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Which Motherboards for Headless Unix Servers?

Cliff posted about 13 years ago | from the ichabod-loses-horse-goes-digital dept.

Hardware 33

nettdata asks: "So I'm a 'Sun' guy who's looking to build a Linux server. I've got everything picked out except the motherboard, and I need help. I've gone through some hardware sites (Tom's, etc.) but I can't seem to find a 'top 10' list for what I need, so I was hoping some experienced people in the Slashdot forum can help me cut to the chase. This will be my home server, so I want it to be as inexpensive as possible while still being something that will perform well. (Champagne taste on a beer budget). It will be a headless box, so more than anything I want the ability to do command line boot/BIOS control via the serial port to a VT100 session like I can with my Sun boxes. (This will be done via my handy dandy PortMaster). Lights Out Management (LOM) would be an added bonus. Google, Slashdot, and ExtremeTech searches haven't turned up anything usefull. Any thoughts or sites?"

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the answer's here! (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | about 13 years ago | (#2488620)

wait, no it's not.

here's a nice pic for you though: []

Re:the answer's here! (0, Offtopic)

davidw1 (29211) | about 13 years ago | (#2488735)

Geez. Why did you have to post that?

Re:the answer's here! (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | about 13 years ago | (#2488756)

You could have posted something more on-topic. We're talking headless [] servers, right?

Supermicro (3, Informative)

legend (26856) | about 13 years ago | (#2488626)

I use Supermicro servers, and along with great linux support, they are able to be run headless. You can purchase motherboards only, or, a barebones server from them. I have seen some Intel based designs (Dells, Compaqs) that support serial console as well.

SuperServer 6010 []

Re:Supermicro (1)

nettdata (88196) | about 13 years ago | (#2488947)

They look like what I'm looking for.


Just to confirm, though... is the entire boot process redirected to the serial port should a keyboard/mouse/monitor not be attached?

Re:Supermicro (3, Informative)

legend (26856) | about 13 years ago | (#2489013)

Yup, you set COM1 in the bios to whatever baud rate you want, connect a terminal server, or a modem, and EVERYTHING is redirected out the serial port. The bios can be accessed, and you can watch the boot process.

Re:Supermicro (1)

nettdata (88196) | about 13 years ago | (#2489022)



Re:Supermicro (2)

OmegaDan (101255) | about 13 years ago | (#2495940)

Im going to agree whole heartidly with this ... I own a supermicro p6dls motherboard (dual P2, LX chipset, onboard scsi) and the thing is an absoulte trooper. Its run 24/7 since late 97 (been turned on, not uptime:) ... Its never thrown a kernel panic, and only once a blue screen.

I wish supermicro would bite the bullet and make AMD boards...

Get what I have (1, Offtopic)

PD (9577) | about 13 years ago | (#2488773)

I have a Pentium-133 motherboard. I have no idea what kind it is, just picked it up for $10 at Goodwill Computerworks here in Austin.

It works sweet.

BTW, any Linux box with a serial port will allow you to connect a VT-100. The Linux Kernel can handle that no problem. I've got a 486-33 Thinkpad running OS/2 and a term program set up as the console on the above described server.

Re:Get what I have (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | about 13 years ago | (#2488847)

Get what I have (Score:2)

I have no idea what kind it is, just get the same type and you'll be fine.

Score 2! Oh yeah, this moderation system works so well. My, I think such an insightful comment is at least a 4.

Re:Get what I have (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | about 13 years ago | (#2489840)

Oh yeah, this moderation system works so well.

And which moderation system is this now? As of current the post doesn't have any moderations.

Re:Get what I have (1)

nettdata (88196) | about 13 years ago | (#2488943)

The issue isn't whether or not Linux can handle it... I'm looking for the ENTIRE boot process (as in the BIOS, etc.) to be accessible. Your answer assumes that Linux boots successfully. What happens if Linux won't boot due to a disk issue? On my Sun box, I can deal with it and reboot the machine, and change any BIOS settings... all through the serial port.

That's the kind of functionality I'm looking for in the non-Sun world.

Re:Get what I have (1, Flamebait)

PD (9577) | about 13 years ago | (#2494078)

Offtopic? The moderator who did this must not have finished first grade.

Fucking idiot.

Re:Get what I have (2)

PD (9577) | about 13 years ago | (#2495947)

Now see? THAT'S how to moderate. The post above was a flamebait, and it was moderated properly.

GOOD JOB! Here's a gold star for you.

PS/2 (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 13 years ago | (#2488833)

I have an old IBM PS/2 server. It supports serial consoles. Of course it's a 486 with 32MB ram, and 4 * 1GB SCSI hard drives. Makes for a great Linux server anyway.

There are always add-on cards that you can get for gaining access to the BIOS, etc. through the serial port. I wish serial consoles were standard on all Intel motherboards though!

have you been to ArsTechnica? (2)

imac.usr (58845) | about 13 years ago | (#2488848)

I've found the Linux forum as well as the CPU/Motherboard one to be full of valuable info about building your own inexpensive Linux/x86 machine.

A server you say? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 13 years ago | (#2488863)

Well that's nice dear, but what do you plan to use it for?

A mindless dialup/adsl gateway? Anything will do (try smoothwall [] as a distro)

A webserver/fileserver? Well, ignore supposed 'server category' systems with cache and blah and go for the fastest pony you can get (gigabyte ethernet... bite the bullet). Any distro but Mandrake.

Re:A server you say? (1)

ebbe11 (121118) | about 13 years ago | (#2489259)

Any distro but Mandrake.

Err, why?

PC weasel (2, Insightful)

ghostis (165022) | about 13 years ago | (#2488884)

try out PC weasel with any motherboard. I just got mine so I can't say too much about it.

Intel ISP1100 (2)

mmontour (2208) | about 13 years ago | (#2488892)

Intel ISP1100 [] - a nice 1U chassis+motherboard, designed to run headless (with serial-console support). I don't remember exactly how much you can control over the serial port (e.g. I don't remember if you can power it on/off or reset it, like you can on some of the HP kit), but it does give you access to the BIOS.

Note that it's a bit noisy, so if it's going to be a "home server" you probably want to put it in the basement.

Or you could just slap a "PC Weasel" [] card into a regular server, and get console redirection over RS-232. [Note: despite the name, this is a real company and product AFAIK. No relation to]

PC Weasel (was Re:Intel ISP1100) (1)

shrike (1090) | about 13 years ago | (#2489158)

Some of our servers have an ISA PC Weasel card. They're not cheap, but work very well. They completely emulate the videocard/keyboard and you can also reset (and maybe powercycle, not sure about that one) your server with it.

Re:Intel ISP1100 (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 13 years ago | (#2490132)

This was convered in an "Ask Slashdot" on September 18 3&mode=nested&threshold=0 []

A Quote about the Intel Server Motherboards (from post by a RealWeasel Designer)
"The bottom line with the console redirection, is that it's really BIOS redirection. It's only possible to see what's going on until the OS takes over from the BIOS"

Where the Real Weasel emulates a display card so everything including stuff in OS land goes out the serial port. (They are available in ISA and pos PCI versions)

Re:Intel ISP1100 (2)

mmontour (2208) | about 13 years ago | (#2490224)

A Quote about the Intel Server Motherboards (from post by a RealWeasel Designer)
"The bottom line with the console redirection, is that it's really BIOS redirection. It's only possible to see what's going on until the OS takes over from the BIOS"

Well, that's not really a problem because it's only the early boot stuff (BIOS, SCSI card setup, etc) that needs hardware support. Once your bootloader activates, it can just talk directly to the serial port without needing the "redirection" layer.

OpenBSD is particularly good at this. If you take a standard installation boot-floppy and create one file "/etc/boot.conf" with the line "set tty com0", it's possible to do a complete network-install of the OS onto a new server without ever attaching a keyboard or monitor.

Tyan S2510 (Thunder LE) (3, Informative)

shrike (1090) | about 13 years ago | (#2489155)

We've got several servers sporting a dual CPU Thunder LE mobo at work and they work marvelously, including serial console. Available with or without dual channel U160 SCSI. We're running FreeBSD on them, btw. The biggest downside is the price.

Isn't this obvious? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 13 years ago | (#2489988)

Why not just get hold of a Sun Blade 100 or a Netra X1 and slap RedHat for SPARC onto it?

You're a Sun guy - so if you need to buy a machine, and you decide you dont want Linux after a while you still have a use for the machine - OR - if you laready have one around simply use that, or buy another HDD, replace the one with Solaris on, and use that...

You'll get a capable machine for less than $1000 that fits all of your criteria, and you also get to maintain your brand loyalty :)

Re:Isn't this obvious? (2)

stilwebm (129567) | about 13 years ago | (#2494894)

Probably for two reasons - one the Suns are pretty expensive, and he is probably looking for commodity hardware. Also, RedHat stopped supporting SPARC with the 6.2 release. I like the 6.2 release on SPARC, but there are more current distros supporting SPARC that will be easier to update.

Re:Isn't this obvious? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 13 years ago | (#2496252)

Suns are expensive? crap!

Other people are mentioning PC Weasel cards that cost $400 alone, add the cost of the other hardware then you've probably reached double the price of a blade 100 or nextra x-1.

This *IS* the obvious choice, the distro may not be the latest, but who cares? just get the latest kernel, compile, then update some packages - job done.

At the end of the day, if this guy uses PC hardware, and he does'nt think Linux is for him, he's got junk hardware on his hands, if he uses a SPARC to start with then he already has a use for that.

Serial BIOS is the hard part to find.. (3, Informative)

Faldgan (13738) | about 13 years ago | (#2490129)

I've use some boards that have it (Intel G440LX series) and it's great.
The problem is (of course) finding a board that has that feature. I'm afraid that most boards in the 'budget' range will not do this.

If you have a bunch of them at a colo, you can daisy-chain the serial ports, (So the console from A is going into B, the console from B is going into C, and so on until the console from X is going into A) The only way to totally lose a machine is to lose ALL of them.

You can't find it . . . (1)

pete-classic (75983) | about 13 years ago | (#2490191)

. . . because it isn't out there.

Someone else mentioned the weasel, it does exactly what you want, but they aren't cheap.

PC MBs aren't going to give you LOM or BIOS via serial.

Either get a second-hand Sun, or learn to live without this stuff (or fork out the $$ for the weasel).

Living without it isn't that bad. How often do you really need to mess with the BIOS? You can get arount boot options with "lilo -R [label]" (change the default boot image for the next boot only) and if it never comes up just pop in your boot floppy, get it up and try again. Worst case you have to schlep a monitor over to the system.

Welcome to the world of cheap hardware!


Re:You can't find it . . . (1)

legend (26856) | about 13 years ago | (#2490214)

Errr... I think we have found fround seperate motherboards so far, the Supermicro, the Intel ISP, some Dell Poweredges, and the TYAN. PC hardware _is_ cheap, but some motherboard manufacturers actually to put some usefull features into their products. (and _NO_, IDE "RAID" does not count)

Re:You can't find it . . . (2)

pete-classic (75983) | about 13 years ago | (#2490511)

Acutally, I used to be a Dell server support tech, so am am very familiar with the DRAC.

But we're talking beer budget, remember. Sure, you could buy a PowerEdge with a DRAC, or a high-end SuperO setup, but that isn't really on topic is it?

I mean, I know I said you can't find it. Like every infatic statemnet (including this one) it is fundamentally false. If you are going to point out "answers" to questions that don't meet the original premise of the question you have a never-ending task ahead of you. And if I try to preemtively point out every possible situation like this my posts would never end.

To summarize, I stand behind my statements within the given problem domain.

Anyway, if this guy really "needs" all these features I really think he is best off with a used Sun box.


How about just RAM,HD,2*ETH,ETH boot prom? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 13 years ago | (#2490603)

The idea is minimal hardware for a rack of single-card servers that gets loaded and admin'd from a central workstation with data store for loading everything. Admin via SSH, not a console. You'd use a serial console once for each card to talk to the BIOS to load passwords and digests for validating the boot image and SSH attempts.

If you boot from the ethernet, you wouldn't even need a hard drive. You could write specialized software or you could run e.g. BSD using a memory file system like on the boot floppies. You'd just have to build a boot image that would come up listening for an SSH connection. The boot prom could include an MD5 algorithm to calculate an MD5 digest of the booted image.

Seems like this could be cheap load distibution for serving static or cached pages, and likely you could do it with low-power ARM stuff. I think the pieces for this exist. Just wondering if anyone has made a nice package.

Ars Technica (1)

Metrowerk1 (532864) | about 13 years ago | (#2495206)

I would definitely recommend Ars Technica as a good source for hardware reviews and recommendations
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