I don’t have room for a couple of rackmount servers anymore so I was thinking of ways to reduce the footprint and noise from my servers. I’ve been very happy with Supermicro hardware so here’s my Supermicro Mini-ITX Datacenter in a box build.
- Motherboard: Supermicro X10SDV-F
- CPU/Motherboard: Xeon D-1540 X10SDV. 8 cores (16 including HT cores)
- Case: Supermicro CSE-721TQ-250B
- Hard Drives: 4x6TB RAID-Z: See my hard drives for ZFS post.
- Memory: Crucial 32GB Kit (16GBx2) DDR4-2133 ECC
Supermicro X10SDV Motherboard
Unlike most processors, the Xeon D is SOC (System on Chip) meaning that it’s built into the motherboard. Depending on your compute needs, you’ve got a lot of pricing / power flexibility with the Mini-ITX Supermicro X10SDV motherboards with the Xeon D SOC CPU ranging from a budget build of 2 cores to a ridiculous 16 cores rivaling high end Xeon E5 class processors!
How many cores do you want? CPU/Motherbord Options
- X10SDV-2C-TLN2F – Xeon D1508 2 cores @ 2.2GHz @ 25W TDP (7-year life)
- X10SDV-4C+-TLN4F – Xeon D1518 4 cores 2.2GHz @ 35W TDP (7-year life)
- X10SDV-6C+-TLN4F – Xeon D-1528 6 cores 1.9GHz 35W TDP (7-year life)
- X10SDV-TLN4F – Xeon D-1540 8 cores 2GHz @ 45W TDP (global SKU)
- X10SDV-16C+-TLN4F – Xeon D-1587 16 cores! 1.7GHz @ 65W TDP (7-year life)
A few things to keep in mind when choosing a board. Some come with a FAN (normally indicated by a + after the core count), some don’t. I suggest getting it with a fan unless you’re putting some serious air flow (such as with a 1U server) through the heatsink. I got one without a fan and had to do a Noctua mod (below).
Many versions of this board are rated for 7-years lifespan which means they have components designed to last longer than most boards! Usually computers go obsolete before they die anyway, but it’s nice to have that option if you’re looking for a permanent solution. A VMware / NAS server that’ll last you 7-years isn’t bad at all!
On the last 5 digits, you’ll see two options: “-TLN2F” and “-TLN4F” this refers to the number network Ethernet ports (N2 comes with 2 x gigabit ports, and N4 usually comes with 2 gigabit plus 2 x 10 gigabit ports). 10 gbe ports may come in handy for storage, and also having 4 ports may be useful if you’re going to run a router VM such as pfSense.
I bought the first model just known as the “X10SDV-F” which comes with 8 cores and 2 gigabit network ports. This board looks like it’s designed for high density computing. It’s like cramming dual Xeon E5’s into a Mini-ITX board. The Xeon D-1540 will well outperform the Xeon E3-1230v3 in most tests, can handle up to 128GB memory, two nics (this also comes in a model that offers two more 10Gbe providing four nics), IPMI, 6 SATA-3 ports, a PCI-E slot, and an M.2 slot.
IPMI / KVM Over-IP / Out of Band Management
One of the great features of these motherboards is you will never need to plug in a keyboard, mouse, or monitor. In addition to the 2 or 4 normal Ethernet ports, there is one port off to the side, the management port. Unlike HP iLO, this is a free feature on the Supermicro motherboards. The IPMI interface will get a DHCP address. You can download the Free IPMIView software from Supermicro, or use the Android app to scan your network for the IP address. Login as ADMIN / ADMIN (be sure to change the password).
You can even reset or power off, and even if the power is off you can power on the server remotely.
And of course you also get KVM over IP, which is so low level you can get into the BIOS and even load an ISO file from your workstation to boot off of over the network!
When I first saw IPMI I made sure all my new servers have it. I hate messing around with keyboards and mice and monitors and I don’t have room for a hardware based KVM solution. This out of band management port is the perfect answer. And the best part is the ability to manage your server from remote. I have used this to power on servers and load ISO files in California from Idaho.
I should note that I would not be exposing the IPMI port over the internet, make sure it’s on it’s behind a firewall accessible only through VPN.
Cooling issue | heatsink not enough
The first boot was fine but it crashed after about 5 minutes while I was in the BIOS setup…. after a few resets I couldn’t even get it to post. I finally realized the CPU was getting too hot. Supermicro probably meant for this model to be in a 1U case with good air flow. The X10SDV-TLN4F is a little extra but it comes with a CPU fan in addition to the 10Gbe network adapters so keep that in mind if you’re trying to decide between the two boards.
Noctua to the Rescue
I couldn’t find a CPU fan designed to fit this particular socket, so I bought a 60MM Noctua NF-A6x25
This is my first Noctua fan and I think it’s the nicest fan I’ve ever owned. It came packaged with screws, rubber leg things, an extension cord, a molex power adapter, and two noise reducer cables that slow the fan down a bit. I actually can’t even hear the fan running at normal speed.
There’s not really a good way to screw the fan and the heatsink into the motherboard together, but I took the four rubber things and sort of tucked them under the heatsink screws. This is surprisingly a secure fit, it’s not ideal but the fan is not going to go anywhere.
This is what you would expect from Supermicro, a quality server-grade case. It comes with a 250 watt 80 plus power supply. Four 3.5″ hotswap bays, trays are the same as you would find on a 16 bay enterprise chassis. Also it comes with labels numbered from 0 to 4 so you could choose to label starting at 0 (the right way) or 1. It is designed to fit two fixed 2.5″ drives, one on the side of the HDD cage, and the other can be used on top instead of an optical drive.
The case is roomy enough to work with, I had no trouble adding an IBM ServerRAID M1015 / LSI 9220-8i
I took this shot just to note that if you could figure out a way to secure an extra drive, there is room to fit three drives, or perhaps two drives even with an optical drive, you’d have to use a Y-splitter to power it. I should also note that you could use the M.2. slot to add another SSD.
The case is pretty quiet, I cannot hear it at all with my other computers running in the same room so I’m not sure how much noise it makes.
This case reminds me of the HP Microserver Gen8 and is probably about the same size and quality but I think a little more roomier and with Supermicro IPMI is free.
Compared to the Silverstone DS380 the Supermicro CS721 is a more compact. The DS380 has the advantage of being able to hold more drives. The DS380 can fit 8 3.5″ or 2.5″ in hotswap bays plus an additional four 2.5″ fixed in a cage. Between the two cases I much prefer the Supermicro CS-721 even with less drive capacity. The DS380 has vibration issues with all the drives populated, and it’s also not as easy to work with. The CS-721 looks and feels much higher quality.
I think the Xeon D platform offers great value with a great range of power and pricing options. The prices on the Xeon D motherboards are reasonable considering the Motherboard and CPU are combined, if you went with a Xeon E3 or E5 platform you’d be paying about the same or more to purchase them separately. You’ll be paying anywhere from $350 to $2500 depending on how many cores you want.
Core Count Recommendations
For a NAS only box such as FreeNAS, OmniOS+NappIt, NAS4Free, etc. or a VMware All in one with FreeNAS and one or two light guest VMs I’d go with a simple 2C CPU.
For a bhyve or VMware + ZFS an all-in-one I think the 4C is a great starter board, it will handle probably a lot more than most people need for a home server running a handful of VMs including the ability to trans-code with a Plex or Emby server.
From there you can get 6C, 8C, 12C, or 16C, as you start getting more cores the clock frequency starts to go down so you don’t want to go overboard unless you really do need to use those cores. Also, consider that you may prefer to get two or three smaller boards to allow failover instead of one powerful server.
What Do I Run On My Server Under My Desk?
- VMware + FreeNAS All In One ZFS Server
I’m pretty happy with the build, I really like how much power you can get into a microserver these days. My build has 8 cores (16 threads) and 32GB memory (can go up to 128GB!), and with 6TB drives in RAID-Z (RAID-5) I have 18TB of usable data (more with ZFS compression). With VMware and ZFS you could run a small datacenter from a box under your desk.