Supermicro's Super Quiet Technology
Posted on: 01/27/2005 06:00 AM

Thus far we've talked about the fan speed control modes and the actual hardware features that Supermicro has turned to in order to provide a quiet and cool workstation. There's one additional component that really helps make this solution work, and that's Demand-Based Switching.

Demand-Based Switching (DBS) is another power management feature that Intel has come up with. Its goals are to reduce core frequency and voltage until the horsepower is actually required. The processor frequency will be reduced to a minimum of 2.8GHz until the demands of an application or service force the processor back to its default clockspeed, which in my case was 3.6GHz. It's important to note that this feature is only available on 3.4 and 3.6GHz Xeons (D0 stepping).

The questions that came to my mind were 1) Who sets this magical threshold upon which my processor reverts to its original clockspeed and 2) What level of support is required for this to actually work? What I mean by the second question is do the applications themselves have to be aware of DBS. If that was the case, its value would be diminished (at least in the short-term). The answer to the first question is apparently each individual motherboard manufacturer. They get to set these conditions in the ACPI (Advanced Configuration and Power Interface) table. I was relieved once I discovered the answer to my second question. Applications themselves do not have to be DBS-aware. As long as DBS is supported in the BIOS and the operating system, the feature will work properly. Here's a chart that Supermicro published on their website to break down how DBS works in their systems.

As you can see, as CPU load increases the fan speeds in the system will increase accordingly. The negative off-shoot of that is of course added noise. It's a trade-off. Fortunately the majority of any user's time on a system is generally spent in non-processor intensive applications like an email client, a web browser or some sort of word processing suite. It's not until that user starts churning away in a processor-intensive app like CAD or 3DSMax that CPU utilization will increase to the point where fan speeds also increase.

I decided to put it to the test. After the 7044A-82 POSTs, the configuration is displayed prior to the booting of the operating system. This is typical of most systems, of course. If you look at the processor speed in this chart it says 3.6GHz and under that, it lists 2.8GHz. The feature is enabled in the BIOS, as the above screenshot clearly shows. So apparently it's up and running. To test it's effectiveness, I quickly installed Sisoft Sandra and launched the CPU benchmark. If it was true to form, the clock speed should have increased to 3.6GHz and it's score should be very comparable with the 2x 3.6GHz Xeon score in Sandra's database. What was the result? The scores were virtually identical. Either DBS actually works, or it's an excellent trick on Intel's part. I'd tend to lean towards the former.


When I sit back and start to think about Super Quiet and this powerful line of workstations from Supermicro, I try to imagine the perfect setting for such a system. It didn't take me very long, because we have the perfect case group of users at my work place. Working for the Ministry of Transportation, we have a large contingent of Engineers. These Engineers run processor-intensive design applications all the time, so their hardware requirements are quite clear. That being said, another requirement would be a relatively quiet work area to think and discuss projects amongst one another. If everyone in that section was running the stereo-typical high-end workstation (top-end air cooling, SCSI disks), it would end up sounding more like a datacenter than an office. While that environment might make people like you and me comfortable, the regular computer user can be quite distracted by such noise. This is the market that Supermicro is targetting with its Super Quiet technology.

I'm really impressed with the SuperWorkstation 7044A-82. When you consider the hardware that's installed inside of this beast, you'll be amazed at how quiet the system can run. The fan speed control mode that I settled on was "4-pin Quiet Workstation". I really couldn't discern much (if any) of a difference between that and "4-pin Super Quiet Workstation" therefore I decided to take the slight increase in fan speed.

In my home-office, the 7044A-82 sits beside my Dell PowerEdge 600SC. The 600SC has three internal fans: one on the heatsink, one intake in the front and a 120mm output at the rear. It is easily twice as loud as the 7044A-82 at the fan speed control mode that I selected. Furthermore... I don't even find the PowerEdge 600SC to be that loud. Of course, my ears have probably just adjusted over time as I've spent thousands of hours dealing with high-end hardware at home and in datacenters at work.

How do I feel about Super Quiet? I think it's a fantastic feature that has been added to an already solid all-around product. Supermicro has basically taken a delicious chocolate cake and added an extra layer of rich and creamy chocolate icing.

If you or your business is in the market for a mid to high-end workstation, I highly recommend the SuperWorkstation 7044A-82.

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