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Sapphire Pure Black X58 LGA1366 Motherboard Review

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MAC

Associate Review Editor
Joined
Nov 8, 2006
Messages
1,086
Location
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What we have here today is Sapphire’s first new entry into the Intel motherboard market since the Pentium 4 days, the Pure Black X58. Now some of you might be asking why the brand most closely linked to all things AMD/ATI has decided to re-enter this ultra-competitive sector. Well if the rumors are to be believed, sometime last year Sapphire managed to lure over EVGA’s motherboard development team. With not much activity on the AMD chipset side, and the engineers responsible for the highly successful Classified series on their payroll, Sapphire’s next step was obvious: make new Intel motherboards.

With the release of Intel’s Sandy Bridge platform, the venerable Core i7-900 series processors and X58 chipset have been slightly pushed into the shadows. However, with the recent Cougar Point ICH chipset fiasco, some posited that a protracted absence of Sandy Bridge parts might have the effect of dragging the tried and true LGA1366 platform back into the limelight. From our point-of-view, this hasn’t really been the case, but the LGA1366 can still stake its claim as the flagship platform due to its support for the six-core/twelve-thread Gulftown processors and 32 PCI-Express 2.0 lanes.

The Pure Black X58 model that we are reviewing today is a fairly ambitious first attempt, since it is definitely aimed at the upper-end of the spectrum with its $270-280 price tag. Sapphire has outfitted this motherboard with two SATA 6GB/s ports, five SATA 3GB/s ports, eight USB 2.0 ports, two USB 3.0 ports, a FireWire port, a eSATA port, an onboard Bluetooth receiver, basically the works when it comes to connectivity. There are also cool enthusiast-friendly features like voltage read points, onboard power and reset buttons, and a debug LED display. Expansion slot wise there are an impressive four mechanical PCI-E x16 slots, but don’t get too excited, since there a few huge caveats when it comes to the Pure Black X58’s graphics capabilities. Read on...

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MAC

Associate Review Editor
Joined
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Messages
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Location
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Specifications

Specifications


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As a necessary companion to the Core i7 processors, Intel released the X58 Tylersburg northbridge, now known as the IO Hub (IOH). This reclassification has occurred because of the fact that the memory controller has been integrated into the processor itself. As a result, the IO Hub is now solely responsible for implementing PCI Express lanes and linking to the I/O Controller Hub (ICH) southbridge. Since the front side bus is no more, the X58 communicates with the processor via the new high-speed QuickPath Interface (QPI), and it is connected to the southbridge (ICH) via the traditional Direct Media Interface (DMI). The southbridge is the venerable ICH10R found on all P45 Express motherboards, and it supports six SATA II ports, AHCI, and Matrix RAID technology.

The X58 features 36 PCI-Express 2.0 lanes, which signifies that it supports two proper PCI-E x16 slots. However, Sapphire has shockingly decided to forgo this most basic of X58 features, and instead the Pure Black X58 does x16/x8 when two graphics card are installed. A triple card configuration can run at x16/x8/x8, which is the standard for X58 motherboards. As we have come to expect, all X58 motherboards have CrossFireX support, but some models have been certified for NVIDIA SLI as well. Regrettably, Sapphire have decided not to opt for SLI on the X58 Pure Black...possibly because they couldn't get it certified due to the unusual PCI-E speeds.

Officially, Intel's specifications list DDR3-1066 as the highest supported memory speed on the Bloomfield/X58 platform. However, all motherboard manufacturers have marketed their models as DDR3-1600 capable, with many models supporting up to DDR3-2200. Sapphire have been very conservative and have listed this new model as merely DDR3-1600+ capable.

That is about all there is to know about the chipset itself, so let's move on to the motherboard itself. With its $270-280 price tag, the X58 Pure Black is priced as an upper-level X58 motherboard, but can specs sheet back that up, especially considering the aforementioned limitations.

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As we said in the intro, this motherboard does have very good connectivity, and some interesting ‘Special Features’, so let’s find out whether it is a good enough product to make us overlook its multi-GPU shortcomings.
 

MAC

Associate Review Editor
Joined
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Messages
1,086
Location
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Package & Accessories

Package & Accessories


Now that we have gone over the X58 Pure Black's specifications and capabilities, it is time to take a look at the packaging and the included accessories.

Let's check it out:

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For this new product line, Sapphire have opted for a modern, classy, and slightly understated packaging design. However, what it lacks in flashiness it more than makes up in eye-catching glossiness.

The packaging itself is surprisingly compact compared to that of most other X58 motherboards. Many manufacturers seem to be under the illusion that consumers want huge boxes with their pricey motherboards, but all that does is make it more difficult to store the box for the length of the warranty.

Overall, we definitely approve of Sapphire’s efforts in the packaging department.

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As you can see, one of the reasons Sapphire managed to keep the box a standard size is that they didn’t exactly go crazy with the accessories. All that is included is the rear I/O panel, six SATA cables, one IDE cable, the manual, and a driver/software CD. There is no PCI expansion bracket or SLI bridge (obviously).
 

MAC

Associate Review Editor
Joined
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Messages
1,086
Location
Montreal
A Closer Look at the Pure Black X58

A Closer Look at the Pure Black X58



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On the layout front, the Pure Black X58 has been fairly well though out. All but one of the SATA ports are 90-degree angled, as is the IDE connector. The voltage read points, 24-pin ATX power connector, clear CMOS/power/reset buttons, and debug LED display are all right on the edge of the monitor where they should be. The 8-pin CPU power connector is sandwiched between the MOSFET heatsink and the rear I/O panel, and that does make plugging/unplugging the connector much more difficult than its needs to be. Also, we really would have preferred to see the debug display on the right side of the motherboard, since it can be very difficult/impossible to see when it is in a case and there is an expansion card in the bottommost PCI-E x16 slot or a dual-slot card in the third PCI-E x16 slot. Last but not least, we would have liked to them shoehorn a PCI-E x1 slot somewhere, preferably above the first PCI-E x16 slot.

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Compared to some competing models, the Pure Black X58 has a pretty clean CPU socket area. Those with more extreme ambitions should find this motherboard very easy to insulate. However, the MOSFET heatsink is a little too close to the CPU socket, and we suspect that some CPU cooler mounting kits may actually not fit on this motherboard, at least not in their intended orientation.

For those who are curious, this motherboard features a LOTES socket assembly.

Sapphire have outfitted this model with an 8+2 power design. While that might not sound like much given the extravagant designs found on some motherboard, this one is based on the highly capable DrMOS (Driver-MOSFET) power components, which feature a 3-in-1 design with the Driver IC, top MOSFET, and bottom MOSFET all in one package. There are 8 phases for the CPU and 2 phases for the CPU VTT (aka: Uncore/L3 Cache/Integrated Controllers). The MOSFETs (and eight of the Sapphire-branded ‘Diamond Black’ chokes) are cooled by a fairly tall heatsink that is connected to the northbridge heatsink via a thick heatpipe.

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The northbridge heatsink a pretty sizeable chunk of aluminium, and it is conveniently held down (along with the MOSFET heatsink) by screws. It makes contact with the X58 IOH via a thermal pad, which is less than ideal, but also easily replaceable with the thermal compound of your choice.

Upon removal of the cooling system, we can finally see the aforementioned all-in-one RENESAS-sourced DrMOS component.

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The six black & blue memory slots have the same spacing as we have seen on all other six slot motherboards, which is to say that you will not want to use any memory modules with abnormally thick heatspreaders. This motherboard supports 24GB of system memory, and Sapphire have certified it as DDR3-1600+ capable. We think that’s a little too conservative when you consider that most other brands showcase their support for DDR3-2000 to 2200.

The Pure Black is outfitted with a three-phase power design for the memory, highlighted by
Sapphire's Diamond Black chokes. What really makes this area special though are the six very handy voltage read points for CPU, CPU VTT, CPU PLL, DRAM, Northbridge, Southbridge, and there's even a dedicated ground pad.

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The ICH10R southbridge is capably cooled by simple low profile fined aluminium heatsink, held down by push-pins, with a Pure Black X58 badget on top. Next to the southbridge is the Marvell 88SE9128, which was the very first SATA 6Gb/s RAID controller.

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The five black SATA 3Gb/s ports come from the ICH10R southbridge and support RAID 0/1/5/10. The aforementioned Marvell 88SE9128 provides SATA 6Gb/s capability and RAID 0/1 support to the two red ports. For those who love legacy interfaces, Sapphire have also conveniently included an angled IDE connector.

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Here is the fifth SATA 3Gb/s port, sandwich between the lone USB 2.0 header and front-panel header.
Sapphire have included two BIOS chips on this motherboard, one soldered and one socketed. It is a novel approach that we approve of, since it is much easier to RMA a small chip than it is a full motherboard.
 

MAC

Associate Review Editor
Joined
Nov 8, 2006
Messages
1,086
Location
Montreal
A Closer Look at the Pure Black X58 pt.2

A Closer Look at the Pure Black X58 pt.2



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Ugh, this is where things start to get really ugly for this motherboard. Yes, four mechanical PCI-E x16 slots sound great, but that is when you can actually use them properly.

First and foremost, for some asinine reason, this motherboard does not have two full-speed PCI-E 2.0 x16 slots. Only the very first blue slot can operate at x16. When you install a second graphics card to either of the two remaining blue slots, it will only operate at PCI-E 2.0 x8 speeds. We have never seen this before on any other X58 motherboard, and it completely removes one of two main reasons why anyone would want to build an LGA1366 system at this point. If you want to run a triple graphics card configuration, this motherboard is fine, since it features the usual x16/x8/x8 breakdown. However, forget about quad-anything though, since the grey slot is actually a PCI-E 1.0 slot that tops out at x4.

As we have mentioned previously, this model does support triple CrossFireX, but has no SLI support whatsoever. We don’t know if Sapphire a) didn’t want to pay NVIDIA for the SLI certification, b) didn’t want to deal with NVIDIA at all since they are the premiere Radeon partner, or c) couldn’t get certification because of the unusual x16/x8 configuration. It is one of those great mysteries for the ages.

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On the bottom left corner, we have the ill-placed debug LED display, which serves a
secondary task of displaying the CPU temperature once the system has booted. It should be on the right-side on the motherboard, where it would be easily visible as soon as users remove their case panels. Furthermore, the display gets totally blocked when there is an expansion card in the bottommost PCI-E x16 slot or a dual-slot card in the third PCI-E x16 slot.

The onboard clear CMOS, reset, and power buttons are a welcome sight, but again they would have been slightly more usable on the right side of the motherboard.

The BIOS select switch is allows users to choose between the Pure Black X58’s two BIOS chips in case of issues.

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The Texas Instruments TSB43AB22A controller provides FireWire/IEEE 1394 support. The Fintek F71889F is a Super I/O controller which is responsible for hardware monitoring along with fan speed management, and it also supplies the PS/2 port. The ICS 9LPRS139AKLF is a clock generator. The Marvell 88E8057 is a PCI-E Gigabit LAN controller. The NEC D720200F1 is a USB 3.0 controller that supplies the two USB 3.0 ports on the rear I/O panel. Last but not least, is the Realtek ALC892 eight-channel High Definition audio codec.

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On the rear I/O panel, Sapphire have placed a combo PS/2 keyboard/mouse port, coaxial and optical S/PDIF connectors, Bluetooth 2.1 receiver, two USB 2.0 ports, an eSATA port, a FireWire port, two USB 2.0 ports, two more USB 2.0 ports, a Gigabit LAN port, two USB 3.0 ports, and the six audio jacks.

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On its back, the Pure Black X58 features a small backplate that secures the front-mounted MOSFET heatsinks. As we mentioned before, the northbridge and MOSFET cooling system are properly held in place with screws and washers.
 

MAC

Associate Review Editor
Joined
Nov 8, 2006
Messages
1,086
Location
Montreal
Hardware Installation

Hardware Installation



In the Hardware Installation section we examine how major components fit on the motherboard, and whether there are any serious issues that may affect installation and general functionality. Specifically, we are interested in determining whether there is adequate clearance in all critical areas.

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When installing the mounting hardware for our Prolimatech Mega Shadow, we noticed that space was getting a little tight next to the MOSFET heatsink. We suspect that some CPU cooler mounting kits may in fact not fit on this motherboard due to this clearance issue, or at least not in their intended orientation.

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This motherboard has a big and tall northbridge heatsink, and it almost interfered with one of our fan clips.

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When installed in the traditional North-South orientation, the fan clips from our Prolimatech Mega Shadow did prevent the installation of memory modules with tall heatspreaders in the first memory slot. However…

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...if we removed the fan clip, the memory modules fit perfectly and actually held the fan in place. It is definitely not an ideal solution, but it does work. The best idea is simply to get modules that are the standard DDR3 height.

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Installing the memory slots in the adjoining slots fixed all clearance issues.

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Thanks to the expansion slot layout, there is a nice gap between the Q-DIMM memory clips and the back of the graphics card, so there are no issues when installing/removing memory modules. The 24-pin ATX power connector and the 8-pin CPU power connector are both ideally placed, so that makes assembling and disassembling the system just a tad easier.

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When you install two dual-slot graphics cards on this motherboard you have to decide whether you want to lose access to the PCI slot or the bottommost PCI-E x16 (x4 electrical) slot.

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If you install a dual-slot expansion card in either the third of fourth mechanical PCI-E x16 slots, you will effectively be losing access to the debug LED display, onboard buttons, SATA port, and headers at the bottom of the motherboard.

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The six 90-degree SATA ports and IDE connector are obviously accessible no matter how many graphics cards are installed.

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There is really nothing on the back of the motherboard that would give us cause for concern regarding clearance issues with an aftermarket CPU cooler mounting bracket.
 

MAC

Associate Review Editor
Joined
Nov 8, 2006
Messages
1,086
Location
Montreal
BIOS Rundown

BIOS Rundown



Sapphire have opted for an American Megatrend (AMI) BIOS for the Pure Black X58, and as you will see below it is aesthetically quite similar to what ASUS use on most of their motherboards. Will it be as option-rich and user-friendly? Let’s find out.

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Commendably, Sapphire haven’t bothered to give the Pure Black X58 a full screen boot logo, so we don’t even have to bother recommending that you turn it off.

When we first enter the BIOS, we are presented with the Main tab, it lists some rudimentary system info like the BIOS version, the type of processor, the amount of memory installed, and the date and time.

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The Performance Tab is where all the fun happens. From this area, users can tweak all essential system frequencies, voltages, timings, and CPU features. Some of the selections offer drop-down menus, but on others like the BCLK you must just enter manually.

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You can manually select the QPI Link frequency, or just select the slow or full speed modes. Slow mode useful when you are trying to hit very high BCLK’s where the QPI frequency is often the limit. Using slow mode, the QPI multiplier is set to 12X on Bloomfield chips and 24X on Gulftown’s.

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There is an option to select the memory frequency/multiplier, which you will want to do since otherwise you will running at a paltry DDR3-1066. They have also added a ‘memory timing’ option, which will automatically set memory timings that are best suited for each memory frequency.

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Of course, they also included an option to manually choose the critical Uncore frequency. If you decide to tweak the memory multiplier you will want to manually set the Uncore frequency as well, since the motherboard doesn’t do it very well. Often when we selected DDR3-1066, the motherboard would set a pathetic 1600Mhz Uncore frequency, over 1000Mhz lower than the default for our Core i7-980X processor.

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There’s no need to remember or write down your settings with this motherboard, just save and then load up to 4 different BIOS profiles.

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The CPU Configuration sub-menu has all the Intel-specific CPU features that can you enable or disable. Sapphire have really done a great job here since there are C-state settings that we have never seen on any other motherboard.

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The Pure Black X58 has pretty much every memory timing option that we consider important for most enthusiasts.

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The Voltage Con figuration sub-menu is very option-rich, but we really wish we would manually enter the voltages instead of having to go through drop-down menus. We would really also like smaller increments for all the voltage ranges. Furthermore, we think that the LoadLine Control (LLC) might be inversed in this version of the BIOS. The “Enabled 100%” setting provided no LLC, while the “Disabled” setting actually enabled LLC. This is a relatively minor bug to fix.
 

MAC

Associate Review Editor
Joined
Nov 8, 2006
Messages
1,086
Location
Montreal
BIOS Rundown pt.2

BIOS Rundown pt.2


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The Advanced Tab is where you can enable or disable all of the various onboard devices (RAID & SATA 6Gb/s controllers, audio, USB 2.0, USB 3.0, FireWire, eSATA, GbE LAN, etc). It is also where you can verify voltage temperatures and voltages, as well as tweak an impressive array of fan settings.

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The PCI/PnP section has IRQ and DMA settings that you frankly never even have to think about.

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The Boot tab is essentially where you set storage device priority and select the boot drive, where you can set supervisor and user passwords, and also disable the full screen logo.

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The Security tab is where you can set supervisor and user passwords, should you deem that necessary.

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Can you see what is missing? No integrated easy-to-use flashing tool! With this motherboard you have to create a bootable USB flash drive using an HP tool, and then use the horrendously outdated AFUDOS tool to update the BIOS. This is unacceptable for any motherboard in this day and age, especially once as pricey as high as this one is.
 

MAC

Associate Review Editor
Joined
Nov 8, 2006
Messages
1,086
Location
Montreal
Included Software

Included Software



Lately, motherboard manufacturers have been going all out with regard to bundling new and innovative software their motherboard series. Some utilities are good, most are still mediocre, but most people would agree that they are a welcome addition. Since the Pure Black X58 is Sapphire’s first new high-end motherboard in a very long while, let’s take a look at what they have come up with.

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Once you insert the installation CD, you get this auto-run popup. You are presented with all the essential drivers that you need, the user manual, and the Sapphire Trixx utility.

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Installing Trixx is a one-click process, and it will automatically embed a gadget into your sidebar...even if you have the sidebar disabled. This app allows users to tweak the BCLK, PCI-E frequency, and all of the important system voltages, but nothing else. At the very least some basic fan tweaking capabilities would have been welcome. This utility’s monitoring features are actually a bit above-average, so thumbs up in the regard.

Since Sapphire went through the trouble of including a Bluetooth 2.1 receiver onboard, we did expect some kind of native software or utility to make use of that feature, but there was nothing to be found.
 

MAC

Associate Review Editor
Joined
Nov 8, 2006
Messages
1,086
Location
Montreal
Test Setups & Methodology

Test Setups & Methodology



For this review, we have prepared four different test setups, representing all the popular platforms at the moment, as well as most of the best-selling processors. As much as possible, the four test setups feature identical components, memory timings, drivers, etc. Aside from manually selecting memory frequencies and timings, every option in the BIOS was at its default setting.

Test Setup​
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Although Windows Vista SP1 was our principal OS for the majority of benchmarks, we did use Windows 7 (with all the latest updates) when benchmarking AIDA64.

For all of the benchmarks, appropriate lengths are taken to ensure an equal comparison through methodical setup, installation, and testing. The following outlines our testing methodology:

A) Windows is installed using a full format.

B) Chipset drivers and accessory hardware drivers (audio, network, GPU) are installed followed by a defragment and a reboot.

C)To ensure consistent results, a few tweaks were applied to Windows Vista and the NVIDIA control panel:
  • Sidebar – Disabled
  • UAC – Disabled
  • System Protection/Restore – Disabled
  • Problem & Error Reporting – Disabled
  • Remote Desktop/Assistance - Disabled
  • Windows Security Center Alerts – Disabled
  • Windows Defender – Disabled
  • Screensaver – Disabled
  • Power Plan - High Performance
  • NVIDIA PhysX – Disabled
  • V-Sync – Off

D) Programs and games are then installed & updated followed by another defragment.

E) Windows updates are then completed installing all available updates followed by a defragment.

F) Benchmarks are each run three times after a clean reboot, then the results are averaged. If they are any clearly anomalous results, the benchmark was run 3 times again. If they remained, we make mention of it in the individual benchmark write-up.

Here is a full list of the applications that we utilized in our benchmarking suite:
  • AIDA64 Extreme Edition v1.50.1200 (Windows 7)
  • ScienceMark 2.0 32-bit
  • MaxxMEM2 Preview
  • wPrime Benchmark v2.03
  • HyperPI 0.99b
  • PCMark Vantage Advanced 64-bit Edition (1.0.2.0)
  • Cinebench R10 64-bit
  • Cinebench R11.5.2.9 64-bit
  • WinRAR 3.94 x64
  • Photoshop CS4 64-bit
  • Lame Front-End 1.0
  • X264 Benchmark HD (2nd pass)
  • 7-Zip 9.20 x64
  • POV-Ray v3.7 beta 40
  • Deep Fritz 12
  • 3DMark06 v1.2.0
  • 3DMark Vantage v1.0.2
  • Crysis v1.21
  • Far Cry 2 1.02
  • Left 4 Dead version 1.0.2.3
  • Valve Particle Simulation Benchmark
  • Word in Conflict v1.0.0.0
  • Resident Evil 5 1.0.0.129
  • X3: Terran Conflict 1.2.0.0

That is about all you need to know methodology wise, so let's get to the good stuff!
 
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