Four High Powered Mini ITX Systems
Thanks to Sebastian for helping me out with some of the editorial for this piece and to Ken for doing the installation and testing on the system builds! -Ryan
Update (1/23/16): Now that that AMD Radeon R9 Nano is priced at just $499, it becomes an even better solution for these builds, dropping prices by $150 each.
While some might wonder where the new Radeon R9 Nano fits in a market that offers the AMD Fury X for the same price, the Nano is a product that defines a new category in the PC enthusiast community. It is a full-scale GPU on an impossibly small 6-inch PCB, containing the same core as the larger liquid-cooled Fury X, but requiring 100 watts less power than Fury X and cooled by a single-fan dual-slot air cooler.
The R9 Nano design screams compatibility. It has the ability to fit into virtually any enclosure (including many of the smallest mini-ITX designs), as long as the case supports a dual-slot (full height) GPU. The total board length of 6 inches is shorter than a mini-ITX motherboard, which is 6.7 inches square! Truly, the Nano has the potential to change everything when it comes to selecting a small form-factor (SFF) enclosure.
Typically, a gaming-friendly enclosure would need at minimum a ~270 mm GPU clearance, as a standard 10.5-inch reference GPU translates into 266.7 mm in length. Even very small mini-ITX enclosures have had to position components specifically to allow for these longer cards – if they wanted to be marketed as compatible with a full-size GPU solution, of course. Now with the R9 Nano, smaller and more powerful than any previous ITX-specific graphics card to date, one of the first questions we had was a pretty basic one: what enclosure should we put this R9 Nano into?
With no shortage of enclosures at our disposal to try out a build with this new card, we quickly discovered that many of them shared a design choice: room for a full-length GPU. So, what’s the advantage of the Nano’s incredibly compact size? It must be pointed out that larger (and faster) Fury X has the same MSRP, and at 7.5 inches the Fury X will fit comfortably in cases that have spacing for the necessary radiator.
Finding a Case for Nano
While even some of the tiniest mini-ITX enclosures (EVGA Hadron, NCASE M1, etc.) offer support for a 10.5-in GPU, there are several compact mini-ITX cases that don’t support a full-length graphics card due to their small footprint. While by no means a complete list, here are some of the options out there (note: there are many more mini-ITX cases that don’t support a full-height or dual-slot expansion card at all, such as slim HTPC enclosures):
|Cooler Master||Elite 110||$47.99, Amazon.com|
|Lian Li||PC-O5||$377, Amazon.com|
|Lian Li||PC-Q01||$59.99, Newegg.com|
|Lian Li||PC-Q03||$74.99, Newegg.com|
|Lian Li||PC-Q07||$71.98, Amazon.com|
|Lian Li||PC-Q30||$139.99, Newegg.com|
|Lian Li||PC-Q33||$134.99, Newegg.com|
|Rosewill||Legacy V3 Plus-B||$59.99, Newegg.com|
The list is dominated by Lian Li, who offers a number of cube-like mini-ITX enclosures that would ordinarily be out of the question for a gaming rig, unless one of the few ITX-specific cards were chosen for the build. Many other fine enclosure makers (Antec, BitFenix, Corsair, Fractal Design, SilverStone, etc.) offer mini-ITX enclosures that support full-length GPUs, as this has pretty much become a requirement for an enthusiast PC case.
Subject: Graphics Cards | November 2, 2015 - 01:00 PM | Ryan Shrout
Tagged: radeon software, radeon, driver, crimson, catalyst, amd
For as long as I can remember, the AMD (previously ATI) graphics driver was know as Catalyst. The Catalyst Control Center (CCC) offered some impressive features, grew over time with the Radeon hardware but it had more than its share of issues. It was slow, it was ugly and using it was kind of awful. And today we mourn the passing of Catalyst but welcome the birth of "Radeon Software" and the first iteration if it, Crimson.
Starting with the next major driver release from AMD you'll see a major change the speed, design and usability of the most important interface between AMD and its users. I want to be clear today: we haven't had a chance to actually use the software yet, so all of the screenshots and performance claims are from an AMD presentation to the media last week.
Let's start with new branding: gone is the AMD Catalyst name, replaced by "Radeon Software" as the overarching title for the software and driver packages that AMD releases. The term "Crimson Edition" refers to the major revision of the software and will likely be a portion of the brand that changes with the year or with important architectural changes. Finally, the numeric part of the branding will look familiar and represents the year and month of release: "15.11" equates to 2015, November release.
With the new brand comes an entire new design that AMD says targets simplicity, ease of use and speed. The currently available Catalyst Control Center software is none of those so it is great news for consumers that AMD has decided to address it. This is one of AMD's Radeon Technology Group SVP Raja Koduri's pet projects - and it's a great start to a leadership program that should spell positive momentum for the Radeon brand.
While the Catalyst Control Center was written in the aging and bloated .Net coding ecosystem, Radeon Software is designed on QT. The first and most immediate advantage will be startup speed. AMD says that Radeon Software will open in 0.6 seconds compared to 8.0 seconds for Catalyst on a modestly configured system.
The style and interface look to be drastically improved with well defined sections along the top and settings organized in a way that makes them easy to find and address by the user. Your video settings are all in a single spot, the display configuration is on its as well, just as they were with Catalyst, but the look and feel is completely different. Without hands on time its difficult to say for sure, but it appears that AMD has made major strides.
There are some new interesting capabilities as well, starting with per-game settings available in Game Manager. This is not a duplication of what GeForce Experience does in terms of adjust in-game settings, but it does allow you to set control panel-specific settings like anti-aliasing, texture filtering quality, vertical sync. This capability was around in the previous versions of Catalyst but it was hard to utilize.
Overdrive, the AMD-integrated GPU overclocking portion of Radeon Software, gets a new feature as well: per-game overclocking settings. That's right - you will now be able to set game-specific overclocking settings for your GPU that will allow you to turn up the power for GTA V while turning things down for lower power consumption and noise while catching up on new DLC for Rocket League. I can see this being an incredibly useful feature for gamers willing to take the time to customize their systems.
There are obviously more changes for Radeon Software and the first iteration of it known as Crimson, including improved Eyefinity configuration, automatic driver downloads and much more, and we look forward to playing around with the improved software package in the next few weeks. For AMD, this shows a renewed commitment to Radeon and PC gaming. With its declining market share against the powerful NVIDIA GeForce brand, AMD needs these types of changes.
Subject: Graphics Cards | October 23, 2015 - 05:49 AM | Sebastian Peak
Tagged: tape out, rumor, report, Radeon 400 Series, radeon, graphics card, gpu, Ellesmere, Baffin, amd
Details are almost nonexistent, but a new report claims that AMD has reached tape out for an upcoming Radeon 400 series of graphics cards, which could be the true successor to the R9 200-series after the rebranded 3xx cards.
Image credit: WCCFtech
According to the report:
"AMD has reportedly taped out two of its next-gen GPUs, with "Ellesmere" and "Baffin" both taping out - and both part of the upcoming Radeon 400 series of video cards."
I wish there was more here to report, but if this is accurate we should start to hear some details about these new cards fairly soon. The important thing is that AMD is working on the new performance mainstream cards so soon after releasing what was largely a simple rebrand accross much of the 300-series GPUs this year.
Subject: Graphics Cards | October 14, 2015 - 03:24 PM | Sebastian Peak
Tagged: radeon, dx12, DirectX 12, Catalyst 15.10 beta, catalyst, ashes of the singularity, amd
The AMD Catalyst 15.9 beta driver was released just two weeks ago, and already AMD is ready with a new version. 15.10 is available now and offers several bug fixes, though the point of emphasis is DX12 performance improvements to the Ashes of the Singularity benchmark.
Highlights of AMD Catalyst 15.10 Beta Windows Driver
- Ashes of the Singularity - DirectX 12 Quality and Performance optimizations
- Video playback of MPEG2 video fails with a playback error/error code message
- A TDR error or crash is experienced when running the Unreal Engine 4 DirectX benchmark
- Star Wars: Battlefront is able to use high performance graphics when launched on mobile devices with switchable graphics
- Intermittent playback issues with Cyberlink PowerDVD when connecting to a 3D display with an HDMI cable
- Ashes of the Singularity - A 'Driver has stopped responding' error may be experienced in DirectX 12 mode
- Driver installation may halt on some configurations
- A TDR error may be experienced while toggling between minimized and maximized mode while viewing 4K YouTube content
- Ashes of the Singularity may crash on some AMD 300 series GPUs
- Core clock fluctuations may be experienced when FreeSync and FRTC are both enabled on some AMD CrossFire systems
- Ashes of the Singularity may fail to launch on some GPUs with 2GB Video Memory. AMD continues to work with Stardock to resolve the issue. In the meantime, deleting the game config file helps resolve the issue
- The secondary display adapter is missing in the Device Manager and the AMD Catalyst Control Center after installing the driver on a Microsoft Windows 8.1 system
- Elite: Dangerous - poor performance may be experienced in SuperCruise mode
- A black screen may be encountered on bootup on Windows 10 systems. The system will ultimately continue to the Windows login screen
The driver is available now from AMD's Catalyst beta download page.
Subject: Graphics Cards | October 5, 2015 - 06:33 AM | Sebastian Peak
Tagged: rumor, report, radeon, graphics cards, Gemini, fury x, fiji xt, dual-GPU, amd
The AMD R9 Fury X, Fury, and Nano have all been released, but a dual-GPU Fiji XT card could be on the way soon according to a new report.
Back in June at AMD's E3 event we were shown Project Quantum, AMD's concept for a powerful dual-GPU system in a very small form-factor. It was speculated that the system was actually housing an unreleased dual-GPU graphic card, which would have made sense given the very small size of the system (and mini-ITX motherboard therein). Now a report from WCCFtech is pointing to a manifest that just might be a shipment of this new dual-GPU card, and the code-name is Gemini.
"Gemini is the code-name AMD has previously used in the past for dual GPU variants and surprisingly, the manifest also contains another phrase: ‘Tobermory’. Now this could simply be a reference to the port that the card shipped from...or it could be the actual codename of the card, with Gemini just being the class itself."
The manifest also indicates a Cooler Master cooler for the card, the maker of the liquid cooling solution for the Fury X. As the Fury X has had its share of criticism for pump whine issues it would be interesting to see how a dual-GPU cooling solution would fare in that department, though we could be seeing an entirely new generation of the pump as well. Of course speculation on an unreleased product like this could be incorrect, and verifiable hard details aren't available yet. Still, of the dual-GPU card is based on a pair of full Fiji XT cores the specs could be very impressive to say the least:
- Core: Fiji XT x2
- Stream Processors: 8192
- GCN Compute Units: 128
- ROPs: 128
- TMUs: 512
- Memory: 8 GB (4GB per GPU)
- Memory Interface: 4096-bit x2
- Memory Bandwidth: 1024 GB/s
In addition to the specifics above the report also discussed the possibility of 17.2 TFLOPS of performance based on 2x the performance of Fury X, which would make the Gemini product one of the most powerful single-card GPU solutions in the world. The card seems close enough to the final stage that we should expect to hear something official soon, but for now it's fun to speculate - unless of course the speculation concerns a high initial retail price, and unfortunately something at or above $1000 is quite likely. We shall see.
Subject: Graphics Cards | September 24, 2015 - 06:53 PM | Jeremy Hellstrom
Tagged: radeon, nvidia, lionhead, geforce, fable legends, fable, dx12, benchmark, amd
By now you should have memorized Ryan's review of Fable's DirectX 12 performance on a variety of cards and hopefully tried out our new interactive IFU charts. You can't always cover every card, as those who were brave enough to look at the CSV file Ryan provided might have come to realize. That's why it is worth peeking at The Tech Report's review after reading through ours. They have included an MSI R9 285 and XFX R9 390 as well as an MSI GTX 970, which may be cards you are interested in seeing. They also spend some time looking at CPU scaling and the effect that has on AMD and NVIDIA's performance. Check it out here.
"Fable Legends is one of the first games to make use of DirectX 12, and it produces some truly sumptuous visuals. Here's a look at how Legends performs on the latest graphics cards."
Here are some more Graphics Card articles from around the web:
- The Graphics Cards For Linux Gaming With The Best Value & Efficiency At Higher Resolutions @ Phoronix
- AMD Has A Vulkan Linux Driver, But Will Be Closed-Source At First @ Phoronix
- ASUS R9 Fury STRIX Review @ Hardware Canucks
- XFX Radeon R9 390X Double Dissipation Core Edition Review @HiTech Legion
- AMD Radeon R9 Nano CrossFire @ techPowerUp
- Sapphire R9 380 Nitro 4GB @ Kitguru
- AMD Radeon R9 Nano 4 GB @ techPowerUp
When approached a couple of weeks ago by Microsoft with the opportunity to take an early look at an upcoming performance benchmark built on a DX12 game pending release later this year, I of course was excited for the opportunity. Our adventure into the world of DirectX 12 and performance evaluation started with the 3DMark API Overhead Feature Test back in March and was followed by the release of the Ashes of the Singularity performance test in mid-August. Both of these tests were pinpointing one particular aspect of the DX12 API - the ability to improve CPU throughput and efficiency with higher draw call counts and thus enabling higher frame rates on existing GPUs.
This game and benchmark are beautiful...
Today we dive into the world of Fable Legends, an upcoming free to play based on the world of Albion. This title will be released on the Xbox One and for Windows 10 PCs and it will require the use of DX12. Though scheduled for release in Q4 of this year, Microsoft and Lionhead Studios allowed us early access to a specific performance test using the UE4 engine and the world of Fable Legends. UPDATE: It turns out that the game will have a fall-back DX11 mode that will be enabled if the game detects a GPU incapable of running DX12.
This benchmark focuses more on the GPU side of DirectX 12 - on improved rendering techniques and visual quality rather than on the CPU scaling aspects that made Ashes of the Singularity stand out from other graphics tests we have utilized. Fable Legends is more representative of what we expect to see with the release of AAA games using DX12. Let's dive into the test and our results!
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.
The Tiniest Fiji
Way back on June 16th, AMD held a live stream event during E3 to announce a host of new products. In that group was the AMD Radeon R9 Fury X, R9 Fury and the R9 Nano. Of the three, the Nano was the most intriguing to most of the online press as it was the one we knew the least about. AMD promised a full Fiji GPU in a package with a 6-in PCB and a 175 watt TDP. Well today, AMD is, uh, re-announcing (??) the AMD Radeon R9 Nano with more details on specifications, performance and availability.
First, let’s get this out of the way: AMD is making this announcement today because they publicly promised the R9 Nano for August. And with the final days of summer creeping up on them, rather than answer questions about another delay, AMD is instead going the route of a paper launch, but one with a known end date. We will apparently get our samples of the hardware in early September with reviews and the on-sale date following shortly thereafter. (Update: AMD claims the R9 Nano will be on store shelves on September 10th and should have "critical mass" of availability.)
Now let’s get to the details that you are really here for. And rather than start with the marketing spin on the specifications that AMD presented to the media, let’s dive into the gory details right now.
|R9 Nano||R9 Fury||R9 Fury X||GTX 980 Ti||TITAN X||GTX 980||R9 290X|
|GPU||Fiji XT||Fiji Pro||Fiji XT||GM200||GM200||GM204||Hawaii XT|
|Rated Clock||1000 MHz||1000 MHz||1050 MHz||1000 MHz||1000 MHz||1126 MHz||1000 MHz|
|Memory Clock||500 MHz||500 MHz||500 MHz||7000 MHz||7000 MHz||7000 MHz||5000 MHz|
|Memory Interface||4096-bit (HBM)||4096-bit (HBM)||4096-bit (HBM)||384-bit||384-bit||256-bit||512-bit|
|Memory Bandwidth||512 GB/s||512 GB/s||512 GB/s||336 GB/s||336 GB/s||224 GB/s||320 GB/s|
|TDP||175 watts||275 watts||275 watts||250 watts||250 watts||165 watts||290 watts|
|Peak Compute||8.19 TFLOPS||7.20 TFLOPS||8.60 TFLOPS||5.63 TFLOPS||6.14 TFLOPS||4.61 TFLOPS||5.63 TFLOPS|
AMD wasn’t fooling around, the Radeon R9 Nano graphics card does indeed include a full implementation of the Fiji GPU and HBM, including 4096 stream processors, 256 texture units and 64 ROPs. The GPU core clock is rated “up to” 1.0 GHz, nearly the same as the Fury X (1050 MHz), and the only difference that I can see in the specifications on paper is that the Nano is rated at 8.19 TFLOPS of theoretical compute performance while the Fury X is rated at 8.60 TFLOPS.
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.