Sapphire Pure Black 990FX Motherboard Review

Author: Carl Poirier
Editor: Howard Ha
Publish Date: Monday, September 24th, 2012
Originally Published on Neoseeker (
Article Link:
Copyright Neo Era Media, Inc. - please do not redistribute or use for commercial purposes.

The AMD FX processors have drastically dropped in price since launch, with the flagship product now selling for $170. This is due to the fact that the FX series has a hard time competing with CPU offerings from Intel, namely the Ivy Bridge and even Sandy Bridge generations. The FX processor isn't such a bad choice at the new price point, though. The lower-tier models in the same family are also quite affordable and can make for a fully-featured gaming rig or workstation.

Meanwhile Sapphire has something in store for the enthusiast AMD platform; it's the Pure Black 990FX, a high-end motherboard that can run all AM3 and AM3+ processors. Before everyone gets excited though, it's important to mention that for a good while, the board has only been available in Europe; it's unclear why North American retailers do not stock them.


CPU Support AMD Socket AM3+ FX / AM3 Phenom II / Athlon II / Sempron 100 series processors
Chipset AMD™ 990FX + AMD™ SB950 Chipset
Memory 16 GB Max. Dual Channel 240 pins DDR3 up to 1866/1600MHz, non-ECC, Unbuffered memory
Expansion Slots 2 x PCI Express 2.0 x16 slots
2 x PCI Express 2.0 x8 slots
2 x PCI Express 2.0 x4 slots
Storage 9 x Serial ATA III 6Gb/s connectors
Supports HDDs with RAID 0, 1,5,10 functions
Supports HDDs with RAID 0, 1 functions
Audio Realtek ALC892 HD Audio CODEC with 8-Channel
Ethernet LAN Dual Marvell 88E8057 PCI-Express Gigabit LAN
Rear Panel I/O 8 x USB 2.0 port
2 x USB 3.0 port
1 x SPDIF Coaxial OUT
1 x Audio I / O ports
1 x SPDIF Optical Out
1 x Supporting Bluetooth® 2.1+ EDR by Atheros AR3011
1 x e-SATA port
PS/2 KB/MS combo port
Dual RJ- 45 Gigabit LAN with ESD
Internal I/O 4 x USB 2.0 headers
4 pins CPU PWM Fan connectors
3 Pin Chassis Fan connectors
24-pin ATX Power connector
8-pin ATX 12V Power connector
Control (Front) panel headers
4-pin ATX 12V Power connector
2 x USB 3.0 headers
Audio I/O (Front) header
SPDIF out header
Power Button
Reset Button
CMOS clear Button
Dual BIOS select switch with indicator LED
Form Factor ATX, Size 304x244mm
OS Support Windows 7 (32/64bit)

Specifications are courtesy of Sapphire @

The Sapphire Pure Black 990FX is built on a brown PCB with blue accents given by the six full-length PCI-E slots, the large heatsinks and the memory slots. Its AM3+ socket is surrounded by the two-piece heatsink retention bracket.

The bracket is held to the board by a steel backplate, whereas all heatsinks are screwed in. Besides the two main PCI-E slots providing a full connection, all the others are wired at x8 which is somewhat pointless because two of them can only operate at x4.

The large heatsink hides an eight-phase VRM, fed by an 8-pin CPU power connector. There is much insight as to what will be found on the I/O panel, too; a marking on the PCB advertises a Bluetooth connection, and a single SATA internal connector gives hint about its sibling.

Above the CPU socket are two fan headers, with one being the 4-pin type, as well as voltage measurement points.

Next to the DIMM slots is the VRM and the usual 24-pin ATX power connector.

The southbridge area is pretty crowded with a USB 3.0 header, eight SATA connectors, a front panel header, a debug and temperature 7-segment LED display, two other fan headers and finally, two USB 2.0 headers.

Continuing to the left, there is a built-in speaker, a BIOS select switch, power and reset buttons, a CMOS clear button and a Molex connector to ensure proper power delivery . when multiple power hungry PCI-E devices are installed.

As expected, the I/O panel features an eSATA connection and an integrated Bluetooth module. There are also eight USB 2.0 and two USB 3.0 connectors, a dual Gigabit Ethernet, optical, coaxial and analog audio connectors, topped by a single polyvalent PS/2 connector.

The board comes with a front USB 3.0 bracket that can be replaced by one that installs in an empty expansion slot instead. There is also the I/O shield, six SATA cables and the usual bundle.

The Sapphire Pure will be pitted against previously reviewed AM3+ motherboards using the usual benchmarks.


Test Setup





Overclocking the Sapphire 990FX board is done in the usual method; the UEFI contains all the necessary settings, but doesn't have much extra. By raising the cores' voltage and multiplier, a clock speed of 4600MHz was not quite doable, but it seemed not too far from the optimal frequency. Therefore, a combination of core multiplier and reference clock adjustment in such a way that the total frequency is slightly lower was set. The core voltage was then dialed down a bit, so as not to give them more than what is needed. With decreased CPU-NB and memory multipliers, the CPU passed the test at 4590MHz, that is 18*255. Then it was a matter of finding the sweet spot between CPU frequency and the other components' frequencies.

So here are the final settings used:

The Sapphire 990FX ended up very close to the Gigabyte board, although both are eclipsed by the ASUS offering:

This program includes benchmarks for most hardware. The CPU arithmetic and multi-core efficiency benchmark will be run, as well as memory bandwidth and latency.

The Sapphire board lands in between the two other boards when it comes to the CPU arithmetic and memory bandwitdh tests, but falls short in latency and multi-core efficiency. However, the Sapphire 990FX dominates once the overclock settings were applied.

HandBrake is an application that converts sound and video files to other formats. It makes use of all available threads so it can exploit the processor to its full potential. The input video is a 1:48 mp4 file coming from the Lord of the Rings, in 1080p. The file is 96MB large and it will be converted to the mkv format.

POV-Ray, for Persistence of Vision Raytracer, is a 3D rendering software that has impressive photo-realistic capabilities.

Handbrake doesn't note much difference between the boards, whereas POV-Ray puts the Pure Black 990FX in the middle of the pack. Overclocking yields gains between 19% and 21% in Handbrake and POV-Ray, respectively.

7-Zip is a compression program, much like WinRAR. It features a built-in test, which gives a score for compression and decompression.

Cinebench 11.5 is another rendering program supporting an insane amount of threads. The image is processed by chunks, each running on a particular thread.

7-Zip puts the board on top, whereas Cinebench ranks it slightly below the competition. Overclocking once again delivers great gains.

PCMark is similar to the 3DMark suite, except that it includes many other tests like hard drive speed, memory and processor power, so it is considered a system benchmark and not just a gaming benchmark.

HDTune is a benchmarking program for hard drives. Their speed also depends on the chipset so this is why the read speed test is run.

The Sapphire board ends up behind the competition in PCMark, but not by a huge margin. In HDTune, it ties with the Gigabyte board. Overclocking allows the Sapphire 990FX to hit first place in both benchmarks.

Far Cry 2 is another first person shooter developed by Ubisoft. The story takes place in Africa, where the ultimate goal is to assassinate an arms dealer.

DiRT 2 is a popular driving game in the Colin McRae series. It features a built-in benchmark consisting of displaying a race of computer players using the same view as the gamer would.

Both of these gaming benchmarks seem to run a tad slower with the Sapphire 990FX in the mix. As always, overclocking yields a great increase.

3DMark 2011 is the latest system benchmark from Futuremark. It is specifically made for DirectX 11, which allows for a realistic amount of graphical detail. Like Vantage, it has three presets ranging from Entry, suitable for ultraportables, to Extreme which is naturally adapted for top-end gaming rigs.

The Sapphire board wins by many points at the performance and extreme presets, giving it the first place overall.


Power Consumption

To measure power usage, a Kill A Watt P4400 power meter was used. The following numbers represent the power drain for the entire benchmarking system, not just the video cards themselves. For the 'idle' readings, the power drain while at the OS desktop with no applications running was measured, and for the 'load' benchmarks, the average power consumption was taken while running the OCCT power supply test, stressing both the video card and processor for a couple of minutes.

The Pure Black 990FX uses much more power than the other boards at stock, but under load it does better than the Gigabyte board. Overclocked, the numbers skyrocket thanks to the AMD FX architecture.

Overall, the Sapphire Pure Black 990FX is a nice board. Its most appealing feature is the numerous connectivity options. It offers a total of ten SATA III connections, of which one is eSATA at the back, so there is the ability for building a large redundant hard drive array. It might be a good way to make use of some cores on the FX processors, as the RAID calculations offloaded to the CPU while using the integrated controller (a.k.a. BIOS RAID) are independent of user tasks. There are also two USB 3.0 connectors at the back, and an internal header that can be used for extra front or rear ports with the supplied bracket. That's not all; there's also an integrated Bluetooth adapter so wireless mice, keyboards, phones, headsets and more are supported. Finally, the board features no less than six full-length PCI-E slots to cover a variety of expansion possibilities.

Performance wise, the Sapphire 990FX board does not really impress. It more often than not scored a bit behind the competition, but the difference is not noticeable by the user; only benchmarks really measure it. When it comes to overclocking, it also left a bit to be desired, as the CPU could not even hit the 4.6GHz mark fully stable under watercooling. Still, the performance gains are nothing to sneeze at.

The Pure Black 990FX is, oddly enough, not available in the North American market. It can be found in Europe for £120, which currently coverts to $156. For the features and connectivity, it's a reasonable price compared to the competition, and thus should be considered as an option when building an AM3+ rig. It's important to mention that Piledriver, the successor to Bulldozer, will be on the same socket so it's not unreasonable to assume that a BIOS update will allow the Sapphire 990FX to support it.


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