With the recent release of AMD’s new Trinity APUs, motherboard manufacturers have been quick to respond with their Socket FM2 offerings, which support this new platform. You can include Sapphire in this group with their newest release, the PURE Platinum A85XT, which is armed with full support for everything the Trinity APU and A85X chipset brings to the table. If you’re thinking of building a system around this platform, let’s find out if the Sapphire PURE Platinum A85XT is worth considering.
Specifications and Features
Below are the specifications as provided by Sapphire. Some highlights include a dual BIOS switch, an onboard mPCIe slot, seven SATA 6 GB/s ports, and 2-Way Crossfire support.
|CPU||Support AMD Socket FM2: AMD A-series APU with AMD Radeon™ HD Graphics|
Support AMD Socket FM2: AMD Athlon X4 700 series NPU
|Chipset||AMD™ A85XT (Hudson-D4 FCH)|
|BIOS||AMI BIOS, 32Mb Flash ROM|
|Memory||4 slots 240-pin DDR3 800/1066/1333/1600+ non-ECC ,un-buffered memory|
|Graphics||AMD Radeon™ HD7000D series GPU Integrated in Socket FM2 A-series APU|
|Expansion Slots||1 x MINI PCI-E x1 slots|
2 x 32-bit PCI slots
2 x PCI Express x1 slots
1 x PCI Express x4 slots
1 x PCI Express 2.0 x16 / x8 slots
|Storage||Supports HDDs with RAID 0, 1,5,10 functions|
7 x SATA 3.0 6Gb/s connectors with AHCI support
1 x Support mSATA by mini PCIE slot
|Audio||Realtek ALC892 HD Audio CODEC with 8-Channel|
|Ethernet LAN||Realtek RTL8111F PCI Express Gigabit LAN|
|Rear Panel I / O||4 x USB 2.0 port|
2 x USB 3.0 port
1 x Dual-Link DVI port
1 x HDMI port
1 x Supporting Bluetooth® 2.1 + EDR by Atheros AR3011
PS/2 KB/MS combo port
1 x VGA (DB-15)
RJ- 45 Gigabit LAN with ESD
|Internal I / O||2 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
1 x COM headers
Control (Front) panel headers
1 x USB 3.0 headers
Audio I/O (Front) header
CMOS clear Button
Dual BIOS select switch with indicator LED
|Form Factor||ATX, Size 12″ x 9.6″|
|OS support||Windows 7 (32/64) bit|
The word “PURE” used in the naming incorporates three sets of features: PURE Speed, PURE Features, and PURE Reliability. PURE Speed features include support for Trinity APUs, DDR3 support up to 1600 MHz and beyond (via overclocking), Gigabit LAN, seven SATA 6 GB/s, and the TriXX tweaking software. The PURE Features options include USB 3.0 support, AMD Crossfire technology, Bluetooth 2.1 support, and PCI Express Gen 2. PURE Reliability encompasses 100% polymer solid capacitors, high quality IR Digital PWM components, onboard diagnostic and CPU temp LED display, and a dual BIOS switch.
Packaging and First Look
The Sapphire color scheme for this PURE Platinum rendition is predominantly black, and uh…. platinum of course! The box front is splattered with icons depicting many of the features, and the large shield-like PURE Platinum logo. The back of the box lists the features, as shown above and some additional branding. The right side of the box has a detailed list of specifications, while the left side is home to the bar coding sticker.
Once the outer carton is opened, another solid black box awaits you. Inside, and sitting at the top, are the accessories packaged with the PURE Platinum A85XT. The accessories include the following items:
- Product Registration Pamphlet
- Quick Installation Guide
- Driver/Software DVD
- I/O Shield
- 6 x SATA 3.0 Cables
- 3.5″ Drive Bay USB 3.0 FP Connector
The included SATA cables only have a locking latch on one end, which some people might like and others not. The USB 3.0 drive can be installed in an open PCI expansion slot, if preferred, by removing the head assembly and installing it on the the enclosed PCI bracket instead. The quick start manual is a good basic setup manual, but does not go into much detail about the board. Thankfully, a very detailed manual can be downloaded at the Sapphire website.
Under the cardboard bed where the accessories are housed, you find the motherboard itself. The board is wrapped in the customary anti static bag and sitting on a foam pad.
Before we dive in for a closer look at the Sapphire PURE Platinum A85XT, here are some pictures from various angles to tide you over. The board is built on a brown PCB with blue, black, and red highlights coming via the different slots on the motherboard. It’s probably not the most attractive color combination out there; but unless you’re building an all out, color coordinated system, it’s probably not an issue to most.
A Closer look/Under the Hood
Let’s begin with a look at the PURE Platinum A85XT’s outer perimeter, beginning with the bottom area. Here we find the built-in speaker and the com port connection. Also located here are the onboard power, reset, and reset CMOS buttons. Moving over to the right, we find a lot going on. The BIOS select switch is found here and allows you to switch between two BIOS versions. There are two 3-pin fan headers, two USB 2.0 connections, and the USB 3.0 connection all located here as well. The LED digital display on the edge of the board shows post codes for trouble shooting, and once the system is booted, displays the CPU temperature.
On the lower-right side of the board is where the front panel connections, seven SATA 6GB/s ports, and another 3-pin fan header are found. The upper-right side has the 24-pin ATX power connection, yet another 3-pin fan header, and three LED lights (labeled LED 1, 2, 3). LED 1 illuminates yellow when DIMM slots are functional, LED 2 illuminates green when the system is powered on, and LED 3 illuminates blue when the system is in standby mode. From this vantage point, we also get a good look at the four DDR3 memory slots.
The top of the board has a set of voltage readout points, which strangely are not mentioned anywhere in the documentation. Two more fan headers (power and CPU) round out the five in total. The 8-pin +12V ATX CPU power connection is tucked in behind the PWM heatsink.
The all important left side of the motherboard has all the I/O connections in the top area. The connections include the following:
- Combo Mouse/Keyboard PS/2
- Bluetooth Module
- Four USB 2.0
- Two USB 3.0
- Optical S/PDIF Out
- Gigabit LAN
- 8-Channel Audio Jacks
At the bottom-left there isn’t a whole lot to talk about, other than the front panel audio and S/PDIF headers.
As we move toward the center of the PURE Platinum A85XT, we get to the PCI-e and PCI slots. There are two PCI-e graphics card slots that can be used for a Crossfire setup if desired. A single card in PCI-e2 will run at x16 speed, and adding another card in PCI-e5 will result in both cards running at x8 speed. There are also one PCI-e x4 and two PCI-e x1 slots available. Something we are seeing less and less of now days is the inclusion of PCI slots, there are two of them on this board.
The Socket FM2 area is free of any large obstructions and appears ready to accommodate just about any air cooler. You’ll probably find memory module height being an impedance before the openness of the socket area becomes an issue.
Between the two PCI-e graphics slots is where you find the onboard mPCIe slot. I’m not quite sure about where Sapphire decided to locate this mPCIe slot. It appears there may be clearance problems if a dual slot video card is installed with the mPCIe slot populated.
Even though there is a BIOS switch that can be used to boot the system from an alternate BIOS version should one of them get corrupt, it’s always nice to be able to replace the chip itself should disaster strike and both get corrupted. The picture below shows the clam shell outlined in red; it can be opened to gain access to the BIOS chip if it ever needs replacing.
As we explore several of the chips used on the PURE Platinum A85XT, we first find that Realtek is the vendor of choice for both the onboard audio and LAN functions. The LAN controller is provided by the RTL8111F Gigabit chip, and the audio is controlled by the ALC892 Codec chip.
PCI-e lane switching is handled by four ASMedia ASM1440 multiplexer/demultiplexer switching chips. The 6+2 phase PWM Controller is handled by International Rectifiers IR3567A voltage regulation chip.
The two heatsinks on the Sapphire PURE Platinum A85XT were making excellent contact with the intended chips, and the thermal interface material was well applied. The thermal pad used for the PWM chips came off in pieces after removing the heatsink, but it was making perfect contact across the span of chips. It’s a good thing I keep plenty of replacement thermal pads on hand!
With the heatsinks removed, we get a good look at the AMD A85X (Hudson-D4) chipset and the 8-phase power delivery system.
The AMI UEFI BIOS
The UEFI BIOS that Sapphire uses is loaded up with enough options to get the APU, Memory, and other sub systems fine tuned. Unfortunately, there is no option to save screen shots to an image file. So, in lieu of poor quality camera images, we’ll use the pictures that are in the detailed users manual. The user’s manual that you download from Sapphire’s web site is one of the most detailed I have come across, especially when it comes to the UEFI BIOS.
When entering the UEFI BIOS, you’re greeted with the Main tab. The first thing I noticed when landing here was the system monitoring information at the bottom of the screen. This information follows you on every screen as you navigate through the different areas. The Main tab is mostly informational, but you can set the time and date here.
The Performance tab is where the overclockers will spend a lot of time. Here we have the CPU and GPU host clocks, CPU ratios, and frequency controls. The two sub menus allow for memory and voltage manipulation. Under the Memory Configuration sub menu, you will find the ability to set the memory frequency. In my particular case, the memory frequency option only went as high as DDR3-2133 MHz, even though the installed kit is DDR3-2400 MHz. I can’t really complain about that because the Trinity APUs officially support up to DDR3-1867 MHz memory. Of course, you also have the ability to manually set the memory timings here, as well. The Voltage Configuration sub menu has the typical APU and memory voltage options. The APU voltage mode can be changed from using offset values to hard voltage numbers if you prefer.
I did run across a very annoying bug in the current BIOS version where overclocking is concerned. When you attempt to overclock, before doing so you have to restore defaults before making any changes. In other words, let’s say you achieved a stable 4.3 GHZ and want to try 4.4 GHz. If you raise the multiplier to x44 and bump the APU voltage to accommodate, the system will fail to post and give a watchdog error. Even if you go back into BIOS and set things back to stock values, you again get a watchdog error and a no post situation. Rinse and repeat. So, basically what this means is every time you want to play with overclocking, you have to start with a clean slate and begin by restoring defaults. Then you can proceed to set your overclocking parameters. This becomes quite a time burner when trying different settings along the overclocking journey.
Moving over to the Advanced tab, we come to eight sub menus. Within these sub menus you can set wake times and adjust sleep/hibernation states, for starters. Diving deeper into the CPU Configuration sub menu, you can set the APU C-States and Performance Boost Mode. The SATA Configuration sub menu allows you to set the ports to AHCI, Legacy IDE, or Raid. It appears that you can assign eSATA functions to each of the SATA ports from here too. I guess that’s just another way of calling it a “Hot-Swap” port. The rest of the sub menus have to do with the USB, Super I/O, Hardware Monitoring, and onboard device settings. In the Hardware Monitoring sub menu, you will also find the Smart Fan configuration options, which allow you to control three of the five motherboard fan headers.
The Chipset tab has two sub menus dealing with graphics and memory. The GFX Configuration sub menu allows for setting the primary video device and enabling or disabling the integrated graphics controller. The DIMM Information sub menu is informational only and gives you the installed location, size, and speed of the modules.
The final few areas of the UEFI BIOS include the Boot, Security, and Exit tabs. The Boot tab is where you set your drive BBS and boot priorities, and the Security tab is for setting administrator and user passwords. The Exit tab allows you to save only one BIOS profile; it’s called “Save as User Defaults”. Only having the ability to save a single profile is something that Sapphire needs to improve on, that simply is not enough. From the Exit tab you can also flash the BIOS by using the incorporated S_BIOS flash utility. You can also flash the bios versions between the primary and secondary BIOS if needed.
The included software is very slim to say the least. Other than the drivers, the enclosed DVD has Sapphire’s TriXX monitoring and overclocking software, and that my friends is all there is. When you install the TriXX utility, it also gives you a sidebar gadget with monitoring information. I like the gadget!
The monitoring portion of TriXX works well enough, but the overclocking part needs work. If you look at the picture above, the option to change the CPU ratio is grayed out … not good! The only way to boost processor speed from here is by adjusting the bus frequency … what sense does that make? I think it would be nice if they included the option to overclock the integrated GPU from here too, don’t you? Suffice to say, any overclocking adventures (CPU or GPU) will need to be done from within the BIOS.
Overclocking and Benchmarks
Sapphire PURE Platinum A85XT Motherboard
AMD A10-5800K Trinity APU (Overclockers Approved!)
G.Skill 2X8 DDR3-2400 MHz Gb F3-2400C10D-16GTX
OCZ Vertex4 128 GB SSD
EVGA Superclock CPU Cooler
Corsair HX1050 Power Supply
Window 7 Pro x64
The Sapphire PURE Platinum A85XT overclocked much better than the Gigabyte GA-F2A85X-UP4 I used for the Trinity APU review, more on this later. In order to keep the benchmark results on an even playing field, the overclock on the Sapphire board is set to the same 4.4 GHz which the Gigabyte board topped out at. The voltages needed to obtain the 4.4 GHz overclock were identical for both motherboards. As we work our way through the benchmarks, we’ll compare the two motherboards head to head using the same benchmarks we used during the Trinity APU review. Because the platform is so new, we only have the Sapphire and Gigabyte boards to compare this time around. I’m sure that list is going to grow as time goes on. I don’t expect to see a lot of difference between the two boards, but we’ll see.
First thing to do is run stability testing at both stock and overclocked speeds, both went off without a hitch. During the stock stability test, I set the memory to 2133 MHz just to make sure that function worked.
The Sper Pi 1M results showed almost identical scores between the two boards. The Sapphire board was just ahead when overclocked and just behind at stock. The SuperPi 32M results flipped with the Sapphire coming out on top at stock, but falling behind when overclocked.
WPrime 32MShowed the Sapphire PURE Platinum A85XT coming out on top at both stock and overclocked, and the 1024M results finished off the sweep for Sapphire.
Next up is some CPU rendering action in the form of Cinebench R10 and R11.5. The R10 run showed the Gigabyte board far ahead when overclocked, but at stock the Sapphire was substantially better. These results were a bit odd to me so I double checked them and came out with the same results twice. In Cinebench R11.5, almost identical results were recorded while overclocked, but the Sapphire board was quite a bit better when both boards were at stock.
Next up is the PoV Ray and x264 Benchmark runs. PoV Ray shows a slight win for the Sapphire board, while overclocked; and a more sizable win during the stock testing. The x264 pass 1 results show the Gigabyte board coming out on top at both stock and overclocked, while the pass 2 results show the Sapphire on top at stock and the Gigabyte winning out while overclocked.
Our last set of benchmarks are the AIDA64 CPU and FPU tests. There isn’t really a whole lot to talk about in regards to the CPU results as most of the scores were within a percentage point of each other. The same held true for the FPU testing as well, with little or no advantage for either motherboard noticed.
Pushing the Limits
I was able to get the memory set to the maximum available BIOS option of 2133 MHz, no problem there. There is a warning in BIOS about not going over 1.65 V for the APU, I’ll take them at their word. I was able to get the CPU stable at 4.6 GHz, which was 200 MHz higher than I was ever able to get the Gigabyte board. I had to apply 1.575 V to the APU and disable LLC to get there. With LLC disabled, the actual APU voltage was coming close to the recommended 1.65 V warning territory. Also worth noting is the GPU overclocking, which worked quite well and easily pushed the GPU speed from 800 MHz to 1050 MHz.
At 4.6 GHz, I ran a few benchmarks to compare against the previous 4.4 GHz overclocked scores, some nice gains were achieved here.
Ok, to heck with stability! Let’s see if we can get a couple benchmark runs at 4.8 GHz. I did manage to get SuperPI 1M and WPrime 32M accomplished at this speed.
All in all, quite an improvement from the Gigabyte motherboard I used for the A10-5800K Trinity review, which refused to do anything over 4.4 GHz.
Sapphire tells us the PURE Platinum A85XT will carry a MSRP of approximately $139.00. At this price, it’s $10 more than the Gigabyte F2A85X-UP4, and the same price as the ASUS F2A85-V Pro. The advantage over the Gigabyte board is obvious on an enthusiast level, plus the included Bluetooth adapter is probably where most of the price difference comes from. I don’t have the ASUS version on hand, but a feature comparison shows the two boards being pretty much the same, except for the ASUS board not appearing to have Bluetooth capabilities. The other feature the PURE Platinum A85XT has over the competitors is the built in mPCIe slot. So, pricing is right where it should be, or perhaps even under, considering the Bluetooth and mPCIe features.
Honestly, after doing the A10-5800K Trinity APU review, I had my doubts about FM2 being much of an overclocking platform. I’m happy to report the Sapphire PURE Platinum A85XT has tuned those doubts around. Other than the annoying BIOS glitch I mentioned earlier and the lack of any memory settings over 2133 MHz, the motherboard really does overclock quite nicely. I’m sure those issues will be addressed in future BIOS updates though, at least I hope so.
The included accessories are more than adequate, and the USB 3.0 drive is a a nice touch. On the software side, the TriXX overclocking/monitoring utility is all you get, and probably all you really need. The overclocking portion of TriXX needs to be enhanced, in my opinion, to include CPU ratio and GPU frequency controls. I am glad to see it does a nice job of monitoring the APU temperatures though; it’s the first utility I have run across that can on this platform.
For the AMD fans out there looking to get into the FM2 platform, the Sapphire PURE Platinum A85XT is deserving of serious consideration. A solid initial FM2 offering from Sapphire!
-Dino DeCesari (Lvcoyote)