Earlier today, we popped along to find out what's going on at Sapphire's stand.
They've just released their enthusiast-orientated version of the CrossFire Xpress 3200 chipset, which should be available for purchase over the next couple of weeks. It has inhereted a lot of the features that were found in the PI-A9RX480 motherboard
that we reviewed a few months ago, but they've improved the enthusiast appeal of the board by implementing ATI's CrossFire technology. We loved the PURE RX480 version when it came out but lamented the lack of CrossFire, so score one to Sapphire.
The board is based on socket 939 and still uses an ATI SB450 South Bridge. They've included support for four SATA II ports via a Silicon Image disk controller, along with the four SATA ports that are natively supported by the South Bridge, making this a great board if you intend to really crank up your storage capacity. However, they've scaled back on useless legacy ports like parallel and serial, which in our book is A Good Thing.
It's also a good board if you intend to crank up the voltage. The last PURE board was a fantastic overclocker, which allowed for a myriad of tiny tweaks to various settings. This looks like maintaining that bus-fiddling heritage, which is no doubt a good thing.
There's also no denying that the unique looks of the PURE board make this a great choice for show-offs!
Onboard sound is in the A-Grade range, with the Intel Azalia codec implemented. This makes for the highest fidelity audio, since Azalia is designed for less signal interference and more flexible output options, including decent-quality stereo upscaling.
We have but one issue: the PCI slot is placed right below the second graphics slot. This means that, with two cards installed, there's no usable PCI expansion - which many high-end gamers buying this board will want to use for a Creative X-Fi card.
All of ATI's high-end video cards - or at least the ones that we feel people are going to install in a motherboard like this - come with a dual slot cooling solution, meaning that it's impossible to install anything into the lone PCI slot. It's not that the onboard High Definition Azalia sound solution is poor, either. The problem is that this board is targeted at the high end of the market, and the target market are likely to think about a superior add-in sound card solution. Are you likely to spend £150+ on a motherboard, £700 on video cards and then use onboard sound? Having spent all that, would you then blink at £60 for an X-Fi?
We shared our concerns with a Sapphire representative and they stated that "Creative will be releasing PCI-Express sound cards in the near future"
, meaning that the single PCI-E slot could be used.
However, we then went and spoke to a Creative representative, who refused to comment on Sapphire's speculations. This suggests that Creative is not ready to reveal it's PCI-Express roadmaps at this time, meaning that the products are not going to arrive in the near
While we're sure that Sapphire's intentions are good and they're trying to capture the enthusiast with this mega-tweakable PURE line (and have clearly done a great job in board specification), we can't help but feel that a lot of the enthusiasts that Sapphire is targeting with this motherboard would consider installing an add-in sound card, like Creative's X-Fi, and that this is going to involve some degree of compromise in a system config that might otherwise be thought of as uncompromising.