Computer Audiophile Pocket Server C.A.P.S. v4 Pipeline
CAPS v4 Pipeline is more traditional than CAPS Cortes because it’s designed to connect directly to one’s audio system. The server has space to add in cards such as USB, AES/EBU, or S/PDIF. In addition to cards, the server has plenty of room for power products and large desktop hard drives. Pipeline offers plenty of room and power for user experimentation as opposed to the mini servers of the caps v3 ilk. I’ve been using the server in a 100% silent configuration with a linear power supply and solid state hard drive with great success. I can’t wait to see what members of the CA Community do to this server to take it beyond my standard configuration and push it to the max with tips, tricks, and tweaks.[PRBREAK][/PRBREAK]
The hardware used for the Pipeline design was selected because of the great response to the powerful CAPS v3 Zuma server and because my testing proved this new hardware was not only as good as Zuma but offered much more versatility and longevity. I believe this server has awesome potential in its current form and all the directions users will take the design.
I selected the Supermicro X10SLH-F motherboard ($215) mainly because of its seven year life-span, support for E3-1200 v3 family of Xeon processors and 1600MHz ECC memory, extra PCIe slots, and support for IPMI 2.0 with KVM. While designing the server I talked to one person who asked why even update the Zuma server if I don’t have any revolutionary changes. I explained my big reasons for the update and really stressed the fact that this motherboard will be available and supported for seven years. I love the fact this board has such long term support, especially because keeping up with end of life components is a pain in my neck once the CAPS servers are published. It’s also a pain in the neck for all the members of the CA Community who want to purchase or build a sever for which they can’t obtain new parts.
The X10SLH-F’s support for Xeon processors was important to me because Pipeline is essentially a server for data, not multimedia. The server doesn’t need integrated video form an i7 series processor. Users should be aware that the x16 PCIe slot on this motherboard only supports x8 speeds, thus adding a video card if needed may be tricky. The Xeon processor selected, E3-1241 v3 (BX80646E31241V3) ($273), supports error correction and features quad core 3.5 GHz performance with a TDP of only 80 watts. Some Xeon processors “feature” a TDP of nearly double that of the E3-1241 v3. The low-ish TDP of 80 watts is required to use the fanless case with heatipes selected for this server.
Identical to CAPS Cortes, both this CPU and this motherboard support ECC or error correcting code memory. This type of RAM detects and corrects common types of data corruption. Pipeline features 16GB of Crucial (2 x 8GB) 240-Pin DDR3 SDRAM ECC Unbuffered DDR3 1600 (PC3 12800) Server Memory (CT2KIT102472BD160B) ($179) Random Access Memory (RAM). The SuperMicro X10SL7-F board supports up through 32GB of RAM should one wish to increase from the specified 16GB.
The X10SLH-F motherboard supports six SATA III drives and even a SATA DOM power connector. During my testing I used one Samsung 850 Pro SSD ($130) with SOtM SATA power filter ($70) and pulled music from my Cortes NAS replacement server. The reason I mention the fact that this server supports six drives, even though I only use a single drive, is because this allows additional SSD or spinning hard drives to be connected to the server internally without using the USB bus. In the past I’ve been wary of using spinning hard drives, but several other members of the CA Community have used them with great success (and less neurosis). Just as in CAPS Cortes, I recommend 6TB Seagate drives for users seeking to contain all their storage inside the Pipeline chassis. With six SATA drive ports it’s also possible to use enough SSDs to contain a user’s library given that many users, according to the CA drive space survey, have less than several Terabytes of music to store.
Expansion via PCIe is also very easy with the X10SLH-F motherboard. Pipeline features 1x PCI-E 3.0 x8 (in x16), 1x PCI-E 3.0 x8, and 1x PCI-E 2.0 x4 (in x8) slot. In the single PCIe 2.0 slot I have the SOtM tX-PCIexp card ($350) for increased USB audio performance over the standard built-in USB ports. Powering this card I also recommend the HDPlex Power Supply, described below, because it’s critical to supply the cleanest power signal possible. Given the server’s direct connection to a DAC or other audio component, a dirty power signal will have negative effects on audio performance unless the audio component used features 100% isolation from the server (I.e. Are QB-9 DSD). The number of slots in the Pipeline server also allow for AES/EBU cards from companies such as Lynx or RME and for S/PDIF cards from companies such as ASUS and ESi. I searched for a way to add Thunderbolt to this server through a PCIe card, but was unable to find a card that didn’t require an on-board Thunderbolt header on the motherboard. Users that aren’t afraid of wireless interference (RFI) can use both an SOtM tX-PCIexp and an ASUS PCE-AC68 802.11ac card connect to the motherboard at the same time.
Another nice feature of this server motherboard is the USB 3.0 capability. I say this not for audio playback but for backup purposes. Connecting a large USB 3.0 drive to Pipeline enables users to backup a music library and take the external drive off-site for safer storage (presumably).
The last piece of the X10SLH-F motherboard that I absolutely love is the integrated Intelligent Platform Management Interface (IPMI) 2.0 with KVM and dedicated LAN port. This interface enables the user to connect to the server via web browser and access it as if the user was physically at the server with a keyboard, monitor, and mouse. The IPMI even enables the user to connect to the server when the power is off, get into the BIOS, and restart the server if the operating system hangs. It’s a great feature for the Pipeline server because this server is likely to sit in an audio rack without any monitor attached.
Case options for the Pipeline server were very limited because I wanted the server to look like an A/V component. One of the only cases that fits the size and versatility requirements is the Streacom FC10 ($330). This is a “full” size chassis without a single fan. In order to run the server fanless users must purchase the Streacom ST-HT4 CPU Cooler Riser ($30) and Streacom ST-LH4 Pipes ($25) that extend further out over the motherboard than the included heat pipes. Working on a server in this case, compared to the small CAPS cases, is akin to working on an old American automobile when there was enough room under the hood for a person to stand next to the engine.
The power supply I’m using for the CAPS v4 Pipeline server is an HDPlex Linear Power Supply ($358) in combination with the HDPlex 250W Internal DC-ATX PSU ($85). Once the power hits the motherboard there isn’t much any of us can do to clean it up. However, using a linear supply for the main power and the USB card power we can effectively create a barrier of clean power around the server. The linear supply won’t feed the typical switching noise back into the power line and on to the audio components and the same linear supply feeding the USB card will make sure the direct connection to the audio system is as clean as possible. In other words, it’s like a moat of clean power surrounding the dirty PC power.
The HDPlex linear supply features a 100VA R-Core transformer and ELNA audio capacitors with extremely low ripple noise of less than 3mv. This PSU also features four individual outputs on the back for 5v, 9v, 12v, and 19v power needs. I am using both the 9v for the SOtM card and the 19v for the server main power connection. This main power connection is the HDPlex 250W DC-ATX PSU. I was very happy to find this PSU because it features all the connections needed for the fairly large server sized motherboard (Supermicro X10SLH-F). Finding another DC to ATX converter than can support this board is nearly impossible.
Like all CAPS v4 computers, Pipeline runs on Windows 8.1 Professional 64-bit. I use the professional version because I connect to the server recently with Windows’ built-in Remote Desktop capability. It works great and doesn’t require an additional third party application for remote control of the actual server. The media management and playback application I use most often on Pipeline is JRiver Media Center because of its all encompassing capabilities and its great integration with JRemote for iOS.
This combination of hardware and software makes Pipeline endlessly flexible. As always, my component selections aren’t the only selections that will make a successful server. Members of the CA Community are encouraged to use Pipeline as a platform from which to experiment. Those readers seeking a complete solution should be pretty happy with Pipeline just as it’s designed. I encourage members of the community to post questions, concerns, and comments below.
JRMark Score -
=== Running Benchmarks (please do not interrupt) ===
Running 'Math' benchmark...
Single-threaded integer math... 3.851 seconds
Single-threaded floating point math... 2.365 seconds
Multi-threaded integer math... 1.165 seconds
Multi-threaded mixed math... 0.805 seconds
Running 'Image' benchmark...
Image creation / destruction... 0.301 seconds
Flood filling... 0.556 seconds
Direct copying... 0.847 seconds
Small renders... 1.047 seconds
Bilinear rendering... 0.817 seconds
Bicubic rendering... 0.469 seconds
Running 'Database' benchmark...
Create database... 0.177 seconds
Populate database... 1.116 seconds
Save database... 0.387 seconds
Reload database... 0.097 seconds
Search database... 0.808 seconds
Sort database... 0.743 seconds
Group database... 0.808 seconds
JRMark (version 20.0.44): 4323
A Note About Sponsorship
Before going further I'd like to thank JRiver for sponsoring the entire CAPS v4 project. Researching and purchasing all the parts for CAPS servers takes time and money. In the past I spent over $10,000 just trying different motherboards, memory, SSDs, cases, etc… This time around I thought it would be prudent and a win-win for everybody if I obtained sponsorship for CAPS v4. I sought sponsorship from a handful of companies and before the "ink" on the email was dry JRiver stepped up to sponsor the whole project. This sponsorship enabled me to take the CAPS project further in a shorter period of time than I would have been able to on my own. The bottom line is that members of the CA Community benefitted from this sponsorship. Without this benefit to the entire Community I wouldn't have sought sponsorship. Period. Also, JRiver had no input on the design of the servers' hardware or software. Prior to contacting JRiver I had already decided what playback applications would be used for the CAPS v4 project. I also didn't let JRiver know this software decision, thus avoiding any semblance of impropriety. Again, thanks to JRiver for supporting CAPS v4 and the CA Community.
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Motherboard: Supermicro X10SLH-F
Case: Streacom FC10
Music App: JRiver Media Center
USB Card: SOtM tX-PCIexp
SATA Filter: SOtM SATA power filter
Edited by The Computer Audiophile0