Visual Inspection

Upon the first inspection of the Supermicro X11SCA-W motherboard, the most polarizing aspect comes from the design. The board conforms to the standard ATX form factor which allows users to build a commercial based system into a standard chassis without the need to opt for a specialist case or blade. With a fully green PCB, the X11SCA-W isn't going to win any fashion awards and it's very apparent that Supermicro has gone for a functionally adept commercial option based on useful features without fanfare.

Like other ATX form factor motherboards, the X11SCA-W follows a conventional consumer layout with much of the componentry located where we would expect.  The power delivery and 8-pin 12 V CPU power input are located along the top of the PCB, while the RAM slots and SATA ports are located on the right-hand side. The PCIe slots are found in the bottom left half of the board.

The four memory slots have support for DDR4-2666. This includes compatibility for unbuffered ECC and non-ECC modules with a maximum voltage of 1.2 V. Just as the Xeon E-2100 series processors support, the Supermicro X11SCA-W has the ability to install up to a maximum of 64 GB in total. On the right-hand side of the RAM slots is a 24-pin 12 V ATX motherboard power input, while an 8-pin 12 V CPU power input is located on the left-hand side just next to the power delivery heatsink.

Storage wise the Supermicro X11SCA-W offerseight SATA ports, a single U.2 port and two PCIe 3.0 x4/SATA M.2 slots with both allowing M.2 22110 form factor drives to be installed. The eight SATA ports allow for users to make use of RAID 0, 1, 5 and 10 arrays so they wish to do so. The pair of included M.2 slots also have support for RAID 0 and 1 arrays and benefit from thermal sensor readers. Unfortunately the M.2 slots and U.2 port do share bandwidth with other slots. 

  • M.2_1 shares bandwidth with SATA_6 and the PCIe 3.0 x4 slot
  • M.2_2 shares bandwidth with SATA_7 and the U.2 slot

Dominating the PCB on the bottom right-hand side of the PCB are the PCIe slots. The Supermicro X11SCA-W has two full-length PCIe 3.0 slots which both have metal armor physical slot protection. The top full-length slot operates at PCIe 3.0 x16 while the second full-length slot operates at a maximum of PCIe 3.0 x8. This means the X11SCA-W can operate at either x16/x0 or x8/8. From the chipset is a single PCIe 3.0 x1 slot, a PCIe 3.0 x4 slot which shares bandwidth with the top M.2 slot, and a legacy PCI 32bit 5 V slot is featured at the bottom of the board.

The power delivery on the Supermicro X11SCA-W is somewhat irrelevant to the performance, as this board does not support voltage control. The Infineon PXE1520C PWM controller is running in a 5+2 configuration with each individual Infineon TDA21470 dual driver MOSFET being allocated its own Vitech 60 W inductor. This means the VCore is running a 5-phase design. The SoC area of the power delivery consists of two Infineon TDA21240 MOSFETs. Provided for cooling is a thin and lightweight aluminium heatsink which uses push pins to connect it to the PCB. Supermicro's legacy is built on its knowledge of server design, and the power delivery is where Supermicro tends to show this off with server-class components.

Focusing on the included controller set and rear panel of the X11SCA-W server-centric motherboard, Supermicro has opted to go with a dual Intel Gigabit LAN array. The red LAN port is powered by an Intel I219-LM controller  with the adjacent black LAN port being driven by an Intel I210-AT controller. The W in the X11SCA-W model name stands for wireless and is provided in this case by an Intel 9462 1x1 802.11ac Wi-Fi adapter.

The five 3.5 mm audio jacks and single S/PDIF optical output is powered by an older Realtek ALC888S 7.1-channel HD audio codec. For video, to use the integrated graphics on some of the Xeon E processors, there is a DisplayPort, HDMI and a DVI-D output. Finishing off the rear panel is a USB 3.1 Gen2 Type-A, a USB 3.1 Gen2 Type-C port and two USB 3.0 Type-A ports. Users looking to expand upon this can do so with the USB 2.0 or USB 3.0 header on board; each of these headers opens up an additional two ports per header. A solitary USB 3.1 Gen2 Type-A port is also located just to the right of the memory slots.

What's in The Box

Supermicro has provided a nice bundle with their retail packaged X11SCA-W model with the most notable inclusions being six red SATA cables, a silver rear IO shield, two M.2 SSD folder mounts and two Wi-Fi antennas. The bulk package bundle is slightly different with four less SATA cables than the retail packaging, as well as lacking a quick reference guide for this model. It should be noted that users will need to download the driver installation disc directly from the Supermicro website as they do not include any disc or media in the box; retail or bulk.

  • Six SATA Cables (straight angled)
  • Rear IO Shield
  • Two Wi-Fi / BT5  antennas
  • Quick Reference Guide
  • Two M.2 folder mounts
Supermicro X11SCA-W Overview BIOS And Software
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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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