Today’s review will focus on the Supermicro H8SML-7F server motherboard. The single socket server segment is largely owned by the Intel Xeon E3-1200 series, however many web hosts utilize AMD’s socket AM3+ platform to provide low-cost dedicated servers. The Supermicro H8SML-7F is not just an AMD socket AM3+ server motherboard for the Opteron 3300 series (and Opteron 3200 / Opteron 3100 series before that), it is also a very well rounded mATX server motherboard. This is because Supermicro has added an onboard LSI SAS2308 controller to the motherboard. The LSI SAS2308 is a very fast SAS III 6.0gbps RAID controller/ HBA that offers features and performance similar to the LSI 9207-8e and LSI 9207-8i. More on this later. For the low-cost dedicated server segment, the H8SML-7F is a great piece of hardware as the LSI 9207-8i alone costs around $300. One of the biggest value propositions of this board is it allows dedicated server operators to provide a lower-cost upgrade path using AMD CPUs. For home users, one of the great features is the fact that it is an AM3+ motherboard with built-in IPMI 2.0 management, Intel NICs and an onboard SAS controller. Let’s take a look at the motherboard.
For this test, we assumed a basic dedicated or cloud server platform, similar to what we use with the Intel Xeon E3 line. We used one setup to confirm that the system worked with standard consumer motherboards and another to provide parity to our standard test configurations.
- CPU: AMD Opteron 3380
- Motherboard: Supermicro H8SML-7F
- Memory: 16GB Kingston ECC 1600 CL11 DDR3 4x 4GB UDIMMs
- OS Drive: OCZ Vertex 4 256GB
- Enclosure: Norco RPC-4224
- Power Supply: Corsair AX750 750w 80Plus Gold PSU
- OS: Windows 8 Pro 64-bit, Ubuntu 12.04 Server
These should be fairly standard styles of Opteron 3300 series configurations. This is also very similar to the configuration used in our AMD Opteron 3380 review.
The Supermicro H8SML-7F
Utilizing a micro ATX (mATX) form factor, the Supermicro H8SML-7f is very compact. One can see that the server motherboard utilizes a standard socket AM3+ commonly found on desktop motherboards. That is important because it also means that one can use desktop coolers (depending on the application.) To do the initial setup test we used a very low cost $5.99 Cooler Master heatsink of unknown model number and it worked fine on the motherboard. Other big notes around the CPU area are five 4-pin PWM fan connectors and four DDR3 DIMM slots. The DDR3 DIMM slots accept unbuffered ECC DDR3 DIMMs. These UDIMMs can be up to 8GB in capacity for a maximum memory configuration of 32GB of ECC memory.
In terms of expansion, the Supermicro H8SML-7F has a PCIe x16 slot (x8 electrical) and a PCIe x8 slot (x4 electrical.) The AMD socket AM3+ platform with the AMD SR5650 / SP5100 chipset is PCIe 2.0 only. Although there are only two PCIe slots, for a majority of installations, it is unlikely they will even be used. This is because the Supermicro H8SML-7F has a RAID controller/ HBA already built-in.
Next to the internal USB Type-A port, one can see eight blue 7-pin SATA/ SAS connectors. These connectors are from the onboard LSI SAS2308 controller. Each one capable of connecting either SAS or SATA drives at 6.0gbps speeds. They sit at the rear edge of the motherboard for easy cabling. To add this feature via an expansion slot one would need to add a $300 controller so it is safe to say it makes up a significant part of the $399 motherboard’s BOM.
Along with the eight ports from the LSI SAS2308, the bottom edge of the motherboard has six right angle SATA connectors.These six ports run in SATA II 3.0gbps mode and are generally fast enough for most traditional hard drives. Combined with the LSI SAS2308 controller, that gives the Supermicro H8SML-7F capacity to control 14 hard drives or solid state drives directly from the motherboard.
Looking at premium components, the Supermicro H8SML-7F motherboard also has dual Intel 82574L controllers onboard. Most consumer AMD socket AM3+ motherboards utilize inexpensive Realtek controllers. The Intel 82574L is more or less the de facto standard server Ethernet controller these days, so having one onboard is a great bonus because it increases compatibility with almost every operating system out there.
These controllers link to two RJ-45 connectors in the rear to provide dual gigabit Ethernet. The third RJ-45 port is an IPMI 2.0 management Ethernet port. Along with these network connections one can find standard PS/2 keyboard and mouse ports along with VGA and serial ports on the rear of the motherboard.
In terms of hardware, the Supermicro H8SML-7F has most of the components one might want on an AMD Opteron 3300 series server motherboard. The onboard components set the board apart from less expensive consumer boards used in some hosting market segments.
Supermicro IPMI Remote 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 Nuvoton BMC chip 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. Combined with the onboard USB 2.0 header, mounting OS installation or recovery images remotely is a very simple affair.
In combination with the baseboard level management features just described, KVM-over-IP features of the Supermicro board are not to be underestimated. One can log on to the server using a web browser with Java platform support to administer the server. Or one can go through Supermicro’s IPMIview software and have remote console capabilities, with mouse support included. Oftentimes, users opine that shell access is enough to troubleshoot. However this BMC level access to the remote system allows one to immediately see things such as a hung and incomplete boot process, frozen servers, as well as manage motherboard and add-in card BIOS remotely. I believe that the IPMI 2.0 features, including the KVM-over-IP features are essential for a server-class motherboard unless one has an external KVM-over-IP unit and a network addressable power source. For users with redundant PSUs, as will be the most common use case with this motherboard, remotely toggling on/ off multiple power supply ports across multiple PDUs can be difficult making the motherboard option preferred.
Overall, the Supermicro H8SML-7F provides many onbaord features. By integrating components directly on the motherboard, costs are lowered significantly. For the dedicated hosting market, this is a very strong contender for those customers who want a lot of storage connectivity on a socket AM3+ platform. Another advantage is that the motherboard can handle three generations of AMD architectures so there is a direct upgrade path for current customers. In the Opteron 3300 series and AMD socket AM3+ server motherboard market, this is one of the most cost effective solutions for higher-end configurations.