Configuring the System
There are three ways to get the system up and running and into the BIOS, and the main way people get into the BIOS to configure it is by using the main GPU to output to their monitor. That will not work here in most cases because the default VGA device is the onboard VGA port, so if you have a VGA monitor then you should be fine. If you do not, there are two ways to get into the BIOS. The first is to use IPMI, which is a way to remote into the system from another PC on your network, and the second is to use the onboard jumper to disable the VGA port (by default it is enabled). We will go over how to use IPMI.
You access the workstation through a web-browser. However, you probably don't know the IP address of the PC. First thing we did was use another PC that is plugged in and near our PC, and run "ipconfig" to get the IP address of our PC/cable. Then we connected that PC to WIFI and unplugged its LAN cable. Next thing to do is take that cable and make sure you are plugged into the middle black LAN port on the rear IO, that goes to the baseboard management controller that is used for IPMI specifically.
You can turn the system on, if you hear a few millisecond beeps and then one loud one, then that means the system has passed POST successfully. From our second computer we typed in one IP address one more than that of our other PC, so our other PC was 10.1.10.13, and we tried 10.1.10.14 and it worked perfectly. There are other ways to scanning for IP addresses on your network if that doesn't work. Login is ADMIN and password is ADMIN (case sensitive) by default.
We can see here that we see a BIOS hang screen, so we know our build is successful. You can also power up and down the system from here. We go over to our virtual KVM, and use the keyboard to restart and enter the BIOS by pressing "delete". Then we can proceed to change our default VGA output.
The IPMI interface also allows you to watch the system and make sure it is healthy. It also has very many configuration options. Not all motherboards support IPMI, it's a somewhat costly addition since it's like its own mini computer system and requires a BMC microcontroller, DRAM, a BIOS chip, and in this case a dedicated LAN controller.
The BIOS is pretty basic looking, but filled with options. Here we can see all of our DDR4 is being detected.
The first thing we did was change VGA priority. If you are going to do NVMe RAID you will need to change the M.2 OPROM's to UEFI. Here we can also see all of our CPU features.
The last thing we wanted to do was to change our boot options. These days you can just use UEFI booting, but by tradition legacy is first. We recommend using UEFI. After this part you just press "F4" to save and exit, and then you can install whatever OS you want, from Linux to Windows, you might even try and make a Hackintosh if you wanted to as well, but we make zero promises to whether or not it will work.
It's easy to use cars as analogies for computers mainly because they are both machines, but also because their markets are so varied and there is a vast selection of models and options. Would you spend double on a car that is not only significantly slower, but can also do less, can only be serviced at official locations, and has fewer features? Some people might say yes if we were comparing a $20K car to a $40K car, but let us shift this conversation to the high-end, where the dynamic of showing off changes. We could say that the faster and more equipped car costs $100K while the more expensive, slower car costs $200K, so it is not as if you are buying a Bugatti, but both are head turners. In this case, we can shift the conversation to the high-end range since we are talking state of the art workstations with high core-count Xeon-W processors.
The machine we built could be built with little difference from our build at less than half of the cost of the entry-level Mac Pro that will cost $6K. If you are worried about aesthetics, there are countless numbers of case designs, it is not hard to find a nice brushed aluminum case with different types of front facing vents, and who knows, maybe one designer was inspired while grating cheese. If you are thinking of a Hackintosh machine, you should know this motherboard does have the i210-AT LAN controller which is supposed to be compatible and the Realtek ALC888S codec, but we make no promises. In the end, our machine uses a faster Xeon with 50% more cores, 50% more DRAM, uses 50% more memory channels, an SSD that is 100% bigger, and costs 50% less. We also are using one of the best PSUs on the market as well as a liquid cooler.
Some people might make the argument that Apple's design quality is better or that Apple does not cut corners when it comes to their desktops, but the truth is there is not much wiggle room to cut corners with high-end workstations. Someone might argue that the RAM is better and that the Mac Pro is using registered ECC DIMMs while most people would just toss in some unregistered DIMMs, but that could not be true on this platform as RDIMMs are required for all Xeon-W CPUs. Someone might argue that the Mac Pro has more room for expansion, but in this case our motherboard uses the PEX8747 to offer many expansion slots as well. The motherboard also features the latest technology such as a 10Gbit NIC and USB 3.1 10Gb/s. Someone might argue that the cache size is larger on Apple's website, so maybe someone might think that Apple is using different CPUs.
The truth is if you look close enough you will see Apple is adding up L2+L3 cache to reach those numbers; Intel doesn't even do that. Then someone might say that the Mac Pro uses a more powerful cooler that runs quieter, but that's an easy argument to deflect as well. Apple specifies that their cooler than handle 300W, the water cooler we used is designed to handle double that, and in testing the $91 Noctua NH-U12S DX-3647 alternative handled a 28-core W-3175X at 300W, and its fans are rated for 22dB, which is just above a whisper. We also used best in class storage with the latest NVMe technology and one of the best GPUs money can buy.
In the end if you can put together a computer, then you can do at least 50% better than Apple for 50% less, and these days putting together a computer is like building Legos as everything fits only one way and if you do get stuck the internet 99.99% of the time has your answer. Some people worry about compatibility, but with workstations and system at this price range, options are much more limited on the open market so things tend to become a bit more compatible in the workstation ecosystem. If you are worried though, Supermicro has compatibility lists for RAM, HDDs, SSDs, M.2 drives, operating systems, and even add-in cards (AOC) specifically for this motherboard.
Still, we understand there are people out there who will pay a $3K tax to avoid building a PC or people who are die-hard Apple fans. For those people, the 2019 Mac Pro might be a good sensible buy, and they might even consider pairing it with Apple's new Pro Display XDR monitor that costs $5K and does not come with its $1K stand or $200 VESA mounting bracket. At the high-end of the market sometimes prices are inflated and people still buy the product because there is nothing else out there, but this time it's just too much for too little.
It's 2019, would you really spend $6K on an 8-core machine, with a 256GB SSD, a DRAM configuration that doesn't take full advantage of the memory controller, and a somewhat entry-level graphics card? If you would not then hopefully this guide will help you build your high-end workstation.
Last updated: Oct 22, 2019 at 06:11 am CDT