Sapphire Pure Innovation PI-A9RX480 mobo
Overclocker's dream - or too expensive?
Sapphire's added in the ubiquitous Silicon Image PCIe-riding two-port SATA controller, boosting the board's total to six ports and adding SATA II support on the discrete duo. Reviewers and tinkerers will be pleased to see board-mounted power and reset buttons, but we can't see why Sapphire has neglected to label the motherboard-to-case pins. Most manufacturers now use colour-coded pins for easy-as-pie connection. There's space for a second BIOS chip just above, too.
VIA's erstwhile FireWire controller is positioned between the board's two physical PCIe x1 slots. Another is taken by the implementation of a Marvell 88E8052 Gigabit Ethernet controller. Just to the right is the single x16 slot, and we'd urge Sapphire to include a card-locking mechanism here, as it's all to easy for heavy cards to become displaced when a case is moved around.
Taking a look at the top-left of the board, we reckon that Sapphire will be launching a super-deluxe version of the Pure board soon. There's PCB markings for a discrete four-port SATA setup (Sil3134, most likely), a debug LED, much in the vein of ABIT, and, perhaps, another ASIC. What is present, though, is Realtek's ALC 880 eight-channel codec that's run off the South Bridge's HD Audio controller.
Just in front of an ICS clock generator is the remnants of the I/O section. Four USB 2.0 ports, a single FireWire 400, RJ-45, and six ports for the on-board sound round off this section.
Sapphire has obviously paid attention to style with the Pure Innovation board. The packaging, too, makes it look and feel like an expensive, premium board, which it is, retailing at around the £135 mark.
The accompanying bundle, though, doesn't seems a deluxe as it should be. Sapphire provides the basics, with a well-written manual, IDE/floppy cables, a coaxial S/PDIF PCI board with both inputs and outputs. There's also a single FireWire interface, making use of the VT6307 ASIC's second port. The driver CD contained the usual chipset-related drivers and a bonus CD carried a glut of security-related programs.
Given the board's appearance and price, we'd have liked a comprehensive bundle that matched offerings from the likes of ASUS, Gigabyte and ABIT. Still, it has all you need to get started, we suppose.
ATI-based motherboards have often fallen down with respect to enthusiast BIOSes. Sapphire's looks innocuous on first glance. There's voltage adjustment for just about every conceivable facet here, including bumping up PCIe ASICs. We wonder why you'd want more voltage pumping through Silicon Image's controller. HTT clock and PCIe clock adjustment is impressive, yet DDR and CPU voltages limits are downright extraordinary. Four-Volt DDR matches the highest we've seen on an unmodified motherboard; just make sure you have adequate cooling. 2.15V Vcore for Socket 939 CPUs is also extremely generous. We'd have liked Sapphire to note, in the BIOS itself, that the higher voltages can, and most probably will, cause component damage without excellent cooling. This is probably the widest range of voltages and MHz adjustment we've seen thus far, and the sample board applied reasonably strong voltages to most lines, suggesting that a true 4V was possible.
That's not to say that the rest of the BIOS is lacking. Sapphire uses a general BIOS that has options pertaining to onboard graphics. You can tweak DDR timings to your heart's content. Given the array of options open to the enthusiast, we feel that a BIOS-saving feature is an absolute must. Unfortunately, it's not implemented on the sample's B1-4M BIOS. We hope to see it in production models. Maximum memory clock is limited to DDR 400 at 200MHz HTT, but Revision E models, thanks to an improved on-chip memory controller, can be set to DDR500.
The use of a passive North Bridge heatsink pushes RX480's temperature to an alarmingly high state. What's worrying is that the temperature reported is for a default-clocked motherboard, that is, with a 200MHz HTT clock and 1.22V. We applaud Sapphire's excellent voltage adjustment but wonder if overclocking wouldn't be helped further by the use of a heatsink-mounted fan.
An excellent BIOS in most respects, one designed with the enthusiast in mind.