Intel Skulltrail Unleashed: Core 2 Extreme QX9775 x 2
There are a lot of subtle details that hint at the Intel D5400XS motherboard’s enthusiast-class nature. The first thing we want to point out is that although the motherboard supports Intel’s LGA771 Xeon processors, the sockets are configured to accept LGA775 heatsinks and coolers. If you’ve ever shopped for LGA771 coolers, you’ll know that it is much more difficult to find quiet, yet powerful LGA771 coolers, but with this motherboard that problem has been eliminated.
The D5400XS motherboard also features an on-board POST code error reporter and handy integrated power and reset switches – at least they’re handy for people like us who have to test a ton of hardware. The motherboard’s expansion slots consist of a quartet of PCI Express X16 slots, that all feature X16 electrical connections thanks to the dual nForce 100 switches, and a pair of standard PCI slots.
Early iterations of Skulltrail featured basic heatsinks on the motherboard’s chipset and PCI Express switches, but the D5400XS that will eventually be for sale features a single large heatsink on the MCH and a wide, flat active cooler that links the Southbridge and nForce 100 chips. This cooler and its associated shroud are definitely two of this motherboard’s flaws. Throughout testing we found the Southbridge cooler’s fan to be excessively loud and the shroud was held in place with double-stick tape that gave way and popped off a couple of days into testing. Unless we got a bum sample, we can’t see the shroud’s double-stick tape holding up in a warm enclosure over an extended period of time, so do yourself a favor and remove it if you should be one of the lucky few who end up buying a D5400XS.
The D5400XS conforms to the EATX form factor, so it will require a compatible chassis. Despite the board’s elaborate feature set, overall its layout is surprisingly good. All of its major connectors and headers are situated around the edges of the board, and they are all clearly labeled and easy to identify. The DIMM slots are located right in the middle of the board, which is a departure from most enthusiast class motherboards, but the positioning works well and obviously doesn’t interfere with any expansion cards. An important note regarding the memory, however, is that the DDR2-800 FB-DIMMs we tested got incredibly hot during normal use. In fact, according to our trusty infrared thermometer, the memory’s outer heatspreader hit a sizzling 63ºC, which means the ICs underneath were no doubt even hotter. It would be a good idea to invest in an active memory cooler if a Skulltrail platform is in your future; although we have to point out we experienced no heat related instability throughout our testing and evaluation.
As for the board’s I/O configuration, it has six internal SATA ports, a single IDE port, and headers for additional USB and Firewire ports. On the I/O backplane, there are no legacy connectors to be found, but it does have six USB ports, dual eSATA ports, single Firewire and Gigabit Ethernet jacks, and analog and digital HD audio inputs / outputs.
While we’re showing off Intel’s extreme flagship motherboard, we also wanted to give Skulltrail’s cousin a bit of exposure. The motherboard you see pictured here is Intel’s DX38BT, which was codenamed Bonetrail during development. As its name implies, the DX38BT board is based on Intel’s X38 express chipset and as such it supports all current Core 2 processors with front side bus speeds up to 1333MHz. An X48 variant is also in the works that will officially support processors with FSB speeds up to 1600MHz. The DX38BT also supports DDR3 memory and has a full set of overclocking controls available via its system BIOS and through Intel’s Desktop Control Center software.
As you can see, the DX38BT also has nearly the exact same I/O port configuration as the D5400XS in its backplane. Like the D5400XS, the DX38BT has dual eSATA ports, single Firewire and Gigabit Ethernet jacks, and analog and digital HD audio inputs / outputs. The DX38BT, however, features eight USB 2.0 ports here, instead of Skulltrail's six.