Sapphire PURE Innovation - ATI's Chipset for the AMD Enthusiastby Wesley Fink on July 29, 2005 12:05 AM EST
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Final WordsIn every benchmark at stock speeds, we found the Sapphire PURE Innovation board for AMD to be fully competitive with the best motherboards that we have tested for Athlon 64 Socket 939. As you saw in last week's preview of Crossfire Multi-GPU performance, it also appears that Crossfire will compete very effectively with NVIDIA SLI in the Dual-Graphics arena as well. So, what tips the scales toward the new ATI chipset boards or the nForce4 boards or ULi?
One area would be features. ATI's performance in IDE, SATA, and SATA2 (with the Sil3132) is exemplary. We have often seen new chipsets where storage performance is much worse than the current best. Considering the newest versions of the ATI Radeon Xpress X200 family with the SB450 South Bridge, this certainly does not appear to be the case. Storage performance is excellent compared to any of the leaders.
One glaring performance exception for the ATI SB450 is USB 2.0. We expected ATI USB performance to be on par with the competition by this point, but it still lags in sustained throughput. ATI tells us that the SB450 performance is comparable to competitors in burst mode and will be completely corrected in the SB600, but that south bridge is still months away. We doubt that most users will ever see a real difference in USB performance with the Sapphire PURE Innovation or the upcoming ATI Crossfire AMD, but if USB performance is critical to your use, you should look elsewhere. Either the nForce4, the ATI Radeon Xpress 200 north bridge with a ULi 1573 or 1575 siouth bridge, or a ULi chipset should perform fine in USB 2.0.
Offsetting USB, the ATI is the first AMD chipset to market with Azalia High-Definition audio. Azalia HD exhibited low overhead in all audio modes, and most important, the sound quality is stunning compared to the majority of audio codecs currently residing on AMD motherboards. If on-board audio performance matters to you, you should definitely audition an ATI HD board. It should be mentioned that both the ULi 1573 and the 1575 south bridges will also feature HD audio.
If you want to use your AGP card, then the upcoming ULi M1695/M1567 chipset is the only real choice for performance.
So, with pluses and minuses in several areas for each chipset, are there other factors that should influence your decision? If you are an enthusiast, then the answer is a resounding "YES". Sapphire and ATI have designed Grouper and Crossfire from the ground up as enthusiast boards. The Reference boards are the best and most stable that we have ever tested from an overclocker's perspective, and the production Sapphire PURE Innovation is just as overclockable and stable as the outstanding Reference Boards that we have seen. This design and component excellence has certainly made its way into this first Sapphire production board, and it should make its way into other upcoming production boards. Reference boards always heavily influence the product that makes it out the door, and in this case, that is outstanding news.
The Sapphire PURE Innovation reached the highest overclock at stock multiplier ever achieved with our standard 4000+ processor. We also easily reached a 302 frequency at lower multipliers at a 1T command Rate. The bottom line is that this production Sapphire board will turn the head of enthusiasts. The appearance is stand-out (a white motherboard) and the performance will not need to make apologies to any Athlon 64 board on the market. Other manufacturers who are known for making enthusiast boards have already committed to producing an ATI Crossfire board - AMD or Intel or both. Some may also produce a single-GPU board like this Sapphire PURE Innovation PI-A9RX480. Whatever they produce, it is clear that this time around the latest ATI Radeon Express 200 family chipsets will be seen on many top-end motherboards. If they are close to as good as this Sapphire ATI, it will be a good time to be an enthusiast.
We've waited a long time for a real competitor to NVIDIA that would keep prices in line as only real competition can. ATI announced aggressive pricing strategies with their new Crossfire chipsets and nF4 SLI prices are already slated to drop. With Crossfire and SLI both performing well, the buyer is the winner. It means that you will get the best performance possible at the best price possible from either ATI or NVIDIA. If you are also an enthusiast, you also have a new and unexpected board to add to your short shopping list for a top Athlon 64 board. The Sapphire PURE Innovation deserves your consideration as a top enthusiast board. ATI and Sapphire deserve praise for having the guts to bring this board to market.
Since Crossfire was designed to reach these same lofty levels of performance, you can also expect that some new and exciting choices will be coming in the Dual-GPU segment. But it is also interesting that the new top video cards like the NVIDIA 7800 GTX and upcoming ATI R520 perform extremely well as single cards, requiring impossibly expensive monitors for usable performance gains in dual-GPU mode. Those developments may well make boards like the Sapphire PURE Innovation even more attractive with the newest generation of video cards.