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Sapphire Pure Innovation PI-A9RX480 mobo

Overclocker's dream - or too expensive?

Review Think of mainboards based around AMD's Socket 939 processors. Now think of the chipsets on which they're based. We bet that Nvidia and VIA would be on the top of most people's lists, and with good reason, as both companies have a well-established heritage in designing chipsets for AMD CPUs.

Sapphire Pure Innovation A9RX480ATI has tried hard to break into the chipset world. Its various attempts at Socket 939 system logic have met with muted success thus far. Performance hasn't always been as good as its rivals', and the feature-set has lagged behind the times. What's more, ATI chipsets haven't historically overclocked well, making ATI-based mainboards something of a non-issue for the savvy, informed enthusiast.

Sapphire and ATI hope that's all about to change. Sapphire's launching a Socket 939 mainboard with all the enthusiast-oriented bells and whistles, and performance, it says, is class-leading. The Sapphire Pure Innovation PI-A9RX480 arrives with a lot to prove to the naysayers and doubters. Let's see if it can turn the Socket 939 mainboard hierarchy upside down.

ATI's RX480 North Bridge was initially allied to the firm's IXP400 South Bridge. Here, though, Sapphire has opted to use the newer (and arguably better) IXP450 (SB450) South Bridge that's still connected to its counterpart via a couple of x1 PCI lanes, reducing the usable number to 20. Take away the x16 lanes for graphics card PCI-Express support and you have four x1 lanes, with a two on-board and another couple spare for running high-speed peripherals.

The SB450 also adds the HD audio support. ATI, however, doesn't include support for Serial ATA II in this SB update, and we'll have to wait a while before it does. That's why Sapphire chosen to go with the popular Silicon Image PCI Express-riding SATA II-compatible Sil 3132 controller. The SB450, then, isn't the most feature-rich South Bridge out there, but it's an improvement on the original. Users hoping for some CrossFire action will also need to wait until Sapphire releases a compatible motherboard.

There's a gaping hole just behind the huge heatsink-clad power-delivery system. From the screenprinting, we can safely assume that Sapphire had intended to equip the Pure motherboard with dual VGA/DVI outputs, thereby specifying an IGP-equipped North Bridge. It seems as if Sapphire's had a change of heart but left the PCB unchanged. Note the four-pin power connector is located close to the power system.

Sapphire Pure Innovation A9RX480

The RX480 is, then, a GPU-less. It's hidden underneath another passively-cooled heatsink. Indeed, there are no fans present on this enthusiast motherboard, which comes as something of a surprise. The heatsink is close to the CPU retention bracket but installing a larger-than-normal AMD heatsink was no problem at all.

Three huge capacitors sit to the right of the floppy port and main 24-pin power connector. We appreciate the way in which Sapphire has located connectors on the very edge of the board, allowing for a clean physical installation and setup. Four DRAM slots - DDR of course - give you the usual dual-channel memory architecture that's one of the hallmarks of Socket 939 CPUs. One the face of it, it's strange why Sapphire hasn't colour-coded them to signify which slots are required for dual-channel mode, but we reckon it's a case of colour style over a little practicality.

There's another heatsink covering the SB450. Two ATA-133 ports are also sensibly positioned at the edge of the board, and ITE 8712F monitoring chip does a reasonable job of voltage reporting.

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