Sapphire PI-AM2RS780G Review

ajmatson - 2008-04-09 08:30:06 in Motherboards
Category: Motherboards
Reviewed by: ajmatson   
Reviewed on: July 8, 2008
Price: $79.99

Introduction:

As we have seen lately, AMD has been releasing "Platforms" geared towards different types of users in the market. We have already seen the "Spider Platform" - a system comprised of one of AMD's quad-core Phenom processors, a 38xx series video card, and the 790FX chipset motherboard - which is aimed at the enthusiast and gaming market. So, what is Team Green planning for the mainstream market, you ask? Well, the CPU giant has been hard at work developing the "Cartwheel Platform", which is meant for more casual computer users - those who game a little bit, but primarily use their PC's for e-mail, Web surfing, and Office-type applications. The 780G motherboard-based Cartwheel can take advantage of a wide range of AMD's desktop CPU's - from single to quad-core - and is rounded out by the motherboard's integrated graphics processor (IGP), offering consumers a highly customizable system that can provide a very nice price to performance ratio.

Today, we'll have a look at the Sapphire PI-AM2RS780G mainboard, which is one of the latest motherboards based on the 780G chipset. AMD's 780G chipset is comprised of the 780G Northbridge and the newer SB700 Southbridge, and supports Socket AM2 and AM2+ processors - from a budget single-core Sempron all the way to a high performance quad-core Phenom. One of the more interesting features of the 780G chipset is that the IGP can be supplemented by adding a discrete 2400 or 3400 series graphics card, allowing the system to run in Hybrid CrossFire mode, which greatly boosts video performance. This is a great option for those who'd like a little extra kick but don't want to break the bank to get it.

 

Closer Look:

Sapphire has packaged the PI-AM2RS780G in a green and black colored box, which is a change from previous Sapphire mainboard packaging, and might be a signal that this RoHS-compliant board was designed with eco-friendliness in mind. The front of the box notes some of the mainboard's key specifications and features, while the rear provides a more in-depth explanation of those features.

 

 

 

 

Opening the box gives us a good glimpse of its contents; included with the Sapphire PI-AM2RS780G mainboard are one IDE cable, one SATA cable, the backplate, the manual, and a driver CD.

 

 

Now that we have everything out of the packaging, let's take a closer look at the hardware.

 

 

Closer Look:

Like Gigabyte did with their 780G motherboard, Sapphire chose to go with a microATX design for the PI-AM2RS780G. This design provides the most flexibility for mainstream users who want to adapt the hardware to their needs, and not the other way around. The mATX form factor allows users to mount the mainboard in a variety of enclosures - from HTPC cases to full size towers - and everything in between. The mATX's main drawback is that its smaller size limits the number of expansion slots that can be placed on the board. Sapphire chose to go with a red colored printed circuit board (PCB); this is a common attribute found on the majority of their products. The motherboard's underside sports a standard backplate, which is used to uniformly distribute the CPU cooler's weight across the PCB.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Moving on to the back panel, we see that Sapphire has built in a full complement of connectors, including PS/2 mouse and keyboard jacks, video outputs, and four USB 2.0 ports. I'm a little disappointed that Sapphire doesn't include externally accessible eSATA or FireWire ports, which are present on the other two 780G motherboards OCC has reviewed - especially since they are supported by the chipset. Another big-ticket item absent from this motherboard is an HDMI port, which could have easily been added had Sapphire included a DVI to HDMI adapter.

 

 

As I mentioned before, the PI-AM2RS780G supports Socket AM2 and AM2+ processors, which are fed clean power by solid-state capacitors and a 5+5 power regulation design for better performance and tweaking. This board also uses an 8-pin power plug near the CPU for improved stability, and features HyperTransport 3.0 technology compatible with AM2+ processors.

 

 

Moving on down to the expansion slots, we see that the PI-AM2RS780G sports one PCI-E x16 slot for the addition of a discrete graphics card, and two PCI slots for sound, network or other PCI-based cards. There are no PCI-E x1 slots, which might make future expansion difficult, as more x1 hardware is released.

 

The Sapphire 780G board provides the headers needed to expand your system to suit your needs - including connectors for front-panel audio, CD in, and USB 2.0 expansion, to name a few. Swinging around to the right side of the board, we see that there are six SATA II ports supporting RAID arrays, a two digit debug LED, one IDE port, one floppy port and the 24-pin main ATX power plug. There are four RAM slots that support up to 8GB of 800MHz DDR2 memory.

 

 

 

The Sapphire mainboard uses aluminum heatsinks to passively cool the Northbridge, Southbridge and voltage regulators.

 

Configuration:

Sapphire includes a CD filled with drivers and programs to help make your installation as smooth as possible - with options to install ATI, sound, and LAN drivers, create a RAID install disk, or enable Trend Micro's PC-Cillin security software. Let's take a look at each option more closely.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

ATI Drivers:

This software installs the chipset and video drivers to get you up and running; just click the Install button and choose where the drivers will go. After the drivers are in place, it is recommended that you restart the computer.

 

 

 

Sound Drivers:

This option allows you to install the Realtek 8 Channel High Definition audio codecs and drivers - click Next and the installer will work its magic. After you get the sound drivers set up, another restart is recommended.

 

 

LAN Drivers:

This option installs the Marvell Miniport drivers for the Realtek 8111C LAN chip. After the LAN software is in place, you're ready to hit the Internet - no restart is necessary.

 

 

RAID Disk:

This software will help create a floppy disk with the drivers necessary to build a RAID array, and because RAID is supported by the ATI SB700 Southbridge chip, no other hardware is needed. Just insert the disk, click on the RAID Disk button and hit Install. Once that's done, you will be able to use the disk to install the RAID drivers during the Windows installation to create the RAID array.

 

PC-Cillin:

PC-Cillin is a well known security suite from Trend Micro. This option will install a trial version of PC-Cillin Internet Security 2007 Suite on your computer; again, this is only a trial version - but it does provide temporary malware protection right out of the box.

Closer Look:

Being the person that I am, I like to push my hardware as far as it can go - and the BIOS gives you the ability to change and tweak the settings to get the most out of your system. We are going to take a look at the BIOS of the Sapphire PI-AM2RS780G mainboard to see what makes it tick.

 

Main Section & Standard Section:

The BIOS' main page is like a menu, listing the different sections of the BIOS where the tweaking magic happens. This allows you to have the options grouped together, so you do not have to spend a lot of time searching for them. The BIOS is also where you can load system defaults and save the settings for reboot. The Standard CMOS Features page allows you to control the date and time, and the drive configurations.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Advanced BIOS Features:

The Advanced BIOS section lets the user alter the disk boot order, boot options, and explore the CPU Features page - which includes options for enabling virtualization and the TLB fix for older Phenom Processors.

 

 

Advanced Chipset Features:

The Advanced Chipset Features section allows users to control DRAM settings, the HT Link, HD audio, and PCI-Express and Integrated Graphics options.

 

 

 

 

Integrated Peripherals:

The Integrated Peripherals page lets you configure on-board peripherals, including the Super I/O functions, PCI Devices, Onboard LAN and USB, and Hard Drives and SATA connections. The SATA Device page allows users to switch between IDE, RAID, or ACHI modes for hot-swap plug and play.

 

 

 

Closer Look:

 

Power Management, Miscellaneous Control, & PC Health:

These BIOS pages provide control over how the system manages power usage and resources. Systems temperature, fan speed, and voltage measurements are provided, so that you can make the correct adjustments needed to maintain the PC's health. In the Miscellaneous Control section, you can assign IRQ's and select the Onboard Graphics mode for running IGP, enable Hybrid Graphics, or disable the IGP to use only a discrete video card.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thermal Throttling:

Thermal Throttling allows users to command the motherboard to throttle down the CPU if the computer gets too hot. This tool allows you to specify the temperature at which this feature activates, and how much to slow the CPU.

 

 

Power User Overclock Settings:

This is the section that gets me drooling all over the place, as it's where you can adjust the CPU speeds, HT Link speeds, CPU Ratios, Multipliers and Voltages to maximize the performance of your components. The VCore can be adjusted using the 7 Phase Shift, offering a 5% to 35% voltage boost. The RAM can be set to run at speeds ranging from DDR2-400 to DDR2-1066, and the voltage can be increased by .05v increments.

 

 

 

 

BIOS Start-up Boot Screen:

There is one thing about the BIOS of the Sapphire 780G mainboard which I, as an enthusiast, absolutely love - during POST, if you glance down to the bottom of the screen, Sapphire has made temperatures, fan speeds, and voltages available for you to see, so you know how each one is set, and can monitor them more closely. This is something I think every manufacturer should include in their BIOS setups.

 

 

 

Specifications:

 

CPU
Socket AM2+ HTT 2000 MHz AMD® Athlon™64 With HyperTransport Technology, Compatible with 64-bit Dual Core AMD® Athlon™64 X2 Processor and AMD Phenom
Chipset
North Bridge: AMD 780G and South Bridge: AMD SB700
Memory
4 x 240-pin DIMM Sockets for unbuffered Dual DDR2 800Mhz SDRAM (up to 8 GB)
Audio
Realtek ALC883 8 Channel HD Audio
Ethernet LAN
Realtek 8111C chip (10/100/1000 Mbit)
Expansion Slots
2 x 32-bit PCI Slots / 1 x PCI Express 2.0 x16 Slot
Storage
2 x Ultra DMA 133 / 100 / 66 IDE Device Support
Embedded AMD SB700 Southbridge Chipset Supports 6 x Serial ATA2 HDDs with RAID 0, 1 , 10 Functions
USB
Embedded 10 x High Speed USB @ 480 Mbit/s
Special Features
Advanced 4+1 Power Design that supports the latest K8/K10 CPU and HT3.0
BIOS Debug LED Display
Hybrid CrossFire. Ability to combine the features or raw horsepower of both your on board graphics and those of any Hybrid CrossFire compatible PCI-E add in board.
ATI Radeon™ HD 3200 Internal Graphic core fully supports DX10
HDMI (Audio and Video) function supported by adaptor connected to DVI port
Support for ACPI S3 (Standby) function
“IMAGE IT!” System Backup Software and “ProMagicPLUS!” System Recovery Tool
Rear Panel I/O
4 x High Speed USB Connectors @ 480 Mbit/s
1 x PS/2 Mouse & 1 x PS/2 Keyboard Connector
1 x VGA D-Sub 15-pin Connector & 1 x DVI-D Connector
1 X RJ-45 LAN Connector
1 x 8 Channel Audio I/O
Internal I/O
3 x High Speed USB Connectors @ 480 Mbit/s for 6 USB 2.0 Ports
CPU / Chassis Fan Connectors
1 x 12V 8-pin ATX Power Connector and 1 x 24-pin ATX Power Connector
1 x Serial Port 9-pin Header Block
1 x Parallel Port 25-Pin Header Block
CD / AUX Audio in Connectors
1 x Floppy Connector
BIOS
Award 8 MB SPI Flash ROM
Form Factor
mATX Form Factor 245 X 220 mm

 

 

 Features:

Testing:

To push Sapphire's PI-AM2RS780G mainboard, I wanted to throw everything at it that I could. The 780G market has been flooded by manufacturers, and we want to find the best board for the money. With that in mind, I want to be as thorough as possible, so I am going to run the tests first on the AMD Phenom 9600 "Black Box" processor using the IGP and Hybrid Graphics, and then again with the 8800GT to see the performance difference using each graphics type. I am then going to compare the Sapphire PI-AM2RS780G against two other 780G-based motherboards, all using the AMD Phenom 9600 "Black Box" CPU, to measure its performance compared to the competition. All hardware will be run at stock speeds, voltages, and timings to prevent any variables that might influence the results.

 

Testing Setup:

 

Comparison Motherboards:


As I mentioned before, this motherboard supports Hybrid CrossFire when paired with a compatible discrete graphics solution, like an ATI HD3400 series card. Here is a shot of the ATI Control Panel, Windows Device Manager, and GPU-Z showing the two video devices enabled in Hybrid CrossFire.

 

Overclocking:

Overclocked settings:

With the other 780G boards I was able to increase the multiplier of the Phenom 9600 "Black Box" Edition to 13.5x for a total of 2.70GHz, but no matter what I did, I could not get Sapphire's 780G to boot over 2.5GHz (200x12.5). I tried increasing the voltage to dangerous levels, and dropped the HT multiplier to no avail. Since I know the Phenom 9600 will do 200x12.5 on the other boards, I know that Sapphire's motherboard is the limiting factor. Therefore, all of the overclocked speeds will be capped at 2.5GHz, and those scores will be recorded.

 

 


 

Benchmarks:

  1. Apophysis
  2. WinRAR
  3. SPECviewperf 10
  4. PCMark Vantage Professional
  5. Sandra XII
  6. ScienceMark 2.02 Final
  7. Cinebench 10
  8. HD Tune 2.54
  1. Crysis
  2. Knights of the Sea
  3. BioShock
  4. Call of Duty 4
  5. World in Conflict
  6. Call of Juarez
  7. 3DMark 06 Professional

Testing:

First up are the system specific benchmarks that will test overall scientific performance. All scientific tests were run using the ASUS 8800 GT.

 

To get things started, I've chosen to run Apophysis. This program is used primarily to render and generate fractal flame images. We will run this benchmark with the following settings:

 

The measurement will determine how long - in minutes - each system takes to completely render the image.

 

 

 

WinRAR is an application used to archive and compress large files to a more manageable size. We will use 10MB, 100MB, and 500MB files, and will record the time needed to compress these files. Time will be measured in seconds.

ZIP:

 

 

RAR:

 

 

 The Sapphire 780G placed in the middle of the pack in the WinRAR tests, and finished dead last in the Apophysis test.

Testing:

SPECviewperf 10 is a benchmark designed to measure a PC's OpenGL performance. I will be using the multi-threaded benchmarks to measure performance, and the tests used for comparison are listed below. The default multi-threaded tests were chosen to ensure a fair comparison across platforms. In these tests, higher scores equate to better performance.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Sapphire mainboard put up a good fight, winning half and losing half.

 

Testling:

Sisoft Sandra is a diagnostic utility and synthetic benchmarking program. Sandra allows you to view your hardware at a higher level to be more helpful. For this benchmark, I will be running a broad spectrum of tests to gauge key areas of performance.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Processor Arithmetic

 

 

 

Multi-Core Efficiency

 

 

 

Memory Bandwidth

 

 

 

Memory Latency

 

 

Cache and Memory

 

 

 

File System

 

 

Physical Disks

 

 

 

Power Management Efficiency

 

Sapphire's 780G came out on top in the majority of the Sandra tests.

Testing:

ScienceMark tests real world performance, instead of using synthetic benchmarks. For this test we ran the benchmark suite and will use the overall score for comparison.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cinebench is useful for testing your system's CPU and OpenGL capabilities using the software program CINEMA 4D. We will be using the default tests for this benchmark.

 

 

HD Tune measures disk performance to make comparisons between drives or disk controllers.

 

 

 

Here, the Sapphire board again scored well in the majority of the tests.

Testing:

Crysis is a new addition to the gaming benchmark suite used at OverclockersClub.com. This game is one of the most anticipated and system intensive games on the market right now. The Crysis single player demo includes a GPU benchmark to test the performance of the video card installed in the system.

Discrete Card Settings:

Integrated Graphics Settings:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Hybrid CrossFire and IGP results were just about even - but when paired with the 8800 GT, the Sapphire PI-AM2RS780G came out on top in half of the benchmark runs.

PT Boats: Knights of the Sea is a new DX10 title that features its own proprietary graphics engine currently in development, and features a combination of Real Time Strategy and Simulation. You have the ability to control the ship's entire crew, or just a single member. Play as the German, Russian or Allied Navy, and prove your mettle on the open seas.

 

Discrete Cards Settings:

Integrated Graphics Settings:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Again the race was close, but the Sapphire PI-AM2RS780G took the win in the Discreet Card test at the highest resolution.

Testing:

BioShock is one of the newest and most demanding games on the market, and it will make your hardware beg for mercy. This First Person Shooter allows for an infinite number of weapons and modifications to provide a unique experience each time it is played.

 

Discrete Card Settings:

Integrated Graphics Settings:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For BioShock, the scores were almost even across the board.

Testing:

Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare is the latest addition to the Call of Duty series. This iteration of the game puts players right in the middle of many modern-day hot spots, with today's best firepower and equipment. You can play as either a U.S. Marine or British SAS trooper. Since this game does not feature an in-game test, I will run through a section of the game and measure average frames per second using Fraps 2.9.3.

 

Discrete Card Settings:

Integrated Graphics Settings:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In both sets of tests, the Sapphire board turned in an average performance.

Testing:

World in Conflict is a newly released DX10 Real Time Strategy game that simulates the all-out war scenario that the world hopes will never come. The difference in this RTS game is that it is not the typical "generate wealth and build" type of game - instead, you advance by conquering your foe.

 

Discrete Card Settings:

Integrated Graphics Settings:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In this test, the Sapphire 780G was faster than the Gigabyte board, but fell behind its ECS counterpart.

Testing:

Call of Juarez is a DX10 First Person Shooter set in an 1800's Wild West era that is inspired, in part, by the "Spaghetti Western" movies of the 1970's and 80's, and features single player and multiplayer modes. The game focuses on realistic graphics and gameplay designed to take advantage of the latest video cards on the market.

 

Discrete Card Settings:

Integrated Graphics Settings:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Sapphire board exhibited solid performance at higher resolutions with a discrete card.

Testing:

Company of Heroes: Opposing Fronts is the latest chapter in the Company of Heroes series. The scene is WWII, and the mission is "Operation Market Garden" - the first Allied attempt to break into the Third Reich. You can play as the British or the Germans. This Real Time Strategy game is brought to us by Relic Entertainment.

 

Discrete Card Settings:

Integrated Graphics Settings:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Sapphire board was on par with, or slightly behind its competitors throughout this test.

Testing:

3DMark06 is one of the first benchmarks that comes up when a bragging contest breaks out, and is a serious performance test for much of the latest hardware. Let's see how this setup fares; the settings we will use are listed below.

 

Settings:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Sapphire 780G performed slightly better than its competitors at some of the resolutions, but slightly worse at the rest.

Conclusion:

Of the 780G motherboards we have tested at OCC, the Sapphire PI-AMRS780G's performance falls somewhere in the middle - posting strong scores in some benchmarks, and relatively weak scores in others. When paired with a discrete video card, the Sapphire motherboard's IGP in Hybrid CrossFire mode definitely boosts graphics performance, which makes it an ideal candidate for an HTPC or a family computer that will sometimes be used for casual gaming at low resolutions. For hard-core gamers, even pairing this motherboard with a powerful discrete video card will not help you break any 3DMark records. The debug LED is a nice touch - especially for people who constantly change hardware - because you will not have to guess what the problem is if you have any troubles. Another great feature of the Sapphire mainboard is the POST screen; being an enthusiast, I love being able to check system temps, voltages, and fan speeds on startup.

Since this board is geared towards the mainstream user for video, pictures and other media, an HDMI port or adapter should have been included; also, there are no PCI-E x1 slots, which will limit expansion possibilities. Other than a few limitations, if you are in the market for a motherboard with good features at a reasonable price, you should take a look at the Sapphire PI-AM2RS780G mainboard.

 

Pros:

 Cons: