We aim to provide powerful and cost effective IA platforms to businesses and enterprises with our complete line of Server and Workstation solutions. - Paul Shay President of RIOWORKS

One of the biggest problems small but growing internet businesses face is the cost of scaling their server backends.   The price of an entry level server will set any company back at least $2,000 however at that price, your internet business won't be able to grow much longer. 

With the latest trend in the desktop market being a move to lower cost systems, it isn't a surprise to see indications of the same trend in the high end workstation/server market.  More and more motherboard manufacturers are producing low cost workstation/server products for up and coming internet businesses.  What was once only reserved for the deepest of pockets is now made available to the common e-business, but at what loss of quality do these low cost products come? 

One company, RIOWORKS is determined to provide businesses with the most cost effective workstation/server solutions possible with their latest in dual processor mainboards.  How does the RIOWORKS PDB-S stack up to the Supermicro/Tyan dominated competition?  Let's find out as AnandTech takes a look at the first of a series of high end motherboards for a low cost market.

AnandTech Report Card Rating

Motherboard Specifications

CPU Interface Dual Slot-1
Chipset Intel 440BX
On-Board Video N/A
L2 Cache N/A (on-chip)
Form Factor Extended ATX
Bus Speeds 66 / 75 / 83
100 / 103 / 112 / 133
Clock Multipliers 1.5x - 8.0x
Voltages Supported 2.0v/2.8v (Auto Detect)
Memory Slots 4 168pin DIMM Slots
Expansion Slots 1 AGP Slot
0 AMR Slot
5 PCI Slots (3 Full Length)
2 ISA Slots (1 Full Length)

The Good

The RIOWORKS PDB-S is highly reminiscent of the Epox BXB dual Pentium II motherboard AnandTech took a look at a while back.  The 5/2/1 expansion slot configuration carried over from the desktop mainboard market found its way into the workstation/server world, and is present on the PDB-S.   Of the 5 available PCI slots, only 3 are capable of accepting full length cards, and obvious oversight on the part of RIOWORKS.  The last PCI slot is unable to accept a full length card due to the presence of front panel LED connector block, and the middle PCI slot is unable to accept a full length card due to the placement of the Ultra2 SCSI connector.

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Of the two present ISA slots, only the first slot from the left (the non-shared slot) is capable of accepting full length cards as the remaining slot is left obstructed by the 50-pin legacy SCSI connector on the board.  RIOWORKS' homepage indicates that the PDB-S is available in a version without the on-board Adaptec 7980AB SCSI controller, which should allow for both another ISA slot and another PCI slot capable of accepting full length cards.  While support for full length cards in the desktop market isn't the primary concern, once you move to the high end workstation/server market you will find that most peripherals including RAID controllers, and high end graphics cards usually come in full length cards only.  The AGP slot on the board is also capable of accepting a full length card.

As briefly alluded to, the PDB-S includes the extremely popular on-board Adaptec AIC-7890AB Ultra2 Wide SCSI controller.  As with most dual processor slot-1 motherboards that feature on-board SCSI, the PDB-S features a 68-pin Ultra2 channel supporting both Ultra2 and UltraWide SCSI-3 devices as well as a 68-pin UltraWide SCSI-3 channel for all non-Ultra2 devices.   For those users with older SCSI peripherals, there is a 50-pin legacy SCSI port that shares the same channel as the non-Ultra2 port that can be used as well.  The purpose of having dual channels is so that Ultra2 (or your faster peripherals, i.e. HDDs) can be placed on a separate channel from your slower SCSI-2/3 (or your slower peripherals, i.e. older HDDs or CD-ROM/Tape drives) in order to prevent the slower peripherals from slowing down the faster ones.  Since your SCSI chain is only as fast as your slowest peripheral, you're better off separating your slower devices from your faster (i.e. Ultra2) devices by using the two channels.  This two channel system is very popular among higher end motherboard manufacturers, however the most expensive motherboards generally support dual Ultra2 channels instead of the single Ultra2 + single UltraWide combo the RIOWORKS board provides.  Considering the target market of the PDB-S, this isn't necessarily a downside as Ultra2 devices are still quite expensive.

Moving away from the expansion slots and the Adaptec SCSI controller are the dual SC242 (Slot-1) interface connectors, both of which feature the now popular built-in universal CPU retention kits.   This move allows for SECC (Pentium II), SECC2 (Pentium III and newer Pentium IIs), and SEPP (Celeron) processors to be installed and physically supported by the built-in retention brackets.  The PDB-S does not come with a SC242 CPU terminator card for the second slot, however in the event that only a single processor is being used RIOWORKS recommends installing it in the first slot and leaving the second slot completely empty.   In AnandTech's tests, stability was not compromised by not using a SC242 terminator card as long as the single CPU is used in the first CPU slot (the one closest to the power supply connector). 

Just south of the second SC242 slot is the 443BX controller chip which provides the chipset support for the dual processors.  RIOWORKS chose to use the 440BX chipset on the PDB-S most likely for cost concerns, however this does mean that the board is limited to 1GB of system memory as opposed to the 2GB limit of the more expensive 440GX solution.  The memory banks are placed almost flush against the 443BX controller which results in shorter trace lengths between the two components, and ideally to avoid any memory capacitance issues, a set of Sanyo capacitors lines the edge of the first DIMM slot. 

More Good

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