Is the ASRock Rack X470D4U a server motherboard?
This is a bit of a funny question but is definitely valid here. The inclusion of the BMC is intended to target this motherboard at the server market, and ASRock Rack has a small line of 1U server options on offer that come equipped with the X470D4U. Plus, it says “Server” right on the box!
However, if you take a look over on ASRock Rack’s site for the motherboard, they only list three operating systems as being officially supported:
- Windows 10 x64
- Ubuntu 16.04.4 x64
- RedHat Enterprise Linux Server 7.3/7.4 x64
That is a pretty short list! Of course, this board will likely work on many operating systems not specifically listed, and we intend to test some ‘unsupported’ configurations. However, for some prospective buyers, official support for an OS may be important and so it is worth pointing out.
Of specific note is VMware, which has been uncooperative in the past about providing any support when their software is running on hardware that is not on their compatibility list. In addition to this motherboard not being on VMware’s HCL, no Ryzen CPUs appear on the VMware HCL. The AMD EPYC CPUs make an appearance on the HCL and are obviously based on the same core design as the Ryzen CPUs. While one can get VMware installed, if you encounter some kind of bug or edge case problem then you might very well be left on your own.
There are also not very many purpose-built mATX server chassis on the market today. The SilverStone CS381 would be a good fit, but most other server options would either be mITX, ATX, or larger; mATX is not the industry’s focus at this point.
On the other hand, it is even harder to make the argument that the X470D4U is a workstation motherboard. The inclusion of the BMC is likely of little value to professional workstation use, and the I/O options are lacking relative to that market. As an example, the board lacks integrated sound, which many workstation use cases might still require. The $250 cost of the motherboard will not do it any favors in the workstation market either, as there are a wide variety of better-equipped motherboards out in the market for less than $250 that only lack the BMC in comparison to the X470D4U.
While it is correct to say that the X470D4U is a “server motherboard” the more accurate label may be that it is a “DIY server motherboard.” If you need OS support, the list is slim, and getting vendor support may be difficult. For a small DIY environment, or something like a web hosting environment the platform works, and offers some great cost savings. If you need ISV support for your job this is unlikely the platform you want to buy. Further, since this is effectively the only Ryzen server platform on the market, it does not get the same level of firmware bugfix patch attention that the Xeon E-2200 series gets. Many of our readers know this, but we just want to be clear that there are significant differences for a large portion of the market using this platform.
The X470D4U is a bit strange; personally I believe it represents a potentially untapped market, but as a first-generation effort it certainly has some rough edges. In terms of raw performance, Ryzen CPUs are very competitive with Xeon at lower price points. However, as has been pointed out in other STH reviews of Intel server processors, Intel has a vibrant ecosystem of platforms and components built around their Xeon E/ Core i3 CPUs, and the complete Ryzen ecosystem is currently represented by only a few motherboards made by a single vendor.
Thus far, ASRock Rack has been the only vendor willing to dip their toes into this market as we still have not seen the Tyan Tomcat EX S8015 or Tyan Tomcat SX S8020 in the wild. It says a lot that these are the only platforms available. If there was indeed extreme demand, we would expect more vendors to make similar offerings. Having multiple vendors that one can source platforms from is another key requirement for many organizations as they source servers. Only time will tell whether they remain the lone player in the Ryzen server market. I hope other vendors join them, and that they continue to improve their own product both in terms of smoothing out rough edges and in garnering official support for their system on other popular operating systems. To that end, ASRock Rack has released a second-generation effort, the X570D4I-2T, which is a mITX server board STH hopes to look at in the future.
For the moment, until more widespread support materializes for the Ryzen platform, our recommendation for the X470D4U will come with a huge caveat; we like the platform, but you will have to test it for yourself to make sure the platform works for your organization (or you if this is a lab environment) and your particular set of applications.
With all that said, I do believe this motherboard has its place and that the Ryzen CPUs represent nearly unmatched CPU performance per dollar value. The niche may be small – applications that require a high CPU performance to RAM ratio and are cost-conscious – but within that niche, this platform excels. Only time will tell whether the Ryzens can break out in the server market and into more mainstream deployments and we will see broader support. Until then, the ASRock X470D4U is a great effort for those who want to deploy low-cost Ryzen-based servers.