5 Frequently Asked Questions About Server Motherboards Answered
by Brett Daniel, on Jul 24, 2020 4:19:41 PM
Photo: Trenton Systems' SSP8268 dual Xeon motherboard
In this special Q&A blog post, Trenton Systems answers five of your most frequently asked questions about server motherboards.
We culled these questions straight from Google’s search results, and we hope these answers will help you as you’re learning more about server motherboards and servers in general.
Let us know if you have a question, or series of questions, about a specific topic that you’d like for us to answer in a future blog post.
Now, let’s get cracking.
Graphic: A Trenton Systems server motherboard with numerous PCIe slots, memory slots and space for dual Xeon CPUs.
What is a server motherboard?
A server motherboard, also known as a system board, main circuit board or main board, is what we at Trenton Systems like to refer to as “home base” for your server. It’s home to all your server’s primary components, from the chipset to the PCIe slots to all those RDIMM sockets, with one of the most important components being the central processing unit, or CPU, often referred to as the brains of your server.
The server motherboard provides a platform through which each of the server’s main components can interact, and as such, the motherboard is quite literally the communication facilitator, the technological translator, of your server. We like to think of the server motherboard as a business consultant or a lobbyist, always ensuring that there’s an open line of communication between the key players of an enterprise, or in this case, the motherboard.
You could also think of a server motherboard as a jigsaw puzzle: its pieces come together to form a whole, and they all rely on each other to create a complete, usable picture. If a component is missing, so, too, is a unique, or altogether necessary, piece of the motherboard. When you take a component away, you’re taking away functionality, and depending on the criticality of that component, rendering your server completely inoperable.
What is the best server motherboard?
Because every customer will have a different set of requirements, whether personal or dictated to them by a superior, this is a tricky question. So, while the following answer is somewhat of an obvious one, it encompasses the thousands of different possibilities for server motherboard configuration: The best server motherboard is one that meets your needs or fulfills any requirements and specifications that have been given to you, the buyer.
As mentioned in the answer to the previous question, there are numerous components that make up a server motherboard, and many of these can be changed to add and subtract functionality to and from your server.
For example, one powerful Intel Core or Xeon processor may be enough for a workstation application, but heavy-duty servers usually require the power of dual CPUs, since they’re providing high-speed computation and storing critical resources for other computers in a network. Likewise, some customers will not need a bunch of RDIMM slots, but others will. Why? Because more RAM would equal smoother performance for their application, or they may just want to have the capability to install more RAM down the line.
PCIe slots are another consideration, especially when you’re talking about high-end servers and workstations. If you have a slew of option cards that you plan to use to connect additional high-speed GPUs, hard drives, USB ports or Ethernet ports, or you would at least like to have the option to extend the functionality of your server down the road, then a server motherboard with a bunch of PCIe Gen 3 or Gen 4 slots is your bread and butter.
Always remember that what constitutes the best server motherboard is highly relative to the customer and dependent on numerous variables dictated by personal or enterprise-related requirements.
Don't worry, though. Trenton Systems can help you put the pieces of the puzzle together.
Photo: Desktop motherboards are great for supporting everyday web browsing, online shopping, emailing and other basic tasks. Server motherboards, on the other hand, pack more of a punch, and for good reason.
What is the difference between a server motherboard and a desktop motherboard?
There are a few key differences between the motherboards found in high-powered servers and those found your traditional desktop computer.
Server motherboards typically have two processors, compared to the typical desktop motherboard’s one. As a result, the server motherboard has more cores and more threads with which to process data. In other words, the typical server motherboard can handle a higher computational workload than a desktop motherboard, and for good reason, given that most servers are often powering resource-intensive applications for the military, commercial and industrial sectors, and providing files and resources to many computers at once.
Server-grade CPUs are often from Intel’s Xeon processor family, which is specifically designed for high-performance servers intended to efficiently digest a considerable workload. We’re talking workloads associated with data acquisition, cloud computing, the control of weapons and communications systems, industrial automation and much more. Desktop motherboards, on the other hand, typically incorporate Intel’s less-powerful Core, Pentium or Celeron CPUs. These processors have their purpose, of course, but they’re not designed to handle the heavy-duty workloads tasked to data-driven servers.
You’ll also find error-correcting code (ECC) RAM on server motherboards, which prevents data corruption through automatic detection and correction of memory-related errors. Given that this feature is designed to support enterprise-grade workloads and servers, it’s also supported by Intel’s Xeon processors. ECC is an important feature for military, industrial and commercial applications because it’s a data-protection failsafe. Other processor families do not support ECC.
Server motherboards typically have more PCIe slots than a desktop motherboard as well, or they’re designed to support a compatible PCIe backplane. This allows customers to add high-speed RAID cards, GPUs, additional USB ports, solid-state drives and much more, thereby extending the server’s overall functionality. This is an important feature to have should a customer expect, say, a need for a high-end GPU or additional storage capacity down the line.
Photo: PC gamers often wonder whether using a server as a gaming computer is possible or even worth it.
Can you use a server motherboard for gaming?
Technically, yes. A server is a computer like any other, and with the right CPUs, graphics, and memory, gaming is a possibility. You’ll need the right peripherals – a monitor, a keyboard and a mouse – and most servers come with more than enough input/output options for this purpose.
You’ll likely run into some setbacks, however. Most servers don’t come with an integrated graphics card or sound card, so you’ll need to purchase separate ones one to support your game’s visuals and audio. In addition, server-grade CPUs, such as an Intel’s Xeon Scalable processors, don’t have overclocking capabilities, and sometimes, they have even lower clock speeds than CPUs targeted toward gaming. Why? Because they’re typically powering data centers and mission-critical applications, which are expected to run 24/7 with no interruptions, and higher clock speeds typically means an increase in the monthly electric bill.
For more information on this topic, we recommend checking out the above video, "Should You Game on a Server CPU," by Techquickie. It provides a great overview of the pros and cons of choosing a server for gaming purposes.
Otherwise, let's move on to the last frequently asked question, which addresses the different motherboard form factors out there.
Graphic: A few different motherboard form factors. Credit: Overclock3d
What is the form factor of a server motherboard?
Server motherboards are available in a variety of form factors, which are just specifications dictating a motherboard’s size, shape, mounting holes, power supply and other features. These include eATX, ATX, microATX, SSI CEB, SSI EEB, SSI MEB, COM Express or even a manufacturer’s custom form factor.
ATX is the most common server motherboard form factor, at 12 inches in width and 9.6 inches in depth, but you’ll often see eATX server motherboards as well (12 inches by 13 inches), as eATX is designed specifically for rackmount servers that contain more components and circuitry than the smaller ATX form factor can house. MicroATX server motherboards (9.6 inches by 9.6 inches) are also available on the market for smaller server systems. Like ATX and eATX, SSI form factors can support dual or multi-processor motherboards, but they’re slightly larger in width or depth and have differing mounting holes and I/O options.
And that’s it! We hope we thoroughly answered some of your most asked questions about server motherboards and servers in general.
Let us know if you have any further questions by dropping us a line today.