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systems_glitch

Another New Workstation: HP Z420

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In August I picked up an AMD Bulldozer workstation:

 

http://www.binrev.com/forums/index.php?/topic/48238-new-to-me-amd-bulldozer-workstation/

 

This was supposed to be a replacement for my AMD A8 APU desktop, but it turns out the single core performance is *horrible* and for most of my workload the A8 is actually faster. Well, the A8 box started to have hardware issues and some update had started to cause Firefox to consume massive quantities of memory if left running for too long (it'd use up all 16 GB of main memory, plus 8 GB of swap!), so I switched over to the Bulldozer box as my main workstation for a few weeks.

 

Aside from being slower than the A8 for my day-job workload, it's *loud*! These Supermicro boxes came from a production development environment, I'm not sure how they had several of these in an open plan work area running all day. I guess everyone was deaf or wore noise cancelling headphones. It's not 1U server bad, but it's pretty loud. Anyway, I found a used HP Z420 in "barebones" config (no RAM, hard disk, or graphics) for $200 shipped. Specs:

 

* Intel Xeon E5-1620 (i7 derivative, it seems)

* 8x ECC DDR3 slots for 64GB supported (unsure if you can use 16GB DIMMs)

* 10x internal SATA ports, two of which are 6 gb/s

* Still has PS/2 connectors for my IBM Model M keyboard

* Shockingly, FireWire 400 on the front and back

* Some generic SATA DVD burner

* PCIe slots: 2 x16, 1 x8, 1 x4, 1 x1

* Legacy PCI slot

* USB 3 on the motherboard

 

It can also boot directly from M.2 PCIe attached SSDs, so no more having to have a boot partition on a SATA disk, like I did with the Bulldozer box. I put the following on-hand hardware in:

 

* 12 GB ECC DDR3 1066

* Samsung SM951 128GB SSD in a PCIe x4 adapter board

* 1 TB WD Green storage drive

* GeForce GTX 750 from the A8 workstation

 

It's running Slackware 14.2, still have a boot partition on the 1 TB SATA disk since I just pulled the storage out of the Bulldozer box and moved it over. I plan on doing a reinstall and eliminating the 1 TB mechanical disk. I'll probably replace with two 250 GB WD RE3 SATA drives in a ZFS mirror -- I don't need piles of local storage, that's what the fileserver is for. So far it's significantly faster than both the Bulldozer box and the A8 box -- my main benchmark is how long a certain massive test suite takes to run. It was about 20 minutes on the A8 box, 30 minutes on the Bulldozer box, and 17 minutes on the Z420.

 

I've ordered 32 GB ECC DDR3 so that the memory currently installed can go back into the Bulldozer box -- I have a friend who's interested in it as a VM host. Thinking about getting a 256 GB M.2 SSD and reinstalling to that, I could use the 128 GB SSD elsewhere. Part of the reason I got this box is because it was cheaper than getting a new SuperMicro motherboard for my Micro ATX tower (the one the A8 mobo is in currently), and the SuperMicro board obviously didn't come with a CPU. Also it has enough free PCIe slots that I can use a M.2 SSD, the double slot GTX 750, and still have a free x8 or better slot for a 10gig Ethernet card. I may end up with a Xeon E5-1660 v2 CPU in there, the single-core performance is better and two extra cores (plus 2 hyperthreads) couldn't hurt with my VM load.

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We have SuperMicro Servers running at work. I think they are assumed to be stowed away in a backroom somewhere when designed.. A room where the Administrator may, or may not have the gumption to calculate wattage, airflow and temperature for a server room. ;-)

 

Ours are really loud as well. But they are under load 24/7 - so I'm glad they report goods temps when I chart diagnostics every morning, :-)

 

Sounds like a nice box, Glitch.

Edited by tekio
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Huh, interesting. It's not listed in the HP reference as a supported CPU, but that doesn't necessarily mean anything. They say unbuffered ECC is the only thing supported, but Registered/Buffered ECC DDR3 works just fine. I just installed 32GB of it :)

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all could gather from intel, was atleast its the same socket, but with 2 of them easily faster than a 6950x in multi threaded more around 12-15core broadwell cept with maybe lower turbo speeds/single threaded. but the motherboards are expensive usually :/.

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I forgot to run `lilo` after a kernel update, and finally powered the machine off last night for some rewiring, so this morning it kernel panic'ed on boot and I took the opportunity to redo the system with proper drives and configuration -- I just transplanted the disks out of the AMD Bulldozer machine, so it was booting off of a 128 MB boot partition (on a 1 TB drive, lol) and using a SSD as root, since the Bulldozer box's BIOS couldn't boot M.2 PCIe SSDs directly. New config:

 

* Upgraded to BIOS 3.91 for M.2 boot support

* Samsung SM951 M.2 SSD PCIe x4 128 GB

* 2x WD RAID Edition 4 250 GB SATA drives

* UEFI boot/UUIDs for disks

* Slackware 14.2 x86_64

* ZFS on Linux, 1x mirrored volume across the two SATA disks

 

BIOS update was the hardest part. The BIOS on the z420 will let you flash updates through the BIOS menu itself -- no having to come up with a DOS boot disk or anything. I didn't have a USB Flash drive around, so I tried with a CF card in a multi-card reader, which it didn't like. You can use a CD, too, so I dug out a spindle of CD-Rs only to get an unhelpful message about the BIOS image being missing or corrupt. Turns out the CD must be in the drive when you power the machine on! I had to clear CMOS settings using the little yellow reset switch on the motherboard after the update, it locked up after counting RAM.

 

Slackware + UEFI was easy, I'd never done it before. The only "challenge" was that `cgdisk` had some issue where it was complaining that the console terminal wasn't at least 80x14, so I had to use `gdisk` (GPT version of `fdisk`). You of course use `elilo` instead of regular `lilo` with a UEFI system. Slackware's setup was able to successfully insert a Slackware entry into the workstation's EFI menu, so if I punch ESC at boot-up Slackware is now listed as an option, along with CD/USB/Network/et c. So, it boots directly from the M.2 SSD without having to have a boot partition on a SATA disk, and as a bonus, the BIOS update seems to have fixed my flaky SATA channel issue (I could run the SATA 3gbps channel in IDE mode, but AHCI mode would intermittently not boot).

 

Ended up using GPT UUIDs for mounting the root disk, since adding the two WD drives threw off the boot order. Again, this is really easy, you add it to `/etc/fstab` and `elilo.conf` and that's it. ZFS on Linux was the usual simple Slackbuild install, I already had the packages built so I just copied them over from the fileserver.

 

New install is working fine, and it's nice to be able to offload files to a mirrored ZFS volume, and keep the SSD free for stuff that actually needs fast access/high bandwidth. Plus now I can put the side cover on :D

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On 11/10/2016 at 10:22 AM, systems_glitch said:

Huh, interesting. It's not listed in the HP reference as a supported CPU, but that doesn't necessarily mean anything. They say unbuffered ECC is the only thing supported, but Registered/Buffered ECC DDR3 works just fine. I just installed 32GB of it :)

 

"supported" == don't call us, if you are getting kernel panics with something else. ;-)

 

That Xeon also supports non-eec, assuming the MoBo does not complain, I'd use non-eec on a desktop. Unless one needs uptimes in the months - to years.... unsure the overhead of EEC is beneficial. 

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