Sapphire Pure Platinum Z77K Review
Reviewed by: ccokeman
Reviewed on: May 20, 2012
Sapphire has long been known as AMD's largest partner. Having the production capacity to build both reference boards and its own custom PCBs have given Sapphire a unique edge to keep moving further into the high end motherboard market. After bringing on a new staff of engineers to improve the motherboard part of the portfolio, Sapphire has made great progress with bringing a solid selection of boards to market for both AMD and Intel systems. Progress has been steady and has shown improvement over the past year with 990FX, X79, Z68 and now a Z77-based board for use with Intel's Third Generation Core series Ivy Bridge processors. What we have today is the Sapphire Pure Platinum Z77K motherboard. It offers up support for up to 32GB of DDR3 memory, UEFI BIOS, CrossfireX support with up to four graphics cards, Intel's latest technologies including Rapid Start, Smart Response and Switchable graphics and the inclusion of a Killer e2200 NIC; all for a competitive $149 price point. Lets see what this latest offering from Sapphire brings to the table in terms of overclocking and value.
As a prerelease board the packing was not finalized, but the Pure Platinum Z77K comes in a black box much like the rest of the Pure Platinum boards I have looked at from Sapphire. Inside the accessory bundle is in the top compartment of the box with the Pure Platinum Z77K taking up residence in the bottom section of the package.
As it sits the bundle with this Pure Platinum edition board is fairly slim with SATA drive cables, the I/O panel cover, USB 3.0 drive bay adapter, rear mounting brackets to facilitate adding the ports to the rear panel, documentation and driver disk. This bundle may be an early bundle but at the worst it still offers the ability to use the functionality of the Pure Platinum Z77K to effect.
While slim by comparisons to what is offered in the video cards, the bundle will allow the end user to use the feature set of the board without any other added features.
Built for use with Intel's Second and Third Generation Core series processors including the Core i7 3770K, the Sapphire Pure Platinum Z77K is a full ATX form factor motherboard. It is equipped with Intel's Z77 chipset and LGA 1155 socket and four DIMM slots capable of holding up to 32GB of DDR3 memory. The layout is fairly standard for the package with heatpipe interconnected heat sinks around the LGA 1155 socket and PCIe 16x slots laid out to accommodate a Quad Crossfire video solution. The back side of the black (brown) PCB sows the heat sinks are held on with screws. Looking closer at the PCIe slots you can see that electrically all but the top slot are 8x or less.
External I/O connectivity includes from left to right a pair of USB 2.0 ports and a multifunction PS/2 port, Optical SPDI/F port, an HDMI 1.4 and a single DisplayPort 1.1 port, VGA and SL-DVI connections for use with Lucidlogix software to integrate the Intel HD Graphics and a discrete card into the complete video solution, two RJ-45 Gigabit LAN ports (one of which is Killer e2200 controlled), a pair of USB 2.0 and USB 3.0 ports and the Realtek ALC892 8 channel HD Audio ports. Expansion slots include four 16x PCIe slots that operate at 16x8/8x4x. Three of these are PCIe 3.0 while the bottom is PCIe2.0 compliant running at 4x. In between the 16x slots are a pair of PCIe 1x slots.
Along the bottom of the PCB are additional features that start with a 4-pin Molex power connection to deliver additional current to the PCIe slots when multiple graphics cards are used. Next up is a COM header, chassis fan header, Clear CMOS button, Large Reset and Power buttons, the BIOS selection switch, system fan header, 3x USB 2.0 headers and the USB 3.0 header. The Dual BIOS switch is useful for recovering from a corrupt BIOS or bad BIOS flash.
Starting up the righthand side of the PCB is the debug LED that displays codes useful for diagnosing a boot failure, the front panel connection, six Z77 controlled SATA ports with the black ports being SATA 3Gbps while the red are the 6Gbps ports with RAID 0, 1,5,10 supported. Further up the PCB are a fan header, the 24pin ATX power connection, CMOS battery and another fan header. Memory support is limited to 32GB max at officially supported speeds of DDR3 800/1066/1333/1600+. The 1600+ being whatever you can get from your modules of course.
The top of the PCB has a set of voltage check point that allow the user to verify voltages that are applied in the BIOS. CPU Vcore, integrated graphics, memory, memory controller, chipset, PLL and system agent voltages are ones that can be checked and verified. Further down is the CPU fan header, solid capacitors, one of the two heat sinks for the VRM circuit and the 8-pin EATX auxiliary CPU power supply connection.
The Z77 chipset is built for use with socket 1155 Second and Third generation Intel processors. The socket areas is slightly congested with solid capacitors but still leaves enough room to install large heat sinks for cooling. Black Diamond chokes are used as part of the what looks like a 12 phase VRM system. A LOTES socket retention mechanism in black chrome is used to hold the CPU in the socket. The heat sink package used on the Pure Platinum Z77K consists of a pair of heat pipe connected sinks over the CPU VRM circuit and a low profile finned heat sink over the Z77 PCH. The fins are oriented so that incoming air from the front chassis fan runs through the heat sink rather than over it.
The Pure Platinum Z77K has the tools to enable some spirited overclocking and is well laid out to accommodate multiple graphics cards. Enthusiast friendly accessories like the Dual BIOS switch mean some thought was put into making this board ready for the enthusiast segment of the market.
Sapphire has moved into the now with its QBIOS or in other words a full UEFI graphical interface BIOS by American Megatrends. Sapphire uses a pair of 32MB BIOS Flash roms with its "Dual BIOS" feature to allow the end user the ability to flash without worry of the repercussions of a failed flash like a bricked board. Who remembers the BIOS of the week flash failures back in the A64 heydays? The BIOS is laid out well and is easy to navigate showing that Sapphire has done a good job of putting this implementation together. It is not as granular as something you would find on some competing products, but it is equipped to get the most from your hardware at least settings wise. Let's take a look through it to see just what we have.
The "Main" section has the BIOS revision, date it was produced, system date and time as well as user access level can be viewed or set in this section.
Under the "Performance" tab there are three sections: CPU, Memory and Voltage configuration. As you might guess this is where you set the performance parameters that the system will use to operate. The CPU Configuration section is where the CPU bclock, bclock multiplier, PLL overvoltage state and Turbo Boost technology can be modified and adjusted. Under the Memory tab the memory base clock, ratio and timings can be tweaked. The Voltage section is to adjust the voltages to the motherboard components. Auto works fine for the masses but the voltage options available cover the basics and anything the mid range overclocker would need. Load line calibration works as intended with the 25% level being the closest to delivering as set voltages for the CPU under load with my CPU.
The "Advanced" Section is used to set the configuration of the rest of the motherboard features. Here you set the parameters the USB devices run under, monitor voltages and temperatures, set the mode the SATA devices use to operate as well as how and with what inputs the system will resume from a power down state.
Under the "Chipset" tab is where you will find the setup options for enabling the integrated GPU and setting the amount of shared memory it will use while in operation.
The "Boot," "Security" and "Exit" each have their uses. The "Boot" section is where you set the drive boot order and in which order the disks are polled. The "Security" tab is where an administrator and user passwords for use in the BIOS can be setup. The "Exit" tab is where setup and optimized defaults can be selected as well as exiting the BIOS. Under this tab you will find the EFI GUI BIOS Flashing utility, a simple to use feature.
UEFI BIOS implementations are the way to go and just about every manufacturer has delivered a BIOS that is carefully thought out. Sapphire has thought this one out as it is clearly labeled and easy to navigate. Unfortunately the mouse cursor does not follow as accurately as I would like it to. This could be the mouse I am using as I saw the same issue on the 990FX board from Sapphire with that issue being fixed with a small tweak to the BIOS.
Support LGA1155 3rd/2nd generation Intel® Core™ processor : Intel Core i7 /i5 / i3 series processors
Intel® Z77 Express Chipset
AMI BIOS, 32Mb Flash ROM, Dual - BIOS
4 slots 240-pin DDR3 800/1066/1333/1600+ non-ECC ,un-buffered memory 32GB Max
Intel® HD Graphics
2 x PCI Express x1 slots
1 x PCI Express 2.0 x4 slots
PCI Express 3.0 x16/x8 slots
PCI Express 3.0 x8/x4 slots
PCI Express 3.0 x4 slots
Supports HDDs with RAID 0, 1,5,10 functions
4 x SATA 2.0 3Gb/s connectors with AHCI support
2 x SATA 3.0 6Gb/s connectors with AHCI support
Realtek ALC892 HD Audio CODEC with 8-Channel
Realtek RTL8111F PCI Express Gigabit LAN
Killer E2200 PCI-Express Gigabit LAN
Rear Panel I / O
6 x USB 2.0 port
2 x USB 3.0 port
1 x HDMI port
1 x DisplayPort 1.1a
1 x SPDIF Optical Out
1 x Single Link DVI
PS/2 KB/MS combo port
1 x VGA (DB-15)
Dual RJ- 45 Gigabit LAN with ESD
Internal I / O
4 x USB 2.0 headers
4 pins CPU 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
2 x USB 3.0 headers
Audio I/O (Front) header
CMOS clear Button
Dual BIOS select switch with indicator LED
ATX, Size 12" x 9.6"
Windows 7 (32/64) bit, Linux
All information courtesy of Sapphire at http://www.sapphiretech.com/presentation/product/?cid=2&gid=1040&sgid=1167&pid=1482&psn=000101#
Testing the latest Z77 board from Sapphire will involve running the Pure Platinum Z77K through OCC's test suite of benchmarks, which include both synthetic benchmarks and real-world applications, to see how each of these products perform. The gaming tests will also consist of both synthetic benchmarks and actual gameplay, in which we can see if similarly prepared setups offer any performance advantages. The system will receive a fully updated, fresh install of Windows 7 Professional 64-bit edition, in addition to the latest drivers for each board and the latest AMD Catalyst drivers for the XFX HD 7970. To ensure as few variables as possible, all hardware will be tested at their stock speeds, timings, voltages, and latencies – unless otherwise stated. Turbo Boost is disabled to make a fair comparison without skewing results.
Testing Setup: Intel Core i7 Socket 1155
- Processors: Core i7 3770K
- CPU Cooling: Corsair Hydro Series H100
- Motherboard: Sapphire Pure Platinum Z77K,
- Memory: Mushkin 993997 Redline PC317000 9-11-10-28 8GB
- Video Card: XFX HD 7970 Black Edition
- Power Supply: Corsair AX1200
- Hard Drive: 1 x Seagate 1TB SATA
- Optical Drive: Lite-On Blu-Ray
- Case: Corsair Obsidian 650D
- OS: Windows 7 Professional 64-bit
Overclocking with a Z77 chipset board and the latest Intel socket 1155 Core i7 3770K Ivy Bridge processor is accomplished by the same means we have used since the introduction of the Sandy Bridge CPU Architecture. With the drop to 22nm the voltage applied is going to be slightly less than on the 32nm Sandy Bridge architecture. The Sapphire Pure Platinum Z77K was surprisingly eager to overclock. The UEFI BIOS is easier to navigate and is clearly marked although the granularity of the adjustments for the majority of the overclocking sections is less than anticipated. What is there though works flawlessly. The test chip I have is limited to 4.7GHz and not a MHz more so maximizing the performance through bclock and multiplier adjustments was the way to go. The comparison boards would not allow a bclock higher than 102MHz; a bit disappointing to say the least but they did allow overclocking close to the maximum clock speed of my CPU.
The Sapphire board pushed right past that 102MHz threshold up to 103.5 with booting into the OS and using Sapphire's TriXX utility to increase the bclock the rest of the way. 1.325v with a 25% Loadline Calibration was set for the CPU in the BIOS with the PLL voltage set to 1.675v using TriXX. Memory voltage was constant at 1.66v. The final result was short of the 4.7GHz on the Intel board due to the methods used to overclock. Finding the bclock limit for each board will allow for a more flexible clock speed. In the end just like the other two boards a close to 1.2GHz clock speed increase can be achieved through some fine tuning of the BIOS. Using TriXX while in the OS can easily provide a way to quickly test settings without going through the boot process.
Each CPU and motherboard has been tested for stability at the clock speeds listed when in an overclocked state. These clock speeds will be used to run the test suite and will show the performance increase over the stock settings in the overclocked scoring.
Scientific & Data:
- Geekbench 2.1
- Office 2007 Excel Number Crunch
- POV-Ray 3.7
- Bibble 5
- Sandra 2011
- AIDA64 1.85
- HandBrake .9.5
- ScienceMark 2.02
- Cinebench 10 & 11.5
- HD Tune 4.60
- Aliens vs. Predator
- Civilization V
- Battlefield 3
The first part of our testing will involve 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: 512 MB
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. Here, we will test the time needed to compress files of 100 MB and 500 MB. Time will be measured in seconds.
Lower is Better
Lower is Better
Geekbench 2.1 is a benchmark that tests CPU and memory performance in an easy-to-use tool. The measure used for comparison is the total suite average score.
Higher is Better
This test consists of converting one hundred 8.2 MP RAW images to jpeg format. The file size is 837 MB. The measure used for comparison is time needed to convert the file in seconds.
Lower is Better
It's a given that the variation in performance is not going to be significant across these tests with the same hardware used in all three boards. The Sapphire performs as expected in this group of tests with performance on par with the other test boards.
Office 2007 Excel Big Number Crunch: This test takes a 6.2 MB 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 the amount of time 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 Multi-Processing), enabling the workload to be spread across several cores for quicker completion.
Higher Is Better
ProShow Gold: This program is used to take a collection of images and stitch them together in a slide show, using a variety of transitions and effects, to make a compelling show you can share with friends and family. The workload consists of 29 high-resolution images that are stitched into a 3 minute video file.
Lower Is Better
HandBrake 9.5: is an open source application used to transcode multiple video formats to an h.264 output format. The test file size is 128 MB in size and 43 seconds in length.
Lower Is Better
Again with identical hardware installed the benchmarks show that the boards are all very close in terms of actual performance. There are small variations in the performance generated by each board but nothing really significant enough to notice.
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
AIDA64 Extreme Edition is a software utility designed to be used for hardware diagnosis and benchmarking. I will be using the CPU Queen test that looks for the solution for the "Queens" problem on a 10x10 chessboard. This tests the branch-prediction capabilities of the processor. The FPU Mandel test measures double precision floating point performance through computation of several frames of the "Mandelbrot" fractal.
Higher is Better
In the Sandra testing the Sapphire Pure Platinum delivers higher bandwidth numbers than the comparison boards. The rest of the benchmarks are similar enough to not be a point of difference.
ScienceMark tests real-world performance instead of using synthetic benchmarks. For this test, we run the benchmark suite and will use the overall score for comparison.
Higher is Better!
Cinebench 10 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
PCMark 7 is the latest iteration of Futuremark's popular PCMark system performance tool. This version is designed for use on Windows 7 PCs and features a combination of 25 different workloads to accurately measure the performance of all PCs from laptops to desktops.
Higher is Better
As you might have guessed there is not a lot to differentiate the performance of each of these boards in the majority of the system testing. Each of the boards performs in a specific envelope both at stock and overclocked speeds.
Aliens vs. Predator, developed by Rebellion Developments, is a science fiction first-person shooter and a remake of its 1999 game. The game is based on the two popular sci-fi franchises. In this game, you have the option of playing through the single player campaigns as one of three species: the Alien, the Predator, or the Human Colonial Marine. The game uses Rebellion's Asura game engine, which supports Dynamic Lighting, Shader Model 3.0, Soft Particle systems, and Physics. For testing, I will be using the Aliens vs. Predator benchmark tool with the settings listed below. All DirectX 11 features are enabled.
- 4x AA
- 16x AF
- SSAO = On
- Texture Quality = Very High
- Hardware Tesselation = On
- Advanced Shadow Sampling = On
Higher = Better
In this game the Sapphire Pure Platinum Z77K shows a small performance boost over the Intel and ECS comparison boards.
Civilization V is a turn-based strategy game. The premise is to play as one of 18 civilizations and lead the civilization from the "dawn of man" up to the space age. This latest iteration of the Civilization series uses a new game engine and undergoes massive changes to the way the AI is employed throughout the game. Released for Windows in September of 2010, Civilization V is developed by Firaxis Games and published by 2K games. Testing will be done using actual gameplay, with FPS measured by Fraps through a series of five turns, 150 turns into the game.
- 8x MSAA
- Global Settings = High
- DirectX 11
The difference between first and worst is a mere 2 FPS between the three boards in this comparsion.
Battlefield 3 is a first-person shooter video game developed by EA Digital Illusions CE and published by Electronic Arts. Battlefield 3 uses the Frostbyte 2 game engine and is the direct successor to Battlefield 2. Released in North America on October 25, 2011, the game supports DirectX 10 and 11.
- 4x AA in CP
- 16x AF in CP
- Game settings = High
Overclocking does not add FPS performance in this game that was highly touted as one that used the maximum CPU resources. It seems the video card is the main impediment to increasing performance across the gaming suite so far.
3DMark11 is the next installment for Futuremark in the 3DMark series, with Vantage as its predecessor. 3DMark11 was designed solely for DirectX 11, so Windows Vista or 7 are required alongside a DirectX 11 graphics card in order to run this test. The Basic Edition gives unlimited free tests on performance mode, whereas Vantage only allows for a single test run. The Advanced Edition costs $19.95 and unlocks nearly all features of the benchmark, while the Professional Edition runs for $995.00 and is mainly suited for corporate use. The new benchmark contains six tests, four of which are aimed only at graphical testing – one that tests physics handling and one that combines graphics and physics testing together. The open source Bullet Physics Library is used for physics simulations and although not as mainstream as Havok or PhysX, it still remains a popular choice.
The new benchmark comes with two new demos that can be watched; both of which are based on the tests, but unlike the tests, contain basic audio. The first demo is titled "Deep Sea" and involves a number of vessels exploring what looks to be a sunken U-Boat. The second demo is titled "High Temple" and displays a location similar to South American tribal ruins, with statues and the occasional vehicle. The demos are simple in that they have no story, but really demonstrate testing conditions. The vehicles have the logos of the sponsors, MSI and Antec, on the sides, helping to make the Basic Edition free. The four graphics tests are slight variants of the demos. I will use the three benchmark test preset levels to find the performance of each card. The presets are used because they are comparable to what can be run with the free version, so results can be compared across more than just a custom set of test parameters.
- Default test settings
- Entry test: 1024 x 600
- Performance test: 1280 x 720
- Extreme test: 1920 x 1080
While not being the fastest all around the Sapphire Pure Platinum Z77K is nevertheless the fastest in two out of three.
It's easy to get jaded and knock a product for miniscule problems that ,while minor, is enough to taint the entire look at the product. With that being said I was pleasantly surprised with what Sapphire has to offer in the Pure Platinum Z77K. The move to a UEFI BIOS is a welcome addition to the feature set. While not nearly as granular as some board's offerings, it is deep enough to get a good solid overclock out of with enough options to get there. The mouse cursor is a bit imprecise but this problem is not exclusive to Sapphire and the QBIOS implementation. This could have been my mouse as an earlier board I looked at took a tweak to the BIOS from the company to fix. Each section is laid out well and is clearly marked. Add in the TriXX overclocking utility that proved to be quite functional by allowing bclock, voltage and multiplier adjustments from within the OS.
Sapphire has added a Killer Networks e2200 network adapter that works with a software utility to manage the network configuration to make sure that you are able to pull off that next head shot. Features can make or break a motherboard. The Killer NIC, Quadfire support, four DIMM slots that support up to 32GB of DDR3 memory, support for Intel Third generation Core series processors, Smart Response and Rapid Start technology, Voltage measure points, Dual BIOS and switchable graphics with Lucidlogix Virtu software makes the Pure Platinum Z77K a premium player. Pricing comes in at a respectable $149.99 for these capabilities.
When it came to overclocking and performance the Sapphire Pure Platinum delivered a higher bclock than the other comparison boards with the overall clock speed maximum coming in just under the maximum stable clock speed for my Core i7 3770K. It did this without any real challenges. Adjust the voltage to what the hardware needs, bump the clock speeds and go. It's that simple and the Sapphire BIOS does not have a lot of options to lead you astray. Performance wise all of the Z77 boards are going to deliver performance within a specific envelope when the same hardware is used and with this board this holds true.
Sapphire is known more for its line of AMD based video cards than for high end motherboards but have steadily been moving into the limelight with a series of motherboards that are feature rich and offer a good deal of functionality all for a reasonable price point. The Sapphire Pure Platinum Z77K delivers on all counts.
- UEFI BIOS
- Feature set
- Dual BIOS
- Switchable Graphics
- Mouse action in the BIOS