The latest buzz in the datacenter & server markets these days can be summed up as: Woodcrest.
Woodcrest is Intel‘s code-name for their newest Dual Core Xeon processor – which boasts two CPU cores on 1 chip, 4MB of shared cache, a claim of 40% better performance with a 40% reduction in power used. Wow. To every datacenter-centered person that is a dream come true. With the rising power & cooling costs, increasing performance and reducing power is essential.
With the latest reviews on hardware websites showing that these new chips blow away the competition in almost every area, we decided to use the new Woodcrest processor in a new reseller web hosting server that we’re bringing online.
The first job was finding a Woodcrest process that would provide enough power & not bankrupt us (some of these Woodcrest CPUs are in the $1000 arena!)… we chose the Intel 5130 Dual Core Xeon. Then the going got tough.
All of the Woodcrest motherboards that we could find were in the $300 – $500 range. We chose the Tyan S5372 i5000VS dual Woodcrest motherboard – it looked like a good choice.
Of course the new Woodcrest CPUs & motherboards require FB-DIMM DDR2 (that is Latin for: expensive)… loading the machine 4 with 4G of RAM was a tad expensive…
We use 2U cases from an excellent provider called ServerCase.com
Luckily we keep spare cases because they ship from California and it can take up to a week to get a case to us on the East Coast.
Thanks to 3 day shipping methods, our parts were delivered very quickly. We started to build the server and ran into 3 issues:
Problem 1) The new motherboards screw holes didn’t line up with the 2U ATX case from ServerCase.com .. .there were 3 brackets coming up from the bottom of the case for screws, but there were no holes on the motherboard. Needless to say that is bad…. what to do? We don’t want to wait to buy another case and delay the building process.
Solution: We used a drill to drill through the bottom of the case and remove the 3 offending metal brackets
Problem 2) The motherboard requires a EPS12V / SSI (24 + 8) power supply – our spares were all 24 + 4… damn. There’s no way around this, we zip back over to ServerCase.com and order 2x (always need a spare, right?) I-Star Dual xeon power supplies & that is resolved
Problem 3) The 2U case requires special mounting brackets for a Dual Xeon motherboard… back to ServerCase.com to order the correct parts.
Hooray… uh oh?
Finally at this point everything looks good! The server is built (running very cool – Intel delivered on their low-power promise!), harddrives are installed, RAID card works, RAM is recognized, and life is good in server land…. right? Well, the last step is to go into the bios and change the “After Power Failure” setting to “Turn On”… this will allow us to reboot the server using our APC remote control strips. We go into the BIOS, change the setting, save the settings & restart.
We then pull out the power and plug it back in but the “After Power Failure” setting doesn’t work! That is an essential feature for a remote controlled server. Panicking, we rush to Tyan’s website to check for BIOS updates. Phew! There have already been 2 updates for this BIOS so surely they must have fixed the issue. We flash the BIOS to the latest 1.3 version and test it and it still doesn’t work.
[note about the motherboard flashing: Tyan says that it is required to boot into MSDOS with no HIMEM loaded but give no details on how to do this. It took us an hour or two of consulting people and websites to finally figure it out… thanks for the great instructions Tyan]
So the next step is to call Tyan’s technical support (emailing their support was a maze of getting the proper subject and that was just plain old confusing)…. to their credit they picked up right away and were very helpful. They setup the motherboard in their labs and tested it out and verified that the feature worked for them. Hmm… their official response is that the power supply that we’re using is not supported. We pay $35 to do an RMA (over night, thankfully) in hopes that we somehow have a defective motherboard. The new motherboard arrives the next day from California and the problem still persists.
Now, I would accept the “unsupported power supply” theory, except when we use the CLEAR CMOS jumper on the motherboard to clear the BIOS settings, the next time we plug the power in, the system turns on automatically. That’s right. If you clear the BIOS settings via the Jumper on the motherboard and plug the power back in, it will automatically turn on – but after that, even if you change the setting in the BIOS to “Turn On”, it will not turn on!. That tells us that the motherboard & power supply together are in-fact physically capable of turning on after the power is plugged back in, it is simply a bug somewhere (either in hardware or software) that won’t let it happen with our ‘unsupported power supply’. Hopefully someone from Tyan will read this and look into this further.
[FYI: The power supply that we’re using is an I-Star TC-2U40 (400W Quiet 20/24+8+4pin power supply)]
update – 9/30/2006 – Tyan issued bios version 1.04, we had hoped that this would address the problem, but it did not.
Follow-Up & Results
Aside from the lack of ability to turn on after a power failure, the server is running very well – temperatures are low, performance is high & there has been no weird behavior or freezing. [we fully tested the CPU & RAM before-hand to ensure that there were no problems with these parts]