terms of raw performance against the likes of the GTX 980 Ti or AMD’s own Radeon R9 Fury X. However, much like Intel has done with the Ultrabook and ULV platforms, AMD is attempting to carve out a new market that is looking for dense, modest power GPUs in small form factors. Whether or not they have succeeded is what I am looking to determine today. Ride along with me as we journey on the roller coaster of a release that is the AMD Radeon R9 Nano.
Retail Card Design
AMD is in an interesting spot right now. The general consensus is that both the AMD Radeon R9 Fury X and the R9 Fury graphics cards had successful launches into the enthusiast community. We found that the performance of the Fury X was slightly under that of the GTX 980 Ti from NVIDIA, but also that the noise levels and power draw were so improved on Fiji over Hawaii that many users would dive head first into the new flagship from the red team.
The launch of the non-X AMD Fury card was even more interesting – here was a card with a GPU performing better than the competition in a price point that NVIDIA didn’t have an exact answer. The performance gap between the GTX 980 and GTX 980 Ti resulted in a $550 graphics card that AMD had a victory with. Add in the third Fiji-based product due out in a few short weeks, the R9 Nano, and you have a robust family of products that don’t exactly dominate the market but do put AMD in a positive position unlike any it has seen in recent years.
But there are some problems. First and foremost for AMD, continuing drops in market share. With the most recent reports from multiple source claiming that AMD’s Q2 2015 share has dropped to 18%, an all-time low in the last decade or so, AMD needs some growth and they need it now. Here’s the catch: AMD can’t make enough of the Fiji chip to affect that number at all. The Fury X, Fury and Nano are going to be hard to find for the foreseeable future thanks to production limits on the HBM (high bandwidth memory) integration; that same feature that helps make Fiji the compelling product it is. I have been keeping an eye on the stock of the Fury and Fury X products and found that it often can’t be found anywhere in the US for purchase. Maybe even more damning is the fact that the Radeon R9 Fury, the card that is supposed to be the model customizable by AMD board partners, still only has two options available: the Sapphire, which we reviewed when it launched, and the ASUS Strix R9 Fury that we are reviewing today.
AMD’s product and financial issues aside, the fact is that the Radeon R9 Fury 4GB and the ASUS Strix iteration of it are damned good products. ASUS has done its usual job of improving on the design of the reference PCB and cooler, added in some great features and packaged it up a price that is competitive and well worth the investment for enthusiast gamers. Our review today will only lightly touch on out-of-box performance of the Strix card mostly because it is so similar to that of the initial Fury review we posted in July. Instead I will look at the changes to the positioning of the AMD Fury product (if any) and how the cooler and design of the Strix product helps it stand out. Overclocking, power consumption and noise will all be evaluated as well.
Fiji brings the (non-X) Fury
Last month was a big one for AMD. At E3 the company hosted its own press conference to announce the Radeon R9 300-series of graphics as well as the new family of products based on the Fiji GPU. It started with the Fury X, a flagship $650 graphics card with an integrated water cooler that was well received. It wasn't perfect by any means, but it was a necessary move for AMD to compete with NVIDIA on the high end of the discrete graphics market.
At the event AMD also talked about the Radeon R9 Fury (without the X) as the version of Fiji that would be taken by board partners to add custom coolers and even PCB designs. (They also talked about the R9 Nano and a dual-GPU version of Fiji, but nothing new is available on those products yet.) The Fury, priced $100 lower than the Fury X at $549, is going back to a more classic GPU design. There is no "reference" product though, so cooler and PCB designs are going to vary from card to card. We already have two different cards in our hands that differ dramatically from one another.
The Fury cuts down the Fiji GPU a bit with fewer stream processors and texture units, but keeps most other specs the same. This includes the 4GB of HBM (high bandwidth memory), 64 ROP count and even the TDP / board power. Performance is great and it creates an interesting comparison between itself and the GeForce GTX 980 cards on the market. Let's dive into this review!
SLI and CrossFire
Last week I sat down with a set of three AMD Radeon R9 Fury X cards, our sampled review card as well as two retail cards purchased from Newegg, to see how the reports of the pump whine noise from the cards was shaping up. I'm not going to dive into that debate again here in this story as I think we have covered it pretty well thus far in that story as well as on our various podcasts, but rest assured we are continuing to look into the revisions of the Fury X to see if AMD and Cooler Master were actually able to fix the issue.
What we have to cover today is something very different, and likely much more interesting for a wider range of users. When you have three AMD Fury X cards in your hands, you of course have to do some multi-GPU testing with them. With our set I was able to run both 2-Way and 3-Way CrossFire with the new AMD flagship card and compare them directly to the comparable NVIDIA offering, the GeForce GTX 980 Ti.
There isn't much else I need to do to build up this story, is there? If you are curious how well the new AMD Fury X scales in CrossFire with two and even three GPUs, this is where you'll find your answers.
Retail cards still suffer from the issue
In our review of AMD's latest flagship graphics card, the Radeon R9 Fury X, I noticed and commented on the unique sound that the card was producing during our testing. A high pitched whine, emanating from the pump of the self-contained water cooler designed by Cooler Master, was obvious from the moment our test system was powered on and remained constant during use. I talked with a couple of other reviewers about the issue before the launch of the card and it seemed that I wasn't alone. Looking around other reviews of the Fury X, most make mention of this squeal specifically.
Noise from graphics cards come in many forms. There is the most obvious and common noise from on-board fans and the air it moves. Less frequently, but distinctly, the sound of inductor coil whine comes up. Fan noise spikes when the GPU gets hot, causing the fans to need to spin faster and move more air across the heatsink, which keeps everything running cool. Coil whine changes pitch based on the frame rate (and the frequency of power delivery on the card) and can be alleviated by using higher quality components on the board itself.
But the sound of our Fury X was unique: it was caused by the pump itself and it was constant. The noise it produced did not change as the load on the GPU varied. It was also 'pitchy' - a whine that seemed to pierce through other sounds in the office. A close analog might be the sound of an older, CRT TV or monitor that is left powered on without input.
In our review process, AMD told us the solution was fixed. In an email sent to the media just prior to the Fury X launch, an AMD rep stated:
In regards to the “pump whine”, AMD received feedback that during open bench testing some cards emit a mild “whining” noise. This is normal for most high speed liquid cooling pumps; Usually the end user cannot hear the noise as the pumps are installed in the chassis, and the radiator fan is louder than the pump. Since the AMD Radeon™ R9 Fury X radiator fan is near silent, this pump noise is more noticeable.
The issue is limited to a very small batch of initial production samples and we have worked with the manufacturer to improve the acoustic profile of the pump. This problem has been resolved and a fix added to production parts and is not an issue.
I would disagree that this is "normal" but even so, taking AMD at its word, I wrote that we heard the noise but also that AMD had claimed to have addressed it. Other reviewers noted the same comment from AMD, saying the result was fixed. But very quickly after launch some users were posting videos on YouTube and on forums with the same (or worse) sounds and noise. We had already started bringing in a pair of additional Fury X retail cards from Newegg in order to do some performance testing, so it seemed like a logical next step for us to test these retail cards in terms of pump noise as well.
First, let's get the bad news out of the way: both of the retail AMD Radeon R9 Fury X cards that arrived in our offices exhibit 'worse' noise, in the form of both whining and buzzing, compared to our review sample. In this write up, I'll attempt to showcase the noise profile of the three Fury X cards in our possession, as well as how they compare to the Radeon R9 295X2 (another water cooled card) and the GeForce GTX 980 Ti reference design - added for comparison.
Subject: Graphics Cards | June 25, 2015 - 02:42 PM | Jeremy Hellstrom
Tagged: 4GB, amd, Fiji, Fury, fury x, hbm, R9, radeon
[H]ard|OCP used a slightly different configuration to test the new R9 Fury X, an i7-3770K on an ASUS PB287Q as opposed to an i7-3960X and an ASUS P9X79, the SSD is slightly different but the RAM remains the same at 16GB of DDR3-1600. [H] also used the same driver as we did and found similar difficulties using it with R9-2xx cards which is why that card was tested with the Catalyst 15.5 Beta. When testing The Witcher 3 the GTX 980 Ti came out on top overall but it is worth noting the Fury's 70% performance increase over the 290X when HairWorks was enabled. Their overall conclusions matched what Ryan saw, read them for yourself right here.
"We review AMD's new Fiji GPU comprising the new AMD Radeon R9 Fury X video card with stacked chip technology High Bandwidth Memory. We take this video card through its paces, make comparisons and find out what it can do for us in real world gameplay. Is this $649 video card competitive? Is it truly geared for 4K gaming as AMD says?"
Here are some more Graphics Card articles from around the web:
- AMD's Radeon R9 Fury X @ The Tech Report
- AMD R9 Fury X Review; Fiji Arrives @ Hardware Canucks
- AMD Fury X @ HardwareHeaven
- AMD Radeon R9 Fury X 4 GB @ techPowerUp
- MSI R9 390X GAMING 8G @ [H]ard|OCP
- MSI R7 370 GAMING 2G Review @ Neoseeker
- PowerColor PCS+ R9 390 8GB Review @ OCC
- PowerColor TurboDuo R9 290 4GB OC @ [H]ard|OCP
- EVGA GTX 980 Ti SC+ 6 GB @ techPowerUp
- EVGA GTX 970 SSC @ HardwareHeaven
A fury unlike any other...
Officially unveiled by AMD during E3 last week, we are finally ready to show you our review of the brand new Radeon R9 Fury X graphics card. Very few times has a product launch meant more to a company, and to its industry, than the Fury X does this summer. AMD has been lagging behind in the highest-tiers of the graphics card market for a full generation. They were depending on the 2-year-old Hawaii GPU to hold its own against a continuous barrage of products from NVIDIA. The R9 290X, despite using more power, was able to keep up through the GTX 700-series days, but the release of NVIDIA's Maxwell architecture forced AMD to move the R9 200-series parts into the sub-$350 field. This is well below the selling prices of NVIDIA's top cards.
The AMD Fury X hopes to change that with a price tag of $650 and a host of new features and performance capabilities. It aims to once again put AMD's Radeon line in the same discussion with enthusiasts as the GeForce series.
The Fury X is built on the new AMD Fiji GPU, an evolutionary part based on AMD's GCN (Graphics Core Next) architecture. This design adds a lot of compute horsepower (4,096 stream processors) and it also is the first consumer product to integrate HBM (High Bandwidth Memory) support with a 4096-bit memory bus!
Of course the question is: what does this mean for you, the gamer? Is it time to start making a place in your PC for the Fury X? Let's find out.
Subject: General Tech | June 18, 2015 - 02:03 PM | Ken Addison
Tagged: podcast, video, amd, radeon, R9, fury x, Fury, Fiji, fiji xt, r9 nano, fiji x2, project quantum, asus, zenfone 3, g751j, gameworks, nvidia, metal gear solid
PC Perspective Podcast #354 - 06/18/2015
Join us this week as we discuss the AMD R9 Fury X, R9 Nano, ASUS Zenfone2 and much more!
The URL for the podcast is: http://pcper.com/podcast - Share with your friends!
- iTunes - Subscribe to the podcast directly through the Store
- RSS - Subscribe through your regular RSS reader
- MP3 - Direct download link to the MP3 file
Hosts: Ryan Shrout, Jeremy Hellstrom, Josh Walrath, and Allyn Malventano
Program length: 1:23:20
AMD PC Gaming Show Event
Week in Review:
News item of interest:
Hardware/Software Picks of the Week:
Ryan: NOT HARD DRIVES
Subject: Graphics Cards | June 16, 2015 - 01:02 PM | Ryan Shrout
Tagged: radeon, r9 nano, R9, amd
On stage at the AMD E3 2015 press conference, AMD's CEO Lisa Su announced the Radeon R9 Nano, a 6-in PCB small form factor graphics card that will feature "2x the performance per watt of the R9 290X" as well as "significantly" more performance than the R9 290X.
We are looking for more information but because its branded R9 I don't know for sure if it's Fiji or Hawaii. I would assume that the advantages of HBM for form factor and power efficiency would tell us it uses AMD latest GPU in some cut down variation.
Availability later this summer.
UPDATE: Sources on the scene confirm it is Fiji powered!
Subject: Graphics Cards | June 3, 2015 - 08:39 PM | Ryan Shrout
Tagged: amd, Fiji, radeon, R9, 390x, maybe
Sorry for all of these single item news posts I keep making, but this is how the information is coming out about AMD's upcoming Fiji GPU using new HBM (high bandwidth memory) technology. (And make no mistake this is exactly the way that AMD marketing dreamed it would happen.) Below we have an image of Fiji: the GPU die, the interposer and the four stacks of HBM.
That chip is massive, quite simply, measuring about 70mm x 70mm based on the information presented during our HBM technical session last month. That is gigantic when compared to other GPU dies alone but is smaller than previous generation GPUs and the required memories on the PCB separately.
In case you missed it earlier today, AMD also released a teaser video of a CG Radeon card using Fiji. We'll know everything (maybe?) about AMD's latest flagship on June 16th.