Overview

Many companies make motherboards. As far as I know the big computer companies such as Dell, HP, Compaq, Gateway, etc. don't make their own motherboards, but buy somewhat customized ones from the motherboard companies. Generally, motherboards are pretty boring. They are a big board that lots of stuff gets plugged into. Well, there are a few reasons to care about the motherboard.

  • Some have more features than others, such as built-in firewire, or support for lots of hard drives.
  • Some have more features in the BIOS, such as the ability to raise or lower the cpu voltage, memory speed settings, and the like. Some of these settings are quite handy when overclocking a cpu.
  • Some are more power efficient, or run cooler than others. Some have fans on the heatsinks or heatpipes, or a high efficiency design.
  • Some are made with higher quality components, such as 'solid' capacitors, or other parts designed to be more reliable (failed electrolytic capacitors are a major failure mode of motherboards).
  • Some are better supported or less buggy than others. Motherboards are complex and often need BIOS fixes in order to work reliably.

I have used many brands of motherboards and I have found some companies make very reliable boards, with good support. By far the best company for support and documentation is Intel. They have hundreds of pages of documentation for their boards. They boards may not have many features, but they are documented and well supported. If there is a new BIOS, you can find out exactly what fixes are in the BIOS. Other good motherboard manufacturers are Asus, Tyan, Supermicro. Others have a reasonable amount of support, and work reasonably well, such as Abit. Some have very poor support such as Iwill (which no longer makes motherboards for individual sale).

One of the biggest motherboard companies is Foxconn. They make boards under their own name, as well as for Dell, HP, and no doubt others. I have heard they make MSI motherboards, but I am not sure about that. They have a BIOS in some of their motherboards that is known to be poorly written, and to not support Linux, despite claiming ACPI support (which is operating system independent). What is worse, they don't seem to care that their BIOS is poorly written, and that it isn't ACPI compliant. See details here and here

Asus - the decline of a good company

I have had many Asus motherboards. I still have 2 working CUR-DLS motherboards. I currently have 3 newer AM2 and AM3 Asus motherboards. I was thinking of buying a motherboard for the great AMD Ryzen 3000 series cpu. I want a motherboard that supports ECC. I was looking as the Asus Pro WS X570-ACE. If you go to Asus's webpage, right at the top in large letters it says 'AMD AM4 X570 ATX workstation motherboard with 3 PCIe 4.0 x16, Dual Realtek and Intel Gigabit LAN, DDR4 ECC memory support, dual M.2, U.2, and ASUS Control Center'. Thst sounded promising. I downloaded the manual, and there was no mention of ECC, memory error logging, or memory scrubbing. I looked at the supported memory list, and there was no mention of ECC. I have lots of motherboard manuals. For the M5A78L-M manual, there is an entry that says 'ECC Configuration' and it explains what the options are. Under the Qualified Vendor List for memory, it lists several ECC memory modules.

So I contacted Asus. The first level support was clueless, but passed my questions on. The second level support did reply and they said 'in regards to your concern about your device supporting ECC, The WS X570-ACE is unofficially support ECC.' I am not sure what 'unofficially support' means, and they did not tell me if there were any BIOS options related to ECC memory. They did list 4 memory sticks with ECC support for the board. If the ECC support is unofficial, why does it say 'ECC memory support' in big letters at the top of the motherboard's web page? I am not going to spend over $300 on a motherboard with not documented ECC support. Perhaps Supermicro will support the AM4 socket with a motherboard, and their manual will document the ECC settings for the motherboard. Asus got back to me. Their Level 2 support says "Yes, the Pro WS X570-ACE's specification does say ECC, so ti does support it. No, there are no real bios settings to enable ECC for the Pro WS X570-ACE." I have no idea what that means, when there are no ECC bios settings. All other Asus motherboards I have have ECC bios settings. Looks like Asus isn't the great company that they used to be.

ASUS M3A78-T

Purchased mar 2009. It supports AM2, AM2+, and AM3 cpus. The reason I bought it was it supported ECC memory, including memory scrubbing and chipkill. It has 'solid' capacitors (conductive polymer), express gate (a small Linux that boots in 5 seconds), Q-Fan2 (intelligent fan speed control), onboard video with DVI and HDMI, and the usual features. Overall, it is a very good motherboard.

There are a few things I don't like. SATA is a hot swap technology. If you want to enable the hot swap feature you have to set the 'OnChip SATA type' to ACHI. Though it isn't documented in the manual, doing this makes only the first 4 SATA devices visible. This 'feature' is documented in the BIOS. If you use a windows driver, you can see the other 2 devices. You can't boot the computer off of them, however. If you use something other than windows, you are screwed. I consider this unacceptable. There are 5 SATA ports on the motherboard, and an e-SATA port on the back. Not being able to add or remove a e-SATA drive without rebooting is unacceptable. At least this stupidity should be documented in the manual. Another small nit is there is only one PS/2 connector. Nobody uses them anymore, right? Well some people have KVM switches that are PS/2 based (like me). I ended up buying a USB to PS/2 adapter. Some don't work, however.

In 2014, I started having odd issues with the motherboard. Most of the disks attached to the motherboard are SATA, but the boot disk and optical drive are PATA, as I have lots of them. I am 99% sure that the PATA controller has partially failed. I can read cd's and dvd's with the optical drive, but I was having a hard time installing Linux on the PATA hard drive (which has worked in the past). A little later, the BIOS failed to recognize PATA hard drives. I tried 4 different PATA drives. I can't easily access the motherboard directly, but the optical drive on the PATA bus works fine. After I realized what the problem was, I successfully installed several operating systems on the new SATA boot disk. The motherboard is 5 years old, and everything else seems to be working fine. It is certainly an odd failure.

ASUS M5A78L-M USB3

Purchased Jul-2015 after my M3N WS motherboard failed. It is a AM3+ micro ATX board. It has what I need, which is ECC memory support, AM3+ CPU support, 6 SATA-2 connectors, and a PCI-E 2.0 x16 and onboard graphics. The x16 slot is for a Highpoint 2720-SGL SAS controller. It is a very boring motherboard, which I view as a good thing. The only downside I have noticed is the 3 pin CPU fan that I have doesn't seem to spin down very much under low loads. I suspect things would work much better with a 4 pin PWN fan. It would be nice to have more PCI-E slots, but I suspect that is limited by the cheap, old chipset. I paid $54 dollars for it, and had a $10 rebate. It is hard to imagine a less expensive motherboard that supports ECC memory. There is a really cool low power embedded 8 core Intel atom that supports ECC, but with the motherboard it costs around $400 (the ASRock C2750D4I). There is also a low power embedded 4 core Intel atom in the Asus P9A-I motherboard which includes 2 SATA-3 ports and 4 MiniSAS connectors which supports 16 drives, but it costs $380. If price was no object, I would probably get the Asus P9A-I motherboard, but the M5A78L-M does the job and is far more flexible.

ASUS M5A78L-M Plus USB3

I bought this motherboard during black friday because it was bundled with a low power (95W) AMD FX-8320E 8 core CPU and was $40 after rebate from MicroCenter. I thought the motherboard was 'plus' compared to my older Asus M5A78-M USB3 motherboard. I was wrong. The non-plus motherboard has one more PCI (not PCI-E but old school PCI) connector. It has a Optical SPDIF output on the ATX shield. It has 6 audio connectors on the ATX shield (vs 3 for the plus). The non-plus also has a very bright green LED on the motherboard which lights up as long as the power supply is powered. The plus does have an LPT header on the motherboard (that is an old school printer parallel port), a com port header, and rather than having 6 onboard USB2 port headers, it has 4 onboard USB2 port headers and 2 USB3 port headers. The really odd thing is the non-plus manual is 64 pages long while the plus manual is 27 pages long. The plus manual doesn't have pinouts for things like the front panel connector (the power, reset, power-led, hdd-led). There is a QR code you can scan, but I don't have any way to scan it. I like saving the environment as much as anyone, but electronic pdf files don't hurt the environment if they have more details. I called Asus tech support, and they said they will email me the pinout today. The next day I called to be sure they had my correct email address. After about 40 minutes, with the last 20 on hold, I decided they had forgotten me. I called again and after about 30 minutes the support guy understood the issue. They do have my correct email address; they haven't sent out anything yet, but they said they will. After several phone calls and about 2 weeks, I got an email saying the existing manual was the best they could offer. I told them that was unsatisfactory. I am deeply disappointed in Asus. I have bought at least 10 of their motherboards and this is the first one with a super crappy manual. I ended up searching the internet, and on a non-Asus site, I was able to find a manual for the plus and a related motherboard. It was 66 pages long and it did include the front panel pinouts. I have owned at least 11 Asus motherboards and the plus manual really sucks. I wonder how long it will take Asus to email me the pinouts...

One might wonder why it is not on their website under technical support. I plan on replacing my 10 year old m3a-78-T motherboard (which still works) with a newer mb, with a lower power, higher performance CPU. The only way I can recommend the M5A78L-M Plus motherboard, is if it is free after rebate, like the one I got. Otherwise, spend a few more dollars and buy a real motherboard, not one that has SATA-2 connectors and only one PCI-E x16 connector. The only reason I got it was to use as a fileserver, where I just needed one PCI-E x8 connector for a HBA.

Failed ASUS M3N WS

This is my file server motherboard. It supports AM2, AM2+, and AM3 cpus. The reason I bought it was it supported ECC memory, and has a PCI-X slot (64 bit PCI). It has 'solid' capacitors (conductive polymer), Q-Fan2 (intelligent fan speed control), onboard video with DVI and HDMI, and the usual features. Overall, it is a decent motherboard.

There are a few things I don't like.

I bought this motherboard Aug-2009 for use in a fileserver. It has a PCI-X slot, which my 8 port SATA controller needed. It worked until Jul-2015. No obvious errors while running Windows XP. However, running Linux if you start X-Windows, the computer freezes. It is quite repeatable. Even without starting X-Windows, when using it as a fileserver and copying a 50gb file, it repeatedly failed during the copy. Fortunately for me, I had a Phenom II 710 processor, which is socket AM3, and will work in a new socket AM3+ motherboard. It did have pretty heatpipes which were quite sharp and good at cutting things like wires and fingers.

ECS P4M900T-M

I had read about a tour of ECS and how they had improved their motherboard manufacturing process. When I needed a new motherboard, I decided to get another ECS motherboard because it was very inexpensive. This motherboard was a basic modern motherboard, with SATA, a 24 pin ATX power connector, DDR-2 dram, and the like. It didn't have gigabit Ethernet, nor did it have firewire, but I didn't really need those features. I added an Intel processor, and two sticks of memory, and booted it up. I usually run memcheck+ for a while on new hardware, and I did so without incident. I added an Asus video card, and booted the computer. When I loaded up windows to check that all the hardware was working, I got a blue-screen of death. Using the Microsoft crash dump analysis tool, I found that an Asus program that ran in the kernel was causing the crash by trying to page in a non paged area. I contacted Asus and they told me to remove a stick of ram. I was quite dubious. Nonetheless, I removed a stick of memory, and was unable to get the computer to crash. I added the stick back in, and ran memcheck+ for several days without any problem. I now believe that the memory wasn't seated well, and was causing problems. I ended up running some cpu and memory loading programs for several days and the system didn't crash.

One odd thing, was the device manager showed one unknown PCI device. I had installed the motherboard software cd, so I was puzzled. It turned out that what is necessary is to have the motherboard cd in the computer, and to click on the unknown device. When I did that, It found some kind of high performance audio processor. It installed a driver, and seven more unknown PCI devices popped up. I had to click on each device, and using the motherboard cd, a driver was installed for each unknown device. It was a bit time consuming...

Gigabyte GA-990FXA-UD5 rev 3

This is a ATX motherboard with an AM3+ socket. It has 4 DDR3 memory slots. It includes the usual stuff, including audio, gigabit LAN, USB3, 8 SATA ports and 2 eSATA ports, firewire, but no onboard video. It has a UEFI BIOS that looks very nice and has lots of overclocking features. By default, IOMMU is disabled which makes it virtually impossible to boot anything from USB other than Windows. When IOMMU is enabled, it is easy to install Linux from USB. It doesn't support ECC, but in my experience only Asus AM3+ motherboards support ECC. The manual is lacking details on BIOS settings and features. For example, there is 'Auto Green', which is a power savings mode that can be enabled when the motherboard doesn't detect your cell phone via Bluetooth. Unfortunately, there is no documentation that the motherboard has any wireless networking or Bluetooth feature. It would be nice to document the BIOS in more detail.

Gigabyte M68M-S2

I bought this motherboard as a combo with an AMD Athlon-II-250, for a screaming price of $50. I knew it was a very basic motherboard, but I bought it rather than an ECS motherboard (at the same price) because of the reputation of Gigabyte. The motherboard supports AM3 processors, and DDR2 memory. It is a micro-ATX motherboard with one PCI-E x16 interface, one PCI-E x1 interface, and 2 PCI slots. It has onboard nvidia video, audio, Ethernet, and USB connectors. The back panel features a parallel port, a serial port, two PS/2 connectors, a VGA socket, and 3 audio plugs. It is nice to have some of these older style connectors, as some peripherals that I have still use them (like my KVM switch, my printers, and my UPS). If you want the rest of the audio ports, you have to buy a backplate. This isn't a big deal, as it is an entry level motherboard. It would be nice if there was gigabit Ethernet, and a DVI port, but I have cards to support those ports. There is a PATA connector on the motherboard, and only 2 SATA connectors. The BIOS is pretty basic, but does the job.

There are a few issues however. For some reason the BIOS disables SMART by default, though you can enable it. In the BIOS you can set the memory to 'ganged mode', which uses both memory slots at the same time to access memory. This doubles the memory bandwidth. As I have 2 identical 1gb memory sticks, I enabled this mode. When the motherboard boots, it reports the memory mode, and reports the memory as un-ganged. I contacted Gigabyte support, clearly explaining the problem. Their reply seemed to not understand my message, and said I had to have 2 DIMMs that were DDR2, and stuff like that. I replied that I had mentioned that I had that in my first message to them. They next told me to flash to the latest BIOS, and kindly included a link to the BIOS. Unfortunately, they pointed me to a BIOS for a different motherboard, despite my first message plainly stating the motherboard I had. Fortunately, the BIOS flash utility told me it was the wrong BIOS. I updated to the newest BIOS for my motherboard, but it had no effect on the 'un-ganged' display during boot. I can excuse the poor english of the replies, but their support seems quite confused, and has not been able to fix the issue so far. I am used to much better technical support from motherboard companies.

I now have exchanged 8 messages with tech support. I ran cpuid which verified that the memory is not in ganged mode. They now understand which motherboard I have. They seem to think that the memory isn't standard ddr-2 memory even though it is. The memory is HP labeled memory, made by Micron, and the exact pert number is 377726-888. Gigabyte suggests that I test the mb with different memory. I told them that I was happy to, and supplied my address so they could send memory. The claimed they couldn't do it, and guess that my memory isn't 1.8v memory even though it is. Now there is some 'overclocking' memory that requires more voltage to work reliably. I told them that I ran memtest86+ for about 24 hours without any problems. This doesn't prove the memory is perfect, but it is pretty strong evidence that there aren't any serious issues. I always do this when building a new computer so I know the basic mb, cpu, memory and ps are ok. I fear Gigabyte is pointing the finger elsewhere and seem unwilling to deal with the issue, or even admit that their motherboard or BIOS could be less than perfect. I won't be buying any more gigabyte motherboards, nor will I be recommending that anyone buy one. I am truly saddened, as I thought they were a first rate motherboard company.

Well, I dug out some other DDR-2 memory I had, and the motherboard acted the same way. I told tech support, and they finally said I should exchange the motherboard. I suspect the problem is the BIOS rather than the motherboard. As the motherboard is in a case, it is a hassle to remove it for exchange. I think I will hold off doing it, and hope a new BIOS fixes the issue. I also read that ganged mode wasn't so much faster than un-ganged mode, so it isn't as important as I first thought it was. It is unfortunate that tech support required me to find some other memory, and it took 8 messages before they suggested exchanging the motherboard.

MSI 760GMA-P34 (FX)

Purchased in Jul-2016. This is a micro ATX motherboard for AM3+ processors. It has built in AMD graphics (from the chipset not the CPU), 2 memory slots, a pci-e x16 slot, a pci-e x1 slot, and a PCI slot. Being a newer motherboard it has 2 rear USB 3 ports as well as 2 internal USB 3 ports. It uses a traditional BIOS which is a bit odd given how new it is. So far everything is working smoothly. The manual is really quite terse however. For example, there is a JSPI1 9 pin connector which is documented on the motherboard layout on page 13. However the text makes no mention of it all. No pinout, no purpose. What is worse is the lack of BIOS documentation. Each menu in the BIOS is not documented. For example, there is no documentation on the graphics memory settings. It turns out that the graphics on the chipset is defaulted to the 'auto' setting. You can set it to something else, such as 128mb. What this means is that if you use a modern OS, and you have 8gb of RAM, then by default over 4gb of RAM is allocated to something else other than OS usage (which I presume is graphics usage). After I set it to 128mb, the OS reported 7.9gb of memory was usable. If you search for 'graphics' or 'video' in the manual, you will find nothing. I know paper is expensive, but bits are free and it should be documented. It is curious that there is paper included to show how to install the CPU heatsink, but it shows an Intel heatsink, not an AMD heatsink.

So I did something very exotic, I bought a graphics card for the computer. With a graphics card in the computer the setting for onboard video memory disappears. You might think onboard graphics memory is disabled, which would make sense. You would be wrong. With my two 4gb sticks, the BIOS is able to detect them correctly. If only one memory stick is used, the BIOS reports 4gb of usable memory. With both sticks inserted, the BIOS also detects 4gb of usable memory. This is not something that is related to the operating system; the BIOS has decided to hide away 4gb of memory. I contacted MSI, and they were quite unhelpful and were unable to resolve the issue. I have seen similar issues searching online, that were unresolved. I cannot recommend MSI products, as the BIOS is crap and the support is even crappier. I could always buy bigger memory sticks, but I have no idea how much memory would be eaten by the BIOS and I don't feel like spending lots of money just to find out.

Supermicro H11SSL

I purchased the version 2.0 motherboard, which works with AMD Epyc Rome processors. It is an ATX motherboard which supports a single Epyc processor. Most of my recent motherboards have been dual socket, but the Rome is such a powerful processor, that the 16 core version I got is about twice as fast as my dual Intel Xeon L5640 system. I can upgrade the CPU in the future to a 32 or 64 core processor. This is a server motherboard, with integrated IPMI (out of band motherboard management). It is now running. The UEFI BIOS looks like something from 2000. No mouse, and it looks pretty much like a legacy BIOS. The motherboard supports UEFI booting as well as 'legacy' booting. If you set to boot in UEFI mode, and you have an older graphics card, the boot process hangs, with no diagnostic message. I had an older AMD FirePro W2100 (which has a UEFI comparable BIOS). It hangs when trying to boot any UEFI hard drive or flash drive. I even updated the W2100 BIOS, but no joy. The video card works fine on an older UEFI motherboard. I have installed a Nvidia Quadro K420 which works fine on the H11SSL. I know many users will use the default VGA graphics which is ASPEED, but some people like something a bit more capable.

Because this is a server motherboard, it doesn't have a lot of onboard features. No sound, two gigabit Ethernet ports, and 4 rear USB (2 USB2 and 2 USB3) and 4 front panel USB (2 USB2 and 2 USB3). It would have been nice to have a few more USB ports on the ATX I/O shield. It would have been nice if the USB ports were all USB3. Also gigabit Ethernet was really keen about 20 years ago. Two 10 gigabit ports would have been appreciated. I have added a USB3.0 board, a sound card, a 2.5gigabit ethernet card, and soon a USB 3.1 gen 2 card. This is 4 cards out of 6 PCIE slots. All of this could easily be on the ATX I/O shield. For example, the really old Gigabyte GA-990FXA-UD5 has 8 USB 2 ports, a PS/2 keyboard/mouse port, a SPDIF connector, a IEEE 1394a port, 2 eSATA ports, 2 USB 3 ports, an ethernet port, and a bunch of audio ports. Not all of this is appropriate for a server, but I think 4 USB 2 ports, 4 USB 3 ports, perhaps 2 USB 3.1 gen 2 ports would be reasonable. Upgrading the gigabit ethernet to 2.5 gigabit ethernet, and adding basic audio would be really nice as well. Just the 8 basic USB ports and the two USB 3.1 ports I suggest would save me a two PCIE slots. It is called Universal Serail Bus for a reason...

Also all but one fan header are located on the side of the board opposite the ATX header. A few more around the board would be nice. I tried to install the AMD drives from the Supermicro DVD. It hung. I tried a few more times without success. Supermicro says they don't support WIndows 10, only Windows Server. Through far too much effort, I found out that the motherboard does not sleep or hibernate. I can select hibernate on Linux, but the CPU fan doesn't stop. On windows, when I try to enable it, I get an error message saying "The system firmware does not support hibernation."

I have a Noctua cooler with a 14cm fan. It is their biggest cooler, and is designed for EPYC and Threadripper. Using the H11SSL bios, there are no fan speed adjustments, nor is there any CPU monitoring (like temperature of fan speed). Fortunately, the motherboard supports IMPI. Using IMPI, you can set 4 fan profiles. It also has plenty of CPU monitoring. Using the fan 'full power' profile, the fan runs at 1500 rpm at all times. Using any other profile, the fan oscillates between 300 and 1000 rpm every few seconds. The reason is the 300 rpm speed is seen as an error, and the mb tries to run the fan at full speed. After the fan spins up, it switches back to using PWM and the fan speed drops. I have a support ticket with Supermicro to hopefully address the issue. Using Supermicro's system doctor, fan speeds are displayed incorrectly and never update. I know most of these mb's will end up in servers with billion rpm fans, but there are some people who like their servers to run quietly. It turns out that you can set the low threshold for the fan speed via a command line ipmi tool. It is far ffrom user friendly. I set it to 250rpm, but it shows up as 300 rpm.

I finally installed a NVME M.2 drive in my mb. There is a white nylon standoff used to hold down the SSD. No instructions in the manual. It turns out the nylon standoff has a center part that can be pulled out. Insert the drive, then insert the nylon standoff. No idea how to remove it completely if you have a 110mm SSD. There is a screw hole for a 110mm SSD on the mb.

The included I/O shield is junk. It is flimsy sheet metal. What is worse, there are 3 optional cut outs that should not be there. It would a very good idea to reinforce thees 3 cut outs with tape on both sides before installing. I did reinforce the outside, but I can't reinforce the inside, as the CPU cooler is in the way. These 3 cut outs are now partially bent in, which isn't ideal.

Supermicro X8DTL

This is an ATX server motherboard. It is about 0.2 inches wider than the ATX standard, so it will fit in most ATX cases. It accommodates two Xeon processors and up to 6 sticks of ddr3 registered or unregistered memory. If you use registered memory, you can use 16gb sticks. Unlike the Supermicro x7dbe, the memory hangs directly off of each processor. This greatly increases bandwidth. More important, the motherboard uses normal ddr3 ECC memory, not the power sucking FB-DIMMs, which will literally burn you. I bought a used motherboard along with two L5520 processors, which have 4 native cores and hyperthreading.

My motherboard arrived DOA. It seems that the seller on ebay said it was working, and had a 30 day warranty. They also said that they would ship me a replacement motherboard which never arrived. I made a complaint to ebay, and ebay found in my favor. They said, just send it back with a tracking number, and after we verify that arrived, you will get your money back. Sounds reasonable, right? Unfortunately, the motherboard cost me $150 or so, including shipping. Shipping it back with a tracking number would cost me about $215 (because it was overseas). If I did that, then I would lose about $65. That is not such a good deal. I recommend not buying stuff when it would expensive to ship it back.

So ebay won't help me get my money back from the seller. It turns out that I used paypal to pay for the item. I also cleverly used american express to pay paypal. I contacted amex and disputed the charge. I explained that ebay wanted me to ship it back, which would cost more that I paid. Amex is much more user-friendly than ebay/paypal. I recommend that if you use paypal, then you should always pay with a credit card in case there is an issue with your purchase.

Fortunately Supermicro has great tech support as well as a great warranty. When you call them, you get a real person who understands problems and can make sensible suggestions. The motherboard was covered under warranty, so I am waiting for it to come back fully operational. Well it turns out that the Supermicro warranty does not cover physical damage. The cpu1 socket pins are damaged. I was very careful putting the cpu in the socket, so it is likely that the socket was broken before it was shipped. The cpu socket has 1366 pins, which are all very small, and it would seem, not too difficult to damage. Supermicro charges $50 to replace it, which isn't very expensive considering they have to unsolder all 1366 pins and then replace the socket itself (which isn't cheap). It turns out that even after Supermicro replaced the cpu socket, the board was still broken. They decided it would be a good idea to send me a replacement motherboard instead. So the board I bought on ebay had two separate problems. I am eagerly awaiting getting a working motherboard.

One odd feature of the motherboard is that it uses proprietary Supermicro heatsinks. This is not such a bad thing, as the motherboard has a very robust backplate attached to it, and heatsinks are cheap on ebay. I bought the 4U heatsinks which have 4 heatpipes and come with a nice 4 pin PWM fan. They are as big as the motherboard will tolerate; in fact you have to mount them 90 degrees from each other, with one fan blowing up and one blowing back. That is what happens when you have 2 sockets and 6 DIMMs on a mostly standard sized ATX motherboard.

Well, the motherboard is installed and running. I found a few issues. The first one I noticed is that 2 mounting screws are in non-standard positions. This was an issue, as the standard location screws were permanently attached to my Antec p180 case. I had to use a bit of force to remove them. They are the upper center screw and the central screw. The motherboard has holes for these, but in non-standard locations.

The bigger issue is the northbridge heatsink.It is for the 5500 (Tylersburg) Chipset (I/O Hub aka northbridge), which has a TDP of 27.1 watts. It is the largest heatsink on the motherboard. Noticing it was running warm, I added a 60mm fan using some #6 fine thread drywall screws. Problem solved - until I added a video card to the pci-e x16 slot. The first issue was the heatsink got in the way of the silly tab at the back of the graphics card. The tab was easily removed. The big problem was my fan got in the way of the graphics card. Since the on-board graphics is a 32mb matrox solution, I really wanted a graphics card. I picked a small, cheap, passively cooled one, but it still overhung the northbridge heatsink. I relocated the 60mm fan. I also added a host based adapter (hba) on one of the x8 slots. It also overhung the northbridge heatsink. The heatsink may be adequate for a 1U server with screaming fans. It is not adequate in any case with a normal amount of airflow.

I tried to run the Supermicro 'super-doctor' program, but it only works with windows xp. So I installed linux and ran gkrellm. The northbridge idles at 80C, and gets hotter under load. I decided I needed to cool it. I thought a bit and there was no obvious way to mount a fan of any size in my case. After much thought and hacking, I added a 40mm fan that hangs off the edge of the northbridge. It is quite ugly, but it reduces the temperature by 20C. Under load, I have seen temperatures of 73C with the fan running. If the board is to be used in a server case with a lot of airflow, it probably won't be a problem, but in a normal case, the northbridge runs much too hot for my liking. It is cleverly close to the 4 pci-e slots, which means the heatsink has to be very low profile. Ideally, it would be moved back about 2 inches so it wouldn't get in the way of the pci-e slots. I am sure there is a reason it is where it is, though it gets in the way of the pci-e slots.

With my two L5520 CPU's, two 16gb sticks of memory, 4 hard drives, a platinum 450w power supply, and a bunch of cards, the system idles at about 100w under mageia 3 or knoppix linux. With windows idle is around 120w. That is acceptable to me, but not ideal.

The 'sleep' mode for the motherboard puts the CPU's in S1, which isn't a very deep sleep. It also keeps the cpu fans and the chassis fans spinning. Though the manual says 'CPU fan auto-off in sleep mode', it is incorrect. Supermicro says their 'workstation' motherboard will put the CPU's in S3, but it is an E-ATX motherboard. Another 'feature' is sometimes the motherboard does not come out of sleep mode, and I have to power cycle the computer. I think that sleep mode isn't well thought out for this motherboard. I can 'hibernate' the system, but that means writing out as much as 32gb of ram to disk. When powering up the system, all that data has to be read from disk and copied back to ram. Not very quick.

For some reason, the motherboard doesn't like my Belkin OmniView Pro2 KVM switch. (This isn't a consumer KVM, but a rack mounted unit with on screen display and configuration.) My keyboard and mouse work fine after the bios finishes, but I can't enter the bios using a keyboard attached to the KVM. Other motherboards work fine. Supermicro says this is a known issue with some KVM switches, and directly attach a keyboard to the motherboard. This works, but is less than ideal. Either a PS/2 or USB keyboard works fine when directly attached.

Well, after about 3.5 years, the motherboard died. I ordered a replacement from ebay. The price has gone down, as they are now older. $50 shipped including 2 nice passive heatsinks for a 1U server. It was dead. The seller is a large seller of used supermicro stuff, and sent a replacement board which works great. I did learn a few things. You may have to clear the CMOS memory to get the motherboard to boot. Never needed to do this with another motherboard. Pull the power cord, pull the battery, and short some terminals on the mb. Also if you want to use a video card, you have to un-jumper the onboard video. The mb manual says how to un-jumper the video but doesn't bother mentioning that external video cards won't work unless you do that. Another thing I don't really like is the board takes roughly 30-40 seconds after powering up to display any video at all. This can be a bit frustrating at times. Overall, a great board.

While debugging the dead new motherboard, I bought two 6 core Xeon 5640L (low power). They were about $50 total from ebay. Screaming fast if you use multi-threaded software. I also ended up using some generic DDR-4 memory (which the board supports). As I suspected, my old memory was fine as well as my old processors. If you want to build an inexpensive computer - $50 for a mb, $50 for processors, you can add some active cpu coolers for about $30, and 32gb of ECC registered memory for roughly $100, and end up with a screaming fast computer.

My X8DTL was my backup computer. I bought some more 6 core L5640 CPUs and I couldn't get them working with my spare motherboards. Like a fool, I used my fully working mb. Somehow I broke it. Now only CPU socket 2 works. No idea why socket 1 broke. Testing all of my motherboards, the good news is all the CPUs I have work great. The bad news is one mb is toast, and I have 2 other mbs that only have CPU socket 2 working. Clearly these sockets aren't very robust. I tried my best not to damage them. Fortunately, I have need for two motherboards and I prefer only having one CPU in them. As for my backup computer, I have another mb coming soon, and I hope both CPU sockets are still working. I can't blame Supermicro for this, as the socket is an Intel design.

One thing I really don't like about the X8DTL is the shortage of USB ports. They are all USB 2.0, which isn't a big deal. There are two on the back, and two headers for 4 more on the motherboard, plus one USB-A port on the motherboard. The thing is, the chipset supports 10 USB, and Supermicro only is using 7. They shoulda added another header for 2 more ports, or better still, put 4 USB ports on the back. USB is Universal, so there should be more of them. It is not like there is a shortage of real estate on the back plate. Many cheap consumer motherboards have 10 USB ports on the back. And the boot time is roughly 50 seconds. It shouldn't take so long to boot.

I now have a bunch of X8DTL motherboards, and all have issues.

I don't know why some CPU sockets have failed. I don't know why some memory channels have failed. I don't know why a once good mb has died. When I first used these, I assumed that both CPUs would work, and all memory channels would also work. I know these aren't the newest motherboards, but they seem a bit unreliable. I don't think I have any that are 100% working.

If you have comments or suggestions, Email me at turbo-www@weasel.com

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