Over the past couple of weeks, AMD’s Radeon R9 Nano graphics card has been talked about a lot in forums all over the internet, in tech columns, in what few hardware magazines remain in the world, and inside IRC message boards (how IRC still exists is honestly mind-blowing). But more than just the card itself (which, according to reviews that went up yesterday, seems to be a killer deal for ITX builds), there was also talk of AMD’s management of the Nano’s launch, which included a number of websites confirming that AMD had not given them a unit for review, while many others had their sample sent to them a week before launch. Looking at the reviews published now, it seems odd that AMD chose to seed a sample unit to reviewers who would have otherwise given the Nano a fair chance to prove itself. Lets look at a recap of the events that preceded the card’s launch and take everything in now that we have some resolution to this drama.
AMD has previously chosen not to seed review units to many sites based on criteria they chose for their launches. Oftentimes they’ve decided to go with people who would support a particular direction for a product, or who would look at a particular asset it might have had, or would have been favourable or at least non-critical of certain aspects, or who are known for being unbiased towards any one industry player. This is how every company that makes a product plays the PR and advertising game.
For the Radeon R9 Fury X launch, AMD chose to not sample product to certain reviewers based on their then-current view of AMD’s prospects launching a GPU that was both expensive and really complex to manufacture. AMD’s had that same recipe for products in the past that had proven to be ill-suited for their intended purpose, and some reviewers in the tech world may have developed the opinion that Fury X wasn’t going to beat out the NVIDIA Geforce GTX 980 Ti (and it didn’t, for various technical reasons which I won’t go into here, though that performance placement may change in the future). Still, AMD made their decision to not seed review samples to some websites on the basis of their current opinion about AMD’s products and prospects, and that’s their perogative as curators of the product they’re trying to sell to consumers.
So it was confusing to me when I read that three sites that I hold in high regard, namely Tech Report, Techpowerup, and HardOCP, weren’t getting samples of the R9 Nano to review. All three sites published their opinions on AMD’s decision (which you can read here, here, and here), and all three cited different reasons given to them as to why they weren’t getting a sample. On the sides of these columns being published, the backlash against AMD on forums and blogs and social media was quite sizeable and vocal. It’s unknown to anyone outside of AMD and the editors of these sites why they were denied a review sample in the first place.
@btarunr reviews need to be fair.
— Roy@AMD (@amd_roy) September 4, 2015
On the back of all of these goings-on, Roy Taylor, who is the Corporate Vice President of Alliances at AMD, tweeted responses to some questions about the review unit story, which had by now turned into a small saga. Taylor’s tweets seemed to insinuate that AMD thought they would not receive fair reviews on the R9 Nano from some sites, which probably wasn’t the best response that he could have come up with. It looks like nothing much has come of his comments, and he’s personally called Tech Report editor Scott Wasson to discuss the matter and smooth things out between the two. Perhaps Roy’s comments only wound up creating a storm in a teacup for some people and not most people following the review saga.
10 September, D-Day for Nano
The Nano launched yesterday to reviews from over two dozen websites, and sales of the card starting either a little before, or shortly after, the embargo lifted. As I write this, just about everywhere I’ve looked overseas lists the card as being sold out, which is great news for AMD. Even the reviews were good, showing off what amazing performance-per-watt ratios AMD has pulled off with this product. For the ITX market, it is easily the most powerful card money can buy.
Looking at the reviews, though, I was puzzled as to why AMD chose to not send review samples to Tech Report, HardOCP and TechpowerUp, particularly when more than half of the sites with reviews today don’t seem to shows the Nano competing against its target, the ITX-sized variants of NVIDIA’s Geforce GTX 970. Here’s a short lists of the sites I looked at this morning that had published reviews:
- PC Perspective
- Tom’s Hardware
- Hardware Heaven
- Hardware Canucks
- Legit Reviews
None of these sites did anything dramatically different to what they’d have normally done in a review of the new graphics card, especially one for a niche market or purpose (think Geforce GTX Titan Z). At most, some of these sites did test noise levels of the Nano’s cooler when inside a mini-ITX chassis and ran a few thermal tests as well. Many sites even went into testing what kinds of workloads would induce a lower clock speed on the GPU, since the R9 Nano’s specifications state “up to 1GHz” clock speed, which means it will dynamically alter clock speeds, and therefore performance, according to the workload it is tasked with.
It is strange then, that while only some sites went to lengths to point out the strengths of the R9 Nano, most others just ran through their standard tests and wrote up their review just as they would any other card. It is strange that AMD did not sample their hardware to three sites which have arguably the biggest following on the internet when it comes to hardware reviews. After all, Tech Report is known for being the first to report on frame time latency for their GPU tests, and Techpowerup regularly retests dozens of graphics cards for every review to assess performance properly, and publish results that are always current.
Does this mean that AMD has an agenda against these sites, and others that they have refused review samples to? I don’t think so. In all likelihood this was an oversight on the company’s part, and there is the possibility that the first excuse I heard for this, that there weren’t enough review samples to go around, is also true. Does this mean that AMD was only controlling how some sites reviewed the cards and not others? Again, I don’t think so. There’s no need for it when you look at the performance results and see that the Nano practically sells itself to anyone looking to set up a really small and short ITX build. All of this could have been avoided if AMD’s representatives had just picked up the phone a little earlier and figured out an arrangement that let the editors of the affected sites be happy, or at the very least less unhappy, with AMD’s decision. Instead, things just generally blew up a bit more than they needed to.
The takeaway here could very well be that everyone just needs to communicate more. AMD could have avoided having egg thrown on its face by angry fans by explaining things better, and the websites who posted up columns detailing the review sample denial wouldn’t have had to resort to publicly speaking about the goings-on behind the scenes to get a proper explanation out of AMD. Thankfully, because the Nano seems like a great choice for ITX markets regardless, and because apologies were issued, we can put this behind us and hope that everyone involved tries to work better together in the future. Group hug, anyone?