Dual socket motherboards have been around for ages, but dual socket enthusiast motherboards have a far shorter history. Back during the days where instruction level parallelism seemed to have no end in sight, having more than one CPU just didn't make sense for the masses. Most Windows applications weren't multithreaded and CPU prices just weren't what they are today.

Many of the same types of applications that benefit from multiple cores today were still around back then; 3D rendering, animation and image processing were all multithreaded CPU hogs. The problem is that if you wanted more than one CPU you generally had to make a choice between a tweakable, high performance enthusiast motherboard or a workstation board. Workstation motherboards were much more expensive, not nearly as flexible from a component standpoint and hardly ever performed as well as their desktop counterparts - the only real benefits were a more robust design and of course, the ability to support multiple CPUs.

Over the years we saw a few important dual-socket enthusiast motherboards arrive on the scene, the most popular of which was arguably ABIT's BP6. For all intents and purposes the BP6 was a desktop motherboard, it just had two CPU sockets. Intel's Celeron processors were cheap enough where you could pop in a couple, overclock them and have a pretty decent workstation based on an enthusiast desktop motherboard. Tradeoffs? There were none. It was a very popular board.

Times do change and eventually AMD/Intel stopped getting amazing returns from simply increasing instruction level parallelism and clock speed with their CPUs. The two turned to thread level parallelism to carry them through the next decade of microprocessor evolution; seemingly overnight, everyone had multiple cores in their systems.

The advent of the multi-core x86 CPU all but eliminated the need for a dual socket enthusiast platform. If you needed more cores simply toss a multi-core CPU in your desktop board and you were good to go. When Intel introduced the first quad-core desktop x86 processors things got even worse for dual socket motherboards. Most applications have a tough time using more than two cores, a single quad core CPU covered virtually all bases - and they were affordable too.

AMD didn't have a quad-core CPU until the recent launch of Phenom. In order to fill the gap between the dual core Athlon 64 X2 and the delayed arrival of Phenom, AMD dusted off plans to introduce a dual socket enthusiast platform and called it Quad FX.

The idea was simple: build an enthusiast platform that used normal dekstop components but had two sockets. With dual-core CPUs this meant that you'd have four cores in a system, and when quad-core arrived you'd have a healthy 8, all on an enthusiast class motherboard.

Quad FX was abandoned by AMD (although it does promise an upgrade path to quad-core CPUs), largely because while you had to buy an expensive motherboard and two dual cores to put the Quad in Quad FX, Intel was shipping faster, single socket, quad-core CPUs.

Intel did see some merit in AMD's Quad FX platform and actually released an ill-prepared competitor, something it called V8. Intel basically took a workstation Xeon motherboard and recommended enthusiasts purchase a pair of quad-core Xeon processors, giving you an 8-core alternative to Quad FX. The problem with the V8 platform was that it was expensive, there was no multi-GPU support and it required expensive FB-DIMMs thanks to its Xeon heritage.


The original V8 board was straight from the server world

Last April, Intel announced that it would be releasing a successor to V8, codenamed: Skulltrail. Designed to fix many of the problems with V8, Intel kept its promise to release the platform despite AMD's abandonment of the Quad FX project.

Today we have a preview of Skulltrail, which Intel expects to make available this quarter. Unlike Intel's Centrino or vPro, Skulltrail isn't officially a "platform" it's just a name for a motherboard and CPU combination, nothing more. The motherboard is the Intel D5400XS, based on Intel's 5000 series server/workstation chipset (yes, FB-DIMMs are still a requirement). The board supports any LGA-771 CPU, but Skulltrail is designed to be used with a new processor: the Core 2 Extreme QX9775.

The CPUs
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  • SiliconDoc - Thursday, February 07, 2008 - link

    You're onto something there, just make it ten times worse, and you'll have the real picture. I've seen hardware years ago that puts current harddrives to shame. So for whatever reasons, things are limited, like the 56k modem was.
    A friend just bought an HD2900 Pro (got it yesterday), 256bit 512mb. There were rumors about that there was a 512 bit version, he swore he saw it advertised. Well, to make a long story short, the $163 512bit version was getting bios flashed and overclocked up to the $400 XT 2900 whatever...(it was the same core apparently ) and it got sold real quickly and then pulled.... it's a ghost now...
    I looked for one since I just found out, and saw one at some place online for nearly $400, at one at a music store online posted but not in stock - special order only, likely a mere pic-e-presence.
    In other words they can pump those things out like mad, and depending on how much turkey they want in their bank...they start doing calculations, and when the consumer "catches" them, it's like anything else.
    Let's face it, prices have gone a bit wild lately, and the big boys must have ringing cash registers in their eyes.
    If they can pump 300 or 500 or 2 grand out of people instead of Disney World or Vegas, they'ell do it, and they see the drooling...,
    slobberer out
    Reply
  • Anonymous Freak - Tuesday, February 05, 2008 - link

    Have you checked the prices of Xeons vs. equivalent Core 2 Extreme recently?

    According to Pricewatch, the Xeon 5472 (3.0 GHz, 1600 MHz bus,) is about $1029/1050. The Core 2 Extreme QX9650 (3.0 GHz, 1600 MHz bus,) is $1038/$1166. I can't find the QX9770 on Pricewatch, but other searches find it is about $1600, while the equivalent Xeon is $1400.

    The Core 2 "Extreme" line has, since its inception, been more expensive than equivalent Xeons. Heck, it might be cheaper to pick up the Xeon equivalent of the 9775 than to pick up the 9775 itself.
    Reply
  • Anonymous Freak - Tuesday, February 05, 2008 - link

    You state: "We tested Skulltrail with only two FB-DIMMs installed, but even in this configuration memory latency was hardly optimal:"

    This is a major flaw in your benchmarking. As [url=http://www.anandtech.com/mac/showdoc.aspx?i=2816&a...">http://www.anandtech.com/mac/showdoc.aspx?i=2816&a...]your own[/url] Mac Pro review shows, quad-channel FB-DIMMs have lower latency, and higher bandwidth, than dual-channel. You should have filled all four FB-DIMM sockets. The latency penalty on multiple AMBs only applies to multiple AMBs on the same channel. For example, in a 5400-based server with four sockets per channel, having four total FB-DIMMs (one per channel, say 4 GB each,) produces better results than eight total FB-DIMMs (two per channel, 2 GB each.) And a sixteen FB-DIMM total (four per channel, 1 GB each,) system fares worst of all. Of course, that is assuming the TOTAL amount of RAM remains the same for each configuration. If you have an application that can benefit from massive amounts of RAM, having the extra RAM will far outweigh the performance penalty of the extra AMBs per channel. (In my example, moving from 16 GB of RAM using four 4 GB FB-DIMMs to 64 GB by having sixteen 4 GB FB-DIMMs, would produce performance benefits to certain applications just from the amount of RAM.)

    In addition, the new chipset, and newer FB-DIMM modules with newer AMBs, produces better results than the first-generation counterparts. For example, your Mac Pro benchmark showed CPU-Z latencies of 87 ns (quad-channel) and 92 ns (dual-channel, worse,) for the Mac Pro, vs. 52 ns for a Core 2 Duo with DDR-2 800; the new benchmark shows 79 ns for the 5400 chipset in dual-channel (assuming the same %, quad-channel should show 74 ns,) vs. 55 ns for a Core 2 Quad with DDR-2 800. Yeah, 74 is still slower than 55, but it's better than the 87 ns the (original) Mac Pro scored. (The new Mac Pro should see an improvement on par with this Skulltrail board over the old Mac Pro.)
    Reply
  • Anand Lal Shimpi - Tuesday, February 05, 2008 - link

    You are correct on the FBD/latency issue. We didn't have small enough FB-DIMMs on hand to run a 4x1GB configuration, but the difference in latency is still not enough to change the situations where Skulltrail is outperformed by its desktop counterparts. The situation will be improved a bit but the point that I was trying to make is that in applications that can't take advantage of all 8 cores, Skulltrail will be slower thanks to its higher latency memory subsystem.

    Take care,
    Anand
    Reply
  • Googer - Monday, February 04, 2008 - link

    For being a premium enthusiast product with a $500 price tag and server DNA, this thing better come with an intergrated SAS controller too. There are plenty of other server/workstation motherboards in this price range that offer SAS, if performance is the purpose for Skulltrails existance, there's no reason for it to be left out. 15,000 RPM drives for the win. Reply
  • dansus - Monday, February 04, 2008 - link

    I would imagine you would see more difference if you used the multi threaded .dll (mt.dll) with x264 when encoding.

    Especially if your doing a 2+ pass encode where the first pass typically uses 50% cpu.

    I can see myself buying one later in the year as prices come down. At the very least, i can do two quad core encodes at once.
    Reply
  • JKing76 - Monday, February 04, 2008 - link

    It's no secret that at a certain point, the computer "enthusiast" market is more about bragging than performance. But this is the most absurd and pointless release of pure e-penis waggling I've ever seen, and as a computer engineer I am literally embarrassed that a legitimate company like Intel is responsible. The EPA should fine Intel for this debacle, penalize them for each machine sold, and confiscate the computers of anyone selfish and stupid enough to buy one. Reply
  • SiliconDoc - Thursday, February 07, 2008 - link

    Wow. I get a kick out the bloggers that so often find so many problems with the really high end machines. Strangely enough they never seem to post their "rig" stats when they are having a big fit of complaints.
    I suspect the real problem is massive e-penis envy, and expecting the government to shutdown a private firms product, confiscate purchasers products unless they pass your "needs" test, and maybe give them a greenpeace fine and carbon tax (I know it crossed someones mind) seems to me to be the biggest green streak of jealousy I've yet to witness.
    The bottom line is, more than 99% of the freaks reading this review would wet their pants and float off into heavenly bliss if they found the "Skulltrail" ( that's what I find offensive - the sick name ) on their desk in the morning.
    I find the whole thing much like let's say a bunch of guys at an auto show putting down the swing-up door 10/80 stainless brand new XXX sports car, when deep down inside not a one of them would turn down the set of keys, no matter how often they'ed claim otherwise.
    Suddenly all that extra cpu-horsepower here would be the prudent reserve for the upcoming releases that no doubt very soon will make use of it all, since dou and quads are now getting to be commonplace.
    It's just all so amusing, when Jones' hate the new McMansion, basically because they aren't living it.
    Reply
  • Nihility - Monday, February 04, 2008 - link

    Why didn't AMD make this available with phenom? would have won them the performance crown (sorta since this apparantly doesn't scale very well). Reply
  • legoman666 - Monday, February 04, 2008 - link

    the scalability has nothing to do with the platform, it has to do with the apps themselves. 2x phenoms will scale no better than 2x Intel quad. There are simply few programs out there designed to take advantage of >1 core, much less 8. Reply

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