Is the ASRock Rack X470D4U2-2T 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! We wanted to discuss software support, as well as some of the hardware features that help answer that question.
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 options. Of course, this board will likely work on many operating systems not specifically listed. As you may have seen from our OS testing section earlier in this review, we found many that worked without issues. For some prospective buyers, official support for an OS may be important and so it is worth pointing out. If you are your own support solution, then this may well be acceptable.
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 X470D4U2-2T 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. There is no USB Type-C port which is commonplace on even inexpensive workstations these days. The $360 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 $360 that only lack the BMC in comparison to the X470D4U2-2T.
Part of that cost is also going to the Intel X550 10Gbase-T NIC which costs more than some of the consumer motherboard 10Gbase-T solutions, albeit with a more server-focused feature set. Integrating that onto the platform eases integration, especially for 1U form factors where PCIe slot connectivity is limited. That is not as big of a factor with larger workstation designs.
While it is correct to say that the X470D4U2-2T 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.
There are a few different angles that one needs to view the X470D4U2-2T through. The first, is likely whether you are comfortable using Ryzen as a server. A second is whether the 2-2T model with 10Gbase-T integrated is worth the incremental price delta over the base ASRock Rack X470D4U model.
On the subject of using Ryzen for servers, personally I believe it represents a potentially untapped market. 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. The justification and case for going Ryzen on a pure cost basis can easily be made. 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. That is a huge difference.
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. 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 X470D4U2-2T 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. There is a lot to take in beyond the hardware itself.
In comparison with its less expensive sibling the X470D4U, you are essentially paying more for the dual 10GbE networking, and losing some PCIe connectivity in the process. We paid around $110 more for the X470D4U2-2T earlier this year but at the time of this writing, the delta at retailers seems to be closer to $200. At that price point, one could simply purchase the X470D4U and combine it with the network card of your choice including SFP+ 10GbE and 25GbE solutions. For example, the Dell EMC Broadcom BCM 57414 we recently reviewed we bought for the lab at only $125 each. In my eyes, that makes the X470D4U a more flexible solution.
If you are enticed by the dollar per core and core count prospects of Ryzen, you are OK with the relatively small Ryzen server ecosystem, and you think the 10Gbase-T upgrade is justified, then the X470D4U2-2T is going to be a great solution. If you want to use anything other than the Intel X550 10Gbase-T solution, the X470D4U is a lower-cost platform with more expansion capabilities. The decision is more nuanced than with the original platform we reviewed, but both have worked well for us.