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Sapphire Pure Element (PE-AM2RS485M) — a Motherboard Based on ATI Radeon Xpress 1150 (Socket AM2)

December 26, 2006



The completed merger of ATI and AMD hasn't affected the chipset line yet, if we don't take into account the forthcoming renaming of existing models. In fact, there is no urgency in renaming them. Moreover, it's not improbable that AMD will not henceforth (at least in the nearest six months) try to "beat" NVIDIA in functionality (which would have been natural of ATI) by launching chipsets under its own trademark. On the contrary, it will let it launch top chipsets for its platform. It's expedient for two reasons: Objectively, NVIDIA is the current leader (on the market of chipsets for both platforms) in the sector for enthusiasts. It's important for AMD to confirm its interest in continued cooperation with NVIDIA and strengthen its will to remain an independent player on the IT market. It does not at all mean that AMD won't launch top chipsets. But as is well known, the highest profit from non-mass products is obtained by a company that was the first to launch its product. Two months ahead is enough.

What concerns inexpensive chipsets with integrated graphics, AMD will hardly stand down intentionally here (to be more exact, it plans on catching up with NVIDIA in terms of 3D performance of the graphics core by launching #AMD 690G). But the current task is even simpler. As we don't have any gripes about the set of peripheral buses and performance of USB and SATA controllers anymore with the release of the modern Southbridge (SB600), its production volumes should be increased so that system integrators don't have shortage of motherboards with the increased production of processors. Today we are going to examine an implementation of such a chipset combo ("old" Radeon Xpress 1150 and "new" SB600) on a motherboard from Sapphire.




We have a single remark to motherboard designers — memory latches are blocked, if you install a large video card (for example, many models from Sapphire itself.) This drawback has been already fixed by most manufacturers, including Micro-ATX motherboard. The layout of other on-board connectors (especially SATA) is very good.

Passive cooling of the chipset copes with its task well. It practically does not need to be reinforced by indirect (and especially direct) air-flow, even if you plan on actively using video functions of Northbridge. However, in the latter case you'd better cool it with the air flow from the CPU cooler. The motherboard provides for a FireWire controller. The manual also mentions a modification with a gigabit network adapter. But the official Sapphire web site mentions only this modification in Pure Element series.

The 3-phase switching voltage regulator of the processor incorporates two field-effect transistors per channel (half of the transistors are installed on the back side of the PCB, we have never seen this layout before), six 3300 uF capacitors and four 1500 uF capacitors. It uses Tearo capacitors (second-tier brand, on the level of OST). Motherboard dimensions — 245x245 mm (Micro-ATX), eight-screw mount, the bottom corner with SATA connectors is not secured.

System monitoring (ITE IT8712F-A, according to BIOS Setup):

  • Voltages at CPU core, memory, Northbridge, +3.3 V, +5 V, +12 V
  • RPM of 2 fans
  • CPU temperature (by the embedded CPU sensor)
  • Smart Fan, automatic speed control (for a 4-pin fan). You can also specify minimal speed manually (fractions of a maximum value, but not in percents, the scale is divided into 128 sections) and the corresponding minimal temperature. When the temperature grows above the minimal temperature, the rotational speed grows by the value specified by the third parameter - percentage of rotational speed growth per each degree.

Onboard ports, sockets, and connectors

  • Processor socket (Socket AM2, officially supports all AMD Athlon 64/X2/FX/Sempron processors for this socket)
  • 4 x DDR2 SDRAM DIMM (up to 4 GB DDR2-400/533/667/800, dual-channel mode)
  • 1 PCIEx16 for a video accelerator
  • 1 x PCIEx1
  • 2 x PCI
  • Power connectors: standard ATX 2.2 (24 pins) and 4-pin ATX12V to power a processor
  • 1 x FDD
  • 1 x IDE (Parallel ATA) for two ATA133 devices - chipset-based
  • 4 x SATA-II (Serial ATA II) for four SATA300 devices — chipset-based, these hard drives can form RAID 0 or 1
  • 3 connectors for brackets with 6 additional USB ports
  • 1 x CD/DVD audio connector
  • Connectors for analog audio ins and outs on the front panel
  • IrDA connector
  • 2 fan headers with a speed control option, one of them is a 4-pin CPU fan header that supports smart fan control from BIOS.

Back panel (left to right, blockwise)





Click the image to open the rear view of this motherboard
  • PS/2 mouse and keyboard
  • 1 x COM, 1 x VGA, 1 x LPT
  • 2 x USB
  • 2 x USB and 1 x RJ-45 (Fast Ethernet)
  • 6 x Analog Audio (Center/Sub-Out, Rear-Out, Side-Out, Line-In, Front-Out, Mic-In).

Package Contents




  • Package: a small box of an original Pure Element design with a robot-like creature (typical of Sapphire)
  • Documentation: a brief installation manual (in several languages) and a detailed manual in English
  • Cables: 1 x SATA, 1 x ATA66 and an FDD cable
  • Real panel bracket for AV Out (coaxial) and S-Video Out
  • Rear I/O shield
  • 2 CDs: with drivers, third-party utilities for backing up data on a hard drive, restoring removed files, removing spyware, and Sapphire Select DVD (you can try several games and register one of them free of charge)
  • A floppy with a driver for SATA RAID (SB600).

Unfortunately, the bundle does not include a utility for updating BIOS and system drivers, checking for updates on the official web site. So you are recommended to use Award WinFlash to flash BIOS under Windows.

Integrated Controllers

  • Audio, based on the chipset support for HD Audio and Realtek ALC883, 7.1-ch audio, front-ins/outs (including two independent channels to play back a separate stereo stream) and CD-In
  • Network: Fast Ethernet, 10/100 Mbit/s, based on Realtek RTL-8100C.

The integrated audio quality was tested in 16bit, 44 kHz using the RightMark Audio Analyzer 5.5 test application and the ESI Juli@ sound card:

Frequency response (from 40 Hz to 15 kHz), dB:
+0.14, -0.17
Very good
Noise level, dB (A):
-90.3
Very good
Dynamic range, dB (A):
90.2
Very good
THD, %:
0.0036
Very good
Intermodulation distortion + Noise, %:
0.0095
Very good
Channel crosstalk, dB:
-88.6
Excellent
IMD at 10 kHz, %:
0.011
Very good

General performance: Very good (details). HD Audio in this motherboard is good even against the high-quality background of modern motherboards.

Settings

Jumpers and switches Clear CMOS jumper  
Onboard LAN jumper to enable/disable the network controller  
Award BIOS v6.00PG Allows to disable specific CPU functions + K8 Cool’n’Quiet
Memory timings + Write-To-Read Command Delay, Refresh Cycle (for each DIMM slot separately), Write Recovery Time, Precharge Time, Min RAS Active Time, RAS to CAS Delay, RAS to RAS Delay, Row Precharge Time, Row Cycle Time
Memory frequency selection + Auto, 400, 533, 667, 800 MHz (you actually specify a multiplier to the HTT frequency)
HT bus setup + frequency (Auto, 200, 400, 600, 800, 1000 MHz) and capacity (8 or 16 bit) for both bus data flow directions separately (from Northbridge to processor and back)
Peripheral bus frequency control + the graphics PCIEx16 slot is clocked individually (asynchronous to the PCI Express clock) within 200—350 MHz at 50 MHz steps; available PCI Express x16 lanes can be limited to x1, x2, x4, x8, x12
PCI IRQ manual assignment +  
FSB frequency setup + 200—280 MHz at 1 MHz steps
CPU multiplier + from x4, at integer steps
Memory voltage control + 1.8—2.1 V at 0.1 V steps
Chipset voltage control + 1.20—1.35 V at 0.05 V steps

We used BIOS dated 22.08.06, the latest release version. The mentioned BIOS parameters are available in this version, but the viability of non-standard settings hasn't been tested.

This motherboard offers quite good CPU overclocking capacities without raising CPU voltage for its class! But we expected better results from Sapphire with its exhaustive BIOS in the Pure Innovation series, especially as the segment of inexpensive motherboards with good overclocking capacities (though small, but definitely existing) is practically vacant.

Performance

Testbed configuration:

  • CPU: AMD Athlon 64 X2 4000+
  • Memory: 2 x 1 GB Kingston KHX7200D2K2/1G (DDR2-800, 5-5-5-15-1T)
  • HDD: Seagate Barracuda 7200.7 (SATA, 7200 rpm)
  • Video card: ATI Radeon X1900XTX, 512 MB GDDR3
  • Power supply unit: Chieftec CFT-560-A12C
  • OS: Windows XP SP2

We compared the model under review with a motherboard on ATI Radeon Xpress 1150 — ECS RS485M-M.

Test integrated video discrete video
ECS RS485M-M Sapphire Pure Element ECS RS485M-M Sapphire Pure Element
Archiving with 7-Zip, min:sec 6:57 6:44 6:52 6:35
MPEG4 (XviD) encoding, min:sec 6:14 6:09 6:12 6:01
Unreal Tournament 2004 (Low@640x480), fps 27.3 27.7 75.6 76.9
Unreal Tournament 2004 (High@1024x768), fps 21.1 26.1 71.5 72.9
FarCry (Medium@800x600), fps 29.7 31.0 113.8 126.5
DOOM III (Medium@800x600), fps 13.4 13.8 122.3 133.0

As performance of the ECS RS485M-M in computational tests was a tad lower than standard (demonstrated by our tests), and Sapphire Pure Element allowed to set more aggressive timings in BIOS, the accumulated difference in archivers (the most sensitive tasks to memory operation nuances) is significant. However, the difference in the other tests is purely formal.

Conclusions

Top Southbridge (SB600) allows to launch motherboards with modern functionality (like in NVIDIA chipsets). The famous advantage of ATI (AMD) chipsets in heat dissipation remains. Temperature of the SB600 itself even under load lets us hope for safe cooling with a compact heatsink even in mediocre PC cases with an impeded air flow. We should note that both chipset bridges return practically to the environment temperature, when the load is removed.

What can we note besides chipset peculiarities? Unfortunately, practically nothing. Sapphire launched an ordinary model, there are no proprietary technologies and interesting peculiarities (except the bundled Sapphire Select DVD). To all appearances, Sapphire counts on OEM channels to distribute inexpensive motherboards, only limited shipments will find their way to retail stores. That may not be the best choice, because Sapphire products enjoy confidence of customers. Their quality is indeed on the level of top brands, so they are really popular.

This model on the manufacturer's web site (Russian mirror)

The motherboard is kindly provided by the manufacturer





Dmitry Laptev (lpt@ixbt.com)
December 26, 2006

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