Intels Skulltrail extreme gaming platform will see an update this year, an obscure German web site reports. Intel will release a Nehalem version of Skulltrail in early 2009, with some interesting changes from the prior version.
Like its predecessor, the new Skulltrail will feature two sockets for quad-core processors and support for both NVIDIA and AMDs multi-GPU systems. However, while the original Skulltrail board was essentially a repurposed server board with a server chipset, this new Skulltrail uses the desktop X58 chipset. It thus seems that X58 supports dual sockets, which is unusual but not unknown among desktop chipsets. NVIDIA has already announced it is allowing SLI on the X58, with a certification program for individual motherboards, with or without use of NVIDIAs nForce 200 SLI bridge chip. Some X58 board manufacturers, including Asus, have announced they will use the chip, while others eschew it. Although Skulltrail currently uses the nForce 200, Intel appears not to be using the bridge and instead seems to be relying on software control.
No details of the new board, like the number of PCIe slots, number of cards supported in SLI and Crossfire, memory support, or hard drive count, have been announced. However, its already a bit fuzzy on what criteria Intel expects Skulltrail to distinguish itself from other X58 boards. With SLI already allowed and 24GB of RAM on three channels of DDR3 supported on the same chipset in other X58 boards, how can Intel distinguish Skulltrail?
Dual processors is one thing, but in gaming, the performance increase from four to eight cores should be minimal to nonexistent. Intel might support quad-SLI or -XFire, and restrict this to Skulltrail. Superior I/O options through additional circuitry, like USB3, SATA600, or FireWire S3200, might also be featured. However, the smaller gap between Skulltrail and other X58 platforms might also account for a decreased price difference. The current Skulltrail motherboard sells for over $600 and supports only the highest-end LGA771 CPUs; perhaps the new Skulltrail will be cheaper, or support the midrange i7 variants. If the board is similar in price to the current Skulltrail, a Skulltrail system with the same graphics cards and RAM might command a mere $600 premium over a comparable single-socket X58 system. This may be the right segmentation point for the availability of quad-GPU systems.
Intel may answer these questions at IDF in Taipei in two weeks; details of the first Skulltrail board appeared there last year.