At STH, whenever a new generation of server CPUs comes out, we always like to start with the top end SKU. The Supermicro A2SDi-H-TP4F is an embedded motherboard that sips power and houses something special. Onboard is the Intel Atom C3955 which is the top-end SKU of the new Intel Atom C3000 series codenamed “Denverton.” This new generation offers twice the cores and anywhere from 30-60% more performance per core than the C2000 generation. Beyond raw CPU cores, Supermicro has taken full advantage of the SoC’s capabilities to provide top-end networking and storage options on the platform.
Update 2017-26-08: Supermicro let us know that we tested a sample for validation. The shipping version of this motherboard will have the 16-core Intel Atom C3958 CPU. We will be updating our review soon with the shipping version.
Our test configuration is very similar to what we used for our Intel Atom C2000 series reviews.
- Motherboard: Supermicro A2SDi-H-TP4F
- CPU: Intel Atom C3955
- RAM: 4x 16GB DDR4-2400 RDIMMs (Micron)
- SSD: Intel DC S3710 400GB
- SATADOM: Supermicro 32GB SATADOM
- OSes: Windows Server 2016 Standard, Ubuntu Server 16.04.3 LTS, CentOS 7.3
We did get the chance to test the platform with Intel Optane 32GB, Toshiba XG3 512GB M.2 SSDs (Optane pictured) and 4x 32GB RDIMMs. Like the Intel Xeon D-1500 series, one can use up to 128GB in 4x 32GB ECC RDIMM configurations.
Supermicro A2SDi-H-TP4F Overview
Measuring 9.6″ x 9.6″ the Supermicro A2SDi-H-TP4F is a compact mITX motherboard. That means it will fit in a myriad of enclosures from small table top towers to short depth rackmount enclosures.
The one caveat we want to point out in this design is that it is intended to have chassis airflow over the heatsink. The Intel Atom C3955 is a powerful processor at 32W TDP it cannot be passively cooled by the stock heatsink.
On the subject of the CPU, here is a lscpu output:
We wanted to highlight two virtualization features. The 16-core Atom is powerful enough for lightweight virtualization so its feature set needs to be more robust than the previous generation. One example of how the new generation excels here is that it supports VT-d for device pass-through.
Likewise, there is SR-IOV support with the embedded Atom platform which is an excellent upgrade over previous generations:
In terms of RAM, there are four DDR4 DIMM slots that accept ECC UDIMMs and RDIMMs. We suggest using RDIMMs if possible. That is a major upgrade over the previous generation as it makes 128GB easily obtainable.
Before we proceed, power has two main options. First, one can use a standard ATX 24-pin power connector. Given this is such a low power platform, it will operate without issue even with a 150W to 200W PSU and a 20-pin power connector. Alternatively, one can use a DC power connection which is the four pin power header.
Moving along to the storage, the motherboard has something special. There are two SFF-8643 headers that each can handle 4x SATA III 6.0gbps ports. Further, there are four standard 7-pin headers, one is the orange connector Supermicro uses for SATA DOMs with power. Augmenting these 12x SATA III ports is a USB 3.0 Type-A internal header popular for embedded OS installations. The previous generation Intel Atom C2000 had two SATA III 6.0gbps ports and four SATA II 3.0gbps ports so this is a massive improvement.
The SFF-8643 ports provide features such as SATA LED so and SGPIO so your enclosure backplanes can correctly display status LEDs.
While the SATA ports may be great for boot devices and traditional hard drives, there are new form factors available. For example, m.2 NVMe drives are extremely popular. The Supermicro A2SDi-H-TP4F can handle up to M.2 2280 size SSDs. Along with the M.2 slot there is a PCIe 3.0 x4 slot that is open ended allowing longer cards to be used. Previous generation Intel Atom C2000 products could only utilize PCIe 2.0 so this is a significant upgrade.
The rear I/O is an array of two USB ports along with an out of band management Gigabit Ethernet port. There is also a VGA header.
The real story in terms of I/O here are the four 10 gigabit Ethernet ports. There are two 10Gbase-T ports and two SFP+ ports so one can use different networking interfaces. For those STsalivatingsalavating over a high-speed Atom CPU with higher-speed networking, this is it. The Intel Atom C3000 series requires external PHYs which you can see covered by heatsinks behind the VGA port (10Gbase-T is the larger of the two.) The 4x 10GbE configuration is only available on the highest end SKUs. Here is an Intel Atom C3000 series SKU list and comparison for your reference.
Networking is provided by the Intel X553/ X557 NICs. If you are using the latest Intel drivers then support will be in the OS. If you are using an older OS, you will need to upgrade to newer OS drivers. See our Day 0 with Intel Atom C3000: Getting Intel X553 NICs Working piece.
Here is a view of the platform with four DIMMs installed along with a M.2 drive. In this case we are using an Intel Optane m.2 drive. Far from a supported configuration, but since it is a NVMe device, it does work. We are using the m.2 device instead of the Optane P4800X PCIe we tested months ago because using several dollar per GB storage on this platform is not the best balance. We are testing the m.2 version to see if that is a good caching device for the server.
The Intel Atom C3955 has the maximum High-Speed I/O (HSIO) lanes and networking options found in the entire Intel Atom C3000 series. The Supermicro A2SDI-H-TP4F utilizes every ounce of these features.
Intel Atom C3955 Performance
In terms of overall performance, we published the Intel Atom C3955 benchmarks already. In that piece, we also included the lowest-end Intel Atom C3000 series part, the C3338 so you can get a sense of how the new platform performs compared to the rest of the line. Here is our Linux Kernel Compile benchmark:
As you can see, the new CPUs are over 2x the speed of previous generation parts. Furthermore, the 16 core part can be competitive with some of the higher-power CPUs. For an embedded part, this is a major jump in performance.
These days, out of band management is a standard feature on servers. Supermicro offers an industry standard solution for traditional management, including a WebGUI. The company is also supporting the Redfish management standard.
In the latest generation of Supermciro IPMI is a HTML5 iKVM. One no longer needs to use a Java console to get remote KVM access to their server.
Currently, Supermicro allows users to utilize Serial-over-LAN, Java or HTML5 consoles from before a system is turned on, all the way into the OS. Other vendors such as HPE, Dell EMC and Lenovo charge an additional license upgrade for this capability (among others with their higher license levels.) That is an extremely popular feature. One can also perform BIOS updates using the Web GUI but that feature does require a relatively low-cost license (around $20 street price.) That is a feature we wish Supermicro would include with their systems across product lines.
At STH, we do all of our server testing in remote data centers. Having the ability to remote console into the machines means we do not need to make trips to the data center to service the lab even if BIOS changes or manual OS installs are required.
We did use our Extech TrueRMS Power Analyzer 380803 so these measurements are taken at the PDU in our 120V 15A low power racks. Intel Atom C3000 series systems are often found in remote offices on 120V power so we are using our 120V lab racks for this test, as we did for Xeon D and Intel Atom C2000 series servers.
- Power off BMC only: 4.9W
- OS Idle: 29.6W
- Single Thread Maximum: 34.2W
- 100% Load: 53.5W
These numbers are great. Maximum performance is in the range of an 8 core Xeon D, and at lower power. We should mention that this is with 4x 16GB RDIMMs and all LAN ports lit up to 10GbE speeds. There is an opportunity to shave some additional power off of the platform.
When it comes to the top of the line Intel Atom C3000 series compute, this is it. Power wise this platform uses less than an 8 core Xeon D system. The storage platform capabilities with the ability to easily power 12 SATA devices and connect 2x SFP+ and 2x 10Gbase-T ports is awesome in a low power platform.
We did want to touch on pricing. The Intel Atom C3955 (and Atom C3000 in general) pricing is high with a list price of $434. Also, the Intel Atom C3000 series like the Xeon D series, requires an external PHY for 10GbE. On this particular motherboard, having both SFP+ and 10Gbase-T PHYs drives price up. Likewise, as one adds more wires and layers in the PCB to support more SATA devices driving costs up as well. We are going to put the street price of this board is going to be around $700 which is essentially double what a top-end Atom C2000 series motherboard will sell for. The key driver is the CPU cost which is 2.5X what the top of the line compute C2750 cost ($171). Intel is justifying pricing based on the fact that one no longer requires external SAS/ SATA controllers and 10GbE card(s). If we look at something like the Intel C621 v. C624 on the Xeon Scalable PCH side, one goes from 4x 1GbE to 4x 10GbE embedded for $43 ($100-57). We think Intel’s value based pricing is compared to external X550 series NICs (with PHYs) not Intel’s alternative PCH options.
In summary, we think that this is a great platform for networking and storage appliances and lightweight virtualization. The only reservation we have is that one is paying a premium for the lower power consumption and small footprint. For many of our readers, solutions based on the A2SDi-H-TP4F are going to be very exciting once we see retail availability in mid-to-late September 2017.