Unleash the Fury X: Building a powerful, yet tiny PC with AMD’s top GPU and APU
AMD just released a new flagship graphics card and APU, so we crammed both into a tiny PC to see how they perform.
By Marco Chiappetta
AMD’s got some new flagship hardware, and you don’t need a hulking, car-sized case to use these barnburners.
The bleeding-edge, supremely powerful AMD Radeon R9 Fury X was launched to much fanfare in June, though they can still be tough to find in stores. Around the same time, AMD also launched a new top-of-the-line APU, dubbed the A10-7870K, which packs the highest-clocked CPU cores (3.9GHz) of any AMD APU released to date.
Although high-end graphics cards like the Fury X are best paired to the fastest processors possible, the HBM-equipped Radeon Fury X affords some interesting possibilities due to its smaller size. If we ignore its liquid cooling assembly, the Fury X is only 7.5 inches long—much shorter than the 10-plus inches of most other high-end cards—which makes it a good candidate for small form factor systems that can also accommodate the card’s radiator. The relative low-power characteristics of AMD’s latest APUs are another plus.
Note: The Radeon R9 Fury Nano, a 6-inch graphics card featuring an underclocked, less power-hungry version of the same Fiji GPU inside the Fury X, promises to fit inside even tighter spaces when it launches on September 10—and sidestep issues the Fury X’s liquid cooling can create. More on that later.
Intel’s desktop processors may dominate in high-end gaming desktop configurations, but AMD is still competitive in the mid-range of the market. Of course, there are Intel processors available that are significantly faster than the A10-7870K— we’re not saying this is a build that everyone should jump on. We simply wanted to see what would happen if we crammed AMD’s fastest, graphics card into a mini-ITX build that also happens to feature the company’s latest and greatest APU.
The components we chose for the build were as follows:
AMD A10-7870K APU – $139.99
MSI A68HI AC AMD A68H Motherboard – $79.99
16GB (8GB x 2) AMD Radeon DDR3-2133 RAM – $99.99
AMD Radeon R9 Fury X – $649.99
AMD Radeon R7 240GB SSD – $99.99
Thermaltake Core V1 mini-ITX Chassis – $49.99
Corsair CX Series CX600 600W PSU – $69.99
Total cost: $1189.93
Not including the operating system, total cost for the hardware was just shy of the $1200 mark. A copy of Windows 10 will set you back another $100 or so.
The A10-7870K and Radeon R9 Fury X releases were the inspiration for this build; they obviously make the list. To support the APU and GPU, we needed a mini-ITX board with the correct socket and slots, and the $80, AMD A68H chipset-based MSI A68HI AC motherboard fit the bill.
To accompany the motherboard and stick with the all-AMD theme, we also grabbed a dual-channel 16GB kit of AMD Radeon Performance Series DDR3-2133 RAM and an AMD Radeon R7 240GB SSD, which were both right around the $100 mark.
AMD doesn’t make any cases or power supplies, so we grabbed some goodies from enthusiast favorites Thermaltake and Corsair. The Thermaltake Core V1 is one of the few mini-ITX chassis that can accommodate liquid-cooling setups and dual-slot graphics cards, so we went with the Core V1 for this build. The Core V1 also happens to be fairly affordable, never a bad thing.
To power the rig, we chose a Corsair CX600 power supply. The CX600 is partially modular, affordable, and will provide plenty of juice for a system like this. Some may scoff at the idea of a 600W power supply feeding a flagship GPU and 3.9GHz quad-core APU, but as you’ll see later, we had plenty of headroom to spare.
Piecing it all together
The actual assembly process for this build went off mostly without a hitch, which isn’t always the case with mini-ITX builds. All of the components played nicely together, and the Thermaltake Core V1 case was surprisingly accommodating despite its relatively small stature.
The APU, its stock cooler, and the memory behaved properly in the MSI A68HI AC motherboard, and there was plenty of room for the PSU and its cables in the case, thanks to the mostly modular nature of the Corsair CX600. If you don’t force anything, all of the key components—the processor, memory, graphics card, power cables, etc.—are all keyed and can only be attached one way, so it’s tough to screw anything up.
Next page: Continuing the build.
Putting the motherboard into the case is also as easy as it gets with a mini-ITX build. With larger cases, you’re usually required to install stand-offs that may need to go in various different locations, depending on the type of motherboard being used. With standard mini-ITX stuff, though, it’s simply a matter of popping in the custom IO shield that came with the mobo—forgetting to do so is a common PC building mistake, so watch out!—and securing everything in place with a quartet of screws.
The Thermaltake Core V1 has vertically mounted drive trays that are compatible with both 2.5-inch and 3.5-inch drives. We used one for the AMD Radeon R7 SSD.
The only semi-tricky component to install was the Fury X. Popping the card in the sole slot on the motherboard wasn’t an issue, but it took some careful routing to make sure the coolant tubes weren’t kinked after mounting the radiator to the appropriate spot in the chassis.
Mounting the radiator posed another problem. The large, front-facing fan on the Thermaltake Core V1 is configured as intake. But the Fury X’s fan is set up to exhaust hot air. Because the radiator needed to be mounted at the front of the chassis, the two fans would essentially cancel each other out—the Fury X’s fan would be trying to blow hot air against the incoming cool air from the large intake fan.
To work around this issue, we had two options: Reverse the Fury X’s fan or reverse the front-facing fan on the chassis, so the two would complement each other in a push-pull configuration. We opted to reverse the chassis fan, so the heated air from the GPU’s radiator wouldn’t be blown across the motherboard and APU.
This setup worked fine, but introduced a third problem. With the fans configured to exhaust air from the system, the vents on the sides of the case become intakes, and unfortunately, they have no dust filters. Dust will most certainly build up faster than normal in the rig, especially if it’s placed on a carpeted floor. An air-cooled card wouldn’t suffer from the same issue.
By the numbers
Once we had the system assembled, we installed Windows 10 Pro x64 and ran a handful of benchmarks to see how everything performed, with pretty good results.
In the OpenCL-accelerated Home and Work benchmarks, the system put up scores of 3,215 and 3,824, which are very respectable numbers. In the CPU-bound Cinebench R15 test, the rig mustered a score of 325, which placed it somewhere in between a Core i5-4670K and Core i5-3317U, but just ahead of an A10-6800K. In Cinebench’s OpenGL graphics test, we got a score of 71.15fps.
The system also performed well with graphics-heavy workloads—not surprisingly. In the 3DMark Firestrike Ultra benchmark running at 4K resolution, our all AMD-rig scored 3,607 overall, with a GPU score of 3,936, and a Physics score of 4,497 (14.28fps). By comparison, slapping the Fury X in our Core i7-5960X “Haswell-E”-based system resulted in an overall score of 3981. In the Unigine Heaven benchmark, also running at 4K with max tessellations and 4XAA, the system mustered a score of 569 with an average framerate of 22.6fps (6.5fps minimum, 48.8fps maximum).
While we ran all of the benchmarks, we also monitored power to see how much juice the rig was pulling from the wall. At idle, the system virtually sipped power and consumed only 55 watts. With a heavy CPU workload, power consumption jumped to 153 watts, and then again to 192 watts with a heavy GPU workload. With both the APU and GPU getting whacked, power consumption hovered between 382 and 414 watts.
Overall, we were pretty happy with how this rig turned out. With Windows 10, a relatively fast APU, a powerful GPU like the Fury X, and some speedy memory and storage, this all-AMD system is very snappy indeed.
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