Sapphire Pure Black X58 Review
Reviewed by: ccokeman
Reviewed on: January 27, 2011
No, you read the title right! Sapphire has jumped into the Intel based motherboard market with its Pure Black PB-CI7S41X58 motherboard. As AMD's largest partner, the motherboard offerings out of Sapphire's doors in the past had been strictly AMD based. Now, we have not one but two Intel boards that have been released with this X58 board and a P67-based board coming for Intel's Sandybridge lineup. While the Socket 1366 X58 platform is starting to age, the platform is still the Intel top-of-the-food-chain. Sapphire has been building their own video cards and motherboards for some time now and you can see some of the component selection being employed here on this "Pure Black" offering. One thing that stood out were the Sapphire branded Diamond Black chokes seen on the Sapphire VaporX line of video cards. You get all the X58 based goodies with updates that include a Bluetooth module, SATA 6Gb/s and USB 3.0 connectivity. If this board can can deliver performance and overclocking like the Sapphire high-end video cards then this board should prove itself to be a serious contender. Let's see how it measures up against some of the higher-end boards out right now.
The packaging on the board befits the name with the box being black with accents describing the features employed on the board. In the middle is a shield showing the "Black" branding and traces running away from the shield with the "Pure" designation up top. The feature list includes support for up to 24GB of system memory, USB 3.0, SATA 6Gb/s and an eight channel audio solution. The back of the box expands on the feature set and lumps the features into the three bands of "Pure Speed", "Pure Features" and "Pure Reliability".
The internal packaging follows the "Black" theme and is entirely black inside and out. The bundle is on top with the motherboard underneath. Pretty much your standard packing solution for motherboards.
The bundle of accessories is pretty slim with this board but includes an I/O shield, IDE cable (yes, IDE is supported), a manual, driver disk and six SATA 6Gb/s cables that have locking ends. The manual is a bit light on information, but what it does have is given in a multitude of languages.
Now let's take a look at this offering from Sapphire and see if this board performs up to the level of the comparison field or if it does indeed blow them away.
The Sapphire Pure "Black" is a motherboard built for socket 1366 Intel Core i7 processors and uses the Intel X58 and ICH10R chipsets. The board follows the naming with a black PCB and Sapphire blue accents. There is a large cooling solution to eliminate the thermal load from the X58 chipset and mosfets around the CPU socket. The socket is arranged slighly different from most X58 boards I have tested but this should not prove to be an issue. The back side of the board has an additional bracket to secure the mosfet cooler into place with screws instead of spring loaded push pins.
The I/O connectivity has enough connection options that it fits right in with some high end solutions from MSI and ASUS. You get (from left to right) a dual function PS/2 port that can be used for a keyboard or mouse, two of the eight USB 2.0 ports, Coaxial and Optical S/PDIF outlets, a Bluetooth module, a single eSATA port, a single IEE1394a port, a Gigabit LAN port, two (blue) NEC controlled USB 3.0 ports and the eight channel sound analog jacks. The expansion slots for this board include a total of four 16x PCIe slots. The top three blue slots are PCIe 2.0 compliant while the single gray slot is PCIe 1.0 compliant. Stacked in between the 16x slots is a single legacy PCI slot. If you plan on using a multiple GPU solution with this board the slots will run at 16X x 8X x 8X electrically when populated with two or more cards. As an AMD partner the one thing missing from the Pure Black is SLI support. CrossfireX is supported but not SLI, something that has been standard on just about every enthusiast X58 board sent to market over the past 2 years. But in the end, Sapphire is an AMD partner on the video side of their business and may not have wanted to incur the wrath of the 'Powers that Be' at AMD.
Along the bottom end of the board you have not only the front panel connectivity but a wealth of tools that show up on high-end boards. From left to right you have a debug LED that can help you troubleshoot problems during POST, a speaker, a CMOS clear switch, an on board power and reset switch, a bios selection switch, IEE1394a header, USB header, one of the five SATA 3Gb/s ports and the front panel switch and LED header. The power and reset buttons give you that added functionality if you are running your rig on a tech bench instead of in a chassis. The BIOS selection switch looks to add some redundancy in case you corrupt the BIOS with a bad flash.
Swinging around to the right side of the PCB you have the rest of the drive connectivity. There are two Marvell controlled SATA 6Gb/s ports in red and the balance of the five SATA 3Gb/s ports in black. The 90 degree connectors eliminate any interference with longer video cards. Next to the SATA connectivity is a single IDE port. My guess is that Sapphire wanted to give some backwards compatibility here but the option has been removed from most of the competing market. Further up you have the 24 pin ATX main power connection and an additional fan header. Memory support is labeled as up to 24GB so all six DIMM sockets can be populated with 4GB modules. The only problem would be if you use modules with tall heat shields as they may interfere with the CPU heat sink fans.
Across the top there is not a whole lot to look at but there is a feature found on higher end boards and that is the voltage measuring points that sit right above the dimm sockets. You can measure the voltage applied to the CPU, memory, CPU vtt, SB, NB and CPU PLL. The only down side is that you have to maintain contact much like you have to on the Rampage III Formula. This is something that has only been really addressed by MSI with the use of actual sockets to hold the multimeter probes so you are free to monitor the results without holding them to the measuring points. Between the VRM heatsink and the I/O connectivity is the eight pin auxiliary power connector. While it looks like a tight fit, the connector went in easily and there was room left to reach the release lever on the connector.
The area around the socket is crowded with capacitors and Sapphire Diamond Black chokes. Fortunately there is still room to mount a large heat sink even with the size of the X58 chipset cooler. The mounting assembly for my Noctua NH-U12P SE1366 had no interference issues when installed. The CPU hold down is made by LOTES and is finished in black chrome. This look goes well with the "Black" theme of the board. Along the bottom of the DIMM slots you can get a look at the Sapphire branded Black Diamond chokes.
The cooling solution used on the Pure Black X58 is a series of aluminum heat sinks with the two around the CPU socket interconnected by a large heat pipe. The heat sink used over the X58 chipset is absolutely huge. This alone should help with some excellent overclocking. The heat sink used on the VRM circuit is equally large and should easily keep the thermals for the power circuit in check. The heat sink used on the ICH10R chipset is of a low profile design to let it fit under the types of graphics cards most likely to be used on this board. On top of it is the design artwork for the Pure Black X58. By using such a large cooling solution the intent of the Pure Black X58 is clear. Overclock me... I dare you!
The board is well laid out and should not provide any clearance issues when using single or dual video cards. Installing a third video card effectively eliminates using the PCI and bottom PCIe slot. Now that we know that Sapphire can put together a good looking board I have to see just how well it performs and overclocks.
The BIOS used on the Sapphire Pure Black X58 is by American Megatrends and is not so complex that you will get lost easily. Everything is laid out in an easy to locate ladder style arrangement. Most motherboard manufacturers provide a software tool for use in the operating system to tweak a predefined set of items including voltages and the bclock setting. Sapphire is no different with their TRIXX utility. Some of these utilities are quite elaborate and others less robust but it gives the novice overclocker a starting point. In the end, applying the settings you choose is best done in the BIOS. The version used in the testing of the Pure Black X58 is 080016
The main section is the first screen you get to see when you boot into the BIOS by hitting the delete key. If contains basic information about the CPU and memory along with the time and date.
Under this tab you will be making all the changes that will improve the performance of your system. The bclock, voltages and memory timings all fall under this tab. Additionally you have the ability to save specific BIOS settings to a profile that can be loaded. Other than the profile options there are three submenus that contain the CPU specific settings. Under CPU configuration you can enable or disable the energy saving technologies such as C1E and Intel Speedstep as well as turning on or off Intel Hyper-threading and Turbo Boost technology. Under Memory Timing configuration you can set the latencies of the installed system memory or allow the XMP profile to take the guesswork out of the settings. The third submenu is Voltage Configuration. Under this tab you can manipulate the voltages applied to the on board and installed components including the CPU , memory and chipsets in order to feed the components the voltages needed to perform at the speeds you want to run. An interesting adjustment being seen more frequently now is the PWM frequency adjustment.
Under this tab you are able to configure and enable or disable the onboard hardware. The IEE1394a controller, sound controller, SATA 3 controller, Marvell LAN controller and debug LED functionality are all items that can controlled. The Hardware Health configuration functions are viewable under this tab. USB and power down modes can be set as well.
IDE Busmaster functions and allocating IRQ settings manually are options under this tab.
Under this tab you have the ability to identify which drives will be the primary boot drives and the order in which they are polled during the boot sequence. Other features such as boot up Num lock and Quick boot and what errors will stop the post sequence are set in this menu.
Security & Exit:
Under the Security tab you have the ability to set a password to protect the BIOS from any unwanted intrusion such as when the board is used in an office setting. You don't want an adventurous soul compromising the stability of the platform. The Exit tab allows you to exit the BIOS in several different ways as well as giving you the ability to load up the optimal BIOS settings after a failed post attempt.
Most of the adjustments for voltages are not as granular as you see on high end motherboard offerings but the settings available are enough to get you where you want to go. Will the Pure Black X58 be an 'also ran' or deliver an increased level of performance than the comparison field? That is the question to be answered.
Supports Intel LGA1366: Intel Core i7 Series processors
Intel® X58 Express Chipset + ICH10R Chipset
6 slots 240-pin DDR3 800/1066/1333/1600+ non-ECC ,un-buffered memory 24 GB Max.
3 x PCI Express 2.0 x16 slots
1 x 32-bit PCI slots
1 x PCI Express x16 slots
2 x Serial ATA III 6Gb/s connectors
5 x Serial ATA II 3Gb/s connectors
Supports HDDs with RAID 0, 1,5,10 functions
1 x Ultra DMA 133 IDE connector
Realtek ALC892 HD Audio CODEC with 8-Channel
Marvell 88E8057 PCI-Express Gigabit LAN
Rear Panel I / O
8 x USB 2.0 port
2 x USB 3.0 port
1 x 1394a port
1 x SPDIF Coaxial OUT
1 x Audio I / O ports
1 x SPDIF Optical Out
0 x Supporting Bluetooth® 2.1 + EDR by Atheros AR3011
1 x e-SATA port
PS/2 KB/MS combo port
Internal I / O
1 x USB 2.0 headers
CPU 4 pin PWM Fan connectors
3 Pin Chassis Fan connectors
24-pin ATX Power connector
8-pin ATX 12V Power connector
Control (Front) panel headers
SPDIF In/out header
1 x 1394a headers
Voltage measure PAD
Power on Button with Power LED
Reset Button with HDD access LED
Clear CMOS button
Diagnostic LED with CPU temperature monitor
Dual BIOS with select Jumpers or switch
100% Japanese Solid Capacitor
ATX, Size 12" x 9.6"
Windows Vista (32/64) bit
Windows 7 (32/64) bit
All information courtesy of Sapphire Technology @ http://www.sapphiretech.com/presentation/product/?leg=&psn=000102&pid=1045
Testing the Sapphire Pure Black X58 motherboard will consist of running it at a 3.0GHz baseline clock speed to get an idea how it performs in as-delivered trim and then it will be overclocked to see if putting the screws to my well worn DO stepping 920 will result in a higher clock speed than some of its contemporaries. To keep the results consistent and have a measure of repeatability, Intel's power savings and performance enhancing technologies will be disabled in the BIOS. The video card control panel settings will be left at the factory default settings with the exception of disabling PhysX for the 3DMark Vantage testing. I will be using a fresh install of Win 7 Pro 64 bit that is fully updated and with all games using the latest patches.
- Processor: Intel Core I7 920 150x20 3.0GHz
- Cooling: Noctua NH-U12P SE 1366
- Motherboard: Sapphire Pure Black X58
- Memory: Mushkin 996805 Redline PC312800 6-8-6-24 1500MHz
- Video Card: Sapphire HD 5870
- Power Supply: Mushkin 1000 watt Joule Modular power supply
- Hard Drive: 1 x Seagate 1TB SATA
- Optical Drive: LG DVD-RW
- OS: Windows 7 Professional 64-bit
- Case: Cooler Master HAF 932
- CPU Overclock: 210 x 20 = 4200Mhz
Overclocking the Sapphire Pure Black X58 initially was met with a lot of failed boot attempts until I figured that the voltages needed were a bit different from the values I've needed in the past. Not so much different but one in particular that I had never really needed to adjust before was the IOH/ICH I/O voltage. This voltage helped bring stability to my overclock at 210 x 20. The board could boot up to a bclock of 218Mhz and make it into windows at 214Mhz but good long-term stability was only reached at a bclock of 210. This of course done using air cooling. I used a combination of CPU vcore, CPU vtt, IOH/ICH I/O voltage and DRAM voltage to increase the speed of the processor ultimately giving me a 4.2GHz stable OC. The one thing that seems to be missing is a way out of a failed overclock without using the clear CMOS switch on the board. With ASUS you have just a shut down and restart, MSI has three failed post attempts and the Intel board uses the Back to BIOS switch. Putting a clear CMOS switch on the I/O panel would be a good start at least. Sapphire includes their own TRIXX overclocking utility on the driver disk that allows you to overclock from inside the windows environment. The utility is indeed functional and includes both a section to manipulate the voltages and clock speeds of the CPU with a monitoring section to check the temperatures, fan speeds and voltages real time. If you close out of the main window you still have a small configurable widget in the top right corner of the screen to monitor the fan speeds and the CPU and VRM temperatures.
Maximum Clock Speeds:
Each CPU has been tested for its maximum stable clock speeds using Prime95. To gauge the maximum stability level, each processor had to be able to perform at least a one hour torture test without any errors.
- Scientific & Data:
- Office 2007
- POV Ray 3.7
- PCMark Vantage Professional
- Sandra XII
- ScienceMark 2.02
- Cinebench 10
- Cinebench 11.5
- HD Tune 3.50
- Far Cry 2
- Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2
- Batman Arkham Asylum
- 3DMark 06 Professional
- 3DMark Vantage
The first part of our testing will be the system specific benchmarks.
Let's get started with Apophysis. This program is used primarily to render and generate fractal flame images. We will run this benchmark with the following settings:
- Resolution: 2750 x 2048
- Quality: 500
- Limit Memory use: 512MB
The measurement used is time to render (in minutes) to complete.
Lower is Better
WinRAR is a tool to archive and compress large files to a manageable size. We will use 100MB and 500MB files to test the time needed to compress these files. Time will be measured in seconds. Additionally, I will use the built-in benchmark as a comparison.
Lower is Better
Lower is Better
The Apophysis and WinRar numbers show that when a motherboard is equipped with the same parts your results will be similar. Although, the Sapphire Pure Black X58 was at least 40 seconds faster than the closest board's time. In GeekBench it delivers scores that exceed those of some pretty strong boards at stock speeds and still is near the top with a slightly lower overclock.
Office 2007 Excel Big Number Crunch: This test takes a 6.2MB Microsoft Excel spreadsheet and performs about 28,000 sets of calculations that represent many of the most commonly used calculations in Excel. The measure of this test is how long it takes to refresh the sheet.
Lower Is Better
POV Ray 3.7: This program features a built in benchmark that renders an image using Ray Tracing. The latest versions offer support for SMP (Symmetric MultiProcessing) enabling the workload to be spread across the cores for a quicker completion.
Higher Is Better
PCMark Vantage x64 is used to measure complete system performance. We will be running a series of tests to gauge performance of each individual CPU to see which CPU, if any, rises above the others.
In the Big Number Crunch test, you get similar performance across the comparison boards at the baseline clock speeds. In POV Ray, the Pure Black X58 delivers about the median average for the comparison and overclocked, it scores better than two of the comparison boards.
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 the performance of key functions of the CPUs.
Cache and Memory
Power Management Efficiency
Other than a couple results that really cannot make sense in the Cache and Memory test and the power test, the results are comparable between the boards both stock and overclocked.
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.
Higher is Better!
CineBench is useful for testing your system, CPU, and OpenGL capabilities using the software program CINEMA 4D. We will be using the default tests for this benchmark.
Higher is Better
Higher is Better
HD Tune measures disk performance to make comparisons between drives or disk controllers.
Higher is Better
Lower is Better
When taken as a whole, the performance of the Pure Black X58 from Sapphire is well within the envelope that an X58 board should perform. The offerings in the past have not been spectacular but with the hiring of a very capable motherboard team, Sapphire has put together what so far is a very nice board.
Far Cry 2:
Featuring a new game engine named Dunia, this game looks to be another one to stress your video card. Built especially for Far Cry 2, this engine allows for real time effects and damage. This next generation First Person Shooter comes to us from Ubisoft surprisingly - not from Crytek. The game is set in a war-torn region of Africa where there is a non-existent central government and the chaos that surrounds this type of social environment. If you have seen the movie Blood Diamond, you know the setting. Ubisoft puts the main storyline of the game into focus with these statements: "Caught between two rival factions in war-torn Africa, you are sent to take out "The Jackal," a mysterious character who has rekindled the conflict between the warlords, jeopardizing thousands of lives. In order to fulfill your mission you will have to play the factions against each other, identify and exploit their weaknesses, and neutralize their superior numbers and firepower with surprise, subversion, cunning and, of course, brute force." In this version of the game, you don't have the beautiful water, but instead the beauty and harshness of the African continent to contend with. Most games give you a set area that can be played through, while Ubisoft has given the gamer the equivalent of 50km squared of the vast African continent to explore while in pursuit of your goals. The settings used are just a few steps below the maximum in-game settings and offer a good blend of performance vs. visual quality.
- DirectX 10
- Game settings to high
- Vsync Off
The video card is going to be the limiting factor in the gaming tests and this fact is proven with the similarity of the scoring in Far Cry 2.
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 is the latest iteration of the venerable first-person shooter series, Call of Duty. Despite its long, successful pedigree, the game is not without substantial criticism and controversy, especially on the PC. Aside from the extremely short campaign and lack of innovation, the PC version's reception was also marred by its lack of support for user-run dedicated servers, which means no user-created maps, no mods, and no customized game modes. You're also limited to 18-player matches instead of the 64-player matches that were possible in Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare. Despite all this, the game has been well received and the in-house IW 4.0 engine renders the maps in gorgeous detail, making it a perfect candidate for OCC benchmarking.
- 4x AA
- 4x AF
The scoring is similar here as in the Far Cry 2 testing, with the Sapphire board having a slight advantage.
Batman: Arkham Asylum is a new game that brings together two bitter foes, the Joker and Batman. The Joker has taken over Arkham Asylum, Gotham's home for the criminally insane. Your task is to rein the Joker back in and restore order. This game makes use of PhysX technology to create a rich environment for you to ply your trade.
- Global settings to High
- V-Sync: Off
Increasing the processor speed only had a significant impact at the 1280 x 1024 resolution.
3DMark06 is one of the benchmarks that always comes up when a bragging contest is started. 3DMark06 presents a severe test for many of today's hardware components. Let's see how this setup fares. The settings we will use are listed below.
- SM2.0 Graphics Tests: GT1- Return to Proxycon, GT2- Firefly Forest
- CPU Tests: CPU1- Red Valley, CPU2- Red Valley
- HDR/SM3.0 Graphics Tests: HDR1- Canyon Flight, HDR2- Deep Freeze
The Sapphire board seemed to score lower than expected in this benchmark in all three resolutions.
Featuring all-new game tests, this benchmark is for use with Vista based systems. "There are two all-new CPU tests that have been designed around a new 'Physics and Artificial Intelligence-related computation.' CPU test two offers support for physics related hardware." There are four preset levels that correspond to specific resolutions. 'Entry' is 1024 x 768 progressing to 'Extreme' at 1920 x 1200. Of course, each preset can be modified to arrange any number of user designed testing. For our testing, I will use the four presets at all default settings.
- All default settings in each preset level
- Entry 1024 x 768
- Performance 1280 x 1024
- High 1680 x 1050
- Extreme 1920 x 1200
Whereas the Pure Black underperformed in 3DMark 06 it made up for that in the 3DMark Vantage testing.
I can honestly say I am surprised by what Sapphire has been able to do with an Intel motherboard. This surprise is based on some of the AMD boards in the past that did fine at stock speeds but lacked the overclocking credentials to make a lasting impression. That all changed with the Pure Black X58. Overclocking this board was really no harder than any other X58 board I have worked with. I was easily able to hit 4.3GHz on my Core i7 920 for some quick benchmarks and some screen shots with a bclock of 215MHz and a clock multiplier of 20 to hit the number. My chip usually has a hard limit of right around 212MHz for any kind of stability so in this respect the Pure Black X58 let me go a little higher than I previously had gone. However not all is right in Oz as the voltage adjustments in the BIOS were a bit coarse for my liking and the overclocking recovery required hitting the CMOS clear button in lieu of just a restart. Maybe I am spoiled but those areas will need some help to truly make this board great. Fixing the voltage adjustments should be a simple BIOS update I would think. The one other thing that is different from the rest of the X58 pack is a lack of SLI support. As you know, Sapphire is AMD's biggest AIB partner for graphics cards. I think this would have put them in a sticky position with AMD. While you can't run an NVIDIA multi-GPU setup on this board you can run a three way CrossfireX setup if you need to run a multi-GPU setup or want three monitor surround gaming. Even with what it does not have, it is still loaded up and is a high-end board with all the bells and whistles such as onboard power and reset switches, CMOS clear switch, voltage measuring points, Dual BIOS, USB 3.0, SATA 6Gbps, a Diagnostic LED that displays the CPU temperature, solid Japanese capacitors and Bluetooth connectivity. Its really got it all.
So you say the X58 chipset is getting long in the tooth after a few years? Well yes and no. It's still Intel's premier platform and you have technologies being released that consumers want but can't find on other platforms. So, the release of this board is not late to the market but just right with the offered feature set. It looks as though Sapphire has improved their motherboards and have chosen Intel's top platform to show off their manufacture and design capabilities. Add in the P67 board they have produced and the mini ITX Fusion APU boards getting ready to explode onto the market and Sapphire has set themselves in a solid position in the motherboard business. The Sapphire Pure Black X58 delivers great performance with the latest feature set and would be a great option for consideration with your socket 1366 Intel based build.
- Great overclocking
- Good looks
- Solid performance
- Has the latest technologies
- Dual BIOS
- Voltage measuring points
- No SLI support
- Coarse voltage adjustments