ASRock 4X4 BOX-4800U out-of-band management with Realtek DASH

Many computing use cases require out of band management. For example, rack servers have dedicated LAN ports that are connected to a BMC (Baseboard Management Controller) chip for this purpose. PCs used in SMB / SMB and business applications do not have a dedicated LAN port for this functionality. Instead, one of the in-band NICs (that is, one that is used to provide the system’s primary network functionality) helps with this aspect.

The DMTF (formerly Distributed Management Task Force) is a standards organization that focuses, among other things, on a standards-based approach to out-of-band management of computer systems. The Intelligent Platform Management Interface (IPMI) is used in servers based on both Intel and AMD processors. However, the focus has now been shifted to DMTF Redfish for this functionality.

On the PC side, Intel and AMD have different approaches – Intel’s vPro has gained wide recognition as a qualifier for systems that support out-of-band management and inventory in business environments. AMD, on the other hand, has chosen a standards-compliant approach with the DASH (Desktop and Mobile Architecture for System Hardware) from DMTF. The two vendors have taken the usual marketing blows – AMD’s whitepaper condemns vPro as proprietary and tends to make users pay more for features they don’t need. On the flip side, a comparative report commissioned by Intel goes on the offensive by claiming that vPro is just a set of proprietary extensions over standards-compliant infrastructures, and that the total cost of ownership is proving to be better for vPro.

The purpose of this article is not to compare vPro and DASH. Readers should read the two documents linked above and make a decision as to which of the two is appropriate for a particular use case. Instead, let’s take a look at how users can take advantage of the DASH capabilities on the recently tested ASRock Industrial 4X4 BOX-4800U.

What does DASH deliver?

The ASRock Industrial 4X4 BOX-4800U can provide remote administration functions thanks to the use of a Realtek network card with DASH functions – the RTL8111FP. As part of the DASH functionality, it also includes VGA KVM functionality – the system BIOS and operating system can write a frame buffer to the NIC controller that can be sent over the network using the RFB protocol. This allows users to remotely interact with the system’s BIOS and desktop screens. In addition to this key console redirection function, the DASH implementation in the 4X4 BOX-4000 series provides the following without being physically close to the system:

  • Identification of the system hardware components and information about the operating system for inventory purposes
  • Power state settings with support for graceful shutdown (on / off / reset / off and on again)
  • Track software inventory (BIOS and NIC firmware)
  • Selection of the boot device
  • Hardware operating logs and the ability to configure alerts
  • Redirecting USB devices and image files over the network
  • Ability to update the NIC firmware over the network

Installing the Realtek DASH driver supports additional configurations and features that are closely related to the host operating system.

DASH in practice

ASRock Industrial has a short video on their YouTube channel with instructions on how to enable and use DASH. The video states that users need to contact their support department in order to obtain the Realtek Management Console program mentioned therein. The software is also available directly from Realtek. You need to provide an email address to activate the download link for the DASH console tool ‘RTL8111DP / EP / FP DASH for Windows 7/8/10’. As an open standard, AMD also has a number of tools that enable the use of DASH. In particular, the ‘AMD Management Console’ application offers very similar functions to the Realtek Management Console, but with a different user interface.

Our test device was an early production run in which the corresponding NIC firmware was not loaded. Because of this, we had some problems enabling DASH, but after a short back-and-forth with ASRock Industrial’s technical support department, they flashed the new NIC firmware and updated the ASF table to enable all DASH functions. The Realtek Management Console isn’t the easiest to use application, but we were able to move around smoothly for any functionality that couldn’t be performed using the standard remote desktop feature built into Windows.

The video above shows an example session of our use of the DASH function – switching the 4X4 BOX-4800U off and on again several times, rebooting in the BIOS and bypassing the BIOS options. Alternatively, readers who want to read screenshots can visit the following galleries:

The Console Redirection tab in the software provides options for USB redirection and control for reboot in the BIOS. By starting the TCR (Text Console Redirection) and KVM function before switching on, the frame buffer can be displayed in the program during the start process, as shown in the following gallery:

The KVM feature allows you to interact with the BIOS options as shown in the video above.

The features of the AMD Management Console are not shown in the video above, but the gallery below shows some screenshots of the program in action:

Since DASH is a web-based modern standard, the function activates a web server on port 623 by default – most of the options in the Realtek Management Console are also available via a browser interface. If KVM / TCR functions are not required, no management console needs to be installed. Changing the power state of the system is as simple as going to a web page and selecting a radio button (shown in the gallery above).

Final remarks

Out of band management capabilities are typically only available on servers and business PCs (those using Intel vPro or AMD PRO processors). By providing such functions for a system without a business oriented CPU, ASRock Industrial has succeeded in expanding the available target market / use cases for the 4X4 BOX-4000 series. Remote management – including the ability to boot and control the BIOS options, re-image the system, etc. allows for true headless operation even when the system is installed in an inaccessible location. The DASH functions also address IT administrators of small companies and enable the systems of the 4X4 BOX-4000 series to be used widely in office environments.

Our evaluation of the performance of the 4X4 BOX-4800U resulted in a powerful compact system that is very attractive to home laboratory enthusiasts. In particular, eight powerful x86 cores and the ability to accommodate up to 64 GB of RAM and a 2.5 Gbit / s LAN port contribute to a perfect virtualization host in a home environment. Such machines are typically operated in a headless configuration. Wake-on-LAN support can be used to maintain low power consumption in such systems when they are not actively used. However, DASH offers the ability to have full control over the power state, remotely rearrange boot devices, and other features that can simplify the user’s tasks. The cherry on the cake is that using DASH essentially gives this for free. The regular Frost Canyon NUC that we compared the 4X4 BOX-4800U with does not have such remote management capabilities. The closest equivalent system from Intel on the market is the Provo Canyon NUC8v7PNH (with a Whiskey Lake CPU) for around $ 670. A Tiger Canyon vPro NUC based in Tiger Lake is in the works, but we don’t have pricing information yet. At $ 600, the 4X4 BOX-4800U is significantly cheaper for a system that not only performs well compared to the Provo Canyon NUC, but also offers attractive remote management capabilities for SMB IT administrators, industrial applications, and home laboratory enthusiasts .

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