Sapphire has often been a bit late when presenting new models, arriving after all the hype about a new product has already settled. This is no rule as such, as exemplified by the model based on Intel’s X58 chipset, but the one based on Z68 was very late indeed. This time, Sapphire has bestowed their latest product upon us, based on Intel’s X79 chipset, which makes it moderately late yet again, but perhaps advantageous, as we’ve already reviewed most X79-based models from various manufacturers, so it should be easier to draw comparisons and see the definitive best choice.
The large black and silver box has a design already typical of Sapphire models, and contains a hefty bundle. When we say “hefty”, we mean compared to what the competition usually offers (or doesn’t). As you may have noticed, the general trend seems to be one of providing you with an insufficient number of SATA cables and little else.
These are all measures taken to reduce manufacturing costs, but the buyer often finds it idiotic to be provided so little for such an expensive motherboard. Sapphire won’t be causing you any headaches in this respect, as you’re treated with no fewer than eight SATA cables, the standard paperwork set, manual and driver disc.
A particularly interesting detail is the USB 3.0 panel with two connectors, which can be mounted on the front of the enclosure into the 2.5” slot, or on the back with the supplied appropriate adapter. Of course, putting it on the front is ideal, especially if you have no USB 3.0 port on the enclosure itself. The panel is made of black aluminium, so it’s easy to make it blend in unless you have a white enclosure, which is a rare occurrence these days.
Graphics card heaven
As we expected, the colours are typically Sapphire on the inside too. The PCB is black, while other elements are black or blue, making the motherboard instantly recognisable as Sapphire’s own. The layout is exceptional. The first thing you’ll notice is the large number of x16 PCI-Express slots.
Of course, this refers to their size only, as it’s but the first, second and fourth slot that actually have a speed of x16, with the others working at x8. The only thing we can reproach is that the first two x16 slots are adjacent to each other, which means that you’ll have to pick an x8 slot in case of installing three dual-slot cards.
Granted, very few users will actually be bothered by this, but we thought we should mention this anyway, for the handful who might be. Another prominent detail is the chipset fan, something that we haven’t seen in a long while. Yet unlike ASUS, who opted for a turbine fan, this typical fan is less convincing for this purpose – this is an expensive LGA2011 model, after all.
Simply put, years of experience have taught us that very few coolers of this type survive for more than two years. Dust is a huge enemy of theirs, and they get excessively noisy after a short while, or in this case, from the get-go, which is definitely not a plus.
Sapphire’s X79N Pure Black has four DIMM slots for DDR3-type memory, which isn’t the maximum provided by X79-based motherboards, but still more than decent for most users. Four SATA II and four SATA III ports are available – ample room for storage devices by all means. It should be noted that two of the SATA III ports are controlled by the X79 chipset directly, while two other are entrusted to Marvell’s 88SE9128 controller.
Other significant features include the debug display, often left out these days, as well as power and reset buttons, which is always useful to enthusiasts who keep their PCs out of an enclosure or tamper with the BIOS a lot.
Besides the additional two USB 3.0 connections mentioned at the beginning, Sapphire’s X79N Pure Black has a more than sufficient number of outputs for all types of users. Four USB 3.0 ports are present, as well as six USB 2.0.
Furthermore, there are two eSATA ports (albeit the older 3 Gbps generation). Networking is taken care of by two Gigabit LAN ports, controlled by Marvell’s 88E8057, and there’s even a Bluetooth 2.1 antenna housed neatly on the output bracket, backed by Atheros’ AR3011 chip.
Other than the usual six 3.5 mm audio connectors, you’ll find both optical and coaxial S/PDIF, which is absolutely laudable. Speaking of sound, X79N is using Realtek’s ALC892 audio codec, supporting most modern standards. Finally, the motherboard even has a PS2 port, which can come in handy if you have to connect antiquated peripherals at some point.
Specs, results & OC
|Specifications||Sapphire Pure Black X79N|
|Dimm slots||4, max. 32 GB DDR3 2400 MHz|
|MultiGPU support||CrossFireX x3, TriWay SLI|
|Slotovi za proširenje||6x PCI-Express 3.0 x16 (other 3 work in x8 mode)|
|SATA/ATA ports||4x SATA 6Gbps, 4x SATA 3Gbps, 2x eSATA 3Gbps|
|Audio||Realtek ALC892 8-Channel High Definition Audio CODEC|
|Network||2x Marvell Ethernet kontroler|
|USB||4x USB 3.0, 6x USB 2.0, 2x USB 3.0 dodatni panel|
|Onboard connections||4x USB 2.0, 2x USB 3.0, 3x Fan, 1x 24pin power, ATX 12V power, Audio (Front)|
|Back panel||PS2, 6x USB 2.0, 4x USB 3.0, S/PDIF, 2x LAN, 6x Analog audio, S/PDIF, 2x eSATA 3Gbps|
Sapphire’s X79N Pure Black has a UEFI BIOS, with an interesting and practical design. Options are logically and intuitively organised, and most overclockers will feel at home with the menus.
A bit of extra tuning wouldn’t hurt, as ASUS’ solutions still reign supreme in this respect, but Sapphire’s design and variety of options aren’t too far behind. This is especially significant if you know to what extent certain manufacturers have had trouble with the transition to UEFI BIOS.
While many have lost a great deal of functionality, Sapphire has managed to improve during the transition, so kudos are in order. It’s no overclocking champion, though, with BCLK stopping at a maximum 122 MHz. On the other hand, our sample Core i7 3960X was pushed by a multiplier of 45 to a frequency of 4500 MHz, which is a respectable result. This required a voltage of 1.4 V, which, again, falls within well acceptable limits.
|Results||Sapphire Pure Black X79N|
|3DMark 11 Physics Score||11.874|
|3DMark Vantage CPU Score||36.902|
|Aida64 Extreme 2.00|
|Memory read/write/copy [MB/s]||16.503 / 15.087 / 16.011|
|Memory latency [ns] **||59,3|
|7-Zip 7.20 x64 comp./decomp. [kB/s]||27.041 / 333.696|
|x264 HD Benchmark 4.0 encoding [fps]||55,1|
|Winrar x64 4.10 Beta 2||4.282|
|Blender x64 [sec] **||134,4|
|Cinebench R11.5 1 CPU / OpenGL||10,6 / 82,4|
|True Crypt 7.1 AES/Twofish/Serpent mean [MB/s]||4.100 / 890 / 440|
|** less is better|
Our overall impression is that this motherboard has been a pleasure to work with, especially since we’ve encountered no problems in the process. The system was stable, and the overclock easy.
If you need a specific model with a large number of PCI-Express slots, but don’t need humongous amounts of RAM, we can say that Sapphire X79N Pure Black is a very good choice.
Our only reproach remains the active element on the chipset cooler. It remains a mystery why such an experienced manufacturer has opted for this solution when virtually all others have abandoned it long ago, but only time can tell whether it was a clever call.