Sapphire Pure Black 990FX Reviewformerstaff - November 4, 2012
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The Pure Black is a full ATX board measuring in at 304x 244 mm. It is impressive that Sapphire managed to get a full featured, six PCIe slot, nine SATA, 14 USB port motherboard into a standard 12" x 9.6" ATX form factor with no interference issues.The board is covered with very attractive blue anodized heat sinks. The very large VRM and Northbridge are connected by a centered heat pipe. Both Northbridge and Southbridge heat sinks have a sliver aluminum plate emblazoned with the Sapphire name and logo and are very attractive. They look as if they should be up to the task of cooling quite well, and have the superior screw mounting system as opposed to the plastic push pin system. The board is laid out well with no interference issues. Sapphire uses a multilayer dark brown PCB like many manufacturers use for 'black' boards.' If you don't have to many lights in your case, it will appear black; if you have a well lit case, it will look brown. Sapphire also uses all high quality Japanese capacitors and Black Diamond chokes for its 8+2+2 phase CPU and DIMM power delivery.
The I/O panel has all the connectivity you will find on other boards of the same generation plus the addition of a Bluetooth v2.1 port that works at speeds of up to 3Mb/s. Also on the I/O panel are one PS/2 port, eight USB 2.0 ports, one coaxial S/PDIF out connector, one Optical S/PDIF out connection, oneeSATA port, dual RJ45 LAN ports, two USB 3.0 ports, and the standard array of six audio jacks supporting 8-channel High Definition audio using the Realtek ALC892 codec. Expansion opportunities include six PCIe x16 gen 2.0 slots double spaced for triple Crossfire at x16/x8/x8. The lower image is a better look at the Bluetooth transmitter in the I/O array. Overall the Pure Black gives you great USB connectivity with 12 USB 2.0 ports and four USB 3.0 ports (two on-board and two in the rear I/O panel).
From left to right on the bottom we have a 4-pin standard Molex for additional 5v and 12v power when using multiple graphic cards to stabilize high current draw and demand when running multiple high end GPUs. This is not something that your machine won't run without, but helps to stabilize the GPUs when using an intense graphic program. Next we have a red button that is an onboard clear CMOS button. Next to that a pair of onboard power and reset buttons great for use while building your system or chassis-less benchmarking builds. Lastly a BIOS select switch for the dual BIOS feature. With this you can flip over in the case of a bad BIOS flash, or try out a new or beta BIOS.
On the right bottom of the board we have the system speaker that blurts out all of those Morse-like codes we all love so much, a pair of USB 2.0 connections, and a system fan 3-pin header. Next is the Diagnostic LED that provides a two digit post code to help troubleshoot boot failures. After the system successfully boots it displays the current CPU temperature. Next and last are the color-coded standard front panel connectors for power, reset, and HDD LED.
On the right side of the board we have the drive connectivity that consists of eight SATA 3.0 ports. Another ninth SATA port is mounted vertically behind the I/O panel in between the VRM heat sink. This is a great location for a rear accessed eSATA port. S1-S3 are controlled by the AMD SB950 chip and work at speeds up to 6Gb/s. These ports support RAID 0, 1, 10, and 5. The S4-S5 are controlled by the Marvell 9172 chip and also work at 6Gb/s speeds and support RAID 0 and 1. Moving up the board we have a 20-pin USB 3.0 connector next to the 24-pin ATX power connection. Up on the top of the right side we have the four dual channel 240-pin DIMMS that support up to 32GB of 1.5v DDR3 1066/1333/1600 and 1866MHz RAM (higher frequency supported with OC).
At the top of the board we have the 8-pin CPU power connection and the ninth SATA 6Gb/s connection tucked away among the beefy heat sinks I mentioned earlier. There are also two fan headers, a 3-pin and a 4-pin PWN header and the black AM3+ socket with the standard slide lever pin retention plate. In the bottom left corner of the second image you can see the voltage test pads for getting ultra accurate voltage readings for the critical components of the board. In typical AMD layout, the DIMMs are located very close to the socket area for latency purposes, so take notice when using very large heat sinks where the fin array starts low on the heat pipes. This is typically not a problem with the lower voltage and lower profile RAM available today.
The bright blue heat sinks are a star feature of the Pure Black motherboard. The cooling is a three part, blue anodized aluminum solution. The VRM heat sink sits firmly held down by screws atop the MOSFETs and is connected to the Northbridge heat sink with a nickel plated heat pipe. The Southbridge heat sink is also anodized and is standalone from the VRM and Northbridge. Both the Northbridge and the Southbridge have Sapphire emblems on bright aluminum plates. Although looking the part size-wise and being screwed down firmly, the VRM heat sink seems to run very warm for some reason sitting above 60 °C at idle in 22 °C ambient temperatures. The thermal pad being used was like cement when I removed it and temperatures dropped by 17 °C - 20 °C when I applied a quality thermal compound.
So we have a motherboard with high quality components and features that should be in the running amongst the higher end AMD overclocking motherboards.