The Gigabyte MA10-ST0 is a fascinating storage platform. If you are looking to build a network attached storage (NAS) unit with 16 drives, the traditional go-to has been to use an additional SAS controller. With the Gigabyte MA10-ST0, one has a powerful 16 core CPU, 10GbE (SFP+) networking, up to 16x SATA III ports, and even a boot drive all in a compact mITX platform.
Gigabyte MA10-ST0 Overview
The Gigabyte MA10-ST0 is small. It is a 6.7″ x 6.7″ mITX form factor which means it fits in everything from compact chassis to rackmount servers. Given its compact size and plethora of features, there are components covering the PCB.
The onboard CPU is a 16-core Intel Atom C3958 model. You can read more about this chip in our Intel Atom C3958 16-Core Top End Embedded QAT Linux Benchmarks and Review. The Intel Atom C3958 has QuickAssist Technology is the cryptographic and compression accelerator. It works well when one can use it, but the installation process is still one of the main limiting factors in its usefulness (we suggest using CentOS with Intel QAT.)
With the newest Intel Atom C3000 series you can use up to 128GB in 4x 32GB RDIMMs, a 4x boost over previous generation platforms. Boosting RAM capacity means that you can virtualize more in an edge device. Virtualization has become a major theme for NAS units recently as SMBs are able to bring services in-house and lower the load on WAN connections.
There are a few quirks to the board. For example, even though this is a 31W SoC we tried using just the ATX power connector and the board would not POST. Instead, one needs to also connect to a CPU power source as well. You may also notice that the heatsink fins are flipped 90 degrees on our test unit as compared to the stock photos:
One can change the orientation based on the type of chassis used and the airflow pattern required.
Now for the big feature. There are four SFF-8087 ports aligned perpendicular to the motherboard. While these were commonly used for SAS in the 3.0gbps and 6.0gbps SAS generations, on the Gigabyte MA10-ST0 they each provide four SATA III 6.0gbps for a total of up to 16 SATA ports.
Given the new Intel Atom C3000 series architecture, two of the four SFF-8087 ports are shared with the PCIe 3.0 x8 slot.
At the end of the PCIe 3.0 slot is a small chip from Kingston. That is another one of the Gigabyte MA10-ST0 unique features. It is a 32GB eMMC package. 32GB is plenty for many embedded OSes and hypervisors. eMMC is generally a more trusted storage media over a USB stick. As a result, you can use the 32GB eMMC drive as a boot device without having to use one of the valuable SATA III ports.
The one drawback of an embedded eMMC device is serviceability. Many OS vendors have seen users utilize eMMC boot media as storage caching or log devices which can wear out media. If that happens, a soldered component will likely require a board swap to replace. Still, the solution is unique and one we think has a lot of merit.
You can see this in action in our initial Testing the Gigabyte MA10-ST0 with pfSense 2.4-Release and FreeNAS 11.0-U4 piece from October 2017, but the key takeaway is that you need OS support for booting to eMMC media. Here is an example of how this looks from the CentOS installer:
Here is a view from the boot device selection screen:
The rear I/O has legacy KVM cart ports like the VGA and USB 2.0 ports. There are no USB 3.0 ports on this platform. These days, instead of using local KVM, most users will instead rely upon the out-of-band management via the RJ-45 connector above the USB ports.
The stack of two RJ-45 ports combine for dual 1GbE networking. Perhaps the standout rear-panel I/O feature is the dual SFP+ 10GbE cages. That gives high-speed I/O capabilities to the platform. If you are going to move from a simple NAS OS to a higher-end hyper-converged style installation, this networking combination is a great addition to the Atom C3958.
Next we are going to take a look at the remote management capabilities and block diagram of the Gigabyte MA10-ST0 and then look at the performance, power consumption, and our final thoughts on the platform.