The more we use the Supermicro X11SCA-F, the more we like the platform. At its core, the Supermicro X11SCA-F is a crossover platform. It has the features one would want both for a workstation platform as well as a server platform which makes it intriguing. Supermicro is a leader in the workstation/ server crossover space and offers high-end dual socket crossover platforms as well. One can see an example in our Supermicro X11DAC Workstation and Server Motherboard Review or the previous generation Supermicro X10DAC Review. Based on LGA1151, the Supermicro X11SCA-F is a lower power and more affordable platform in this crossover segment.
Supermicro X11SCA-F Overview
At its essence, the Supermicro X11SCA-F is an ATX 12′ x 9.6″ motherboard that will fit in a wide variety of chassis. It is a single socket platform that is designed for consumer CPUs and lower-end servers. Although most of the server market is centered around dual-socket designs, the remote branch office server and some workstation platforms still use this class of system. Supermicro has created what may be the ultimate crossover motherboard in this category.
Here is the official diagram if you just want to see the overview. One can see the front edge of the motherboard has a USB 3.0 front panel header, a USB 3.1 Type-A header, and a USB 3.1 Type C header which is important for integrators who want to use this platform in a variety of scenarios.
The CPU socket is Socket H4, an LGA1151 design. Here is where it gets really interesting, the platform supports a wide array of CPUs. It is a list that includes 8th gen Intel Core i9/i7/i5/i3/Pentium/Celeron Processors, Pentium, and the Intel Xeon E (Coffee Lake-S) server, Intel Xeon E-2100 (Coffee Lake-S) workstation processors.
The DDR4 DIMM slots have metal on them and one side is fixed. This is to ensure that the slots stay stable and do not break in shipping or with DIMM upgrades. We have not seen a DIMM slot break on a motherboard in years, but only handle 100-150 platforms a year so it is not a sample size. This is a carry-over from the consumer side where motherboards have these extra features to entice enthusiast buyers.
We wanted to show off the storage connectivity for a moment. There are 8x SATA III 6.0gbps ports that are found in an array of 7-pin headers stacked parallel with the motherboard. These are controlled by the Intel C246 PCH. There is also an SFF-8643 header for U.2 NVMe SSDs. This is far more storage than many of the systems built on the Supermicro X11SCA-F will need, but it adds to the flexibility of the system.
On the rear edge of the motherboard, you can see the ASPEED AST2500 BMC and its corresponding RAM. This is what gives the X11SCA-F its “-F” as it provides out-of-band management to the system. We will cover that OOB management later in this review, but it is a feature that allows this platform to be used either as a workstation or a server.
The expansion slot array is surprisingly large for this segment. There are two PCIe x16 slots. These can operate either in PCIe 3.0 x16/empty or x8/x8 mode. You can see these are shrouded in metal which is a workstation-style feature that is supposed to help with the rigidity of PCIe slots.
For additional peripherals, there are PCIe 3.0 x1 and PCIe 3.0 x4 slots. Neither interferes with a double-width cooler, for example with a GPU, in the x16 slots. Interestingly enough, one even has access to a 32-bit PCI slot. We are told that there are still customers who need to use legacy cards, so we have a 26-year-old slot on this new motherboard. PCI debuted in 1992 as your fun fact for the day.
Modern storage relies upon the M.2 form factor. Supermicro has a novel mounting system that allows consumer desktop standard M.2 2280 (80mm) NVMe SSDs in either M.2 header on the motherboard. Where this gets interesting is that the mounting system allows smaller drives, as well as the larger data center, focused M.2 22110 (110mm) NVMe SSDs that have power loss protection circuitry. Here is an example with a drive mounted in the top slot.
As you can see, the SK.Hynix NVMe SSD in the M.2 22110 form factor fits perfectly on this motherboard with Supermicro’s innovative mounting.
The rear I/O is nothing short of great. There is an array of display outputs. These include HDMI, Display Port, DVI, and legacy VGA. This array highlights the fact that there are too many display standards. It also allows for a wide variety of different devices to be connected. Deploying the Supermicro X11SCA-F as a workstation will likely mean using adapters for multi-monitor setups in conjunction with the Intel Xeon E-2100G series.
Audio is a fairly standard workstation array powered by ALC 888S HD audio. There are two network ports. One is controlled using the Intel i219LM chipset NIC. Powering the other is the Intel i210-AT an extremely popular server NIC. Along with standard networking duties, the i210-AT also provides OOB management network access for the ASPEED BMC.
Rear USB ports are 2x USB 3.1 Gen 1, 1x USB 3.1 Gen 2 Type-A, and 1x USB 3.1 Gen 2 Type-C. USB is an absolute mess in terms of naming at this point. Those four ports are not as many as we would find on a high-end consumer workstation motherboard, but they are also well beyond the typical server platform these days. That is even more so with the array of front panel headers available.
Now that we have taken a look at the motherboard, we wanted to pivot to show the block diagram so that you can see how the system is configurable. We will then go into the management features followed by our final thoughts.
Supermicro X11SCA-F Block Diagram
If you were counting PCIe 3.0 lanes in our review, just based on physical slots, then look at the Intel C246 platform, you will have noticed the imbalance. The Supermicro X11SCA-F has circuitry to allow customization, but it also means that not all slots will be active at all times.
We already covered that the PCIe x16 slots have 16 PCIe 3.0 lanes to use among the two of them. Beyond this, the PCIe 3.0 x4, both M.2, and U.2 slots all share PCIe lanes as described above. That means that using both M.2 slots limits your use of the U.2 and PCIe x4 slot. This array of opportunity gets its PCIe 3.0 lanes from the Intel C246 PCH. That means that the lanes have an additional DMI 8GT/s hop to reach the CPU.
In higher-end Intel Xeon Skylake-SP servers, for example, most of the PCIe lanes will come directly from the CPU, since each has 48x PCIe 3.0 lanes. Even these higher-end designs can sometimes use PCIe lanes in a similar manner. If you are accustomed to higher-end servers, this is something to keep in mind in this segment. The LGA1151 platform from Intel simply has fewer PCIe lanes to use. Supermicro did a great job by giving the system builder flexibility to connect devices easily through its design.
Supermicro X11SCA-F Management
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. On this motherboard, we see similar features as we would across the Supermicro X11 range. That means whether you are using an embedded motherboard or a 4U storage server, you will have a similar look and feel to the management experience.
In the latest generation of Supermicro IPMI is an 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 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.
Next, we are going to look at the BIOS experience, then give some of our final thoughts on the platform.