Itanium CPUs have traditionally been found in servers commanding top prices, but the Mission 6502 has just changed all that. Housing Intel’s latest Itanium 2 processor, SuperMicro has delivered its latest product at a remarkably low price, claiming the world’s first viable 1U rack server platform. Originally codenamed Deerfield, this low-voltage processor runs at 1.4GHz and has a smaller L3 cache of 1.5MB. It targets server and high-end workstation dual-processing environments and is promoted as a lower cost alternative to RISC-based systems.
This Systemax package comprises Supermicro’s SC813-500S chassis and i2DMR-8G2 motherboard. Storage capacity is impressive as, despite being only 1U high, the chassis has room for up to four hot-swap drive bays. The price even includes a quad of 73GB Ultra320 hard disks. The review system was an early sample so RAID was not provided although, at the time of writing, Adaptec was in the process of developing a ZCR (zero-channel RAID) controller for this system. The floppy disk and PS/2 ports are conspicuous by their absence as the motherboard doesn’t support them, offering six USB 2.0 ports instead.
With the lid out of the way you’ll find the typically tidy internal design we’ve come to expect from Supermicro. Accompanied by individual power pods with voltage regulator modules (VRMs), the processors are equipped with low-profile passive heatsinks. The system was supplied with 2GB of PC2100 memory but the Intel E8700 chipset supports up to 16GB. The four-way memory interleaving feature requires they be installed in groups of two pairs and the eight DIMM sockets are colour-coded to help. Cooling is handled by a pair of 10cms blower fans located between the motherboard and disk bays and we found noise levels comparatively high.
The remainder of the hardware line-up is as impressive with an Adaptec dual-channel Ultra320 SCSI controller looking after storage and a pair of Intel Gigabit Ethernet adapters handling the network connection. The six BIOS chips providing 6MB of non-volatile storage indicate support for the new extensible firmware interface (EFI) so say goodbye to the standard BIOS startup routine.
EFI delivers a new interface between the OS and system firmware and functions as an independent OS. It provides full access to the hard disks and CD-ROM, supports multiple boot partitions and can store system configuration details and other components such as device drivers.
Server management features look particularly good as the motherboard is equipped with a mini-PCI slot for Supermicro’s baseboard management controller (BMC) card which supports the next IPMI (intelligent platform management interface) 2.0 specification. This adds a number of useful new features to IPMI 1.5 which includes improved security with encryption, VLAN support and a firmware firewall. Along with ‘IPMI over LAN’ you also get the new ‘Serial over LAN’ feature for serial redirection and support for multiple serial connections to the same port.
Remote management options are plentiful as SuperMicro’s Java-based IPMI View utility interfaces with the BMC to control the server, irrespective of its operating status. It provides readouts on temperatures, fan speeds and voltages plus controls for recycling power and performing server shutdowns. General management and problem alerting is handled by Supermicro’s SuperO Doctor browser-based utility which has seen some significant and welcome improvements over the past year.
Despite wide support for Itanium 2 from the majority of server vendors, there has been a generally cautious approach. At this price point, Supermicro’s closest rival is the PowerEdge 3250 but Dell advised us that it ‘did not proactively offer this product for review in the UK’. It’s also worth noting that despite being a 2U chassis the 3250 only supports two internal hard disks and is significantly more costly.
The only criticism of the Mission 6502 is its lack of cooling and power supply fault tolerance but otherwise Supermicro proves that, as with its slim-line Xeon-based rack servers, you can combine great design and an excellent specification and deliver it all at a sensible price.
Companies investing in data intensive applications such as HPC (high performance computing) and server clustering have traditionally required deep pockets for Itanium 2 solutions. This excellent combination of Intel’s latest low-cost 64-bit processor and Supermicro’s design and specification proves this doesn’t have to be the case.