Motherboards for Diskless Folding

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Motherboards for Diskless Folding

Postposted on Sun Jan 09, 2005 2:30 pm

Motherboards for Diskless Folding

A few people on the TR Folding@home team are into "diskless folding". This allows additional compute power to be brought online with minimal investment in additional hardware and space. Suitable older motherboards can often be found quite inexpensively as clearance items, or as used/refurb boards.

A detailed description of how to set up diskless folding systems is beyond the scope of this post, and will be covered in a separate article. The purpose of this post is to document the suitability of various motherboards for diskless folding use.

The ideal motherboard for diskless folding has integrated video, integrated LAN, and an onboard network boot ROM; this allows the node to boot <a href="http://www.ltsp.org">LTSP</a> with no additional hardware beyond a CPU and stick of RAM. Micro-ATX form factor is also helpful if you are interested in setting up a high-density caseless farm (e.g. mounting the boards in milk crates or something similar).

If there is a board which you think should be included, send me the information via PM or e-mail and I will add it to the list.

Additional notes are at the bottom of the list.

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Board: DFI AM-33EL
Type: Socket A
Max FSB: 266MHz
RAM type & max speed: SDRAM (PC-133)
Form factor: Micro-ATX
Additional notes: 1
Comments: Have 2 of these; trouble-free in over a year of continuous operation.

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Board: DFI KM400-MLV
Type: Socket A
Max FSB: 333MHz
RAM type & max speed: DDR-333 (PC-2700)
Form factor: Micro-ATX
Additional notes: 2
Comments: There is also a MK400A-MLV version -- which I did not test -- which supports 400MHz FSB and DDR-400 RAM. Overall this board is a disappointment as a diskless folder. The lack of an onboard boot ROM for the integrated NIC is annoying (strike 1); the fact that you can't reduce the shared video RAM below 16MB means you need more than 256MB of RAM to accept large WUs (strike 2); and the VCore regulators make an intermittent whining sound when the CPU is under heavy load (strike 3). I would avoid this board for diskless folding.

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Board: FIC AM-37
Type: Socket A
Max FSB: 266MHz
RAM type & max speed: DDR-266 (PC-2100)
Form factor: Micro-ATX
Additional notes: 1
Comments: Have one of these; has been trouble-free in over a year of continuous operation.

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Board: MSI KM2M Combo-L
Type: Socket A
Max FSB: 266MHz
RAM type & max speed: SDRAM (PC-133) -or- DDR-266 (PC-2100)
Form factor: Micro-ATX
Additional notes: 1, 3
Comments: Have 2 of these; trouble-free in over a year of continuous operation. The dual SDRAM/DDR capability gives you some flexibility in using up any old RAM you may have laying around, and the large passive heatsinks on the voltage regulators may help with stability in cramped quarters (like my crate farm).

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Board: DFI K8M800-MLVF
Type: Socket 754
Max FSB: 800MHz HT
RAM type & max speed: DDR-400 (PC-3200)
Form factor: Micro-ATX
Additional notes: none
Comments: Bringing this node up couldn't have been smoother. POSTed successfully the first time, and passed Memtest86. Added it to the config on my LTSP server, and LTSP came up on the first attempt. Total time from taking the mobo out of the box to starting its first WU: under an hour, including the time to run Memtest86! My only minor gripe is that you can't reduce the shared RAM below 16MB (so no large WUs unless you install more than 256MB of RAM).
Additional comments (Sep '05): Just discovered that this board does not play nice with the "soft reboot" feature of LTSP 4.1.1; for some reason, network boot does not work right unless you physically power cycle the board.
Even more additional comments (Oct '05): Board does not recognize Palermo core Sempron64 chips (will not POST), even with latest BIOS. Have opened an issue with DFI tech support, requesting that they update their BIOS to fix Sempron64 recognition.
Update (Dec '05): Turns out the board is compatible with the Sempron64 after all. But for some reason, it won't POST when a 90nm Sempron64 is used in combination with certain PSUs. I have no idea WTF is up with that; it does not exhibit this issue when used with older 130nm Athlon64 CPUs (which actually use more power).

--------------------

Board: MSI K8MM-V
Type: Socket 754
Max FSB: 800MHz HT
RAM type & max speed: DDR-400 (PC-3200)
Form factor: Micro-ATX
Additional notes: none
Comments: Looks decent. Had to flash to BIOS v1.3 for proper Sempron64 recognition. Temperature controlled CPU fan header. Heatsinks on the VCore regulators.

--------------------

Additional Notes

1. Shared video RAM can be reduced to 8MB, allowing the system to accept large WUs even if only 256MB of RAM is installed.

2. No on-board network boot ROM. Diskless (no hard drive) operation is still possible via the onboard NIC, but requires at least a CD-ROM or floppy drive to provide a network bootloader.

3. No link/activity LEDs for onboard NIC.
Last edited by just brew it! on Thu Mar 29, 2007 11:58 pm, edited 5 times in total.
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Postposted on Tue Jan 11, 2005 8:00 am

Have three mATX additions to that list:

Shuttle MN31L.
- Nvidia nForce2+MCP Socket A. (cheap version no bells & whistles).
- Socket A. Supports Athlon-XP & Sempron. Athlon XP-M NOT supported - boots at 600 and 800Mhz.
- Integrated video can go down up to 8Megs. Dual video capable (2 DB15 connectors).
- Integrated LAN (Realtek PHY) with boot ROM. Boots flawless on my farm. Leds for active link and Rx/Tx.
- Discrete overclocking capabilities, and memory tunning options.

Biostar MN400-CG
Basically the same as the Shuttle but supports Athlon XP-M and better overclocking options. Can go down up to 8Megs of RAM. Only one video out.

Gigabyte GA-8I915-MF
- mATX form factor.
- LGA 775 socket. Tested with Prescott 3.2 E0.
- Intel 915G chipset. Integrated video can go down up to 8Mb.
- 4 x DDR DIMM sockets (PC2700 333Mhz & PC3200 400Mhz).
- 1 PCIe 16x, 2 PCI 32/33Mhz, 1PCIe 1x
- 1 PATA IDE, 4 SATA ports, 8 USB 1.1/2.0, Firewire
- Gigabit LAN (Realtek) attached to PCIe bus. 2 leds (Active & Rx/Tx).

All three works flawless on Linux and boot without problems. LGA 775 board is very very new and I'm jjust testing it for assembling on my parents computer). BIOS has a hidden menu you can make it appear with Ctrl+F1 to help tweak more uncommon parameters.
Best regards,
Alfonso

- Folding for team 3074. Because 2cpu is better than one.
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Postposted on Mon Feb 14, 2005 6:27 pm

Any suggestions for a cheap but-good-enough S754 board for folding?
I noticed in the AMD forum here on TR that the S754 3400+ is an outrageously cheap $195 for a 2.4Ghz chip!

Perhaps I should ask the question what the best bang-per-buck Athlon64 system is for folding though.. I don't mind building a new A64 box for a home server + background folder, but there's no need to be enthusiast-level. I suspect the best bang/buck is S754 though, look how the S754 3400+ holds its own against the 939 chips..
http://www.anandtech.com/cpuchipsets/sh ... i=2249&p=6

Is there any nice site/summary which shows benchmark performance of different chips for folding?
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Postposted on Fri Mar 18, 2005 11:57 am

spworley wrote:Any suggestions for a cheap but-good-enough S754 board for folding?

Just added one to the list (see above)!
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Postposted on Thu Apr 21, 2005 5:37 am

Board: Asrock K7S41-GX
Type: Socket A
Max FSB: 333MHz
RAM type & max speed: DDR-333
Form factor: Micro-ATX
Additional notes: has built in PXE2.0 bootrom so no FDD required. This is also a VERY cheap mobo.
Comments: LTSP came up nice and easy. The only problem I had is that out of 20 MOBOs at least one had a mac address of ff:ff:ff:ff:ff:ff :o and wouldn't work :evil:

Also and compaq ENL machines or mobos should work (all have built in intel nics with bootroms)
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Postposted on Thu Apr 21, 2005 5:48 am

a mac of FF:FF:FF:FF:FF:FF usually means the NIC's EPROM got corrupted, this is sometimes fixable by the equivalent of a BIOS flash, but maybe not for cheapy internal NICs. Of course it could just be knacked lol
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Postposted on Wed Mar 15, 2006 7:10 pm

Just got an Asus A7N266-VM working discless.
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