Ever since the Intel Atom C2750 announcement in early September 2013 there were a few products announced that received much community attention. One of those is the ASRock Rack C2750D4I we are reviewing today and is anticipated as an excellent storage platform. We already reviewed the Supermicro A1SAi-2750F which utilizes quad gigabit NICs and SODIMMs along with the Intel Atom C2750 processor. That platform is limited to only 6 SATA ports though. With the Intel Atom C2750 performance being solid, ASRock saw an opportunity to build a cold storage platform that combines low power consumption with the ability to handle many disks. These small mITX platforms are really showing some strong innovation as ASRock clearly has a great performer with the C2750D4I.
Due to the SoC design, the Intel Atom C2750 platform is very compact and requires very little to get up and running. We were able to get a pre-production sample of the ASRock C2750D4I to test. Rumor has it that general availability will occur shortly and it will be found on retailers such as Newegg in the US.Here is our configuration:
- Motherboard/ CPU: ASRock Rack C2750D4I with Intel C2750 Avoton 8C/ 8T SoC
- SSD: Intel S3700 100GB SSD
- Memory: 32GB (4x 8GB) 1600MHz 1.35v Kingston KVR16E11/8I DDR3 DIMMs
- OS: Ubuntu 13.10 server, VMware ESXi 5.5, FreeNAS 9.1.1-RELEASE (see here)
- Power supply: 1U 200w 80+ Gold PWS-203-1H
We also utilized our standard array of PCIe add-on cards from Mellanox and LSI along with Seagate and Western Digital spindle drives to text maximum configurations. Since we were limited to SATA disks we used WD Red and Seagate NAS edition drives mixed across ports.
ASRock Rack C2750D4I Overview
For those wondering about Intel Atom C2750 power consumption and performance you can check our recent pieces here: power testing and performance testing. For the ASRock C2750D4I there are a few major features that need to be covered. The motherboard is a mITX form factor, making it compact enough to fit virtually any chassis. Power is delivered by a 24-pin ATX power supply. In the vast majority of cases, the ASRock C2750D4I is expected to be a stand alone motherboard without need for expansion cards. The small size allows for it to be packed alongside many SATA disks for dense 1U Hadoop or cold storage nodes.
The large low profile heatsink covers the Atom C2750 Avoton processor which contains 8 processing cores. Expect performance to be about half of what one would see from an Intel Xeon E3-1220 V3 processor, yet consuming significantly less than half of the platform power. A quick note here is that ASRock does expect the CPU heatsink to be supplied with airflow from chassis fans, but in our testing the airflow requirements are very minimal with slow and silent 120mm fans easily able to keep the processor cool under load. This makes sense since the C2750 is a 20w TDP part. Along with the Atom C2750 there are two Marvell SATA controllers, two gigabit Ethernet controllers and a PLX chip that all require at least a small amount of airflow. For those looking to build a quiet NAS enclosure with one of these, it is certainly possible but one does need to give the platform at least a minimal amount of airflow.
Another key design choice was to use full-length DDR3 DIMM slots. The Supermicro competitor uses SODIMMs commonly found in laptops. There are many more choices for ECC DDR3 UDIMMs in the full size form factor over the SODIMM form factor. The downside is that they are much larger so they take up a lot of PCB area.
While the system is meant to run primarily with onboard components, there is a PCIe 2.0 x8 slot on the motherboard. For those wondering, it is open-ended so a user can add an x16 card in there. One great example would be a LSI 9202-16i that adds 16 SAS/ SATA ports to the platform, potentially allowing for a very large storage platform. ASRock’s engineers also did a good job of keeping components behind the PCIe slot clear so they would not obstruct a larger card.
Just above the PCIe slot there are six SATA ports, two SATA III 6.0gbps ports and four SATA II 3.0gbps ports. These are linked to the Intel controller and are fairly standard on Intel Atom C2750 platforms.
The lower right side of the motherboard shows off a key feature of the ASRock C2750D4I: six additional SATA ports courtesy of dual Marvell controllers (the smaller chips to the left of the SATA ports.) These six SATA III 6.0gbps ports are powered by Marvell SE9230 and SE9172 controllers supporting 4 and 2 of the ports respectively. This is a major point of differentiation because it allows for an additional six disks to be loaded without the need for an add-in controller. Both controllers use about 1w of power each so they are a very energy efficient way to add additional storage ports to a system.
Another major design variation for the ASRock C2750 is in the area of networking. ASRock’s engineers went with a dual Intel i210 gigabit Ethernet controllers. When asked why ASRock picked the Intel i210 gigabit Ethernet controllers instead of the onboard Intel i354 controller the reason given was simple. The Intel i210 is going to be used much more widely across various server platforms and is a more proven technology.
Again we see two more 4-pin fan headers next to the SATA ports. There are a total of 6 onboard 4-pin fan headers which should be enough for most systems to have the motherboard control fan speed.
One can also see the PLX PEX8608-BA50BC chip onboard. It is a PCIe Gen 2 switch that allows for additional PCIe lanes to be used for onboard devices and typically uses only 1-2w of power.
The rear panel I/O of the ASRock C2750D4I is fairly straightforward. There is a standard legacy serial port as well as a standard VGA connector. Two USB 2.0 ports provide connectivity for external USB drives, keyboards and mice. There is one LAN port for the Aspeed AST2300 BMC’s onboard IPMI 2.0 functionality. The two additional RJ-45 ports are controlled by the Intel i210 controllers mentioned earlier.
Overall this is a strong storage platform. After using this motherboard for awhile there were two items that might be added in future revisions: internal and external USB headers. Frankly, this motherboard is packed with components so there is simply not much room. With that said, it would be great to have an internal Type-A USB header for a boot drive. Another good option is to have two more USB ports on the rear panel. Most KVM carts in datacenters have USB hubs standard at this point, however some do not. If one needs to attach a USB device that requires more power such as an external DVD ROM and a keyboard and mouse, there are simply not enough USB ports. Then again, adding more USB ports likely means using more PCB space for thier footprint, something that ASRock likely could not do given how much they already fit into the platform. Certainly not a major shortcoming, but would be a “nice to have” in a future revision.
ASRock Rack Remote Management and Monitoring
ASRock uses a common IPMI and KVM-over-IP solution based on the American Megatrends MegaRAC that is paired with the Aspeed AST2300 solution. The solution allows for a lot of deployment flexibility and is similar to the solution found in ASUS, Supermicro, Tyan and some Dell platforms. The solution allows for remote management capabilities such as power control. You can do remote power up, power down, and reset of the server in the event that it becomes unresponsive. Using KVM-over-IP was very simple and allows for a user to remotely mount ISO images, edit BIOS settings and other tools that an administrator would otherwise need to plug a KVM cart up to the system to utilize.
Aside from the management aspect, the solution also has built-in monitoring capabilities. The WebGUI allows an administrator to utilize functions such as fan speeds, chassis intrusion sensors, thermal sensors, and etc. can be monitored remotely. Alerts can be setup to notify the admins of issues.
For those wondering, the default username / password on our ASRock C2750D4I was admin / admin. The login information may change on the production samples but often having that information is useful for folks.
The ASRock Rack C2750D4I is going to be a very successful storage platform. ASRock’s team generally used proven technology around a low power Avoton core. That means that without any drives attached, and only the Gigabit NICs plus processor working, the platform will use around 30-35w max. In terms of installation, the mITX size, ability to use add-in cards, and the fact that the Intel Atom C2750 is soldered onboard with an attached heatsink means that the platform fits almost anywhere and is very easy to assemble. As these become generally available, the ASRock C2750D4I is going to be a favorite NAS platform for some time. Overall, a great job by ASRock keeping power consumption low while integrating many SATA ports into a compact storage platform.