Inside a Super Micro server

The exterior and interior features of note for the Super Micro SuperServer 1026T-6RFT 1U server are discussed in this Server Month video.

“SuperMicro 1026T 6RFT seems like a fairly utilitarian 1U server. Its characteristics are very similar to those of other full-size 1U servers, but when you look more closely, this unit provides some surprising capabilities that are hard to find in similar models,” said Colin Steele, senior site editor.

Find out how to access the device’s hard drives, how the power supplies differ from other servers’ featured in our Server Month coverage, and which design elements could present issues.

This video includes footage of booting up the server, going through the BIOS setup utility and setting the system for operation.

Check out the rest of our Server Month tips and videos.

Read the full text transcript from this video below. Please note the full transcript is for reference only and may include limited inaccuracies. To suggest a transcript correction, contact [email protected].    

Inside a Super Micro server

Colin Steele: Hi. I'm Senior Site Editor Colin Steele.

Stephen Bigelow: I'm Stephen Bigelow, Senior Technology Editor.

Carl Brooks: And I'm Carl Brooks, Senior Technology Writer.

Colin Steele: Let's take a look at this 1U server.

Colin Steele: At first glance, SuperMicro's 1026T 6RFT seems like a fairly utilitarian 1U server. Its characteristics are very similar to those of other full-size 1U servers, but when you look more closely, this unit provides some surprising capabilities that are hard to find in similar models.

Steve, some of the server's advanced features are visible right away. Can you take us through the exterior design?

Stephen Bigelow: Sure, Colin. The Supermicro unit has a series of front panel controls that are very familiar. We have the power button, a reset button, a unit ID display, and then there's a series of LED indicators that cover power, hard drive activity and network activity.

One of the things about this unit that really struck me was that there was both one gigabit and 10 gigabit Ethernet connectivity, so you'll actually see two network display indicators working here.

Moving along, you'll also see a DVD drive, so the optical drive will allow a technician to install operating systems, virtual machines, run diagnostics, load new applications, whatever is required on the system. There's also a series of hard drive bays available, and accessing the hard drive is simply a matter of moving the clip aside and gently removing the drive. You can see there are standard three-and-a-half inch drives installed on the Supermicro already.

One other item to consider is that the Supermicro does not have any USB, PS2 or video ports on the front of the unit. This means to set up or change the unit's configuration, the technician is going to need to get around to the back of the unit. And, in a crowded chassis configuration, that may or may not be a problem, but it's definitely something to consider when you're selecting a server.

Carl, what else should we be looking at?

Carl Brooks: Okay. Looking at the back, standard, replaceable power supplies. Nice and thin, nice and long. Look at that copper bus there. These are 700 watt apiece, slide right in there. PS2 ports, old-fashioned, but I'm fond of them. Two USB ports, integrated management port here, serial, VGA port. Two one-gig LAN ports, two ten-gig LAN ports, unique so far. And a note to venting, venting at the power supplies, which is normal. Plenty of air space here, also through the expansion slots here, and here, and here, and none across the top.

Colin Steele: And to see what all these components do of course, we need to turn this thing on. What's involved there?

Carl Brooks: I see a screw, right in the back there. Two little buttons, come right off. Let's see how much instructional material we have on the back of this one. Very little, which is fine. What do you see inside, Steve?

Stephen Bigelow: Well, Carl, I think the first thing that catches my eye here of course is the black piece of plastic that's covering the inside of the CPUs, and the DIMMs, and in other units that we've looked at it's been more of a heavy piece of plastic, but on the Supermicro, the ducting is very small, very flexible, which probably doesn't hurt airflow all that much, but it's not particularly rugged. So anytime you're handling it, it needs to be handled with a little bit of tender love and care.

And of course, you do see a very familiar layout of the CPUs and the memory slots. The system's main board is based on Intel's 5520 chipset. It does support two Intel's and 5500 or 5600 series processors. Like other 1U servers that we've looked at, this will support up to 12 processor cores and give you plenty of horsepower for handling larger workloads.

There are also 18 DDR3 DIMM slots that will support up to 192 gigabytes of memory on this system. It's a familiar configuration, and it ships to us with, I believe, 12 gigabytes of memory installed as 6 2-gigabyte DIMMs. Very similar to other units, we see a cluster of fans in the front, the majority of those fans blowing air across the CPU and DIMM configuration right through to the back of the unit.

The other thing that I noticed that was a little bit interesting is that many of the chips on this motherboard actually have heat sinks on them, which seems a little bit unusual considering some of the other system setups that we've seen.

Carl, what do you see in this unit?

Carl Brooks: A couple of things, Steve. Interesting, one thing that you notice is that you would actually need a tool to take some of this stuff apart. This is not a fancy, tool-less design. This is clearly designed more along a commodity line, which is not a bad thing. These heat sinks, you can buy these right off the shelf. These fans as well, these are all stock parts, easy to find, easy to source.

One interesting thing about the server is that this has room, if you can see, this has room for a full-size PCI add-on card, too, actually, so if you have some legacy hardware kicking around this would be the place to put it. I mean, I can fit a cigar box in here, it's huge.

Another thing that's interesting to note, this is the only server that does not have an add-on hardware raid card. The hardware raid is embedded on the board here, and you can see they've got these two cables, both of which are connected. This one's candied slightly, this one is straight, that's to route cable around to the hard drive back plane in the front. Front panel, follows that around here, too. Onboard storage, one, two, three, four, five SATA ports, is that right, two, three, four, five, six SATA ports in the front, because they come in pairs.

And another interesting thing to note about this: the power supplies have their own fans in them. The fans in the case itself are fairly minimal compared to some of the other we've seen. This is just, this way, the power supplies will suck on their own capacity. And when it comes to commodity, here's something interesting. This power supply actually has a replaceable fan. This fan essentially is the same as this. Not quite the same model but you could find one of these pretty much off the shelf, buy it, stick in there when it breaks. That's actually really good. Gives you a lot of flexibility if something in the server goes wrong.

Other than that, fairly standard design, nice layout. One thing that's interesting to point out, heat sink, heat sink. CPU, obvious. Heat sink, heat sink, heat sink, heat sink. Most of the major chips on this are heat sink, that's because this is not a high-efficiency air flow design, this does not move an awful lot of air through a very tightly conducting, heat-conducting environment. This conducts a lot of heat away from the chips and counts on a lot of air flow to bring that away. This is a high-efficacy, very robust cooling design. Not a very efficient cooling design, although it must be said we're talking about percentages here. Minor, very minor differences.

All in all that's about it.

Colin Steele: And to see what all these components do, of course, we need to turn this thing on. What's involved there?

Stephen Bigelow: Like we noted earlier, user-interface ports are all on the rear panel. So, the keyboard, the display and the mouse need to be connected at the back, which might be a little inconvenient if you wind up working inside a dense chassis. We're connecting both power cords to the same electrical outlet, but in actual practice, you'd attach each cord to a different utility circuit or UPS outlet for true redundancy.

Once you press the power button, the system will start to post. There is no operating system available on this particular server, but you can install an OS or boot from the network. Carl?

Carl Brooks: I believe this is one that actually has an alarm built into it by default. Let's see. Oh yeah, there we go. So if that happens, that means you should go plug your server back in. Yep, still works.

And there's the boot screen, I can see... And there's our airplane taking off. That looks like MegaRAID BIOS, remember that from the old days, don't we. What is it, "control H"?

Bios setup utility. By pressing "DEL" from the main screen. This is AMIBIOS. This is familiar to almost anybody who's used this particular kind of bios, which would be almost anyone who has ever had them in a computer. Fairly basic from here, you're going to recognize all the basic stuff. System time, system date, name of the system, the processor, blah, blah, blah.

Advanced settings, boot features. Again, this is just absolutely, exactly what you'd see in most PCs with an AMIBIOS. Most servers with an AMIBIOS.

Here is where the fun stuff starts. Processor and clock options. You can basically set almost anything you like about how the CPU is going to operate, and how the system clock as well as the RAM bus are going to function here. This also has the built-on Intel VT enabled by default. It doesn't do anything unless you're using software that takes advantage of that. But it's enabled, won't hurt you to turn it off, won't hurt you to leave it on either way.

Couple of other advanced user features here. Simultaneous multi-threading. Again, fairly common. Active processor core. This is fun. You can turn off the ones you don't need. There's a security feature, also performance feature; most people are just going to leave them on. Some software and hypervisor platforms will actually let you manage this. But, it's here in the BIOS if you want it.

EIST technology, Intel Turbo Boost, all sorts of fun stuff. Most of this is marketing. Intel R C-State tech, allows processor to set idle state for power saving. If you only want the processor to down-clock to whatever percentage of hertz it's going to run when it turns off the power saving so it comes up that much faster, or so that you maintain a minimum threshold, here's where you do it. This is a nice, flexible package. I mean it's really, I mean there's an awful lot of options. These are not options you get in a PC, by the way, these are server grade, server-CPU options.

Advanced skip-set control, north bridge and south bridge configuration. This is interesting here because you can actually turn off a bunch of the stuff that's on the south bridge, which, as we usually know, USB, sound, video sometimes. BIOS EHCI hand-off. The workaround for BIOS is without EHCI hand-off support, the EHCI ownership change should be claimed by an EHCI driver. Not very important to know about unless it affects an extremely ancient legacy application or operating system platform that you're using.

North bridge config here, you can again, turn on or off the Intel Virtualization Technology Enhancers here. This is disabled, enabled. It really won't matter either way.

ID, and SATA configuration. Basically the same. The only thing plugged in here is the ATAP CD-Rom which is the optical drive that's on there. You can set this for onboard software raid, you can set it for ID, you can set it for AFCI if you want, again very familiar, very old school sort of stuff.

PCI, PNP, good decent amount of control on each one of these things that you can use. Boot graphics adaptor priority, you might even want to just turn this off. If you have on, an add-on VGA card to this, which I possibly might, you could even probably fit a full-blown GPU and fan processor unit on the PCI slot that's on there, so maybe you have a need for that, I don't know but it's there. Very, very configurable.

Super IO, serial port addressing, remote access configuration. Remote access enabled by default. That's fine. Serial port number, COM 2+. This is IMPI, this is standard serial over-LAN control. There's also a serial port on there if you want to control it that way. Terminal pipe, just for you old school guys.

Hardware health configuration. This is where you can set thresholds for how hot it gets, you can see how hot it's running now. 78, 26 degrees Celsius, 78 degrees Fahrenheit, for, on top of the CPU. That's not too bad. Well it's on the motherboard, anyway, and it's not too bad. You can see fan control speed modes, balance, full speed, performance. Right, if I reboot this now this thing will sound like an airplane. Performance, almost full-speed, mostly full-speed. Balance, means mostly quiet, sometimes full-speed. Energy saving means always quiet, watch your loads, make sure it doesn't get too hot. Probably not going to be a huge concern for most people.

IMPI configuration. This shows you what it's going to report to and what you can see. Total number of entries, SCL entry number one. Basic sort of stuff. Lane configuration. Here's where you set your IP address for the server if you want. You do this on the bench before you plug it into your network if it hasn't fixed the IP address. Otherwise it'll go out and hunt the ICP for you all by itself.

Security, put a password on it.

Boot sector virus protection. I would leave this disabled. Boot device priority, removal device, CD, blah, blah, blah. Hard drive, that refers to the raid card that's on there. Hard disk drive, none, because it's on the raid. USB drives. None, because there's none plugged in.

Network drives. Network, yes, you can in fact tell this to boot, in which order, from which network slot you'd like this for. In the back I believe you can see them, yup. That's about it. That is the BIOS.

Let's boot into the MegaRAID BIOS Utility. Let's take a quick look at that. Do you remember what the hot key for that was, "control H"? Oh, here it is. LSI, MegaRAID, SAS, PCI, former version, blahdy-blah. Express RHMB. Start.

Okay. MegaRAID BIOS Utility Virtual Configuration. Web BIOS. Yes, it is in fact, this is actually running off a tiny little web server imbedded on the management systems onboard the server. This actually used to be at the software level, it installed this on your operating system, Windows or whatever and you'd see this little panel, exactly this looks now, you'd see this on windows and you could manage raid configurations through there. This just shows us what's installed here, various types of configurations. Right, control the selections, control the properties, all that different stuff.

You can see here, it gives you some detailed information about the drives that are installed. You can see them all on there. It's installed as one drive, four drives, Raid 6, that's Raid O plus 1. Raid zero for speed, Raid 1 for redundancy, two drives in Raid O, two drives in Raid O, each drive mirrors the other in Raid 1. That's really about it.

The only interesting thing about this is that they've packed a lot of fancy graphics down onto the server level. There's actually a control line interface for this. A command line interface for this if you feel like you don't want to see all the graphics so you can really keep it the way it used to be if that's how you like it.

That's about it for the Supermicro server.

Colin Steele: That does it for this 1U server overview. I'm Colin Steele.

Stephen Bigelow: I'm Stephen Bigelow.

Carl Brooks: And I'm Carl Brooks.

Colin Steele: Thanks for watching.

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