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.