Today we have a review of the Supermicro A1SRM-LN7F-2758. If nothing else from this review you are going to see what may just become the hottest network appliance platform for applications such as vyatta, pfsense and other embedded network appliance applications. Supermicro has an appliance with seven Intel-based gigabit NICs plus an additional out-of-band management NIC. Six of the gigabit NICs can operate in bypass mode. This is combined with an 8-core Intel Atom C2758 processor with QuickAssist. QuickAssist is a functionality Intel is pushing that has capabilities to enable faster encryption. Intel has demoed the functionality under Linux doing OpenSSL acceleration which is becoming an ever increasingly more prominent network function. Supermicro already has a A1SRi-2758F platform which we reviewed and has been extremely popular for its quad port NIC. The A1SRM-LN7F-2758 takes the network platform to the next level and is an awesome network appliance building block.
Our test configuration was very simple. The Intel Atom C2758 comes embedded in the motherboard itself. As a result, the platform is very simple to work with.
- Motherboard/ CPU: Supermicro A1SRM-LN7F-2758 with embedded Atom C2758
- RAM: 2x 8GB DDR3L 1600MHz
- SSDs: 1x Crucial M500 120GB mSATA SSD, 4x Intel S3500 240GB SSD
While this may not seem like an enormous configuration, it is fairly high-end for what would be required by most appliances.
Supermicro A1SRM-LN7F-2758 Overview
The first aspect of the motherboard is that it is a mATX form factor but only measures 8.0″ x 9.6″ in dimensions. Supermicro does include full-length DDR3 DIMM slots so there is no need for SODIMM memory here. The platform comes with a 1U passive heatsink on the CPU and at 20w there is only a bit of airflow required to keep the system running cool.
In terms of expandability there is a single PCIe 2.0 x4 electrical (x8 physical) slot that is open-ended. One could, in theory fit a larger PCIe x16 physical card in the slot. That is a great design feature.
The platform also includes an array of storage options. There are six SATA ports, two SATA3 6.0gbps ports and four SATA2 3.0gbps ports. Supermicro has both their SuperDOM and SATADOM options as well as a Type-A internal USB header. Those allow for low footprint boot devices to be used and are very popular for applications such as hosting base hypervisors such as VMware ESXi.
One of the SATA ports (SATA0) can be re-directed through the mSATA slot. For embedded applications, being able to use a mSATA option means that one can use a fairly large disk in a very compact chassis.
We snapped a picture of the platform with a Crucial M500 120GB mSATA drive along with RAM. One can see the overall platform remains extremely compact.
Here is a quick BIOS shot using that Crucial mSATA SSD as a boot device option. This is better for higher-capacity/ boot drive applications where a generally smaller and lower write endurance USB boot device or DOM would otherwise be used.
Now for the serious business end of the A1SRM-LN4F-2758: networking. There are a lot of ICs and components here. Some of the larger ones are the Marvell Alaska PHY for the Intel Atom C2758’s onboard Intel i354 controller. We have covered this topic extensively but to the OS, this is an Intel NIC, not a Marvell NIC. The Intel i354 controller supports four of the motherboards network ports. To the right of the Marvell chip is the Intel I350-AM2 controller. That controller controls two of the network ports. The final data NIC is next to the large block of black and white components Supermicro uses on their extended life embedded communications platforms, and is an Intel i210-AT NIC.
For those curious, the ASPEED AST2400 is the BMC that provides everything from out-of-band management to VGA output.
Now to the rear IO panel. There first NIC atop two USB ports is the OOB IPMI management NIC. To the right are two USB ports with another RJ-45 connector atop. This connector is wired to the Intel i210-AT NIC. That is important because the designers have visually made it very easy to see the two NICs which do not have bypass adapter options. The next six Ethernet ports are the bypass adapter pairs controlled by the Intel i354 and i350-am2 NICs.
There is also a VGA connector for video out. This is the first Intel Atom C2000 series platform we have seen with such an extensive network array. This is combined with Rangeley’s network acceleration function, high-end embedded components and this is likely the top Rangely platform available today.
Network Adapter BIOS Settings
Although this is not a standard part of our reviews, we did want to show off what the network options look like from a BIOS perspective. One can see that all seven of the data NICs can have Option ROMs enabled. One can, for example, use the i210 based NIC to PXE boot images. PXE booting allows the platform to have even fewer potential components that can fail (e.g. disks.)
There is a unique feature to this platform which is the LAN Pair Work Mode. One can set LAN functions from standard “Normal” mode to bypass mode here.
Selecting the LAN pair one can set each of the three NIC pairs to bypass mode individually.
Overall, bypass modes are very easy to configure.
To capture these images we utilize our FLIR Ex series professional thermal imaging camera and turn on FLIR’s MSX enhancements so we can see components outlined clearly. We put the system under 100% CPU load for a period of 24 hours to let “heat soak” set in prior to taking the images.
The CPU heatsink is very cool. The NICs are running relatively cool. Overall this is an excellent result for an embedded platforms.
Software and Management
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. Alerts can be setup to notify the admins of issues. Beyond this, the functionality also allows for remote power control. You can do 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. At the same time it removes the need for an optical disk to be connected to the Supermicro motherboard.
Overall, this is going to be the top Rangeley motherboard for network appliances. We have reviewed Intel Atom C2000 based platforms from several vendors now and in terms of being a network appliance, this is nothing short of awesome. In testing we were able to run pfsense both bare metal and in hypervisors, vyatta, linux-based firewalls and etc. The platform ran cool, was stable for the few weeks of testing thus far and is extremely compact. In summary, this product has received one of the highest ratings this site has given out in over five years of product reviews. We review many platforms with easy substitutes, however there is nothing comparable, from a networking perspective, to the Supermicro A1SRM-LN7F-2758.
Join the forum thread started on this platform to discuss this motherboard that has additional information.