Sapphire Pure Black X58 £209.99
18th Jan 2011 | 12:24
An Intel board from the former AMD purists
Sapphire Pure Black X58 - Overview
Seemingly from out of nowhere, here comes AMD heartthrob, Sapphire, with a top-end Intel motherboard, the Pure Black X58.
Now, it's no stranger to motherboard manufacturing but due to its AMD leanings in the past, as its largest graphics board partner, the expectation was that Sapphire would remain loyal to the AMD mainboard market.
That's not to say Sapphire is necessarily being disloyal with this release however, the X58 represents a chipset far beyond anything that AMD is able to produce at the moment.
As the only triple-channel desktop chipset around, and with a general price-tag to match the sky-high performance, it's quite apart from the top end of AMD's offerings.
And as the components market gets tougher more and more companies are having to diversify in order to compete, or sometimes just to stay afloat.
There has been speculation at every trade show this millennium as to whether Sapphire was going to go all GPU agnostic and start creating Nvidia graphics cards.
That would've likely been a disastrous move though, destroying the good work it has done with ATI and AMD in the past.
Producing Intel motherboards though is less likely to hurt that relationship and supporting the majority system platform can only be good sense. After all, Sapphire did not produce a huge amount of AMD's motherboards in the first place.
But given its limited motherboard history can Sapphire create an Intel motherboard to match its rather lofty price tag?
Sapphire Pure Black X58 - Architecture
It may seem like a bit of a backward move for Sapphire to come out with an Intel chipset that's over two years old now as its first non-AMD mobo, but it needed to cut its teeth somewhere.
It also wanted to announce something at CES and with its close partnership with AMD it could hardly talk about its Sandy Bridge selection with the buzz that needed to be generated around the upcoming AMD Fusion technology.
There are Sapphire Sandy Bridge motherboards on their way soon though and we should be looking at those in a couple weeks.
For now though it's all about the X58 chipset, and despite all the noise about the Sandy Bridge setup it's still the most advanced chipset Intel has produced.
Very closely based on its server tech the X58 chipset far exceeds anything your desktop machine can throw at it. The triple-channel memory and support for up to 24GB RAM gives enough bandwidth to drive a truck through.
And there is still the fact that, for the time being, this is the only Intel platform that you can currently get a hexcore i7 CPU fitted in. That's six cores and thanks to Intel's HyperThreading tech a frankly huge 12 threads of processing power.
Hexcore Sandy Bridge parts on the other hand are still a little way off.
The Pure Black X58 also comes with the new generation of I/O interfaces, in the shape of twin SATA 6Gbps and USB 3.0 ports, as well as legacy support in the shape of the oft-missed IDE interface.
Granted it ain't the fastest, but there's still a lot of us out there with our grint stored on old PATA drives…
In terms of graphics you're looking at a paucity of PCI-E lanes, with only a single x16 slot available, backed up by twin x8 slots and a single gen 1 slot. Thanks to the relationship with AMD you're also limited to CrossFire as your multi-GPU supplier.
SLI certification on Sapphire boards is looking unlikely for the foreseeable.
Sapphire is getting around this somewhat with it's upcoming P67 release by including the Lucid Hydra chip onboard to allow twin Nvidia cards, but it's conspicuous by its absence on this Pure Black X58.
The power scheme on this Sapphire board also looks to be a little lack-lustre, coming in as it does with an 8+2 phase power design.
On a budget board that's a good place to help cut the price of your mobo, but on an X58 enthusiast-class board, coming in over the £200 mark, that's fairly weak.
Sapphire Pure Black X58 - Benchmarks
The stock performance of the Pure Black X58 is impressive when you put it up against a board from mainboard stalwarts Asus. It even manages a slight win in the gaming benchmark.
Unfortunately it's when you start trying to push the board to its limits that Asus' greater experience in the industry shows. The overclocking performance of the Sapphire board lags a fair way behind the Asus P6X58D-E, itself a much cheaper board.
The sad fact is though that if you're looking at the more budget end of the X58 chipset and CPU combo then you're going to get soundly beaten by an equivalently-priced Sandy Bridge rig.
In its stock 3.5GHz state the i7 2600K with a P67 board outstrips the i7 920/X58 combo on all fronts.
CPU rendering performance
Video encoding performance
Sapphire Pure Black X58 - Verdict
You could probably have guessed the end result of this first Intel effort from Sapphire without knowing anything about the actual board itself.
Nice try, but must do better.
Despite having a fair chunk of EVGA's old motherboard team on the Sapphire books this first release looks just a little naïve.
The price itself is a massive sticking point. Coming in above the £200 mark for an X58 board is practically unforgivable right now, especially given that it really offers nothing new over the competition to differentiate itself.
And especially given the price and performance of the Sandy Bridge setups.
Realistically only the insanely pricey hexcore processors are capable of besting the new second generation of Intel's Core CPUs. And if you were going to pay over the odds for a CPU you'd pay over the odds for the motherboard too.
But importantly you'd want that motherboard to offer you something special to go along with your special CPU.
The Pure Black X58, unfortunately for Sapphire, simply doesn't.
My first reaction to the board was that it would make a good £130-£150 budget X58. That's more or less borne out by the stock-clocked benchmark results where it stands toe-to-toe with Asus' P6X58D-E, a £150 motherboard itself.
Unfortunately the very existence of that Asus board makes the Pure Black X58 an almost impossible sell.
Granted Sapphire is fairly insistent that its board's price will drop once the volume increases in the stores, but even if it were comparable in price it still lacks the performance punch to justify itself.
While at stock level the boards are level, once you try messing with the clockspeeds you can quickly tell which the more competent board is.
The i7 920 we were playing with tapped out once we got it to the 3.6GHz mark, which isn't bad considering that's almost a 1GHz boost. The P6X58D-E though was happy to be stably pushed right up to 4GHz.
Realistically this is likely all down to Asus' decision to include a 16+2 power phase design in its board against the Pure Black's 8+2 array. The extra stability that affords allows you to push the CPU far harder.
While we understand why there's no SLI certification in the Sapphire board that doesn't change the fact as a consumer that's a feature with a strong draw right now. The performance of Nvidia's cards is better than it's ever been and again the Asus board has the edge here too.
But for a first Intel board it's not a bad effort. Trying to position it as an enthusiast-class board with a price-tag to match though isn't going to stick; the Sapphire Pure Black X58 just doesn't have the technological cojones for that.
The variety of connections available on the board is impressive, and the addition of the legacy PATA socket is a welcome one.
Despite marketing to the contrary the Pure Black is not an overclocker's board, the budget power phase design makes sure of that.
It's also a shame there isn't a second x16 PCI-E socket, and understanding though we are of the lack of SLI, it's a feature you can find in cheaper boards.