Relatively small size. Lots of PCIe expansion. Modern ASMB6-iKVM management. USB 3.0 onboard (uncommon on Xeon E5 boards), dual Intel 82574L controllers
Trade-off between the Z9PA-D8's small size and the amount of DIMM/ PCIe slots that can be physically fit into the space.
The ASUS Z9PA-D8 is a dual socket Intel Xeon E5-2600 LGA2011 motherboard that packs a unique feature: a small form factor. The ASUS Z9PA-D8 utilizes ATX mounting points so it will fit in virtually any chassis one would want to use with the board. This is important because the LGA2011 socket is very large and configurations typically include 4-12 DIMM slots per CPU. On a dual Intel Xeon E5-2600 platform this requires a lot of physical space. Many vendors have responded by introducing a smaller narrow ILM cooling layout or simply using larger form factors such as EATX. In most server chassis, this works well, however some users require short depth mounting or have smaller enclosures. This ASUS Z9PA-D8 review takes a look at a motherboard focused on addressing those needs while cramming a ton of functionality into a small space.
We use two Intel Xeon E5-2690 CPUs for testing dual LGA 2011 motherboards. The Intel Xeon E5-2690′s are flagship server processors. For testing, they can handle whatever we throw at the test platform.
- CPUs: 2x Intel Xeon E5-2690 CPUs
- Motherboard: ASUS Z9PA-D8
- Memory: 8x 16GB Samsung 1600MHz CL11 Registered ECC RDIMM
- SSD: Corsair Force3 120GB, OCZ Vertex 3 120GB 2x OCZ Agility 3 120GB
- Power Supply: Corsair AX850 850w 80 Plus Gold
- Chassis: Norco RPC-4220
- Operating System: Ubuntu 12.10 Server and Windows Server 2012
This is the typical test setup I have been using for my dual Xeon E5 reviews. My 8GB 1600MHz CL11 DIMMs are still on order but I do hope to update soon.
The ASUS z9PA-D8 Review
Potentially the biggest feature of the ASUS Z9PA-D8 is the form factor. The ASUS Z9PA-D8 is almost an ATX form factor motherboard. It measures 12”x10” with the mounting locations of a standard ATX (12”x9.6”) motherboard. What that practically means is that the motherboard will work in just about any chassis around including many short-depth rack mount chassis. As one can see from the overview, the ASUS Z9PA-D8 fits a lot of functionality in a small space. The board does extend a bit further in terms of depth, but the mounting points are the same.
The CPU configuration on the ASUS Z9PA-D8 is in-line. What this practically means is that air will flow through both heatsinks in series. Generally with these configurations, 95w or less CPUs are recommended in a 1U chassis from an efficiency standpoint. Cooling two 135w CPUs in series is too much for many 1U chassis so something that must be taken into account when building a solution. Of course, there are plenty of 1U servers able to accommodate this configuration, one just needs to double-check before deploying.
To help with power consumption, the ASUS Z9PA-D8 has a multi-phase digital power solution to keep a wide range of CPUs and workloads running at peak efficiency. ASUS also includes its proprietary Digi+ EPU to maintain power inefficiency.
In order to fit into the ATX form factor, the ASUS Z9PA-D8 utilizes four DIMMs per CPU. Using LRDIMMs this translates into a maximum of 256GB of memory. Using standard 16GB registered ECC DDR3 RDIMMs the motherboard can support up to 128GB of memory. With the 16GB RDIMMs running about $140/ea that is fairly reasonable to attain for this class of system.
The ASUS Z9PA-D8 has a lot of PCIe expansion slots. There are two PCIe x8 and two PCIe x16 physical slots. These run at PCIe 3.0 speeds. If slots 4 and 6 are occupied, lanes are split from the x16 slots making the occupied pair x8 each. It should be noted that the top PCIe x8 slot does fall in line with two DIMM slots so the length of any card used there should be reviewed.
In terms of drive connectivity, the ASUS Z9PA-D8 utilizes the Intel C602-A chipset yielding 2x SATA III ports and 4x SATA II ports. Along with the Intel chipset, there is a PIKE slot on the ASUS Z9PA-D8. PIKE is ASUS’ proprietary RAID controller/ HBA form factor that allows one to use a variety of controller types all using the motherboard SATA/ SAS ports.
In addition to SATA connectivity, ASUS does offer an internal USB Type-A connector for flash drives that are deployed inside servers. A very common use case for this is running a NAS operating system or running a VMware ESXi hypervisor. ASUS also includes dual Intel 82574L LAN controllers onboard. These are visible next to the Nuvoton controller and the Realtek NIC.
In terms of rear panel I/O, the ASUS Z9PA-D8 has one of the more featured rear panels for a server motherboard. One somewhat unique feature of the ASUS Z9PA-D8 is the fact that it supports both USB 3.0 as well as a MIO-892 audio. Most server motherboards include two to four USB 2.0 ports. The addition of USB 3.0 means that the motherboard can utilize fast USB 3.0 flash and external storage.
Along with the USB 2.0 and USB 3.0 ports, the ASUS Z9PA-D8 includes a standard VGA and serial console interface. It also has a combo PS/2 keyboard/ mouse port. Another feature are the three RJ-45 Ethernet ports. Two are controlled by the Intel 82574L controllers and the third can be used for out-of-band management.
Our review ASUS Z9PA-D8 came with the ASMB6 iKVM module installed just above the ASPEED AST2300 controller. This is perhaps one of the most significant features of the motherboard.
With the ASMB6 iKVM module installed, the ASUS Z9PA-D8 has access to IPMI 2.0 features. This means that one can monitor the health of a server. One can also reset the server or turn a server off remotely. One of the key features is the ability to remotely mount media (e.g. an installation CD) and use KVM-over-IP to setup or diagnose servers.
We recently did a deep-dive on the ASUS ASMB6 iKVM solution and it works very well. That is a great place to see all of the functionality afforded by the ASUS management platform. One management option that ASUS offers is ASWM Enterprise. Unfortunately we have not had an opportunity to use this yet, but look forward to in the future. Here is a quick video on ASWM Enterprise:
Comparing this board to a full EATX platform is somewhat non-sensical. ASUS is specifically targeting a much smaller form factor. Even with that, the ASUS Z9PA-D8 packs a lot of functionality into a 12″ x 10″ space. This is not an insignificant feat as many single socket LGA2011 motherboards with 8 DIMM slots barely fit in an ATX form factor, and that is without the second CPU. Overall setup was very easy and the platform was very stable during testing so nothing to report even after two months of deployment other than that the server motherboard works. Features such as USB 3.0 support are certainly forward thinking and show that ASUS is adding new innovative features to server platforms that traditionally have used USB 2.0 exclusively.