Review of the ASRock Rack C 246M WS motherboard for a budget workstation

Recently, we listed 5 differences between workstations and a regular PC, and with regard to the Socket 1151 platform, all these differences are not relevant, so you can not read the article on the link, but rather look at our review of the server motherboard E3C242D4U2-2T from the company ASRock Rack, created for budget servers. Almost all of the same unique Socket 1151 processor Coffee Lake-S allows in all seriousness on the same platform to build as a 2-core Pentium Gold terminals on Linux with virtually no load, but with ECC memory (for example, for the operator of X-Ray scanner or other medical equipment with a high level EMI Environment), and 8-core, universal machines based on Xeon, which it is possible to work with graphics, and scientific research.


Both in the first and in the second case, you have something that is sold under the loud name “workstation”, more expensive than the usual “automated workplace”, but on the same hardware as in desktop PCs. In addition to ECC memory and motherboard. With memory, everything is clear, but there are not so many budget motherboards for workstations, and even the MicroATX format. ASRock Rack C 246 MWS is one of them.

Ports and connectors on the back panel

From the point of view of connections, the Board in question does not stand out: well, the presence of RS232 can still be understood somehow (in case you need to program some devices), and why waste space on the VGA port, I do not even know. There are HDMI and DVI ports for the video core built into the processor, no one denies their favor, but the remaining space would be better given for USB 3.1 Gen2, which there are only 4 pieces. 2 more USB 2.0 ports and a pair of USB 3.0 ports can be output to the front panel of the case.

Three 3.5 mm audio jacks for 6-channel audio should be considered, except for connecting a Skype headset. The audio path is more for show here, and you will not enjoy the audio quality, and even more so you will not work with the sound: there are no additional amplifiers, no separate shielding of audio circuits as in gaming boards. The Realtek ALC892 codec used here is an outdated codec with a fairly high noise level.

The network subsystem is represented by two Intel controllers: i219, built-in chipset and additional i210. These network adapters only support basic TSO/LSO offloading and up to 4 RSS feeds (which is more than reasonable on the LGA1151 platform).

Storage Subsystem

Fans of large file archives will appreciate the motherboard with 8 SATA-600 ports and one M. 2 that supports NVME and SATA connection. For some reason, from the server version of the motherboard, a SATA-DOM port with bus power was migrated here, which is usually used to load lightweight server OSS like VMWare ESXi, for which this Board is not intended. But, as they say, it does not ask to eat, and moreover-shares the SATA line with the M. 2 port, and when installing the SATA module in this port, it will not work.

Therefore, we recommend installing NVME drives for the operating system and cache on the Board, and proudly clogging SATA ports with SSD drives and hard drives. Software RAID versions 0, 1, 5, and 10 are supported for combining them into arrays.

Expansion slots:

The Intel coffee Lace-S platform supports only PCI 3.0, and this is, frankly, the weak side of the motherboard in question. In total, there are three slots on the Board in different constructs, from top to bottom it is:

PCI slot

  • Slot7: PCIE-1x from the South bridge
  • Slot6: PCIE-16x from the CPU (shares the bandwidth by 8x/8x with the Slot4 slot)
  • Slot4: PCIE-8x from the CPU (sharess the bandwidth by 8x/8x with the Slot6 slot)

It is nice that using the NVME module in M. 2 slots does not affect the channel width of the PCI slots.

In the list of compatible processors there are models with TDP up to 95 W, but of course the majority of options are in the range of 40-50 W, so an 8-phase VRM scheme will be enough. A common 2-phase VRM is used to power the memory slots.

Solid-state capacitors are used for filtration, which, although it looks like an outdated technology, has high reliability and a service life of about 15 years.

By tradition, ASRock Rack has power sockets for ATX cables in the upper part of the motherboard, so it is better to choose the case with a small margin in height, otherwise you will be tormented to disconnect the cables.

BIOS and IPMI

The Board, designed for workstations, does not need remote management, although the manufacturer thought otherwise in the top 2-processor ASRock Rack EP2C621D12. However, much more useful from my point of view, the diagnosis of DR.Debug with digital output of the POST status is present here near the VGA port. There is also a built-in speaker.

One of the interesting features of the traditional BIOS is the quick flash option, which you can use to update the motherboard firmware without creating a bootable flash drive, but simply writing a file with an update to it.

Conclusions

When ordering the motherboard in question through a tender, pay attention to the configuration of PCI Express and M. 2 slots, as well as SATA ports, to exclude the delivery of any third-party solutions. If you build workstations on a stream, then in principle, ASRock Rack C 246 MS is an unpretentious “workhorse” from a real server breed. A large number of fan slots, memory location along the airflow, and ECC support are the main advantages of this solution.

Given the affordable price and the fact that the Board does not need additional cooling, we recommend installing it in compact workstations for delivery to state and municipal institutions.