Inspur NF5280M6 2U Intel Xeon Server Review
17 January 2022
Inspur NF5280M6 Web Cover
January 12, 2022
The Inspur NF5280M6 is the company’s mainstream dual-socket Intel Xeon server. This is the generational update to the Inspur NF5280M5 we reviewed previously. With this update comes the new 3rd generation Intel Xeon Scalable processors, codenamed Ice Lake, PCIe Gen4, and a host of new features. In our review, we are going to get into the details as we normally do. Let us get to it.
Inspur NF5280M6 Hardware Overview
As our reviews have gone into more depth, we have split the hardware overview section into two parts, the external and then the internal overview. We will continue that tradition here. Also, we have a video for this review that you can find here:
We always suggest opening this in a new YouTube tab, browser, or app for the best viewing experience.
Inspur NF5280M6 External Overview
The Inspur NF5280M6 is the 2U offering. That 2U form factor does not have the same CPU and memory density as 1U systems, but it offers a lot more in terms of storage and PCIe card expandability.
Inspur NF5280M6 Front 2
Starting with the front of the server, we have standard LED indicators and the power button on one rack ear. This is done to ensure maximum airflow and flexibility for the front storage portion of the server.
Inspur NF5280M6 Front Power And Status LEDs
On the right rack ear, we get a VGA port and two USB 3 ports. One can manage this server from the cold aisle.
Inspur NF5280M6 Front VGA USB And M6
The front of our system is a 24x 2.5″ SFF configuration. One can see the large airflow vents between the blocks of drives as has become standard in modern servers. We will go over some of the other options briefly later in this section.
Inspur NF5280M6 Front Low
One fun item is that the drives are labeled 0-23, not 1-24. The drive bays can be set up for SAS, SATA, or NVMe. As we are seeing with many new servers, the drive carriers are tool-less making for fast drive swapping.
Inspur NF5280M6 Tool-Less Drive Trays
The front of the system is very modular. Each block of eight drives is serviced by its own backplane. These backplanes are held in place via a single thumbscrew.
Inspur NF5280M6 Drive Backplanes
Our system is what is called the 8x PCIe configuration. There are spaces for eight full-height PCIe cards when it is fully populated with risers. We only have one of the three risers here.
Inspur NF5280M6 Rear 2
On the left side, we can see the chassis with the LFF HDD and PCIe riser spots marked for when those options are installed. On the bottom, we can see an OCP NIC 3.0 slot populated with a Mellanox NVIDIA MCX566A-CDAB which is a 100GbE ConnectX-5 EN card.
Inspur NF5280M6 Rear OCP And Side Riser
In the middle, we can see another stack designed for risers or LFF options. Below that we can find a few features. First, there is a space for two SFP+ cages. This is for the Intel X710 dual 10GbE SFP+ option that is not present in our system. We will point out where that would be populated on the motherboard in our internal overview. There are then two USB 3.0 ports and a VGA port. We also get an out-of-band management IPMI port. Something to note is that without that dual X710 option, the server does not have onboard networking.
Inspur NF5280M6 Rear IO
On the right side of the rear, we have two riser slots that sit above the CPUs. There is also rear storage and power supplies on this side as well. Let us next look at those three features.
Inspur NF5280M6 Rear Two Risers M.2 Storage And PSUs
First, we can see that we have a dual-slot riser that sits above the power supplies. This riser has both our storage controller as well as our 10/25GbE networking for the system. It leaves the other expansion areas open if one wants to add a number of accelerators or other cards.
Inspur NF5280M6 Riser With RAID And Networking
Next to this are two SSD slots. Each has its own carrier and there are options for SATA as well as NVMe here. We have the M.2 setup, but the server also has EDSFF options and that makes sense given how this area is built. Having rear boot drives, instead of internal drives, is a feature we see on many servers these days to increase serviceability.
Inspur NF5280M6 M.2 Storage
On the power supply side, we have two 80Plus Platinum power supplies that are rated at 1.6kW each. Inspur has options ranging from 500W to 2kW and spanning Platinum and Titanium efficiency ratings.
Inspur NF5280M6 1.6kW PSU
In terms of front and rear configurations, we found five front options and four rear options mentioned. These can span 3.5″ and 2.5″ form factors in the front, along with options for allowing more airflow for GPU cooling.
Inspur NF5280M6 Front And Rear Configurations Web
On the rear, while we have the 8 PCIe configuration, there is an 11 PCIe configuration and this system can support up to 8x NVIDIA T4 GPUs. We can see that there is also a 2.5″ rear storage option. We saw mentions of HDDs on the rear left and center riser sections, but those were not listed on this chart.
Next, we are going to get inside the NF5280M6.
Inspur NF5280M6 Internal Overview
As is our custom, we are going to move from the front of the chassis to the rear. We are going to skip the storage backplanes in this process because we covered them in our external overview.
Inspur NF5280M6 Front To Rear With Shroud
Perhaps the first feature is one we do not see often and that is a honeycomb air intake in front of each fan. These are metal units. Normally we get simple plastic fan grates so this is quite a bit different.
Inspur NF5280M6 Honeycomb Fan Intake
The fans themselves are hot-swappable. Inspur has very easy-to-operate carriers making fan swapping quick.
Inspur NF5280M6 Fan
The entire assembly fits together nicely and we can see this motherboard is designed for other cooling configurations since there are extra fan headers.
Inspur NF5280M6 Extra Fan And Blue Release
Behind those fans is an airflow guide. This is one that we are going to touch on a bit longer than normal.
Inspur NF5280M6 Rear To Front With Shroud
First, Inspur has windows showing the DIMMs and labels for each channel. If and when a DIMM fails, it is easy to find and replace with this.
Inspur NF5280M6 DIMM Labels On Airflow Shroud
You may be wondering what the velcro straps are for. These are labeled SuperCap and so one can put supercapacitors here for NVDIMMs or potentially even a RAID controller.
Inspur NF5280M6 Super Cap Spaces On Airflow Shroud
The airflow guide also has ducting that comes off of it to specific parts of the system. We did not have GPU options or other often heavy airflow options, but we can see this on the side that brings air to the rear M.2 SSDs.
Inspur NF5280M6 Airflow Channel To Rear M.2
If you watch the accompanying video, you can see how easy this airflow guide is to remove. One of the innovations here is really on each side.
Inspur NF5280M6 Cable Holder Covered By Airflow Guide
The front-rear cables pass through these hard plastic channels that lock into place. This means that cables will be a reliable shape and not have to pass through the airflow guide. As a result, this airflow guide solution might just be the best that we are seeing in modern servers right now across vendors.
Inspur NF5280M6 Cable Holder Next To Memory
Underneath the airflow guide is perhaps the main feature of the system, the CPUs and memory.
Inspur NF5280M6 Dual Intel Xeon Ice Lake And Memory 3
These are 3rd Generation Intel Xeon “Ice Lake” CPUs. The system is rated for and works with up to the Platinum 8380 at 270W meaning it can power and cool the entire range from Intel.
Inspur NF5280M6 Dual Intel Xeon Ice Lake And Memory 1
In terms of memory, the Inspur server allows for the maximum from these processors. One gets full 8-channel memory with two DIMMs per channel (2DPC.) That means we get sixteen DIMMs per CPU and thirty-two total. One can also use Intel Optane PMem 200 to get fast storage or additional memory capacity. You can read more about the Glorious Complexity of Intel Optane DIMMs in our piece on that.
Inspur NF5280M6 Dual Intel Xeon Ice Lake And Memory 2
Behind the DIMMs, we get an OCP 2.0 connector that is designed for storage. That means instead of a proprietary connector, Inspur is putting its storage mezzanine solution on an OCP slot.
Inspur NF5280M6 OCP Mezzanine Spot
On one side of this storage mezzanine slot, we get data and power connectors along with the TPM 2.0 module.
Inspur NF5280M6 Power TPM 2.0 And Data Connections
On the right side, we get two SATA connectors, two microSD card slots (one for the BMC and one for the system), and additional power connectors.
Inspur NF5280M6 OCP Mezz Connector SATA Two MicroSD Card And GPU Power
We covered the OCP NIC 3.0 in our external overview, but that occupies one side of the motherboard’s rear area.
Inspur NF5280M6 OCP Rear
Between the OCP NIC and the power supplies, we get riser connections that are going unused in this configuration. We also see the unpopulated SFP+ area where there would be two SFP+ cages and an Intel X710 NIC. Under the large heatsink, we get the Intel Lewisburg Refresh PCH.
Inspur NF5280M6 Riser And Unpopulated X710 NIC
Next, we get both an ASPEED AST2500 BMC and an Altera (Intel) MAX 10 FPGA.
Inspur NF5280M6 Lewisburg Refresh PCH ASPEED AST2500 And Altera FPGA
On the other side of these is the riser that goes over the power supplies.
Inspur NF5280M6 Back Side Of Riser
These risers are very easy to operate and pop out of the chassis without using screws making them tool-less. This is a welcome change in modern servers compared to complex screw assemblies of a few years ago.
Inspur NF5280M6 Riser With RAID And Networking
Next, we are going to get to the block diagram to see how this is all connected, then we will get to the management and performance.
Inspur NF5280M6 Block Diagram
Since there are a lot of configuration options in the NF5280M6, it is worth showing the block diagram.
Inspur NF5280M6 Block Diagram
Here we can how the two Intel CPUs, the Lewisburg Refresh PCH, the ASPEED AST2500, and the Altera (Intel) MAX 10 FPGA are all connected and the I/O they provide to the rest of the system.
Next, let us move on to the management.
Inspur Systems NF5280M6 Management
Inspur’s primary management is via IPMI and Redfish APIs. We have shown this before, so we are not going to go into too much extra, but will have a recap here. That is what most hyperscale and CSP customers will utilize to manage their systems. Inspur also includes a robust and customized web management platform with its management solution.
Inspur Web Management Interface Dashboard
There are key features we would expect from any modern server. These include the ability to power cycle a system and remotely mount virtual media. Inspur also has a HTML5 iKVM solution that has these features included. Some other server vendors do not have fully-featured HTML5 iKVM including virtual media support as of this review being published.
Inspur Management HTML5 IKVM With Remote Media Mounted
Another feature worth noting is the ability to set BIOS settings via the web interface. That is a feature we see in solutions from top-tier vendors like Dell EMC, HPE, and Lenovo, but many vendors in the market do not have.
Inspur Management BIOS Settings
Another web management feature that differentiates Inspur from lower-tier OEMs is the ability to create virtual disks and manage storage directly from the web management interface. Some solutions allow administrators to do this via Redfish APIs, but not web management. This is another great inclusion here.
Inspur Management Storage Virtual Drive Creation
Based on comments in our previous articles, many of our readers have not used an Inspur Systems server and therefore have not seen the management interface. We have an 8-minute video clicking through the interface and doing a quick tour of the Inspur Systems management interface:
It is certainly not the most entertaining subject, however, if you are considering these systems, you may want to know what the web management interface is on each machine and that tour can be helpful.
In addition to the web management interface, we have also covered Inspur AIStation for AI Cluster Operations Management Solution.
Inspur AIStation User Dashboard
Inspur has an entire cluster-level solution to manage models, data, users, as well as the machines that they run on. For an AI training server like this, that is an important capability. We are going to direct you to that article for more on this solution.
Next, let us discuss performance.
Inspur NF5280M6 Performance
In terms of performance, we wanted to test higher-end SKUs to ensure the system has adequate cooling. Modern systems, if they have insufficient cooling, will see CPUs throttle down and that will have a negative impact on performance. Verifying the top-end of the CPU TDP range helps us see if the server has enough cooling to run the entire SKU stack at full performance. As such, we just wanted to do a quick comparison to our baseline with processors to ensure performance and cooling were acceptable.
Inspur NF5280M6 Performance To Baseline
Overall, it seems like the NF5280M6 is performing as it should. We also should take a quick note that since this is an Intel Xeon Scalable “Ice Lake” system there are accelerators for AI inference, crypto offload, and HPC that we recently looked at. You can see that piece here.
Next, we are going to get to power consumption, the STH Server Spider, and our final words.
Inspur NF5280M6 Power Consumption
Our system came equipped with the 1.6kW 80Plus Platinum power supply option. Again, Inspur offers 500W-2kW options in Platinum and Titanium efficiency ratings.
Inspur NF5280M6 1.6kW PSU
The system itself was able to peak just above 1kW with Platinum 8380’s. The system also supports multiple GPUs and options that we do not have populated so it seems like higher-end configurations could easily surpass the 1.6kW figure. At the same time, lower-end Xeon Silver configurations may look at the 500W PSUs for better efficiency.
STH Server Spider: Inspur NF5280M6
In the second half of 2018, we introduced the STH Server Spider as a quick reference to where a server system’s aptitude lies. Our goal is to start giving a quick visual depiction of the types of parameters that a server is targeted at.
STH Server Spider Inspur NF5280M6
This system is designed for all-around storage. We specifically had the 2.5″ 24-bay version of this system, but other LFF versions would see this spider chart skewed away from the high-performance storage and more towards the capacity storage. A 2U server like this is not designed to achieve maximum compute density or GPU density. Instead, it is designed to be a platform that can fill a number of different roles with a common base platform. In that respect, the NF5280M6 has achieved its goal.
At this point, the Inspur Systems NF5280M6 is what one would expect. It is a solid 2U server from Inspur, built from many of the open and industry-standard technologies that are popular today. There are a large number of expandability options and customization options in this system so an organization can qualify a base 2U server and use it for many roles.
Inspur NF5280M6 Front 1
There are still some very nice touches in this system. Inspur’s airflow guide makes servicing CPUs and DIMMs extremely simple. In 2021 we had a DIMM combust (it was a DIMM issue, and not in an Inspur server) so DIMM failures and accessibility is top-of-mind right now.
Inspur NF5280M6 Rear To Front With Shroud
Over this quarter, we have servers from Inspur, Dell, HPE, and Lenovo that we will be reviewing. In each, we are going to focus on some of the design philosophies for each company. With the NF5280M6, one can quickly understand Inspur’s design philosophy. The system is designed with many industry-standard components and makes use of an OCP NIC 3.0 slot as well as even an OCP 2.0 storage mezzanine slot. That is largely influenced by the fact that Inspur sells to many hyper-scale clients. These large clients demand that these open standards are adopted and that influences these servers.
Inspur NF5280M6 Dual Intel Xeon Ice Lake And Memory 4
Overall, the Inspur NF5280M6 performed just as it should. It is a solid 2U server that is easy to service, performs well, and has a high degree of customization making it a great general-purpose server platform.
Design & Aesthetics
In our Inspur NF5280M6 review, we explore this 2U Intel Xeon server platform and see some of the great features found in the server"s design