Intel Hits the 'Skulltrail'

What has turned some heads is that Intel is supporting graphics technology from ATI, owned by competitor AMD.

Intel is gearing up to deliver its latest platform for gaming and other high-end PCs.

At the 2008 Game Developers Conference in San Francisco Feb. 19, Intel will officially unveil its long-talked-about "Skulltrail" platform for gamers and PC enthusiasts. Now officially named the Dual Socket Extreme Desktop Platform, the board will support two, quad-core processors for the first time.

The new platform will use a pair of Intel's Core 2 Extreme QX9775 processors, which offer clock speeds of 3.2GHz, a total of 12MB of L2 cache and a front side bus (FSB) of 1600MHz. The chip is part of the company's Penryn line of 45-nanometer processors, which came to market in November.

The platform's motherboard, the Desktop Board D5400XS, supports multiple graphic cards, including Nvidia's SLI (Scalable Link Interface) or ATI's Crossfire graphic cards. The board features four, PCI Express x16 Gen 1.1 slots, which can support up to four graphics cards. The new board also supports Intel's 5400 chip set and up to four, fully-buffered DIMM (dual in-line memory module) slots that support up to 8GB of memory.

What has turned some heads is that Intel is supporting graphics technology from ATI, which is owned by Advanced Micro Devices and remains Intel's direct competitor in both the gaming market as well as with traditional desktops. In November, AMD released its new enthusiast platform called "Spider," which included the company's new quad-core Phenom processors, a new 790 chip set and ATI's Radeon HD 3800 graphics cards.

While the various gaming platforms from either AMD or Intel do not have a direct impact on the enterprise market, these developments do offer a showcase for different types of technology the chip makers are capable of producing. In addition, the consumer market tends to drive cutting-edge technology that eventually finds its way into mainstream enterprise hardware.

For example, Intel is touting the new platform as an ideal solution for those users creating digital content and animation as well as those who use PCs to edit and encode high-definition video.

Although there is a limited market for desktops that use quad-core processors, Intel and AMD have been using the gaming and PC enthusiast market to demonstrate that capabilities of these chips. In addition, while these types of high-end processors ship in relatively small volumes each quarter, their average selling price is much higher that more standard chips, which helps add revenue to the bottom line.

The Intel Core 2 Extreme QX9775 processors are available for $1,499 each. The estimated price for the motherboard is $649, according to Intel. The various other platform components are sold separately.