Nehalem tower servers: Dell, Fujitsu, HP square off

Three new servers based on Intel's latest Xeon CPU combine huge performance gains with excellent management tools; the choice comes down to expandability and price

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This 11th-generation PowerEdge came to me outfitted with its pair of Xeon X5550 CPUs stashed safely underneath massive tower heat sinks and a large front-to-back air baffle. Two 90mm fans (there's room for two more) are mounted in the back of the baffle, directing air flow across the processors, RAM, and the installed hard drives. These rear-mounted fans are responsible for all cooling in the system with the exception of the fan in the power supply. As with the HP ProLiant, none of the fans are hot-swappable.

My Dell server came equipped with eight external USB 2.0 ports (six rear, two front) and five PCIe slots, two more than the HP. The Dell lacks an internal USB port for bare-metal booting from USB, a feature found in both Fujitsu's Primergy and HP's ProLiant. The interior of the chassis is cleanly laid out with all cables routed neatly and tucked away.

Dell provides two power supply options for the T610: a 570-watt or an 870-watt unit. Either power supply can be installed as a single unit or in an optional redundant configuration. Noise levels when under load were very good -- quiet enough to be deployed in a small office. Regardless of configuration, I like that the power supplies are also tool-less and can be replaced in a matter of seconds by simply releasing the locking clip and pulling the unit out.

Power consumption for the PowerEdge T610 was best of the group. At idle (meaning booted up but not under load), the T610 drew 136.6 watts, 19.8 watts less than the HP and almost 90 watts better than the Fujitsu. At 100 percent CPU utilization, the Dell still had the edge. The T610 averaged 307 watts, 15 watts less than the HP and nearly 60 watts less than the Fujitsu.

A server is not much good if it can't store data. Dell has a variety of drive and controller combinations available. My test server came configured with four 2.50-inch 73GB 15K RPM SAS hard drives in RAID 5. Other available drive options are 2.5-inch and 3.5-inch SATA II hard drives and 2.5-inch SSD (solid-state drive). A PERC6/I controller handles drive interface duties, while an optional integrated PERC6/I RAID daughter card allows for RAID levels of 0, 1, 5, 6, and 10.

Network options are pretty cut and dried with all three servers. The T610 comes with two integrated Broadcom NetXtreme II 5709c Gigabit Ethernet ports. Both ports provide failover and load balancing capabilities. Optional Gigabit and 10 Gigabit PCIe interface cards are also available.

When it comes to managing the T610, Dell has some of the coolest tools available. The Integrated Dell Remote Access Controller 6 (iDRAC6) microprocessor handles the remote management chores. I tested iDRAC6 Express, which not only provides remote power-on and management capabilities, but also crashed system recovery, firmware and driver updates, and hardware inventory. The iDRAC6 Enterprise option adds advanced features such virtual media support. This allows admins to boot the server from a CD-ROM, ISO image, or USB memory stick located on a remote desktop.

When used in conjunction with Dell's Unified System Configurator and Lifecycle Controller, iDRAC6 lets admins remotely provision and deploy bare-metal servers without any local IT support. For example, on initial power-up, the T610 with iDRAC6 can be automatically discovered by Lifecycle Controller back at the network operations center. Then, a new operating system -- be it a predefined "golden image" or a custom configuration -- can be pushed to the server using hardware drivers already resident on the iDRAC6 controller. In short, you can do a full server installation from remote, regardless of the status of the operating system, saving time and money without the need for onsite technical support.

Bottom line: The PowerEdge T610 is a great small office server that performed at the same level as its Nehalem-based brethren. It was the quietest of the three servers even during heavy CPU usage, making it a great choice when the server will share space with office workers. It doesn't have as many available drive bays as the Fujitsu and HP servers, but it still manages the same overall maximum disk storage. Remote management is solid and power consumption was best of the group.

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