Sapphire first became a known brand due to its ATI graphics cards, and they were known for virtually no connections to the other camp. However, from time to time, this company happens to present a new motherboard every now and then. We say “happens to” because they are mainly focused on graphics cards in their production portfolio, while their motherboards are more of a one-off experiment (similarly to XFX back in the day). In the era of the P67 chipset and Sandy Bridge CPUs, as well as Intel’s hints at releasing the Extreme Z68 platform soon, Sapphire has opted to present a motherboard based on the X58 controller logic. Truth be told, Intel’s X58 is still the fastest available solution, especially since it’s able to house very fast hexa-core Intel CPUs, but this still feels like a risky move on Sapphire’s part. Either way, we found Sapphire’s Pure Black X58 in the mail and got down to work almost immediately.
The motherboard has an exquisite design, however subjective this category may be; for a piece of hardware, it’s just beautiful. The dominating tones are black and blue. However, the truly standout feature of this motherboard’s appearance is the massive northbridge cooler, connected to the Pure Black X58’s power section cooler by an 8 mm heatpipe. Having in mind the dimensions of the cooler, it was clear that heat wouldn’t be a problem with this motherboard; not only did it not heat up significantly later on, but it remained warm even during heavy-duty overclock. Pay attention, though - the dimensions of the cooling body on the northbridge are 49 x 70 x 39 mm, which could pose a problem if a larger CPU cooler needs to be mounted.. The dimensions of the FET cooling body are 38 x 97 x 20 mm. Another commendable feature is Pure Black X58’s backplate, while cooling bodies are attached to the chipset/FETs with thermal pads. We believe that thermal paste is a better solution, but as there was no sign of overheating, we have no right to condemn Sapphire for this.
The layout is generally very good. The motherboard has three PCI-E 2.0 x16 slots, a single first-gen PCI-E x16 slot, and a now already ancient PCI slot. PCI-E 2.0 x16 slots work in 16x/8x/8x mode, while the fourth PCI-E x16 works in x4 mode. Although you’ll understand what an overclocking/gaming jewel this motherboard is by the end of this article, we have to admit that NVIDIA users may be disappointed, since the motherboard doesn’t support the SLI setup. Rumour has it that NVIDIA explicitly denied the SLI licence to Sapphire due to their tight cooperation with AMD. However, enthusiasts have been using SLI on X48 motherboards for quite a while now, despite the fact that, unlike X58, that chipset has never explicitly supported SLI at all. Therefore, all we can say is, Google it all a bit, you may be pleasantly surprised. The northbridge and DIMM slots have 3-phase voltage filtering, while the CPU has 8 phases all to itself. Also present are two BIOS chips, as well as a microswitch for switching the active BIOS. The ever-useful BIOS reset button is also there, and so are power and reset buttons. All mentioned switches are located at the very bottom of the motherboard, which could be a problem if the lowest PCI-E slot is occupied by a longer graphics card, as they’re hardly accessible that way. Placing them near the 24-pin ATX connector would’ve been a far better solution, but what can you do…
Enclosures with a front USB 3.0 port are amassing on the market; however, Pure Black X58 only has two of these on the bracket in the back, with no option of connecting the controller to the front panel of the enclosure. We’ve already met Realtek’s ALC892 (7.1) HD audio codec, and it remains an entirely adequate audio chip to date; the same could be said about Marvell’s gigabit LAN adapter, namely 88E8057. We’ll also commend the inclusion of a Bluetooth 2.1 module, which is very useful with all the Androids, iPhones and whatnot going around all the time.
Sapphire Pure Black X58’s BIOS is signed by AMI and excellently equipped. Naturally, we were interested in overclocking options the most. All others are there by default and therefore not particularly worth mentioning. The voltage steps are small, which is always a good thing - for example, CPU voltage steps are as tiny as 0.00625 V. The response time of the BIOS as a whole is excellent, and overclockers will love the fluidity of this part of their “work”. CPU BCLK worked stably at 221 MHz with no voltage increases, as verified by the very demanding LinX testing program. Setting BCLK to 222 MHz resulted in a system crash. Sapphire also has a very interesting piece of software that can be used to overclock your CPU and RAM from Windows itself, called Sapphire TRIXX. Now, we’ve been familiar with TRIXX since long ago, but only as a graphics card overclocking tool; this version brings CPU and RAM overclocking to the table, including vital voltage changes.
Pure Black X58 definitely has the fastest boot time of all X58 motherboards we’ve had the chance to test. Sapphire has obviously worked on this meticulously, which is of much more importance than one might presume, now that every motherboard has a zillion subsystems that need to be separately initialised. This will also be of critical importance to hardcore overclockers, who don’t always have much time on their hands during LN2 sessions, with each second being crucial before the condensing of the entire setup. Sapphire Pure Black X58 was tested with various RAM sticks, and it’s managed to reach or surpass the previously established maximum values of all modules. The only bug that we’ve noticed seems to be some sort of incompatibility in the tri-channel mode - it was necessary to boot the motherboard in dual-channel mode first, and then shut down the system in order to add the third set of modules, all without the interruption of mains power. We weren’t too keen to find out the exact cause of such behaviour, as we know that this is a BIOS issue that is bound to be rectified soon by Sapphire.
The 8-phase CPU power unit didn’t look too convincing at first, but we’ve been fooled by numbers yet again, as it turns out. The motherboard has three stages of “Load-line” CPU voltage calibration. Sapphire calls these three stages Disable (0%), 50% and 100%. As for us, we could only conclude that the power section does its task marvellously. Feel free to have a look at the table for info on the LLC results depending on its stage and the CPU overclock.
|Core i7-930 2.93 GHz, HT ON|
|Voltage calibration level||0%||50%||100%|
|Idle [V]||1.294 - 1.305||1.28 **||1.27 **|
|Load (in Linx) [V]||1.329 - 1.341||1.305 - 1.317||1.235 - 1.247|
|Voltage set in BIOS [V]||1.3||1.3||1.3|
|Core i7-930 4.25 GHz, HT ON|
|Voltage calibration level||0%||50%||100%|
|Idle [V]||1.305 **||1.325 **||1.352 **|
|Load (in Linx) [V]||1.312||1.375 - 1.376||1.317 - 1.329|
|Voltage set in BIOS [V]||1.312||1.362||1.387|
|** No voltage fluctuation|
|CPU||Intel Core i7-930 2.93 GHz|
|RAM||3 x 2 GB Kingston HyperX Black T1 1,600 MHz CL9|
|Overclock mode #1||CPU: 4.25 GHz (HyperThreading off, turbo off), RAM: 1,786 MHz CL9|
|Overclock mode #2||CPU: 4.35 GHz (HyperThreading on, turbo off), RAM: 1,833 MHz CL9|
|Graphics Adapter||NVIDIA GeForce 8500GT|
|Hard drive||Western Digital Caviar Blue 320GB|
|PSU||Cooler Master Silent Pro Gold 800W|
|Operating system||Windows 7 64-bit|
If you asked of us to give an actual grade to this motherboard, it would score a 9 on a 1-10 scale. We didn’t like the lack of native SLI support, while other little flaws can freely be disregarded, as most users will never notice them anyway. Pure Black X58 is reliable, has everything that one could need, and packs the added bonus of Bluetooth support.
|Results||Default||OC Mode #1 (HT off)||OC Mode #2 (HT on)|
|WinRAR 3.93 64-bit||2,973 kB/s||3,428 kB/s||4,200 kB/s|
|7-Zip 4.65 64-bit comp./decomp.||15,200 / 188,870 kB/s||15,338 / 177,550 kB/s||21,028 / 270,129 kB/s|
|X.264 encoding||28.42 fps||33.33 fps||40.21 fps|
|Cinebench R11.5 64-bit, CPU score||5.08 pts||5.84 pts||7.22 pts|
|AIDA 64 1.5 memory read / write / copy||17,614 / 16,575 / 19,012 MB/s||18,746 / 15,883 / 22,548 MB/s||17,503 / 15,338 / 21,121 MB/s|
|AIDA 64 1.5 memory latency||52 ns||45.9 ns||47.8 ns|
|3DMark Vantage, CPU score||18,328||20,344||26,133|
What’s perhaps its most significant plus is its extraordinary overclockability. However, if you’re planning for a motherboard of this calibre, make sure that you have an Intel Core i7 Extreme Edition X980, X990, or at least 970 CPU at disposal. We believe that a quad-core (HT or not) Sandy Bridge CPU is a better buy if you’re looking for a new PC with the first generation of Core i7 CPUs. If anything, is cooler, consumes less power, overclocks better, and finally, it’s simply stronger clock-for-clock. Then again, if you want top-notch performance and don’t care for money that much, Sapphire Pure Black X58 will have an excellent relationship with any of Intel’s hexa-core 32 nm CPUs, making you happy that you have such an excellent and tight system. Had Sapphire presented this model earlier on, perhaps the situation on the worldwide market would’ve been ever so slightly different…
|Sapphire Pure Black X58|
|CPU Socket||LGA 1366|
|Chipset||Intel X58 Express + ICH10R|
|RAM Memory Support||6 x DDR3 DIMM, max 24GB|
|Expansion Slots||3 x PCIe 2.0 x16 (x16/x8/x8), 1 x PCIe x16 (x4), 1 x PCI|
|SATA/ATA Support||2 x SATA 6.0, 5 x SATA 3.0, 1 x eSATA|
|Audio Controller||Realtek HD ALC892 7.1, S/PDIF Out coaxial + optical|
|Network Controller||Marvell 88E8057 Gigabit LAN|
|Internal Connectors||2 x USB 2.0, 1 x IEEE 1394a, 1 x USB 2.0 headers, CPU 4-pin PWM Fan, 3-pin Chassis Fan, S/PDIF in/out|
|Backpanel Connectors||8 x USB 2.0, 2 x USB 3.0, 1 x 1394a, 1 x SPDIF Coaxial out, 1 x SPDIF Optical out, 1 x Bluetooth 2.1, 1 x e-SATA, 1 x PS/2 combo port|