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What's the closest thing to a Skulltrail II?

idata
Community Manager
3,100 Views

Will all the recent Xeon 5500 announcements I'm wondering if Intel will ever come out with a Skulltrail II board. I've heard rumors that there was one in the works, but I've also heard rumors that Intel has officially claimed there will be no Skulltrail II, enthusiasts will have to look to other motherboard manufacturers for something else. Does anyone know for sure if there will/won't be a Skulltrail II? If not, what is the closest thing out there to a 5500 based enthusiast class board, something suitable for overclocking, gaming, benchmarking, and any other devious plans?

A lot of vendors have a lot of things close, but always seem to miss the target in some way or another. Take the Asus Z8NA-D6 for example, it's clearly designed for the enthusiast crowd, but for some reason they squeezed everything into a standard ATX form and missed out on other important things like dual 16-lane PCI-Express sockets.

The closest thing to what I want seems to be the Intel S5520SC Workstation board. It has two CPU sockets, two 16-lane PCI-Express (spaced nicely for crossfire graphics cards), and even one 4-lane PCI-Express (hopedully suitable for a FusionIO ioDrive or similar device). However, I have a few questions on this I hope someone can answer:

  1. It does not appear the BIOS has any overclocking capabilities. Are there any other ways to overclock the CPUs and RAM like from a Windows application?
  2. The form factor is EEB SSI. Would that fit in a standard E-ATX chassis? Would there be any problems with the placement of the standoffs, power connectors, or anything else?

The case I'm interested in is the http://www.coolitsystems.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=2&Itemid=5 http://www.coolitsystems.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=2&Itemid=5 and I'd like to know if the two are compatible.

Any answers or other help woudl be greatly appreciated.

Cheers, Eric

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22 Replies
Casey_H_Intel
Employee
198 Views

Hello Eric,

For the Intel® Workstation Board S5520SC, we recommend either the http://www.intel.com/products/server/chassis/sc5600/sc5600-overview.htm Intel Server Chassis SC5600 or the http://www.intel.com/products/server/chassis/sc5650/sc5650-overview.htm Intel Server Chassis SC5650. As for the Coolit Systems* chassis, you'll need to contact Coolit Systems to determine which boards are supported by their chassis.

As you know, I'm not able to talk about future products, nor operating systems outside recommended specifications.

Casey H.

Intel Customer Support

* Other names and brands may be claimed as the property of others.

idata
Community Manager
198 Views

Thanks for the reply Casey.

I finally got a reply back from SilverStone, and their TJ07 Chassis, used by CoolIt Systems, will support the EEB SSI form factor. The primary advantage of this setup is liquid cooling.

I've found a third party overclocking utility http://www.tweakers.fr/cputweaker.html http://www.tweakers.fr/cputweaker.html the claims to support the Core i7, but I'm not sure if it will support a Xeon 5500 especially in dual-cpu mode. Unfortunately the disscussion site was unavailable when I tried to get more information.

Anyway, the S5520SC is close to the ideal board. One main problem though is that the 4-lane PCI Express slot (slot 2) is only version 1.0, and is connected via the ICH10R. A much better solution would have been to use the extra 4 lanes from the 5520 (there are a total of 36 lanes I believe). Is there some reason this wasn't done in the first place? Anyway, the 4-lane connector at slot 2 is an ideal location for a http://www.fusionio.com/ http://www.fusionio.com/ board which is a great way to give some awesome file system performance to a rig like this.

I assume the BIOS for the S5520SC is EFI, but the technical specs don't come right out and say it - they only seem to imply it via some settings. Is there any better documentation on the BIOS? Again, a better solution would be to have some overclocking settings in the BIOS.

Another improvement would have been to bring the S/PDIF connectors out to the backplate instead of leaving it internal to the board. I can think of many more improvements that would make the S5520SC a great enthusiast board - you could call it a S5520ST ;-)

The bottom line is I'm really interested in getting a S5520SC, but I'll be really disappointed if I get one and later Intel or someone else comes out with a better board along the lines I've outlined above.

Yup, I understand you can't talk about future products, but it didn't hurt to ask :-)

Cheers, Eric

idata
Community Manager
198 Views

FYI I found a great review of the S5520SC: http://www.driverheaven.net/reviews.php?reviewid=747 Intel Xeon W5580 Cpus and S5520SC Motherboard

So far the main drawback to this motherboard is that there does not seem to be any way to overclock it.

Cheers, Eric

HERBERT_H_Intel
Employee
198 Views

These new processors support something called Turbo Mode which automatically overclocks them based on usage and whether there is adequate colling.

I had a chance to play with one of these systems and i doubt you'll need to overclock it manually at all.

OJ

idata
Community Manager
198 Views

It's not so much that we need to overclock a 5500, it's that we want to overclock a 5500

I vaughly recall seeing somewhere that the 5580 is unlocked like the i7-965 XE, but I can't be sure. Can anyone confirm this?

I'm planning on running a Xeon 5580 rig with a CoolIT Boreas. Given that it uses active cooling to keep the water well below room temperature, I'm hoping a stock 5580 will stay in Turbo mode longer than a conventionally cooled one.

But seriously, I really want to run my 5580's at at least 4.0 GHz - Intel should give us a way to do that. You pay that much for a CPU, you should at least get some bragging rights

At any rate, if Intel do come out with a SkullTrail II, I really hope they don't botch things the way they did on the first SkullTrail. At a minimum, a SkullTrail II should be better than a S5520SC.

Cheers, Eric

idata
Community Manager
198 Views

Actually it just occured to me that the S5520SC would make a pretty good SkullTrail II board, all it really needs is a bios/efi that supports overclocking, especially voltage changes. Ideally you could just flash the S5520SC with a SkullTrail II bios/efi. I hope someone from Intel considers this.

A better SkullTrail II board would be almost identical to the S5520SC but have some of the improvements I mentioned earlier:

  1. The 4-lane PCI Express slot would support PCI Express version 2 instead of version 1
  2. There would be an external connector for the S/PDIF
  3. There would be a couple more SATA-2 ports, one internal for the optical drive, one external E-SATA for backup
  4. There would be a heat pipe connected to the 5520 ideally to some spot where you could attach a water-block
  5. You might want to upgrade the CPU power regulators

Cheers, Eric

idata
Community Manager
198 Views

OK, I've been hearing more and more about a Skulltrail 2, for example

http://www.brightsideofnews.com/news/2009/6/7/exclusive-intel-skulltrail-2-is-based-upon-8-core-neha... Exclusive: Intel "Skulltrail 2" is based upon 8-Core Nehalem-EX

I recently purchased an S5520SC and two 5570's, but I have not assembled them yet. I'm trying to decided wether to return these parts and wait for the Skulltrail 2, but I cannot find any details on the new motherboard. Could someone please take pity on me and release a few details, or at least an announcement date.

Cheers, Eric

idata
Community Manager
198 Views

I've been looking to buy or build a xeon workstation. It seems every candidate I've looked at misses the mark in some way. Take Apple's beautiful Mac Pro for example: the apple store will not let you buy a dual proc board with only one cpu (with the intent of buying a second cpu later), the system ram runs at 1066MHz when it should run at 1333MHz, it's hard drives aren't hot-swappable, the motherboard cannot support two GTX 295 running in SLI. Please correct me if i'm wrong. I suppose you could hack things a little (or a lot) and some (or all) of those limitations could be worked around or fixed. Anyway, I'm not willing to experiment with $3K - $6K.

 

Another example of missing the mark is S5520SC motherboard and SC5650WS chassis. That was a depressing discovery as I initially thought it was a slam-dunk - get the S5520SC motherboard, SC5650WS chassis, one Xeon (X5550, X5560, X5570, W5580, W5590) processor, one GTX 295, one 160GB X25-M SSD (second gen), and three sticks of dual ranked 2GB or 4GB 1333MHz ram. That would be a killer workstation out of the gate with lots of room to grow - add another CPU, GPU, RAM, and SSD(s) (RAID 0, 1, 1+0, 5). The motherboard and chassis have everything I'm looking for except the motherboard cannot support two GTX 295 cards running in SLI. It seems there is not enough power being supplied to the PCI slots

 

What is looking promising right now is the Supermicro X8DTG-QF motherboard and Supermicro 747TQ-R1400 chassis. The problemis that the motherboard isn't available yet and nowhere in the specifications does it say SLI certified.

 

So, my workstation is just missing a suitable motherboard - Dual Xeon, Dual 5520 chipset, 2 - 4 PCI-E 2.0 x16 (SLI certified), 24GB of DDR3 Registered ECC @1333MHz.

 

Have I made incorrect assumptions or statements? Has anyone found a motherboard that meets all the criteria I'm looking for?

 

Thanks for your thoughts on the subject.
idata
Community Manager
198 Views

hypermeta: I looked for many months to find the right 5500 workstation board. I knew I wanted a dual processor Xeon 5500 system, and I had hoped that Intel would come out with a Skulltrail 2 designed for the enthusiast, but I still have heard nothing but rumors on the web.

I finally settled on the S5520SC for the following reasons:

  1. It was a dual processor Xeon 5500
  2. It could support up to 24 GB of RAM
  3. It had two, 16-lane PCI Express 2.0 slots for graphics cards
  4. It had a 4-lane PCI Express slot for a FusionIO SSD card.
  5. It had an ICH10R southbridge for RAID 5 support.

In my case I went with the CoolIT Systems Boreas chassis, based on the Silverstone TJ07. I ordered their new WS240 CPU cooler (for the CPUs) and had them install it. This took quite a bit of work because they had never installed that cooler in this chassis before. I had to send the chassis back once because they had not accounted properly for the geometry of the S5520SC motherboard. Once I got it back everything fit properly. I'm saving the Boreas chiller for my two Radeon 5870 X2 cards I plan to buy this fall.

I just got the chassis back last Thursday and got the system up and running on Friday. I have Windows 7 Ultimate 64-bit RTM running, but overall the experience has been really disappointing because:

  1. The Power On Self Test (POST) takes a long time. I wish there was a quick start setting somewhere.
  2. The BIOS does not use the Intel Matrix Storage Manager, like most modern systems, but instead uses some hard to find, frustrating to use, utility that does not even work right. For example, it is not possible to create two separate volumes on the array with different RAID layouts - you can only create multiple volumes with the same RAID layout on each.
  3. I tried using the Deployment CD from Intel, but the RAID setup for that was even worse than the BIOS RAID setup.
  4. There is a problem with the audio system - often it gets into a state where it pauses frequenly with a glaring sound like the Realtek audio is underrunning. I tried installing the audio drivers from the Intel CD, but it makes no difference.
  5. One of my favorite applications is Second Life, but the UI keeps pausing every two seconds for about a second, which is really annoying. I've never seen this behavior on any other system. It seems other applications have these routine pauses running on the S5520SC too, but I can't be sure yet.
  6. There does not seem to be any technical support available from Intel except for this forum I have found, and responses here are few and far between.

Given my experiences I am hesitant to recommend the S5520SC to anyone else, but I cannot see why it is lacking for your needs. You should be able to run two GX 295 graphics cards in SLI - the cards should have their own power connectors and should not have to rely completely on the PCI Express slots. I'm using a Radeon 4870 for the time being, and it has two 6-pin power connectors. What makes you think there is not enough power being supplied to the PCI slots?

Also, I do not understand why you would want to run a dual processor motherboard with only one processor?

Cheers, Eric

idata
Community Manager
198 Views

Eric:I'm sorry to hear about your sound and video issues. I hope the same does not happen to me, since i'm getting ready to buy something along these lines:

W5580 or W5590

BXSTS100C cooler (upgrade to water cooling someday?)

S5520SC motherboard

Lian Li PC-A77B chassis

I can't say feel very comfortable with the S5520SC motherboard and your exeriences aren't reassuring. I suppose I'll do what you've done (I found your blog) and get a 4870 video card while waiting for the 5870X2. I won't go with an Nvidia solution until the S5520SC gets SLI certification.

In answer to your questions:

1) I intend on buying a second W5580 when prices go down or money burns a hole in my pocket.

2) In section 3.11.3 of this manual http://download.intel.com/support/motherboards/server/s5520sc/sb/e39530006_s5520sc_tps_rev_1_2.pdf http://download.intel.com/support/motherboards/server/s5520sc/sb/e39530006_s5520sc_tps_rev_1_2.pdf

it says that not more than 300W of video card should be installed, but I suppose that is a limitation of the power supply in the SC5650WS chassis.

idata
Community Manager
198 Views

hypermeta: I'm still discovering more about my system... I was running Task Manager with nothing else running on the system, yet it showed that all the threads were busy. One thread, the first, seemed to be the most busy, which seems fairly normal, but it was not pegged. I cannot understand why the other 15 threads were busy. In fact they would start out at about 60% busy and then slowly taper off until nothing, then start out busy again. They all seemed to be synchronized, which is very suspicious. The problem is when I went to the Processes tab in the Task Manager nothing showed that it was busy at all, except the System Idle process.

I'm starting to wonder if anyone has ever run Windows 7 on a system like this before. Now I'm asking questions in Windows 7 forums to see if anyone else has any ideas.

By the way, one of the reasons I plan to use Radeon graphics cards is that Cross Fire is definately supported on the S5520SC.

Anyway, I wish you luck with your S5520SC - please keep in touch with your experiences.

Cheers, Eric

idata
Community Manager
198 Views

I am having some fairly major problems with the S5520SC also.

 

1. The board won't boot with the Adaptec 5085.

2. When using SSD boot drives (x25-M & OCZ Vertex Turbo) the system suffers serious lag of about 1 second every few seconds. I have had a system based on this board sitting around for about 3 months - it's still nor working proper;y and has consumed about 50 hours + an extra $1000 in test parts.

idata
Community Manager
198 Views

Well I finally found a fix to the pausing problem in Windows 7 - http://www.driverheaven.net/dh-reviews/181302-intel-xeon-w5580-cpus-s5520sc-motherboard-review-dh-2.... DriverHeaven - basically you have to make sure both of your network ports are connected to a network. Other than that Windows 7 seems to be running fine.

The main problem I'm having now is that my 5520 IOH keeps overheating. At better design would have been to attach a low profile heat-pipe to somewhere where the heat can be removed better with a fan or water block. Stuck under the tail ends of the grapics cards it's hard to cool it properly.

thewaves - I'm sorry to hear that you cannot boot from your Adaptec 5805. Which PCI slot do you have it in? I was planning on getting a FusionIO board to boot from and putting it in the 8-lane slot (which is opnly 4-lanes electrically).

What do you have the SSD drives attached to? the Adaptec or the ICH10R?

I've invested well over $10,000 on my system, and well over 50 hours as well. I've had some success as I finally got my System running with Windows 7 on RAID 5 with 2 TB disks (after being told by Intel Technical Support the board would not support 2 TB disks).

Cheers, Eric

idata
Community Manager
198 Views

Hi folks,

I thought I'd throw in a "me too". I integrated my system September 3rd:

S5520SC

One X5550

3x4GB Crucial

STS100C CPU heat sink / fan

Windows 7 build 7100 is basically unusable. I had the stuttering or pausing problem that Eric described - all of the cores were very busy on an "idle" box. I've been testing our Fedora 11/12 and Ubuntu 9.04/9.10 and so far Ubuntu Karmic us running the best, although both run nicely. Windows 7 runs fairly well as a virtual machine on Ubuntu using Virtualbox. I haven't figured out how to get Linux, Windows, or OpenBSD to recognize a RAID0 virtual disk yet, so I'm running in "enhanced" mode.

The main problem I'm having with the S5520SC board right now is that the CPU fan is running at 100% ALWAYS. The noise is completely intolerable and I haven't been able to find a solution. I've updated the BIOS and firmwares with the deployment assistant, set the thermal profile to "acoustic", re-installed the CPU heatsink with arctic silver, set the BIOS to factory defaults, ran the Platform Confidence Test via the EFI shell, but the CPU fan continues to run at 100%.

Interestingly, the CPU fan went to a whisper quiet purr breifly while updating the firmwares. It also went breifly quiet while a portion of the PTC test was in progress.

I sent an email to Intel about it. Hopefully I'll hear back from them soon.

Message was edited by: hypermeta

idata
Community Manager
198 Views

I think It's a very very poor show for Intel to keep telling customers that the board does not work with a a variety of components - it's not as if the product was released yesterday.

I am now running a Vertex Turbo on the ICH10R - it seems OK.

The noise is fairly bad on these boxes - even with BIOS updates and set to acoustic mode: one more failing of this board.

idata
Community Manager
198 Views

Update: I've fixed the CPU fan speed issue. Here were the steps taken:

1) Enter BIOS and press F9 and then F10 and reboot with Intel Deployment Assistant 3.1 in the CD drive.

2) Reinstall all the firmwares and BIOS.

2) Select Acoustic, <300m

3) Select yes for CPU fan1, Sys fan1, Sys fan2, Sys fan3, Sys fan5.

While the assistant was "verifying BMC (PIA)" the CPU fan to a medium speed and then to a whisper quiet speed (and stayed that way).

I think the problem may have been that I had the fan speed indicator from my Evo Galaxy 1250W PSU plugged into one of the chassis fan connectors. It may have caused the BMC to think there was a fan failure, and in response to this, raise all other fans to maximum.

idata
Community Manager
198 Views

Well, here we go again. I had to unplug my computer to reroute some cables and when I plugged my power back in and booted up all my fans were running at 100% again. It's like the BMC forgot all it's settings or something, but I don't really know.

Anyway, i fought with the motherboard for an hour trying to get the fans to quiet down again. I used the Intel Deployment Assistant cdrom method as before, but it would just not take.

Finally, I booted into EFI and loaded the firmwares and BIOS from a USB keychain. I need to learn how to configure the BMC/SDR some other way. I'm concerned one of these days I'll brick the motherboard. I need to learn the nuances of this board before it bricks me.

idata
Community Manager
198 Views

I seem to have the opposite problem to hypermeta - my fans all run at the slowest setting - but then I can't say for sure what RPM they are running at. The bottom line is my system is quiet, which is why the 5520 IOH may be overheating - I cannot get enough air moving through the chassis.

I'm using a "custom" chassis (from the BMC's perspective). Actually it's a SilverStone TJ07, modified by CoolIT Systems (in Calgary) with a WS240 water cooler in the top for the CPUs. It's supposed to adjust the fan speed automatically based on water temperature, but I've not gotten around to loading CPUs yet. Anyway, it's got two 120 mm fans pulling air into the case through the radiator. The chassis also has a pair of 90 mm fans pulling air in from the back, so there is lots of air coming into the chassis. Unfortunately the 5520 IOH heatsink is sort of sheltered from the airflow because of the graphics card.

Because I have reported my chassis as "custom" to the BMC it does not try to change the fan speed. I wish there was some way to tell the BMC to just set the speed on certain fans.

hypermeta - I always worry about bricking my system too - as I have already done on a couple of ocassions. The Clear-CMOS jumper is your friend in these cases.

idata
Community Manager
198 Views

Great thread here. Seems Intel might not have us to overclock? Hope they change this in the future, as somebody else definately will eventually. I need a powerful workstation to render with, and I'm not paying 2k a chip to do it!

idata
Community Manager
77 Views

Enterring the foray......with some input:

I have one of these boards -- an S5520SC in a Appro Workstation. I currently have a pair of X5520's, 12Gb and a pair of nVidia GTX 260s in SLI...approved or not.

Now, granted, the Xeons aren't pushing 3GHz, they're tame rather than extreme by any sense. But I have to say, asside from the long POST time and the aircraft-style runway noise at takeoff (all fans max for 2 seconds on bootup for the dust blow-out) I really can't complain.

I can run a 3D simulation on 100 square miles of terrain, or run Call of Duty at 90+ frames and keep the whole thing below 50c, and I don't have any hyper-cooling. I typically run VMWare workstation, and have several virtual PCs clanking away all day long.

I am not sure what the perceived SLI power obstacle (whether it's Intel and nVidia not getting along, candidly) but with a 1k power supply, nothing in my case has either melted or lacked for juice. (I probably spend a bit too much for power, these days, though.)

 

My bottom line, although the SLI support is not "official" I still agree with Intel that the http://www.intel.com/products/workstation/motherboards/s5520sc/s5520sc-overview.htm Shady Cove board is indeed a next-gen Skulltrail.

Much Love to the dual-Nehalem crowd, see you at CES.

Message was edited by: JasonInVegas to correct spelling, my bad!

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