Sapphire has a rather interesting approach to the RD580. Rather than a standard blue, green or even red PCB, a new cream white PCB is used - this is the first time I have actually seen a board based on this colour PCB. The size layout is a standard 30x30cm ATX layout with all the goodies you would expect to find.
Layout is very clean. The ATX power connectors are located on opposite sides of the board, the 24 pin is behind the DIMM sockets along with a white FDD port. The 8 pin EPS12v connector is in the middle of the I/O ports, keeping the cables as far away from the CPU and heatsink assembly as possible. There is only a single IDE connector (coloured blue) and located just below the FDD cable, but still well out of the way of the rest of the primary components. Located behind the IDE port are the 4 SATA-II Southbridge controlled ports. There ports support the latest SATA-3G specs and allow for RAID setup of 0, 1, 5, 0+1 and JBOD.
The layout around the CPU is very clean and tidy. There is enough room to install the largest of heatsinks as well as water cooling. One very interesting feature is the heatsink module atop the 4 phase voltage regulator system. While AMD Athlon 64 don't draw as much power as Intel systems, they don't really require anything over 3 phase to work at top performance, though it is nice to see an additional phase added for overclocking stability.
The Rear I/O is rather unique. There is a large gap left between the PS/2 tower ports and the USB/Firewire tower. This is for when ATI releases an integrated graphics version and is where the CRT and DVI ports will go. The rest is pretty standard.
Expansion slots are pretty straight forward. There are 2 PCI Express x16 slots that both work at full x16 speeds. There is a single PCI Express x1 slot and 1 PCI slot. A Second PCI-E x1 slot has been left out because of the addition of an extra PCI-E onboard device which we will cover soon.
The chipset running the show is ATI's latest Xpress chipset. Codenamed RD580, it is now known as the Xpress 3200. This latest chipset incorporates the RD580 Northbridge and either a ULI or ATI SB450 Southbridge.
The RD580 Northbridge builds directly on the original RD400 series Southbridge supporting Crossfire graphics system; however, there have been some new changes. Rather than splitting a single PCI Express x16 lane down to two PCI Express x8 lanes, the RD580 now supports Dual x16 lanes just like nForce 4 x16 chipsets. The major difference is that nVidia needs a second chipset to add x16 support, as the second PCI Express x16 lane on an nForce 4 chipset is located in the Southbridge. ATI has put both x16 lanes in the Northbridge chipset, requiring no additional chips to gain its dual x16 support.
The Southbridge used on the Sapphire board is the ATI SB450. This is the latest addition to the Southbridge family from ATI. This chip supports 4 additional PCI Express lanes, 6 PCI masters, HD Audio, 10/100 Ethernet, 8 USB, 4 port SATA-II RAID controller and all the other LPC goodies that come from the Southbridge's these days. There is no integrated Gigabit LAN like nVidia does, ATI relies on PCI Express based Gigabit LAN solutions, to the left of the first PCI Express x16 slot is a single Marvel PCI Express x1 based Gigabit LAN controller.
Both chipsets run cooler than the nVidia counterparts, only requiring passive cooling to keep them within specified operating temperatures.
Firewire is one of the most popular standards for digital video transfer as well as high speed external mass storage enclosures. Sapphire has added in a VIA 2 port IEEE1394a controller chip - the VT6307 is a refinement of the 6306 chip that supports 1 less Firewire port. The first of the 2 Firewire ports are located on the first USB tower at the back of the I/O plane, the second is added in via expansion bracket.
Now we come to the reason for the missing PCI Express x1 slot between the x16 slots. Since the Southbridge only has 4 PCI Express x1 slots with one being used by the LAN controller, one being used for the PCI Express x1 slot, we have two PCI Express x1 Silicon Image 3132 controller chips to give four extra SATA-II ports. The first chip sits beside the 4 pin Molex connector on the left and the second chip sits near what looks like a missing second BIOS chip on the right.
Also at the bottom of the board are two push button switches that allow you to power the board on as well as reset without having to connect the front panel - which is great for our testing, as we don't install test boards into cases!
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