Supermicro SuperServer


A monster performer that won't overheat

The Supermicro SuperServer X9 fills the bill when you need a dedicated server at a reasonable price

Even in this age of virtual computers and blade servers, there are still times when you will need a dedicated server for a particular task. One of those situations is when you have a public website that you want to make sure is up as close to always as possible. For this server, redundancy is the key to making sure your organization’s public information outlet is up and running constantly.

The SuperServer X9 (SYS-5017C-MTRF) from Supermicro fits this requirement on many levels. It is a 1U rack-mountable server running the 64-bit version of Windows Server 2008 R2.

The SuperServer has two 400-watt power supplies that run in parallel. This means that if one dies then the other will be able to keep the computer powered while the first one is replaced.

SuperMicro SuperServer X9 (SYS-5017C-MTRF)

Pros: Fast processor; good amount of memory; second power supply.
Cons: Low hard drive capacity; no room for memory upgrades.
Performance: A
Accessibility: A
Upgradability: B
Features: B+
Value: A-
Price: $2,150

The SuperServer’s four hot-swappable Serial Advanced Technology Attachment drive bays can be arranged in the configurations of RAID 0 (striped), 1 (mirrored), 5 (block-level striping with distributed parity) and 10 (striped sets of mirrored drives). The model we reviewed had only a single 250G drive, which we considered barely adequate. However, because storage is one of the cheapest components to acquire, upgrading SuperServer to have the capacity you need shouldn’t be too much more of an investment.

The SuperServer sports three Gigabit Ethernet ports, which is not overkill on a Web server, as you might need both an internal network connection and a dedicated external IP address through which to serve the website. The third is a dedicated Intelligent Platform Management Interface port that can be used to monitor the computer’s vital information directly.

In addition, there were four USB 2.0 ports, of which two were located in the front, and two serial ports, with one in front. Having this many ports in front could save a network technician a lot of headache by not having to crawl behind the rack every time it’s necessary to temporarily hook up a device. It also has PS/2 ports for keyboard and mouse, which is a good idea as many server rooms still have those kinds of KVM switches in use.

There is a good deal of room inside the 1U case. As you might expect, every component was spread out and easy to get to. We found it interesting that although the motherboard actually has three PCI-E 2.0 x8 slots open, only one was actually usable because a sideways adapter is necessary to fit any peripheral card in the case.

Although 12G of memory is a good amount, Supermicro did manage to take up all four memory slots to squeeze it all in. Fortunately, that much memory will last a while before an upgrade is warranted.

Overheating was never an issue with the SuperServer. There are four small high-speed fans located internally, between the hard drives and the motherboard, which helped to push the air out the back in greater volume. Even with the server in operation for hours, we never felt the top of the case get warm. Sometimes it did sound a bit like a jet engine revving up though, so this is not a unit you want sitting near users.

For our performance benchmark tests, we skipped the optical drive portion because the SuperServer has none. Because it used an integrated VGA for a display to connect to, we also disabled the 3-D graphics tests. Even so, the SuperServer scored only 1,585 on the PassMark Performance Benchmarks from PassMark Software, which is several hundred points below where we expected it to be. Its new Intel Sandy Bridge quad-core E3-1280 3.5 GHz processor and 12G of DDR3 memory should have been able to pull out a higher rating.

The hard drive scores, though not exceptional, were good enough. But upon closer examination, we discovered that the Achilles’ heel in the benchmarks were the 2-D graphics scores. Some integrated VGA graphics adapters are better than others, and this one didn’t do at all well in any of the tests. Generally though, you are only going to be using a server through a direct monitor connection when setting up and changing services, so this isn’t that great of a loss. Running the benchmark with just the CPU, memory, and hard drive tests yielded a score of 2,071, which confirmed our suspicions and was much more in line with our expectations. We would say that the latter score is more of the true measure of what this server can do.

Supermicro is retailing the SuperServer X9 SYS-5017C-MTRF for $2,150. This is a very good price for a server with this powerful of a CPU, in spite of its relatively small hard drive. This would do well as a dedicated Web server for any organization, especially if the network administrator has a few large-capacity drives lying around to supplement this monster’s usability.


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