According to Intel's marketing, the C204-based S1200BTL motherboard is an "entry-level, general purpose server product designed for SMB applications with maximum upgradability". In other words, it is a flexible server-class motherboard designed primarily for use in small to medium size business applications; including web, email, storage, and file servers.
This motherboard utilizes the Intel E3 1200 series of Xeon processors and can be used for a wide variety of applications due to its large number of PCI-E slots. Specifically, this board has one PCI-E x16 slot, three PCI-E x8 (x4 throughput) slots, and one PCI slot. This large number of PCI-E slots allows for the combined use of many different devices including network cards and RAID controllers. For remote server management, this motherboard also supports the Intel AXXRMM4LITE Remote Management Module which allows for remote actions such as power on/off and remote iKVM functionality.
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As this is a server-class motherboard, it has very few included items. For the most part, this is perfectly fine, although we never like to see a motherboard ship with less SATA cables than there are ports on the motherboard. In this case, there are 6 ports on the board, yet the motherboard only comes with two SATA cables.
Beyond the miscellaneous marketing pamphlets, the important included items are:
All common ports and headers on this motherboard are located along the edges of the motherboard for easy access. The CMOS battery is located in the one unused PCI slot so clearing the CMOS should not be a problem even with most of the PCI slots filled. There are a few oddities to this motherboard that makes it different than we are used to, but nothing that should cause any problems.
The front port connections are on the bottom-left side of the motherboard, which is about as far away as you can get from the front of the chassis. Most chassis will have plenty of cable length to reach this location however, so it should not be an issue.
Also, the RAM slots are horizontal rather than the more standard vertical orientation found on ATX motherboards. This is because the board is primarily intended for use in a rackmount chassis or tower chassis with strong front to back airflow. In those chassis, having the RAM in an orientation helps to not impede airflow, which is a very good thing for keeping system temperatures down.
Lastly, the 24-pin ATX power is located on the top of the motherboard, and is in a horizontal orientation like the RAM. This is again designed to allow for more unimpeded airflow in a rackmount chassis.
Like most server-class motherboards, the BIOS is very basic. There is no way to adjust the RAM or CPU frequency, timings or voltages; although you can turn on/off Turbo Boost, Speedstep and Virtualization Technology. The SATA ports have many configuration options including Compatibility, Enhanced, AHCI, and RAID modes. The fan headers do support throttling, although you can only adjust it according to elevation. We have never understood why you would want to adjust according to elevation rather than temperature, but that is the only option on this motherboard.
Boot priorities are fully customizable by device type, and there is even a built-in option to boot to an EFI shell. While many users may not need the EFI shell, it is handy at times when you need to do things like flash the BIOS.
|CPU configuration options||
No RAM configuration
Fan throttling based on
|Boot priority options|
The one critical thing missing is temperature monitoring in the BIOS. Simply put, there is no way to view the temperature of the CPU or chipset through the BIOS. Once in an OS you can load a third party application like CoreTemp or SpeedFan, but until then you would have no idea that the system was running hot until the overheat protection started to kick in.
Intel provides driver support for Red Hat and Suse flavors of Linux as well as Windows 7 and Windows Server 2003/2008. Most of the Windows 7 drivers will likely work for Vista, but it is worth noting that Intel does not officially provide drivers for that OS at the time of this article. While not listed on Intel's product page, we also verified full functionality in VMware ESXi 5.0.
We were able to install Windows 7 Ultimate on both the SATA II and SATA III ports with no problems. Once in Windows, most drivers loaded properly, although we did have a bit of trouble with the secondary LAN port. When installing the driver, we would receive a generic error halfway though and the secondary port's driver would not install. We were able to install the driver manually though device manage by simply pointing to the main driver folder however, so it was not a huge issue. It is likely that this issue will be resolved in the next release of the driver.
SATA hot-swap functionality is present on this board, although the Intel Rapid Storage Technology software must be loaded. Sleep also functioned correctly, although only in S1 mode - S3 standby and hibernate are not supported by this motherboard. Due to the speed of the onboard graphics, Aero functionality in Windows 7 is not available without a discrete graphics card.
Overall, the Intel S1200BTL is a very solid choice for a server-class system. It lacks many features that are often desired in a standard desktop system (OC profiles, more customizable BIOS, expansive rear ports, etc), but those features are often not necessary in a server-class system. In fact, since more features present more points of failure, the lack of features is in itself an attractive feature for server-class motherboards.
The remote management options for this motherboard also make it desirable as it means that you do not need to be on-site to do anything short of hardware maintenance on the system. Even something as complex as installing an OS (start to finish) can be done completely off-site by using the Intel AXXRMM4LITE Remote Management Module.
The one thing we do miss on this motherboard is fully adjustable fan throttling options. Intel has liked using the altitude-based fan throttling on most of their server boards, but without any way to really control the CPU fan, this motherboard will not do well in systems that need to be quiet. However, if noise is not a concern, this motherboard is an excellent choice for a very wide variety of server applications.