Sapphire is going for the jugular with its PURE Innovation PI-A9RX480 motherboard, which is such a new model that we got our hands on one of only three samples in the UK. While the exact details of the package are still being finalised at the time of writing, the hardware that we tested is the finished item.
This Socket 939 motherboard supports Athlon 64, Athlon 64 FX and dual core X2 processors with the ATi Express 200 chipset and SB450 Southbridge. It offers a comprehensive list of features that should be of keen interest to the overclocker, but first we have to address the cosmetic issue of colour.
The PCB is an off-white that looks like the luminous face of a wristwatch, while the sockets and connectors are red, as are the various indicator LEDs. It looks quite smart but from a technical standpoint the colour does have a bearing as you’ll find it tricky to set the board up without the manual in one hand.
Take the memory slots, which support up to 4GB of dual channel PC3200 in four slots. Well yes, but which slots are connected to which channel, or to put it bluntly, where do you put your memory modules? Most motherboards colour code the two channels in different colours and for good reason.
Similarly the PURE Innovation has two sets of SATA ports with four SATA ports that are native to the Southbridge and two SATA II ports on a Sil3132A chip. It’s not difficult to work out which is which, but when we’re connecting up drives and sorting out RAID drivers we appreciate all the help that we can get, so in this case one colour for one lot of connectors and another colour for the other pair would have been nice.
Down in one corner we have the front panel connectors which are unlabelled, so you’ll have to use the manual to connect the Sapphire to your case correctly, but next to the headers are one of the real joys for a reviewer; micro buttons. These are tiny power and reset buttons that really help when you are testing a motherboard either during a review or while you are sorting out your hardware before you build it into the case.
There’s a PCI Express x16 graphics slot, two x1 expansion slots and a pair of PCI slots. The rest of the layout is straightforward, with loads of room around the two IDE connectors and the power connectors, while the I/O panel is amazingly bare. There are two PS/2 connectors for the mouse and keyboard, four USB 2.0, Gigabit LAN, one Firewire and six mini-jacks for the Azalia High Definition audio.
No legacy Serial or Parallel ports you’ll note, yet for some reason Sapphire has included coaxial S/PDIF digital audio input and output ports on a bracket and a second Firewire port on another bracket. You’d have thought that it could have located these ports in the huge space that has been vacated by the legacy ports without too much trouble. On the board there are headers for up to four more USB which is great if your case has front-mounted USB ports.
The BIOS holds a number of points of interest as you can adjust almost every setting, including the CPU clock multiplier and voltage, while the clock speed can be raised from 200MHz to 440MHz in 1MHz steps. You can also adjust every imaginable memory timing setting as well as the speed of the PCI Express bus (100MHz to 200MHz in 1MHz steps) and the Hyper Transport bus.
On the downside, the driver CD is fairly crude. While it lists the drivers that you need to install, you are not offered a one-click install and neither does it grey the drivers out as they are installed. The software package includes some applications from StompSoft but the one that looks most interesting, Recover X-Lost Data, is only a trial version. We were surprised that there isn’t an overclocking or monitoring utility in the package and neither do you get a Windows BIOS updater, but as we said at the beginning of this review, this might not be the final software line-up.
Sapphire also includes its Select game package, which has previously offered Tony Hawk’s Underground 2, Brother In Arms: Road to Hill 30, Richard Burns Rally and Prince of Persia: Warrior Within. You trial all four and then select one to be unlocked as a full version. We are told that the new version includes eight games on the DVD so we have great hopes for this new package.
During our testing we were impressed by the performance of this board and it was noticeable that the PURE Innovation is very quiet, as the Northbridge, Southbridge and power regulation components are all covered by passive heatsinks that remain cool to the touch during even the most intensive use.
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