Intel recently released its server focused C246 chipset to the market to supplement the release of the entry-level Xeon E-2100 series of processors. On that day Supermicro released four different C246 models onto the market including the X11SCA-W which we are taking a look at today. The Supermicro X11SCA-W has support for up to 64GB of ECC and non-ECC memory, eight SATA ports, dual M.2 and a single U.2 port. The goal here is for a good run-of-the-mill Xeon E motherboard.

The Supermicro X11SCA-W Overview

Earlier this year, Intel launched their Coffee Lake based Xeon E processors onto the market, and then re-released them with a server angle more recently. The processors are mirrored analogues of the desktop range of Coffee Lake SKUs, but with ECC support and different efficiency points. The major caveat to using Xeon E is that users will need to adopt the Intel C246 chipset, rather than the consumer chipsets. To complement this new Intel launch, Supermicro released four models: the X11SCA, X11SCA-F, X11SCA-W and X11SCZ-F.

The differences in model numbers are very easy to distinguish with Supermicro publishing their product naming convention on their website. The model we have in hand is the X11SCA-W which according to the above naming convention denotes that this model is from Supermicro's 11th generation of workstation boards, it has a single socket, the socket type is Socket H (aka LGA1151 v2), it's a workstation board and that this model has integrated Wi-Fi. 

The Supermicro X11SCA-W on the surface looks like any regular consumer-focused commercial motherboard with a basic green PCB. The X11SCA-W has support for ECC and non-ECC unbuffered DDR4-2666 up to 64GB, as well as support for both Xeon E CPUs and consumer Core processors. On the PCB are two full-length PCIe 3.0 slots which allow users to operate graphics cards at x16 or at x8/x8, as well as a single PCIe 3.0 x1 slot, a larger PCIe 3.0 x4 slot and a single PCI 32-bit slot with support for up to 5 V. The X11SCA-W has a pair of PCIe 3.0 x4 M.2 slots but unfortunately they both share bandwidth with other slots; M.2_1 shares bandwidth with the PCIe 3.0 x4 slot, while the M.2_2 slot shares bandwidth directly with the single U.2 port. Located towards the bottom right-hand corner of the PCB is a total of eight SATA ports with support for RAID 0, 1, 5 and 10 arrays.

Coming from a range of products aimed at commercial users, the X11SCA-W uses a Realtek ALC888S audio codec, dual 1G Intel based LAN, and 802.11ac Wi-Fi. The board has three video outputs; a DisplayPort, a DVI and HDMI. USB capability is quite basic with two USB 3.1 Gen2 ports (Type-A and Type-C) and two USB 3.0 Type-A ports.

When comparing performance, we combined the Supermicro X11SCA-W with an Intel Xeon E-2186G processor. With six cores and twelve threads, a base frequency of 3.8 GHz and a turbo of 4.7 GHz, this is very similar to the Intel Core i7-8700K we use on our other similar LGA1151 v2 systems. Performance in our power testing did show the X11SCA-W to have one of the lowest power draws in our long idle test, but things changed quickly when at full load. Other elements of system performance including DPC latency and POST times also came in quite weak, but booting times on server boards are usually higher than regular consumer boards so this can be overlooked. The performance in the CPU, memory and our gaming tests proved fruitful for Supermicro as the X11SCA-W didn't flag up any aberrations and there are no real areas of concern.

Supermicro doesn't have much competition in the way of consumer targeted C246 chipset motherboards. ASUS recently released two options, the ASUS WS C246 Pro ($254) and ASUS WS C246M Pro ($251). ASRock did announce one of the first micro-ATX C246M motherboards but the availability of this model doesn't seem to have transitioned to retail shelves as of yet. The Supermicro X11SCA-W has a current selling price of $285 at Newegg at the time of writing with the base model from Supermicro (X11SCA) retailing for $270 which drops the Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 5.0 support.

The Current Intel Xeon E-2100 Series Product Stack

As we reported back in July, Intel is coming out with a range of quad-core and six-core parts for Xeon E. Those labeled with ‘G’ at the end of the name will have integrated graphics. Sitting at the top is the Xeon E-2186G, a six core processor with a TDP of 95W, a base frequency of 3.8 GHz, and a turbo frequency of 4.7 GHz. In the past, the top processor was often called the ‘E3-1285’, so the naming scheme follows.

Intel Xeon E-2100 Series Processors (LGA 1151/C246)
    Cores   Base Freq.    Turbo  
2.0
L3 Cache   TDP    Price  
Xeon E-2186G 6/12 3.8 GHz 4.7 GHz 12 MB 95 W $450
Xeon E-2176G 6/12 3.7 GHz 4.7 GHz 12 MB 80 W $362
Xeon E-2174G 4/8 3.8 GHz 4.7 GHz 8 MB 71 W $328
Xeon E-2146G 6/12 3.5 GHz 4.5 GHz 12 MB 80 W $311
Xeon E-2144G 4/8 3.6 GHz 4.5 GHz 8 MB 71 W $272
Xeon E-2136 6/12 3.3 GHz 4.5 GHz 12 MB 80 W $284
Xeon E-2134 4/8 3.5 GHz 4.5 GHz 8 MB 71 W $250
Xeon E-2126G 6/6 3.3 GHz 4.5 GHz 12 MB 80 W $255
Xeon E-2124G 4/4 3.4 GHz 4.5 GHz 8 MB 71 W $213
Xeon E-2124 4/4 3.3 GHz 4.3 GHz 8 MB 71 W $193

For a summary of the results, move onto the conclusion but for a deeper look into the X11SCA-W motherboard, we detail the following over the next few pages:

  1. Overview [this page]
  2. Visual Inspection: Analysis of the Board Components
  3. BIOS and Software: Focusing on the firmware and non-hardware side
  4. Board Features and Test Bed: The full specifications list, and how we test
  5. System Performance: Component testing such as power, boot times and DPC Latency
  6. CPU Performance
  7. Gaming Performance
  8. Conclusion
Visual Inspection
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  • Yongzhi - Monday, November 19, 2018 - link

    Wait! Spy chip from China? Can you give me more details about it? Reply
  • mode_13h - Tuesday, November 20, 2018 - link

    He's referring to this:

    https://www.bloomberg.com/news/features/2018-10-04...
    Reply
  • Yongzhi - Sunday, December 2, 2018 - link

    thx Reply
  • npz - Tuesday, November 20, 2018 - link

    No, the alleged ones affected were only those servers with BMC and analysis of the image of hardware affected indicated that the chip was used to intercept communications from the BMC. See:
    https://www.theregister.co.uk/2018/10/04/supermicr...
    https://twitter.com/qrs/status/1047910169261330432

    "The spy chip could have been placed electrically between the baseboard management controller (BMC) and its SPI flash or serial EEPROM storage containing the BMC's firmware. Thus, when the BMC fetched and executed its code from this memory, the spy chip would intercept the signals and modify the bitstream to inject malicious code into the BMC processor, allowing its masters to control the BMC."

    These boards like most consumer boards don't have BMC.

    In addition, given that they were from compromised facilities used by sub-contractors for the motherboards, it is very likely that ANY server maker using the same Chinese sub-contractors are affected.
    Reply
  • melgross - Tuesday, November 20, 2018 - link

    No boards from anybody were affected, because the reporters were snookered in that story. Stop trying to use words that make your post sound as though you know what you’re talking about, when you don’t. Reply
  • npz - Tuesday, November 20, 2018 - link

    I know exactly what I'm talking about because I work in the industry. I suspect it may be you who is ignorant here, especially regarding the technology involved. Now as to the veracity of the report, the burden of proof is yours, not mine. We do know for a fact about two real incidents that corroborates the story:
    1) Apple suddenly replaced ALL of their Supermicro servers and cancelled their contracts. They did have a small public report stating it was over a "minor security incident". That was their official statement.
    2) As Supermicro was temp delisted from NASDAQ and trading halted due to missed filings, they even admitted that they lost two large clients. Now who could those be but Apple and Amazon?

    A security report showing a vulnerability in the BMC because it doesn't check for the authenticity of its firmware came out 1 month prior
    https://www.theregister.co.uk/2018/09/07/supermicr...

    To be fair to Supermicro, this is a pervasive problem in the industry where the BMC is a weak link, as evidenced by other makers, like Dell:
    https://www.blackhat.com/us-18/briefings/schedule/...
    https://www.servethehome.com/idracula-vulnerabilit...

    Again, all of this was before the report. Now, Supermicro despite their denial stated they would review their supply chain.

    In a followup article, Yossi Appleboum CEO of Sepio systems -- a firm doing h/w security analysis -- testified that they did have solid evidence and gave the documents for tampering of Supermicro boards by Chinese h/w factories and as I mentioned, likely other companies. Remember this is not just bloomberg stating this, but another large IT firm in the industry coming out and putting their entire reputation on the line.

    Again, to be fair to Supermicro I'll just repeat what Yossi stated in the followup:
    "The executive said he has seen similar manipulations of different vendors' computer hardware made by contractors in China, not just products from Supermicro. “Supermicro is a victim -- so is everyone else,” he said. Appleboum said his concern is that there are countless points in the supply chain in China where manipulations can be introduced, and deducing them can in many cases be impossible. “That's the problem with the Chinese supply chain,” he said."
    Reply
  • mode_13h - Tuesday, November 20, 2018 - link

    Thanks again, npz.

    @melgross sounds like a shill.
    Reply
  • JlHADJOE - Wednesday, November 21, 2018 - link

    Sourcing #1

    https://arstechnica.com/information-technology/201...

    https://www.macrumors.com/2017/02/23/apple-ends-re...

    Of course Apple denied the servers were in production and says they were only in their internal design lab.
    Reply
  • Yongzhi - Sunday, December 2, 2018 - link

    To be honest, I do not believe China have this tech to hack the servers... Reply
  • mode_13h - Tuesday, November 20, 2018 - link

    Source? Reply

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