Sapphire's aim in producing the PI-A9RX480 was to create a performance-oriented motherboard that offered the enthusiast everything they wanted: speed, stability and overclocking in large portions.
ATI's Xpress 200P chipset seemed like a strange choice, as previous partners' motherboards fell short in almost every department when compared to the established duo. However, with the mix of RX480 North Bridge and SB450 South Bridge, Sapphire has added its own mix of design flair and an enthusiast-friendly BIOS to create a motherboard which is strong in most areas. PI-A9RX480's subjectively stunning looks are complemented by a decent layout and reasonable feature-set, and general performance is good, whilst overclocking performance is just stellar.
The Sapphire Pure Innovation A9RX480 sounds like the Socket 939 motherboard to own, then? Well, as good as it is in certain areas, it's simply not competitive on others. What's problematic is not Sapphire's implementation but rather the underlying core logic. USB 2.0 performance is still significantly slower than the competition's. SATA II support needs to be added via a discrete ASIC, something which is already built into Nvidia's nForce 4 variants, and adding discrete ASICs to make up for a lightweight South Bridge just pushes up the price.
Speaking of which, what also detracts from the package is the asking price of around £135. That's a lot of money for a motherboard that doesn't feature CrossFire. One can buy another motherboard, based on a different chipset, with a similar feature-set and similar performance, albeit perhaps with not quite as much voltage adjustment, for substantially less than the asking price for the PI-A9RX480.
We applaud Sapphire for releasing an ATI-based Socket 939 motherboard that performs well. We'd recommend it if the asking price was around £100. However, at £135, and with due note of just what's available for less money right now, the Sapphire Pure Innovation A9RX480 is just too expensive to be a real contender. Mind you, if individuality and monstrous voltage adjustments are just what you're after, save up the pennies and invest in one. Our ultimate advice would be to wait for a CrossFire Edition, however. So not the absolute best Socket 939 motherboard we've come across, but it has to suggest that Sapphire's foray into high-end motherboards won't be an isolated one.