Review of X7SPA-HF : Loving IPMI and KVM over LAN

I am building a silent and eco-friendly (also electricitybill-friendly) Linux powered RAID5 NAS.  And in order to choose the CPU I read about the different low power CPU solutions and two different ones come to mind: Intel Atom and Via Nano. My first choice was Via Nano since it features 64-bit support and the wonderful PadLock engine that would allow me to get good transfer rates with crypted drives, but unfortunately, I could not find any fanless Via Nano motherboard with 4 SATA ports.

So I looked through Intel Atom D510 dual core 64-bit solutions and I found some motherboards with the specs I wanted, but one of them stood out especially on the other because it was designed by Supermicro (a server and high-end workstation manufacturer) and it has two Gigabit adapters so I can also use the NAS as a nice router/firewall.

There was two models of this board. The  X7SPA-HF is the same that the X7SPA-H but featuring IPMI with KVM-over-LAN for only 20 bucks more. I never heard of the IPMI technology so I read a little about it and finally I decided to give it a try.

And I really can tell you that it is very cool. You can remotely via network see the status of each sensor (temperature, voltage..), you can reset and power on/off the computer, and also you can control your computer remotely with a VNC-like interface with the IPMIView utility that works very good. You can also access the IPMI server via web interface.

At this point you must be thinking that it is nothing new under the sun that I cant do with an expensive IP-KVM, but its not true. The really socking feature that made me say WoW! is that I can attach a drive via the network.  Yes, I can attach any ISO or floppy image to the virtual drive with IPMI, and the Supermicro motherboard will see the drive as it really was a physical drive. It will appear in the BIOS and the OS will detect it as a standard SATA drive and will boot from it or use it as the rest of drives. For the records: I have just installed Debian on it by attaching the ISO image to the virtual cdrom ;).

This feature is very useful. I can boot any ISO image without burning a CD/DVD or even without writing it to an USB stick. I simply download it on my laptop, attach it to the virtual cdrom/dvdrom with IPMIView and voila! Magically I have the cdrom in the Supermicro board. Also an image of a floppy can be uploaded and the motherboard will detect it as an USB floppy, this can be tricky for managing disasters.

How it works?

The IPMI lives in the BMC so its OS/CPU independent, even if your OS crashes and you get fatal kernel panic, IPMI will still work and you could connect to the machine remotely and reset it. This board has two Gigabit NICs, one is a standard Gigabit NIC and the other is the IPMI one.

The IPMI NIC has two MAC address, one of this MAC address is only accessible for the BMC and the other is only accessible by the CPU, so the host OS is unaware of the BMC MAC and it will only see his own MAC (the CPU one).  Then this NIC will have two IPs, the OS one and the IPMI one.

You can configure the IPMI network in the BIOS of the board to get it via DHCP or assign an static one. The first time that you power up the motherboard it will took near 2 minutes for the BMC to start up IPMI, that will not happen again if you reboot, or next time you power up as long as you don’t power cut the PSU because the IPMI code is kept running in the BMC also if the board is powered off. This is handy because it allows you to power up the board remotely via IPMI.

How secure is it?

For accessing the IPMI server you must know the password, and it supports three limited class privileged accounts (admin, operator and user). There can be various users at the same time connected to the IPMI Server and you can see who is connected at this moment and also a log is keept. Also it supports email notifications and  LDAP and RADIUS authentication. Also the traffic can be encrypted at hardware level using AES / SSL and you can upload a new SSL certificate. So I think its very secure, nevertheless is a good practice to put the IPMI IPs on a different network than the rest of your network and secure it with a firewall.

The BIOS of this board is also very complete and has a lot of options for tweaking parameters. Also includes a configurable watchdog that will automatically reset your computer if it is not responding.

So, if you are looking for a fanless eco-friendly and reliable Atom board for a home server, this one worths every penny. I am sure that you will love the IPMI KVM and the virtual disk/cdrom features. Here you have a short PPT slide show from Supermicro about IPMI.

Leave a comment ?


  1. Thanks for the review.
    Lately I was looking for a new board replacement with KVM and stumbled upon the same board you looked at.
    My only concerns are :
    1. IPMI seems to have a dedicated Lan connection, is it possible to use just one connection ?
    2. is connection with KVM remotely simple enough ? do I need to be a tech savi to connect to my remote machine ?

    would be glad to hear your opinion on this, as far as I’ve seen you’re the only one who reviewed this board

    • IPMI don’t has a dedicated connection, it works over the same wire connection than the motherboard. The Ethernet plug acts like a switch, you will have two MAC address (the IPMI one and the motherboard one) on the same ethernet connection. In the case of this specific motherboard only one of the 2 Ethernet connection available is switched with the IPMI NIC. And yes, its simple enough, just follow the manufacturer instructions and the motherboad manual.

  2. Thanks for the post. However, I was wondering… how did you get the “power on” feature to work? When I power off a machine using IPMI, I can no longer access it. Is there some jumper or something that has to be set so that IPMI does not shut off when the rest of the machine does?

    • On this motherboard works out of the box. Check your motherboard manual, try to use the manufacturer supplied software for IPMI and make sure that your PSU don’t cuts off the power supply when you turn off the computer, it must supply enough energy to keep working the BMC.

  3. Must admit that you are one of the best bloggers I ever saw.Thanks for posting this informative and useful article.

  4. it was very interesting to read
    I want to quote your post in my blog. It can?
    And you et an account on Twitter?

  5. Which OS do you use?

    I’using the X7SPA-HF with Ubuntu-10.04.1-LTS-server (32-bit PAE-kernel) and have a lot of problems with VGA and IPMI. The ‘Web ISO’-option doesn’t work (fields grayed out in JAVA client) and VGA-resolutions are weird. In default VESA-VBE-mode 0x101 (640×480) VGA-output on external monitor is OK, but IPMI shows 672×413 pixel – with missing lower lines (can’t see what I’m typing or results). When using other VESA-VBE-modes (e.g. 1024×768) the IPMI-resolution is OK and the external monitor shows correct resolution information, but the screen is zoomed too much horizontally and pixel-columns on the right and left are missing. :-(

    • Hello,

      I don’t have an X server installed as I use it as NAS server and router for my home network. Perhaps you can try to set-up an vnc-server and try to connect using an standard vnc client. I Think that the IPMI KVM best suited to resolve emergencies than for continuous use.

    • Hello. I have just updated the bios and the firmware for the BMC with latest one available at supermicro site and I noticed that the quality of the video streamming is much better and now I can see graphics smoother in the KVM. Try it, perhaps it will solve your problems.

  6. When you reboot with this board do you see the screen on the computer as you are rebooting? I am thinking of using Self Encrypting drives which require that I enter the code of the drives at boot up. So to do this remotely I need a KVM over IP solution.

  7. Hi

    In some websites, it says the raid only works in windows.
    Have you experianced that?

    I am about to use this board with ubuntu, do you know of any problems using ubuntu instead of Debian?

  8. I am also interested in the raid5 feature within a debian system. Any Complications? Any additional packages involved?


    • It should work out of the box on all Linux distributions. In Debian you need to checkout the packages dmraid and mdadm… just google for manuals on how to configure a raid5 on Linux… lot of help out there. Regards!

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