Skulltrail Sneak Peek in the Intel CES Secret Bunker

Yup, it is dark inside the secret Intel CES bunker here in Las Vegas, so apologies for the dark shaky-cam nature of my little film below. 😉

I caught up with Francois Piednoel who gave me a glimpse into the power of Skulltrail. For those of you who don’t know – Skulltrail is the codename for Intel’s ultmate enthusiast product, a two CPU 8 core overclockable monster machine with four x16 PCI-Express slots. Francois was showing it off with 2 Nvidia G80’s nicely nestled within the bowels of a beautifully painted Alienware ninja gaming rig.


The Alienware was watercooled, but he let me take some snaps of another system he made himself that was running at 4GHz using only an air-cooling solution.


For those of you who are tempted to leave comments about how 8 cores are just not necessary for gaming – check out the Skulltrail CPU utilisation while flying an Aribus A380 in the latest version of Microsoft Flight Simulator.



Skulltrail is expected to ship in the next three months – which makes Francois happy.


63 thoughts on “Skulltrail Sneak Peek in the Intel CES Secret Bunker

  1. I heard that the Skulltrail mobo will have very limited quantities (2000 units) and that all are allocated to system builders such as alienware … I hope that’s not true … I’d rather build my own system.

  2. …Is this board going to just support 771 socket chips like the Xeon, or can we expect a 775 based board with support for the QX9750?
    Personally I think this would be great especially if we saw DDR3 support as well.

  3. Skulltrail is supporting Xeon processors, the 65nm and 45nm famillies. It has to be 771 socket compatible. Only FD-DIMM 800Mhz is supported, but It is quad channels, and delivers some pretty impressive performance.
    “Tuning” features are in the BIOS, have fun!
    My advice: Get some Halfnium into the Sockets!!!!

  4. Please Francoise, when this will be out approx? I want a Seaburg mobo, but for me must be an Intel one. With SLI if possible.. so 🙂
    But would be nice to know even aprox how much I’ll wait.
    Thank you

  5. Thank you for your answer, I hope you have this very soon.. I’ll be waiting (and lots of people) 🙂
    But please keep us informed.
    BTW sorry for misspelling your name, didn’t notice until it was posted.

  6. I would like to order the CPUs and motherboard. Any idea when I am able to do so? Would it be available to retailers/resellers? Thanks.

  7. We are in the fine tuning stage, so, since we want it to be perfect, we are not rushing this. See it as a F1, we are done building it, we are now driving around the loop as much as we need to get it perfect …
    stay tune. (Can’t say more 😉

  8. Thanks, Francois. I am looking forward to the imminent launch. BTW, from what I have read at several tech news sites, the motherboard has to be ordered directly from Intel. Is this true? If so, how do I get in contact with Intel direct sales? Thanks again.

  9. I have 2 questions:
    1. Will there be Skulltrail boards from other manufacturers, such as Asus?
    2. Will there be CPUs for Skulltrail with 1600 FSB besides the QX9775? I know this is aimed towards the ‘price doesn’t matter’ crowd, but, I’m committed to buying this board, even though it will take every last dime I have. I’m hoping there will be a lower priced option for the CPU that still maintains the key elements: 12MB L2 Cache, 1600 FSB, 45nm.

  10. ^ Jan 16 | Christian Hedberg said:
    “…Is this board going to just support 771 socket chips like the Xeon, or can we expect a 775 based board with support for the QX9750?”
    The QX9775 uses a 771 socket and therefore is compatible with Skulltrail, in fact I think this is probably going to be its processor of choice.
    Compliments to Francois and Intel for raising the bar. I’m relieved to hear that Skulltrail will not have limited production. There’s a lot of interest and I was worried about being able to get one at all. Can’t wait until it’s available from system builders.
    Here’s the Wikipedia article which I have updated:

  11. Well Francois said it very clearly:
    “Skulltrail is supporting Xeon processors, the 65nm and 45nm famillies.” (So I think you need to check your entry in wikipedia since Xeon support isn’t mentioned nor the 65nm family)
    There are several Xeon processors at 1600 FSB, but unfortunately so far only OEM versions, I hope there will be “normal” boxed versions by the time this motherboard is out. (If anyone at Intel can say when they’ll be out I’ll be very thankful)
    I don’t know if it would support the Core model you mention, while it is socket compatible, it would need changes in the BIOS, Seaburg is a workstation chipset designed for Xeon processors and anyway who would want a hot Core extreme processor over a same clocked Xeon at 80 watts? 🙂
    While you might like any brands I’ll warn you about this.
    This is a workstation class board (despite that in this version is aimed at gamers, still doesn’t change what it is); Asus isn’t specialized on server/workstation mainboards, for that is only Intel and then Tyan or Supermicro. Beyond that if you search a bit, you’ll see no one else is reliable. Personally tho, I want Intel (is the most reliable) that’s why I am waiting on this one.

  12. What is better, the QX9775, or one of the Xeons with 12MB cache, 1600 FSB, 45nm. I plan on using this PC to game, but also, it will see some use with Photoshop, some light video editing maybe, and whatever my computer science course throws at me. Its not for work, at least, not yet, but I think a PC of this magnitude will be able to hold its own for a few years, so it may see some real-world work later on. I heard these Xeons are the same as the QX9775, except that they handle multi-tasking better. I’d like it if someone could shine some light here, and clarify the differences between a Xeon and the QX9775 with similar specs.

  13. @H8ff0000 You don’t want to get a workstation/server board, and you don’t want a Xeon processor. Both of those would be a complete waist of money and would take you in the exact opposite direction of what your looking for. While Skulltrail was designed from a workstation chipset it is a totally seperate chipset and has many differentiating features. Skulltrail is currently the best possible platform for the applications you mentioned. Although, not the best value I’m sure. Similarly the Core 2 Extreme QX9770 (45nm, 12 MB, 1600 FSB, insanely overclockable) is the best processor for those applications. The Xeon line is optimized and designed from the ground up for very different applications (servers and workstations). Sources all over the web state that Intel will be primarily, if not exclusively, marketing Skulltrail to high end gaming system builders (Alienware, Voodoo, etc.), and that it will be sold with a socket 771 version of the QX9770, called the QX9775. Who knows what kind of configurations the system builders will offer, but if you’re trying to save money on the processor, I would suggest you get the QX9775, but start with only one processor. You can always fill the second socket later if you want. Spend the extra money on video cards and memory which are more important for your applications anyway. Hope this helps.

  14. It does, and thanks for the help. I guess to start I’ll try for a Skulltrail board, a 2GB DDR2 FB-DIMM, a QX9775, and… well actually, as far GPUs go, there is no good choice right now. Guess I’ll have to get an AGP-PCIe adapter or something, and use my current card, a 7600 GS 512MB, til the 9 series comes out. An 8800 Ultra is a waste right now, with plenty of next-gen games around the corner (and one machine-crippler already here.)

  15. I’ve got the money in hand waiting, would just like to know
    1. How can 4 8800 Ultras fit? I haven’t seen any pics showing this, and it looks physically impossible. This wouldn’t kill it for me, as I could see using the already-shown-used 2, the maybe the farthest 1 as the third, and if there is space, throw a physx card or something in the leftover.
    2. Is this gonna be available at retailers ala Newegg, or only straight from Intel?
    Please, pretty please hook up some answers?

  16. Just to be clear, we recommend you use the QX9775 on skulltrail, it is the perfect match.
    All other matching between CPU and board is what we are working on now, you can expect that you need 1600 FSB support from your CPU.
    Does it clarify?
    On the GPU question, you can connect 4 GPUs even 8 if you have a Dual GPU PCIexpress board, as long as you can get the drivers, it will work. We are electrically compatible.
    2 of the PCIexpress slots are 1 slot large, you got to accomodate special cooling on the slot 3 and 4 if you plan to use 8800 or 3870, since those boards use 2 slots, due to their cooling. I did get 4 GPUs working 😛
    For the physic card… well, you got 8 cores, I don t think you will need it any time soon.
    I know it will be available online, as white box.

  17. Wow… too early to do an EVGA StepUp for the D9Es… guess I’ll grab a cheap 8400 and suffer. And can anyone say 4 DAYS!? I wish I could get a round-about figure on the Skulltrail price (*Wink-wink Mr. Piednoel?) so I know how much money I’ll need (i.e. what I’ll need to sell on eBay very quickly). A general figure – is it 5, 6, 7(!) hundred???

  18. I’d like to pre-order 2 Intel QX9775 processors and one D5400XS Intel ATX motherboard. Any suggestions? I use SYNNEX primarily but would be happy to oder direct from Intel if that is required.

  19. Hi all,
    Great to see the excitement for Skulltrail! For those asking about pre-orders, unfortunately not yet but they will be in the channel soon in Q1, stay tuned!

  20. Systems based upon the Intel® Desktop Board D5400XS & quad-core Intel® Core™2 Extreme processor: 45nm, 3.2GHz/12M/1600MHz, will be manufactured and sold worldwide by OEMs. Boxed motherboard and processors will be available via Channel distributors, including online e-tailers.
    Don’t worry, if you want one, you will get one.

  21. Hi all, I am ordered 1 pc from Germany for primarily gaming, movie watching and some video edition. Is it Skulltrail can beat my specs: CPU QX9650, Motherboard Asus P5EWS Pro S775 X38, RAM 4×2048 MB DDR3, GPU Dual Asus 8800 Ultra, Superclocked.
    However, I want to upgrade my CPU into QX9770. Please, help in better gaming and movie watching solutions?

  22. In the Skulltrail BIOS the north bridge voltage ,The front-side bus voltage,The CPU voltage and the FSB frequency can be adjusted. BUT the memory speed(frequency ) set seems to be unavailable. This means that the FSB frequency and memory speed(frequency ) can not be adjusted separatly .
    Is that true?

  23. Erdene: Skulltrail is really a separated class of computer, to beat a QX9650 on gaming for sure, you got to start overclocking the memory subsystem. I am not recommanding you to do so, I am just telling you what people actually do with Skulltrail. The big majority of people testing Skulltrail did overclock at 4Ghz in few minutes. They are now learning how to adjust the voltage of the FB-DIMM to get to shorter timings. CL3 FB-DIMM is the goal, if you get to 3-3-3-12 at 800Mhz, you get a killer, especially if you use the 4 channels. Most of the reviews are Dual channels. If you try by yourself, you ll notice that getting to CL3 is more important than more bandwidth.
    Edison: The speed is 800MHz, and you should try to get to CL3 3-3-3-12, this will give you optimal results.
    Again, If you do overclocking, you do it at your own risk, it is out of Specs. I want this to be clear, we are not responsable for the side effects.
    Francois Piednoel,
    Senior Performance Analyst

  24. Feb 04 | Ryan said:
    Where can we pre-order?
    This is a question for your distributor or online shop. It will be available soon, don’t worry, you ll be able to get one.
    We are using regular distribution channels, it will not be hard to find it.

  25. I have read lots of reviews that have reported great successes on SLI with 2 nvidia cards. Will the board run 3-way SLi out of the box or will we have to wait for custom drivers to be created?

  26. Tri-SLI:
    Mechanically and electrically, with 4 full speed electrical x16 PCIe slots, the Intel Desktop Board D5400XS can support up to 4 graphics cards. Drivers and validation and are up to the graphics card vendors as always.

  27. Records I’d be breakin’,
    @MD would be shakin’,
    If I only had a Skulltrail.
    I would dance and be merry,
    Life would be a ding-a-derry,
    If I only had a Skulltrail.
    Please, a hint, anything… lol. Would a vendor be the egg? I’m itching I want it so bad. I don’t even know if its actually out there somewhere. I check here and Google Skulltrail and D5400XS several times a day.

  28. I spotted one for sale, conveniently ‘on backorder’. It was going for $975. Please tell me this isn’t the price range.

  29. @Mechancial Messiah: Skulltrail would be excellent for a 3D workstation, but if you don’t plan to use Quad graphics cards or dual CPUs it might not be worth it. If you use encoding applications that support dual CPUs, you would get a huge benefit.
    @Erdene: Unless you are committed to the absolute best, I don’t think it would be worth upgrading to Skulltrail. This is based on the lack of dual CPU support in applications, and that you would need to buy expensive FB-DIMM memory. As to graphics, I didn’t think X38 supported SLI so I don’t know how you’re using dual 8800 Ultras on that mainboard. With Skulltrail, you would be able to upgrade to 3 or 4 way SLI or Crossfire (given driver and card support).

  30. Actually I’m getting a little put off by all the hype…after reading several reviews, they all state that current applications wouldn’t benefit any (or very little) from the second CPU. The system may or may not run SLi…depending on Nvidias support and the system will probably be superseeded by an 8 core CPU within 6 months. That and all the changing release dates…I think i’m just gonna get a new CPU and be done with Skulltrail…can’t wait any longer on my upgrade 🙁

  31. I’ve been anxiously waiting, but I think Intel missed their shot, and not just with me. The reviews are out, and its not all bad, some of it is record-breaking… just not on the gaming side of things. And thats where this was supposed to be targeted to. I would suggest doing 1 of the following Intel:
    1. Come out and state, on the record, that the reviews don’t depict the final board, and if you do this, then you’re going to have to back that up with specific improvements.
    2. Change the marketing approach on this, and sell it to people working with 3d rendering and other business applications, that take advantage of its high points, but aren’t killed by its low points (like the gaming sector is). Just some advice from a disappointed fan of this idea.

  32. Basically Intel has paired the CPUs and chipset with the wrong type of RAM for their target market (ie. Gaming). In order to achieve performance that trumps high-end CPUs like X5482 one has to use “extreme” measurements like water/phase cooling (think about the amount of cooling needed to make FBDIMM DDR2-6400 to run CL3). I don’t think 3D rendering people would appreciate the need of that – they need stability/reliability – so no way they can sell the Skulltrail platform to them.

  33. Hi all,I have seen the Skulltrail’s BIOS.In the BIOS the memory speed(frequency) seems to be unavailable.In all high-end gamming motherboards the memory speed(frequency) can be adjusted separatly.But the Skulltrail can’t!It’s unbelievable!
    In Skulltrail’s BIOS.The FSB frequency’s adjustment decide the memory speed(frequency).As we know the FB-DIMM memory almost can not run over 800Mhz.IF we overclock FSB over 400Mhz.The FB-DIMM memory probably will be failure.Although the FSB frequency’s adjustment can be adjusted to 550 MHz,the memory speed(frequency)’s limit will make it no significance.
    Of course we can use Extreme QX 9775,it’s not a problem(The processors multiplier is unlocked).We can overclock it with the setting of low FSB(400Mhz) and higher multiplier.So the FSB and memory’s overclocking is not focus.But Extreme QX 9775 is very very expensive.
    The low-end Harpertown XEON(such as XEON E5430) means lower prices.I think most of DIYer prefer to use this kinds of CPU on Skulltrail,but XEON’s multiplier is locked.The only way to overclock XEON is overclocking FSB.The FSB and memory’s overclocking is very important.For example,when we overclock xeon E5430.we can only set FSB in 400Mhz,and CPU will run in 400X8=3200Mhz,it’s not good enough.If we want more higher,we must increase FSB over 400Mhz which means the memory must run over 800Mhz.No FB-DIMM memory can run so higher,the memory and system will be failure.
    So I think the adjustment of memory speed(frequency) is unavailable maybe make us disappointed.

  34. Why didnt you make D5400XS to support norman DDR
    2 or 3 memory? I was very, very disappointed because of the FB-DIMM memory =(

  35. I’d personally like to thank Francois and his team for creating Skulltrail, even if they’ve been teasing us enthusiasts for some time with it (although I do value highly a polished product):) I’ve always wanted a platform that merges the quality and precicion of a workstation with the flexibility of an enthusiast platform. I’m particularly impressed with (and appreciative of) the bulletproof voltage regulation circuitry on the D5400XS, an area that many boards fall short in. I’ve read the previews of the platform with great interest. Some have bemoaned the FB-DIMM architecture, that may slow performance in some circumstances. Hopefully, higher binned, enthusiast-grade memory becomes available to support tighter timings at default (and provide greater overall headroom) and help eliminate this minor drawback.
    As a former Precision 690 owner (with dual X5460s), such a system represents to me unrivaled computer torque. The ability to do anything and everything I want to do when I want to do it. I can game happily and encode video at full speed. A hung application that uses 100% of a core becomes humerous rather than a major annoyance. The addition of SLI really polishes this platform off.
    While I look forward with great anticipation to this platform, I do have some questions/concerns on the D5400XS itself.
    The first is regarding the SLI support. While Francois has previously stated the board electrically supports multi GPU solutions, NVidia has stated that it will not permit more than a dual card SLI implementation, which is very disappointing. It would be ideal to see Intel encourage NVidia to support a Tri-SLI configuration on Skulltrail, especially considering the use of NVidia’s own bridge chips effectively eliminates any non-political reason why such a setup would not work.
    The second concern I have is the lack of support for larger memory configurations on Skulltrail, although the use of 4GB DIMMs will alleviates this somewhat. The Precision 690 I used had 16 memory sockets with the use of riser cards. Perhaps similar, separately-powered riser cards could be an option for Intel to consider for those who are willing to trade tighter memory timings for greater memory quantity.
    Lastly, in preparation for my purchase of the D5400XS, I have perused the user’s manual that recently became available on the support section of Intel’s website. The 4-pin Molex connector present at the very bottom of the board raised a question mark, as the manual states that the connector needs to be connected for PCI-E cards that consume greater than 75W. As I will be getting a custom power supply harness created for my new case, I’m wondering if this connector still needs to be connected when using cards that draw their power from the auxillary PCI-E power connectors and not the motherboard itself, like the 8800 Ultra. Eliminating this connector from the harness would help in maintaining wiring simplicity.
    Again, thanks to Francois and to Intel for a superb platform that represents what this enthusiast has waited for many years to finally see produced. I hope that such platforms based on the next generation processors (Nehalem) will continue to see production in the future.:)

  36. @lutjens: The board doesn’t support 4GB DIMMs.
    I’m curious about the possibility of a riser card as well.

  37. Hi!
    Im about to buy this new system, but because of my financial issues i can only buy 1 QX9775 processor (maybe buying one more later). Is this motherboard still a kick ass with only one processor or would it be better to buy a more cheaper platform and forget this thing?
    Please answer me as fast as you can. Thanks

  38. Francois, i love my skultrail, one question though, can you tell me who supplied the CPU meter used on this video. Thanks as always…Trubritar

  39. Thanks for very interesting article.I really enjoyed reading all of your posts. It’s interesting to read ideas, makes you think more.

  40. I have a skulltrail since 3 months now. Amazing. Use it with quad-sli (2x9800gx2). Now with 280gtx out I would love to use 3-way SLI……….can a driver unlock this. Even ready to pay if required…..
    Don’t want to switch over to 790i motherboard.
    comments welcome

  41. we have the skulltrail and today( June 29) Nvidia said it is NOT supporting the 280 gtx for intels products….only the 9 series and below….grrrr …….we bought two of them for our skulltrail board after speaking with them proir to ordering these items from all over the country !!…. I sure hope that someone at intel comes up with a solution for this because Nvidia hasn’t!

  42. Francois, i love my skultrail, one question though, can you tell me who supplied the CPU meter used on this video. Thanks as always…Trubritar

  43. Francois, i love my skultrail, one question though, can you tell me who supplied the CPU meter used on this video. Thanks as always…Trubritar

  44. I’d like to pre-order 2 Intel QX9775 processors and one D5400XS Intel ATX motherboard. Any suggestions? I use SYNNEX primarily but would be happy to oder direct from Intel if that is required.

  45. thanks I have a skulltrail since 3 months now. Amazing. Use it with quad-sli (2x9800gx2). Now with 280gtx out I would love to use 3-way SLI……….can a driver unlock this. Even ready to pay if required….. Don’t want to switch over to 790i motherboard. comments welcome eddy….

  46. .we bought two of them for our skulltrail board after speaking with them proir to ordering these items from all over the country !!….

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