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First impressions of Intel's Skulltrail motherboard

First impressions of Intel's Skulltrail motherboard

Current Intel chipsets do not offer SLI support for Nvidia graphics cards. This will not change in the coming months, only one exception will be made: Intel's Skulltrail platform, a combination of a dual-processor mainboard with support for up to four PCIe x16 graphics cards.

In addition to Nvidia's SLI technology, Skulltrail also continues to support ATi's CrossFire technology. The “D5400XS” board is thus the first mainboard that gives customers a free choice when it comes to graphics cards. Nvidia's SLI is made possible by its own chip, the nForce 100 MCP. Like the nForce 200 in the Nvidia 700 series , the latter provides the necessary PCI Express lanes for the graphics cards, since the original Intel chipset can offer a maximum of 32 lanes on the board. Two chips of the nForce 100 MCP are hidden together with the Southbridge under a voluminous cooler. So far, the heat dissipation has been solved with three small passive coolers , but in continuous operation a complete system seems to give off too much heat for this. Various other passive coolers on the board should facilitate the heat dissipation of the installed components. This can also be seen on the I/O panel, which offers a large free space that should also be used for cooling.

Intel's D5400XS I/O panel

None of these cooling solutions should be surprising if you take a look at the specifications and equipment the board throws. Intel gives the processors, of which there is space for up to two on the board, a TDP of up to 150 watts on the way. But many other components also ensure increased power requirements. Even the FB-DIMM memory with a consumption of 10 watts per module (approx. 5Watt for the Advanced Memory Buffer) is not one of the power savers. If you take a look at the power connections on the mainboard, it becomes clear that you had to come up with something for the cooling. A 24-pin ATX plug, two 8-pin EPS power plugs, which hardly a power supply unit can offer, and a 4-pin hard drive power connector reveal the hunger for performance. In addition, there is the waste heat from various graphics cards, which should complete the 'small oven'.

Intel D5400XS

Skulltrail is based on the Seaburg chipset (5400 series ) that is part of the Stoakley platform. Stoakley is the successor to the Bensley platform (5000 chipset series) introduced a good 18 months ago, which can accommodate two Xeon processors with socket 771. Stoakley continues to rely on FB-DIMM memory and brings support for the 'Harpertown' processors of the Xeon 5400 and 5200 type, which are accelerated to FSB1600 and which were introduced at the beginning of November. The only non-Xeon will be a special Core 2 Extreme QX9775 at the beginning of 2008, a virtually identical model to the Core 2 Extreme QX9770 , but based on the Socket 771. The Northbridge will still be combined with the ESB2 southbridge (Intel 6321ESB I/O controller hub) and, compared to the ICH9 currently used in desktop systems, offers only 8 versus 12 USB 2.0 controllers. In addition, 6x serial ATA of the second generation and 1x parallel ATA are offered. Other features include everyday things like 7.1 audio, Gigabit LAN, eSATA and FireWire.

Intel D5400XS

You shouldn't think about the price of a fully equipped system today. Ever two processors that cost 1,500 US dollars each , plus FB-DIMM type RAM, which of course cannot score with the lower prices of DDR2 memory. Even with “only” two high-end graphics cards and the necessary accessories, this combination will not be an option for most prospective buyers in view of the price. An exact start date is still pending, as of course the price of this motherboard from Intel. It can be assumed that with the right processor, which is expected towards the end of the first quarter of 2008, a suitable mainboard will also be available.