Skulltrail shows off some 45nm Penryn prowess
San Francisco (CA) - At each IDF there some kind of "secret room" where journalists get to preview new devices or functioning computer systems that Intel wants the world to know about. They are not put on the public display, but rather somewhere "in the back" you can get the low-down. A machine demonstrated during Paul Otellini's keynote on Tuesday was shown, though with a little more attitude.
The most powerful machine demoed was an overclocked Skulltrail. It is a workstation-class Xeon machine with unlocked multipliers allowing it to be overclocked rather significantly. The version we saw was running at 4.0 GHz, though it was slightly unstable. It was cooled by a multi-radiator liquid cooling system for the CPUs, chipset and memory. We were told the GPUs were not liquid cooled in this demo. The machine itself is a special machine in that it supports two quad-core 45nm processors with unlocked multipliers and half-multipliers supported in BIOS. Intel told us they'd be releasing a special CPU release just to support this machine.
Skulltrail is essentially an extension of Intel's upcoming X38, though it was built to allow the enthusiast much more extreme overclocking and uses an nForce MCP to allow both CrossFire and SLI support. When asked about pricing Intel told us it would be commensurate with what we'd expect, meaning very pricey. This kind of machine would be for the highest-end enthusiast who wants to have performance over cost.
As far as performance goes, it was able to break 17K in 3D Mark when running only dual quad-core 3.4 GHz, 1,600 MT/s FSB on air. We were told CINEBENCH would not run on the 4.0 GHz hyper-cooled Skulltrail it just yet. They knew the cause of the issue, but the demonstrators had not yet received a BIOS fix from the software guys to get it working. The 3.4 GHz Skulltrail was used as the reference machine.
Another machine we saw was a stock X38 powerhouse, also with unlocked and half-multipliers. Not all X38 machines will come with half-multipliers, but we were told some will. It was running QX9650 Yorkfield quad-cores at 3.0 GHz, 1,333 MT/s FSB. It was able to run CINEBENCH and 3D Mark and, as you can see, the score is northing to shake a stick at.
Two Dell laptops were also shown. These were identical except that one of them had received the Santa Rosa refresh with a brand new 45nm Penryn and BIOS update. The machines ran through a few benchmarks with the most pronounced speedup coming from a DivX 6.6 encode which sowed the Penryn system's extended SSE4 prowess over the Merom Santa Rosa. Note that DivX 6.6 has already been released. We were told other software programs already include Penryn extensions for faster processing, like DivX.
And lastly we saw a Wolfdale dual-core single-socket machine which had been configured to run on an integrated graphics motherboard. It was sitting idle at only 60 watts, though underload it was hitting close to 90 watts. We were told this was full machine load, not just CPU. The benchmark it was running to hit full utilization was a large Excel spreadsheet recalculation.
All the Skulltrail boxes were essentially similar to the open-case version they had setup in the corner. It was not operational but allowed us to see clearly the inside of the machine. According to the presenters, the X38 uses a full two-slots PCIe x16 which can be piped to dual x16, while Skulltrail uses dedicated bridge chips which support full four-slot x16 for the graphics card. The memory being used in Skulltrail was FB-DIMM 800s. One of the presenters informed us that the memory industry is working on CL3 speeds in excess of 800 MHz. We were also told that Nvidia would be releasing SLI drivers for Skulltrail and any boards with the nForce MCP.
The "secret room" at Fall IDF 2007 definitely did not disappoint. We got to see some real user-level advantages from the Santa Rosa refresh in the Dell notebook. And some higher-end performance numbers were given to demonstrate that the system can be pushed pretty high. And while 3.4 GHz for this demo on water cooling was pretty powerful, the original demo on stage the first day showed a cryogenic cooling plant at -160F. Now that's cold!