Sapphire Pure Black X79N £300
29th Feb 2012 | 14:00
Sapphire hitting the top end of Intel's motherboard chipsets
Hot on the heels of the top-end AMD chipset, the FX990, is a little Intel lovin' by way of Sapphire's brand new Pure Black X79N.
Like the Sapphire Pure Black FX990, this is Sapphire's top-end motherboard for someone's highest-spec desktop chipset, and this time it's the turn of Intel's X79/Sandy Bridge E platform.
The Pure Black X79N, like most of Sapphire's latest boards aimed at the enthusiast end of the market, is full to the brim with features.
This is no more then you should expect on a motherboard aiming its beady eye at this particular market segment. However although the pricing is yet to be confirmed, the feature load is likely to be reflected in the price tag.
When we say full to the brim, that's a bit of an understatement - the Sapphire Pure Black X79N comes with no less than six PCIe x16 slots, two of which support the latest Generation 3 specs.
It also has eight SATA ports (six of which are SATA 6Gbps), dual Gigabit LAN, four USB 3.0 ports and integrated Bluetooth connectivity.
Sapphire's latest version of its QBios makes overclocking as easy as possible, with plenty of options to tinker with.
The Sapphire Pure Black X79N overclocked the CPU to 4.2GHz stably just by adjusting the ratio limits of the cores, while a small bit of adjustment to the CPU voltage got a stable overclock speed of 4.5GHz.Multi-threaded CPU performance
CPU encoding performance
The real eye-catching element of the Sapphire Pure Black X79N, once you get it out of the box, is the sheer number of PCIe lanes this thing sports.
With six PCIe x16 slots stretching out into the motherboard horizon, it's ready and able to take all the interface cards you care to throw at it.
To control them, Sapphire not only uses the lanes built into the CPU, it also employs the services of an Nvidia SF200 chip to supply enough extra PCIe lanes support everything. Inevitably, though, even that extra chip can't offer full x16 functionality to all six slots, so they're split up.
Right, deep breath, here we go…
Slots 1 (full x16 speed) and 2 (x8) use lanes provided by the CPU and are to the Generation 3 specification, while slots 3 - 6 are looked after by the Nvidia chip and are Gen 2.5 ready.
The speeds for these Nvidia controlled slots are as follows; slot 3 and 5 are both x16/x8, while slots 4 and 6 are x8 speed only.
Well, what this all means is that because of that extra Nvidia silicon, you can run a three-card CrossFireX setup at full x16 speed. But despite that existing Nvidia silicon, there's no SLI loving for its graphics cards.
That probably shouldn't come as much of a surprise from such an AMD-centric brand, but we have seen SLI from Sapphire before...
As much as the graphical interfaces are important, a good enthusiast's motherboard stands or dies by how good the overclocking options are in the Bios, and how easy it is to use.
The good news is that Sapphire's new UEFI-based QBios does the job rather well. It may not be in the Asus Bios territory, yet but not many Bios's are.
Sapphire also uses a dual Bios chip setup on the board, so if you should be a bit over-keen while overclocking, or are unfortunate enough to pick up a virus, then by using the board-mounted switch you can swap over Bios in a trice.
Sapphire has only been producing Intel boards for around 12 months, since it launched the Pure Black X58, but with every board it seems to be making progress.
The Sapphire Pure Black X79N is certainly no exception, with a good choice of overclocking settings in the BIOS and plenty of hardware options on the board.
Whether you will use them all is a different matter, but at least they're there.
OK, if we were being picky then the fact there are only four DIMM slots (some competitors' motherboards offer eight) might be a cause for concern, as might be the lack of SLI support in the graphics side of things.
The Sapphire Pure Black X79N is a well featured motherboard supporting Intel's latest high-end chipset technology.