TechEye toys with Sapphire's Pure Black X58 -

Although Sapphire is best known for its huge range of AMD based graphics cards, in the past it also had a range of AMD based motherboards including such legends as the Pure Crossfire, a motherboard with a white PCB and red fittings that was stunning to look at if nothing else.

Now it's back in the motherboard game with boards that not only support AMD but a couple of Intel boards as well. The first Intel motherboard to see the light of day is the Pure Black X58, which as you may have guessed is based around Intel’s high-end X58 chipset.

Intel’s X58 chipset may be a bit long in the tooth now, but it's still Intel's most advanced chipset, and with the launch of the mighty 6-core Core i7-980X processor it has had a whole new lease of life - with many manufacturers bringing it bang up to date by adding on today’s seemingly must haves, e.g. SATA 6Gb/s and USB 3.0 on boards featuring the X58.

 

Layout
Sapphire’s Pure Black X58, built on a black finished ATX PCB, is based around Intel’s LGA1366 socket (supporting the 900 series of Core i7 CPUs) with the RAID (R) version of the ICH10 Southbridge combining with the X58 Northbridge. 

The 900 series of Core i7s support triple channel memory and the Pure Black X58 provides six DDR3 memory slots that can support up to a total of 24GB of memory to back up the processor. Filling up the slots with 24GB might still be out of the range of most people's pockets at around £600 - £700, even with the current low price of memory - but you can get 6GB DDR3-1600 memory kits from, say, Crucial for under a hundred quid.

There are four X16 PCI-E (three coloured blue and one grey) slots but don’t expect these all to run at full x16 speed in multicard setups, unfortunately there’s no SLI support so these will have to be CrossFire only. The top slot runs at full (x16) full speed while the two remaining blue slots run at half speed (x8) while the grey slot always runs at x4 speed. 

The board provides three SATA 6Gb/s ports, two of which are stacked at ninety degrees on the edge which are joined by two stacked pairs of SATA 3Gb/s ports and a rare IDE port for an optical drive, perfect for those who have yet to switch over to SATA based optical drives, or indeed for people still using IDE hard drives.

Connectivity-wise the Pure Black X58 is well equipped. On the rear panel you’ll find: 10 USB 2.0 and 2 USB 3.0 ports, single PS/2 port, e-SATA port, six audio ports plus both digital and coaxial SPDIF outputs, Gigabit Ethernet and the antenna for the boards integrated Bluetooth.

With all that lot going on it’s rather odd to find there is only a single internal USB header on the board, so if you want to build the board into a case that has more than two front USB ports and/or has a flash card reader built in, you’re going to have to make a choice about what matters to you the most - as you can’t have both.

The MOSFETS and both chipset bridges are cooled passively with the Northbridge and the power circuitry heatsinks connected by a heatpipe.

There’s also a dual BIOS switch so if one BIOS is damaged by a virus or by somebody really mucking one up because of over zealous tinkering, (and there are plenty of options in the BIOS to that with), all is not lost. For those who like to play with their motherboards out of a case there are power and reset buttons placed at the bottom edge of the board under the last PCI-E slot along with the dual BIOS switch and a CMOS reset button.

 

Benchmarks
Test system: Intel i7 920 @ 2.6GHz, 6GB DDR3-1600MHz, 150GB WD Raptor HDD, Radeon HD6850 graphics, Windows 7 Ultimate 64-bit

Overall System Performance

 
First up is Futuremark’s PCMark Vantage benchmark which aims to replicate real-world applications in a number of scenarios and gives a system a good work out.

 

Rendering

 

The x264 benchmark measures how fast a system can encode a DVD quality MPEG-2 video clip into a high quality x264 video clip. It’s a fairly accurate report for each pass of the video compression process and makes very efficient use of multi core processors.

Cinebench R11.5 is the latest version of Maxon’s test suite. The CPU tests were used and these use various algorithms to stress a CPU using all available cores while rendering a photorealistic 3D scene.

 

Gaming

 
3DMark Vantage tests the DX10 performance of the graphics sub-system using gaming simulations. As the X58 is a high-end chipset, the toughest Xtreme pre-set setting was used to test the HD6850 and even though in CrossFire mode it doesn’t run in full dual X16 speed, the results are still pretty impressive.


For this test the in-game benchmark was used, at resolutions of 1,680 by 1,050 and 1,920 by 1,200 using the small ranch map. The DX10 setting was used with all in game details set to Ultra with no extra filtering.


DiRT2 was used to test DX11 performance, once again at two resolutions with the in game details set to Ultra.

Verdict
With the Pure Black X58, Sapphire has firmly put itself back in the motherboard market with a very nice board combining high build quality with a good list of features - but the price tag is the sticking point.

Unfortunately, although X58 is a high-end/enthusiasts chipset, there are some manufacturers using it for motherboards in the high end of the mainstream market with price tags (£150 - £170) to match, leaving Sapphire sitting between a rock and a hard place when it comes to pricing. Its price puts it firmly in the enthusiast end of the market but unfortunately when compared to boards in that bracket, the feature list looks a little on the light side.