Powered by a Silvermont SoC and using a 200W 80 Plus Gold power supply, the SuperServer 5018A-FTN4 is an energy efficient rackmount server with a lot more horsepower than any previous Atom-based fare.
March 5, 2014 by Lawrence Lee
1U Rackmount Server
The term rackmount is used to describe equipment conforming to a standardized 19-inch wide enclosure system used to organize hardware in wide racks/frames. The standard is further divided into rack units (U) with a 1U system being 1.75 inches high, 2U being twice that, and so on and so forth. The footprint of such devices is quite large for home use but in larger scales, it’s convenient for stacking multiple systems on top while knowing exactly how much room is available for expansion. It’s how the majority of servers are arranged, with multiple racks of of machines with nothing but swappable hard drive bays at the front for easy storage access.
Headquartered in the USA, Supermicro is a giant in the technology sector, designing, producing, and selling servers, workstations, motherboards, and cases of every imaginable type and size. They recently sent us a sample of their SuperServer 5018A-FTN4 1U rackmount server, and while these types of systems don’t generally fit within our purview, the hardware inside falls within our scope of interest. It gives us our first look at the latest generation of Intel’s Atom family based on the 22nm Silvermont microarchitecture. The 8-core 20W Atom C2758 is built on the same technology as chips like the Z3470 found in the latest crop of Android and Windows tablets.
Specifications: Supermicro SuperServer 5018A-FTN4
product web page)
|CPU||Intel® Atom™ Processor C2758 |
CPU TDP 20W (8-Core)
|System Memory||4x 204-pin DDR3 SO-DIMM sockets |
Supports up to 32GB DDR3 ECC memory (64GB according to the motherboard specifications)
1600/1333MHz ECC DDR3 SDRAM 72-bit, 204-pin gold-plated DIMMs
Memory Voltage: 1.5 V, 1.35 V
Error Detection: Corrects single-bit errors, Detects double-bit errors (using ECC memory)
|SATA||SoC SATA3 (6Gbps), SATA2 (3Gbps)|
|Network Controllers||C2000 SoC I354 Quad GbE Controller (MACs) |
Virtual Machine Device Queues reduce I/O overhead
Supports 10BASE-T, 100BASE-TX, and 1000BASE-T, RJ45 output
|IPMI||Support for Intelligent Platform Management Interface v.2.0 |
IPMI 2.0 with virtual media over LAN and KVM-over-LAN support
Aspeed AST 2400 BMC
|Graphics||BMC integrated Aspeed AST2400|
|USB 3.0||Renesas uPD720201|
|Input / Output||2x SATA3 (6Gbps) ports |
4x SATA2 (3Gbps) ports
4x RJ45 Gigabit Ethernet LAN ports
1x RJ45 Dedicated IPMI LAN port
4x USB 3.0 ports (2 rear, 1 Type A, 1 via header)
2x USB 2.0 ports (2 rear)
2x Fast UART 16550 Serial Port (1 rear, 1 via header)
1x SATA DOM (Disk on Module) power connector
1x VGA Port
1x PCI-E 2.0 x8 slot
|Form Factor||1U Rackmount|
|Dimensions (H x W x D)||1.7″ x 17.2″ x 9.8″ |
43mm x 437 mm x 249mm
|Weight||Net Weight: 8 lbs (3.62 kg) |
Gross Weight: 12 lbs (5.44 kg)
|Front Panel Buttons||Power On/Off button |
System Reset button
|Front Panel LEDs||Power LED |
Hard drive activity LED
2x Network activity LEDs
System Overheat LED
Information LED (temp., status)
|Expansion Slots||1x PCI-E 2.0 x8 slot via riser**|
|Drive Bays||2x 3.5″ or 4x 2.5″ internal SATA2 hard |
drive bays (optional) *
|Power Supply||200W Low Noise AC-DC power supply with PFC |
80 Plus Gold Certified
|System BIOS||64Mb SPI Flash EEPROM with AMI UEFI BIOS |
Plug and Play (PnP)
USB Keyboard support
|* 1x 3.5″ or 2x 2.5″ SATA2 with riser card |
** Add-on card compatibility dependent on number of drives/brackets installed + height of card components
Despite using an embedded processor, there’s nothing really second rate about SuperServer’s A1SRi-2758F motherboard. It’s equipped with both SATA 6 Gbps and 3 Gbps ports (six in total) but this might be overkill as there are only two drive bays which can hold either a 3.5 inch drive or dual 2.5 inch drives in each. USB 3.0 connectivity is provided by a Renasas controller, and an Intel controller offers four gigabit ethernet ports as well as IPMI (Intelligent Platform Management Interface) which allows administrators to manage the hardware directly, even if the operating system becomes unresponsive. It takes up to four ECC DDR3 SO-DIMMs up to 32GB or 64GB depending on whether you believe the server or motherboard specifications. Video of course, is not a priority, so a rudimentary Broadcom Aspeed AST2400 graphics adapter is utilized with only one VGA output (limited to 1600×900 resolution). PCI-E expansion is available through an 8x slot and an included riser. There’s nothing special about the enclosure but the internal 200W power supply is 80 Plus Gold certified.
The package from Supermicro was well padded but it wasn’t enough to prevent shipping damage to our sample. It appears that somehow the handle on the left side was pulled away from the rest of the chassis, bending the front panel outward.
The SuperServer 5018A-FTN4’s chassis conforms to the 1U standard, measuring 4.3 x 43.7 x 24.9 cm or 1.7 x 17.2 x 9.8 inches (H x W x D), not including the handles. The enclosure is well-constructed of plain black steel and doesn’t offer any surprises.
Measurement and Analysis Tools
Timed CPU Benchmark Test Details
Our first test is one to determine the system’s physical characteristics. The system was put through various load states while various temperatures, power consumption, and noise level were recorded. Then we conducted a series of CPU-centric benchmarks (tied tests of real world applications detailed above). Finally, as it is a server product, we performed a test of its ethernet adapter using LAN Speed Test, a network benchmark tool configured to transfer 10 packets successively with packet sizes of 1MB, 10MB, and 100MB from a designated system on our network. The target destination was a secondary SandForce-based SSD installed in the test system to ensure maximum performance and eliminate any O/S-related overhead, and three runs of each test were conducted with the results averaged. All traffic flowed through an unmanaged D-Link gigabit switch. There’s nothing special about our network — all our hardware is consumer grade.
Being a barebones system, we had some freedom with regards to configuring the 5018A-FTN4. We chose to make it similar to the last server we reviewed, the HP MicroServer Gen8, by using only two sticks of RAM, attaching a 5.25 inch optical drive, and loading the O/S onto a 2.5 inch SSD. This configuration is also similar to what we used for testing thin mini-ITX boards, which are suitable for DIY low power servers.
Acoustics & Thermals
Supermicro SuperServer 5018A-FTN4
HP ProLiant MicroServer Gen8
System Power (AC)
Ambient temperature: 20°C.
Given the nature of rackmount enclosures, the 5018A-FTN4’s cooling system is rudimentary compared to the MicroServer Gen8, but the SuperServer’s Atom chip really helps balance the scales in terms of heat. On load, the Atom CPU ran 5°C hotter but the power and noise levels were substantially lower.
At idle, the CPU fan produced a soft gentle hum. The tiny PSU fan was more problematic, imbued with a high whiny profile, almost electrical in nature, and it sounded somewhat rickety as well. Thankfully, at one meter’s distance, it wasn’t that noticeable, and the combined noise level was low for a system with two tiny fans, just 20~21 dBA@1m. On load, the CPU fan ramped up, taking on a more tonal flavor but the overall SPL was bearable at 24 dBA@1m.
Acoustics are for the most part, unimportant for a rackmount server but unnecessary noise is not desirable in any system. The 5018A-FTN4 does all right in this department, primarily due to the Atom SoC’s mere 20W power envelope.
Energy Efficiency Comparison
Aside from the MicroServer Gen8, all the other systems in our energy efficiency comparison utilized an external power supply, so we also tested the 5018A-FTN4 with a picoPSU-80 and a Seasonic class V AC-DC adapter to even the playing field. The difference turned out to be minimal, 1W at most.
On light load, the SuperServer was comparable to the MicroServer Gen8 and desktop solutions based on the Pentium G2120. Incidentally, as the Broadcom graphics adapter lacks hardware acceleration, video playback was rendered completely through software by the CPU. On heavy load, the 5018A-FTN4’s Atom SoC helped it achieve much lower power numbers. In this regard, it was closer to the Intel NUC, a tiny box which was partially designed with energy efficiency in mind.
The 5018A-FTN4 is equipped with an Atom C2758 processor based on the new Silvermont architecture which is reportedly a big step up from previous Atoms. Our benchmarks concur with this assessment.
In single-threaded tests, the C2758 was over 4x faster than the Atom N2600, and it easily leapfrogged over the AMD A6-1450 APU found in Samsung’s ATIV Book 9 Lite budget ultrabook. It’s not up to snuff with low-end Ivy Bridge based chips but the massive improvement is nothing to sneeze at.
The C2758 also happens to have 8 cores which really helped in our multi-threaded video encoding tests. TMPGEnc and HandBrake performance was comparable to the AMD A8-5600K. To see an Atom catch up to a full-fledged quad-core desktop chip when running such demanding tasks is simply astonishing.
Pit against a couple of desktop boards and the MicroServer Gen8, the SuperServer delivered the best network performance of the bunch, winning our speed tests with 1MB, 10MB, and 100MB packet sizes. It’s also notable that the 5018A-FTN4 doesn’t have just one Intel I354 gigabit ethernet adapter, it has four.
These recordings were made with a high resolution, lab quality, digital recording
system inside SPCR’s own 11 dBA ambient anechoic chamber, then converted to
LAME 128kbps encoded MP3s. We’ve listened long and hard to ensure there is no
audible degradation from the original WAV files to these MP3s. They represent
a quick snapshot of what we heard during the review.
Each recording starts with ambient noise, then 5~10 second segments of product
at various states. For the most realistic results,
set the volume so that the starting ambient level is just barely audible, then
don’t change the volume setting again while comparing all the sound files.
There isn’t much excitement or innovation happening in 1U rackmount servers, but the Supermicro SuperServer 5018A-FTN4 is interesting nevertheless purely due to its internals. The real star of the show is the A1SRi-2758F mini-ITX motherboard and its embedded Atom C2758 SoC. The C2758 represents a giant leap forward for Intel, a snappy 8-core chip that truly addresses the gap behind the previous generation of Atom and the current crop of ULV Ivy Bridge based chips like the Core i3-3217U. The difference wasn’t just in the numbers either — we could actually feel the difference. It’s the first embedded processor we’ve used that didn’t exhibit noticeable lag or unresponsiveness compared to a “proper” socketed desktop solution.
Low power consumption is one of the few positive aspects associated with the Atom name and this is one area where the 5018A-FTN4 fell somewhat short. Sitting idle, the power draw was comparable to custom builds of thin mini-ITX boards paired with the 55W Pentium G2120T. It made up for this on load, with the SuperServer taking a commanding lead, but of course once you really start putting the chip to work, the processing power really isn’t comparable. Overall, it’s a very energy efficient server, just not as thrifty as one would expect with an Atom running at its core. It’s not the fault of the included power supply, as the 200W 80 Plus Gold unit inside is only a small step behind a quality external power source.
In any event, the power draw was low enough that the CPU fan didn’t really have much work to do, and interestingly the motherboard specifications describe it as a “passive heat sink” and no fan is included. We’re not sure whether one ships with the 5018A-FTN4. The power supply fan on the otherhand is a whiny, rickety abomination that thankfully never sped up during our time with it, keeping the noise output at a modest level. Acoustics aren’t a priority for 1U rackmount server but for what it’s worth the 5018A-FTN4 is probably quieter than most.
The SuperServer 5018A-FTN4 can be found for between US$500 and US$530 which seems reasonable for a barebones 1U server with these specifications. 2-bay Ivy Bridge based Xeon 1U servers can be had for US$350~$400 but these are typically limited to two NICs and a compatible processor costs an additional US$200 at minimum. We can’t imagine these server chips are much more frugal than their desktop counterparts so the choice boils down to question of speed vs. energy efficiency.
Our thanks to Supermicro
for the SuperServer SuperServer 5018A-FTN4 sample.
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