Supermicro X9SCM-F Sandy Bridge Xeon LGA1155 C204 Motherboard Review
Today we are looking at the Supermicro X9SCM-F which is going to be a very popular mATX server motherboard. One of the most popular mATX server motherboards reviewed on this site was the Supermicro X8SIL-F. It provided a small form-factor, relatively inexpensive platform with features one would want from a low-cost server motherboard. With the new Sandy Bridge Xeon’s Supermicro has an updated platform, the Supermicro X9SCM-F, that takes advantage of the new PCIe lanes from the Intel C204 chipset to provide an interesting alternative to the previous generation X8SIL-F.
Trying to keep the test configuration as consistent as possible has been a key goal of mine this year. I will note that the X9SCM-F may be better paired with the Xeon E3-1230 CPU which also offers four cores and eight threads but costs significantly less than the E3-1280 used here. I did use a Xeon E3-1220 for many of the pictures because the E3-1280 was deployed in another platform while I was taking photos.
- CPU: Intel Xeon E3-1280
- Motherboard: Supermicro X9SCM-F
- Memory: 8GB ECC 1333MHz CL9 DDR3 (4x2GB)
- OS Drive: OCZ Agility 2 120GB
- Additional NICs: Intel Gigabit CT PCIe x1 network adapter
- Enclosure: Norco RPC-4224
- Power Supply: Seasonic X650 (650w Gold level power supply) PicoPSU 150XT with 150w power supply
As one may recall, the C204 does not allow one to use the integrated graphics of the Intel E3-12×5 series CPUs so it is best to pair the X9SCM-F with a Xeon E3-12×0 series CPU.
The Supermicro X9SCM-F is a micro ATX board which means it is constrained to the relatively small 9.6″ by 9.6″ square footprint.
Whereas the Supermicro X8SIL-F had two PCIe 2.0 x8 slots, one PCIe x8 slot (x4 electrically) and a legacy PCI slot, the X9SCM-F has four physical PCIe x8 slots. Of these four slots, two are PCIe 2.0 x8 and the other two are PCIe 2.0 x4. The net effect is that the Supermicro X9SCM-F loses its legacy PCI support, but adds a lot of PCIe bandwidth.
The socket H2 CPU area is relatively clear from obstruction giving plenty of room for either the stock Intel heatsink-fan (HSF) or a 1U/ 2U passive cooler. Next to the CPU socket are the four DIMM slots that only accept unbuffered RAM (ECC or non-ECC.) In contrast the X8SIL-F can accept either unbuffered or registered DIMMs.
Using the Intel C204 chipset one can see that there are two sets of SATA ports on the motherboard. Two SATA III 6.0gbps ports and four SATA II 3.0gbps ports that run perpendicular to the PCB’s plane. It should be noted that in the Intel Matrix RAID arrays one cannot mix drives from the SATA III and SATA II ports. Given that software RAID is very popular today, and the fact that PCIe SAS/SATA controllers are relatively inexpensive for eight ports, this is not a huge deal for most users.
One will also notice that there is an internal USB header which again is almost a required server feature these days as it allows one to install a USB drive inside the chassis. With many storage operating systems such as unRAID requiring a USB key for licensing purposes, having an internal header is very handy.
Rear I/O panel has a fairly standard compliment of ports. A PS/2 keyboard and mouse port can be found just next to the IPMI NIC and two USB ports. A VGA out and serial port come next followed by two Intel gigabit NICs. The NIC situation on the X9SCM-F is fairly interesting. There is a standard IPMI NIC which uses a Realtek RTL8201N controller. For data there are two Intel gigabit NICs, one Intel 82574L which is probably the defacto standard NIC at this point for servers. The other Intel gigabit NIC is based on the 82579LM that comes off of the C204 chipset. While both are Intel NICs, there is a big difference in terms of out-of-the-box compatibility. For example, Windows 7 and VMware ESXi both support the Intel 82574L easily upon initial installation. On the other hand, the Intel 82574LM NIC must have other drivers installed in order to function which adds another step.
For those users that want to take advantage of Intel’s Xeon E3-1200 series AES-NI accelleration features, one should note that my board had AES-NI disabled by default in the BIOS. I always recommend spending a few minutes making sure BIOS options are set properly when setting up a new system.
Supermicro’s IPMI and KVM-over-IP as described a few times on this site, allows for a lot of deployment flexibility. Things such as fan speeds, chassis intrusion sensors, thermal sensors, and etc. can be monitored remotely and alerts setup to notify the administrator of issues. Beyond this, the Winbond WPCM450 BMC chip also allows for the remote power up, power down, and reset of the server in the event that it becomes unresponsive. In fact, the test system has never had a keyboard, mouse, CD/DVD ROM, or monitor hooked up to it, even after multiple BIOS tweaks and operating system/ hypervisor installations.
Another important feature is the ability to remotely mount CD images and floppy images to the machine over the dedicated management Ethernet controller. This keeps maintenance traffic off of the primary Intel NICs and at the same time removes the need for an optical disk to be connected to the Supermicro motherboard. Combined with the onboard USB 2.0 header, mounting OS installation or recovery images remotely is a very simple affair.
In combination with the baseboard level management features just described, KVM-over-IP features of the Supermicro board are not to be underestimated. One can log on to the server using either a web browser with Java platform support, or through Supermicro’s IPMIview software and have remote console capabilities, with mouse support included. Oftentimes, users opine that shell access is enough to troubleshoot, but this BMC level access to the remote system allows one to immediately see things such as a hung and incomplete boot process, frozen servers, as well as manage motherboard and add-in card BIOS remotely. I believe that the IPMI 2.0 features, including the KVM-over-IP features are essential for a server-class motherboard unless one has an external KVM-over-IP unit and a network addressable power source. For users with redundant PSUs, as will be the most common use case with this motherboard, remotely toggling on/ off multiple power supply ports across multiple PDUs can be difficult making the motherboard option preferred.
Overall the Supermicro X9SCM-F may be one of the best Xeon E3 motherboards around at the moment, especially when full ATX boards are too large for an application. I would have preferred to have had two 82574L’s instead of a 82574L and 8257LM, but I understand why one would make this design decision. My sense is that in the near future the Intel 82579LM is going to be supported more and more because it is found in mainstream Sandy Bridge chipsets. Overall, the X9SCM-F worked well for me and provided a nice update to the X8SIL-F, especially with the SATA III ports and additional PCIe slots/ bandwidth.
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