Motherboard: Quintessential Supermicro
The C7X58 motherboard tied into the SuperWorkstation 5046A-XB is typical Supermicro fare. That is to say the board is somewhat plain to look at, yet meticulously laid out, passively cooled, and clearly designed with reliability in mind.
Because Intel isn’t yet shipping the single-socket “Nehalem-WS” Xeon family, Supermicro’s first-generation workstation design must center on the X58 chipset and accommodate Core i7 processors. It’s worth noting here that Intel is expected to continue supporting the workstation market with X58 once Nehalem-WS emerges. However, that single-socket Xeon will support ECC memory, enhancing the platform’s reliability story beyond what either Intel or Supermicro can boast right now. Supermicro is claiming support for all Core i7 and upcoming Nehalem architecture-based processors, so we assume that this machine will include single-socket Xeon compatibility when the time comes. With that being said, we wouldn’t hesitate to use Core i7 today, even in a true workstation build.
Like most enthusiast boards out there, the C7X58 comes armed with six DDR3 memory slots in a triple-channel arrangement. Official support caps out at 24 GB of DDR3-1600/1333/1066/800 using ECC or non-ECC modules.
The X58 I/O hub offers 36 lanes of PCI Express (PCIe) 2.0 connectivity and the ICH10 controller wields six lanes of PCIe 1.1. Supermicro uses the chipset’s available PCIe support to enable two 2.0 x16 slots (presumably for graphics cards) and one x8 slot (wired for x4 operation at 1.1 link speeds). There’s also a standard PCI slot, although it and the x8 PCIe connector would both be covered if you opted for two dual-slot graphics cards. This is undoubtedly a limitation for anyone who was also considering an add-in storage controller or a PCI-based sound card.
The good news is that, even though Supermicro’s C7X58 is a workstation board, it does support both AMD’s CrossFireX and Nvidia’s SLI multi-card rendering technologies. Would this make an ideal platform for gaming? We think not—selling for $800 online, a gamer could easily find a motherboard/chassis/power supply combination for less that’d still be able to work with both technologies and likely boast more tuning knobs and switches.
On the other hand, Nvidia has done a lot of work to its Quadro drivers, making SLI a more marketable feature in its workstation card lineup. SLI currently runs in one of three different user-selectable modes: SLI Frame Rendering, which teams two cards and presents a single adapter to the operating system, SLI Multi-View, which allows multiple displays to render 3D independently, and SLI FSAA, which sounds a lot like Frame Rendering to us with an emphasis on enhancing image quality through anti-aliasing (AA) rather than performance. It’s absolutely feasible that a professional might want to leverage Supermicro’s SLI license to take advantage of the feature.
AMD, on the other hand, seems to have put very little into CrossFire support on its FirePro cards, neglecting to even mention it as a supported feature. The FirePro V8700 we put into our test bed here has the requisite connectors, but they remain unutilized. As a result, a professional workstation seems to be overkill for anyone looking to employ a pair of Radeons in CrossFire.
As mentioned previously, the C7X58 centers wholly on Intel’s X58 and ICH10 chipset components, so you get six SATA 3 Gb/s ports with software-based RAID 0, 1, 5, and 10; a 7.1-channel Realtek audio codec, eight back-panel USB 2.0 ports (with two more internal), and a floppy controller. There is no legacy parallel ATA support, and Supermicro doesn’t add the third-party logic needed to resurrect it. The company does, however, add FireWire 400 and a pair of Intel 82574L Gigabit Ethernet controllers.
Check prices for Supermicro's 5046A-XB