InfoWorld review: Dell's virtualization servers surge ahead

Dell PowerEdge R805 and R905 servers, based on AMD's hexacore Opteron CPUs, are far faster, cheaper, and more efficient than models that shipped only a year ago

Oh, what a difference a year makes! In October of last year, I reviewed a pair of virtualization servers from Dell. Specifically, I examined the PowerEdge R805 and R905 models, which defined the new category of servers purpose-built to support virtualization. At that time, HP did not offer virtualization servers, but with the obvious embrace for the technology by IT departments everywhere, HP has finally entered the fray, trying to beat back Dell and fend off challengers such as Lenovo. I'll look at how those vendors stack up against each other in a head-to-head shoot-out in an upcoming review. In this review, I look at the updates to the Dell servers I examined last year.

Whereas last year's servers were powered with quad-core AMD Opterons, today's systems are driven by the new six-core or "hexacore" Opterons, code-named Istanbul. (Readers who remember their Latin will note that the six-core chips do not follow the tradition of using Latin prefixes for core count that was established with "quad-core." This is presumably because the term "sexacore" was a tad edgy for vendors' marketing and legal departments -- hence, hexacore.) Because these processors are pin-compatible with the quad-core Opteron forebears, Dell was able to upgrade the systems without rolling out a new model. As a result, the company stuck with the original model numbers and the original positioning of these two machines.

[ Intel's newest server processors bring big iron horsepower to small offices. See the InfoWorld Test Center review: "Nehalem tower servers: Dell, Fujitsu, HP square off." ]

In our tests, we find that the performance has greatly improved. Further, the price of the R805 has come down significantly. As a result, the price-performance ratio, always a strength of Dell's product lines, is hugely better than it was a year ago. In addition, power consumption is vastly improved for both models. It's hard to recall so much progress made in three different areas in any year-over-year hardware comparisons.

Many servers in one

Virtualization servers are systems designed to deliver more of the capacity that virtualization hosts need to run optimally. Virtual machines, or VMs, crave lots of RAM and dedicated CPU resources. Both these servers are highly scalable in terms of RAM, which is often the gating factor on the number of VMs that can be run simultaneously on a server. The entry-level R805 model can accommodate 128GB across 16 slots, while the enterprise-oriented R905 has 32 SIMM slots that hold 256GB, when using 8GB DIMMs. These memory sticks are now fairly easy to find, albeit at elevated prices. The baseline RAM for these systems is 667MHz DDR-2, which is slower than other Opteron-based servers in this category.

[ If you can't view the tables in this article, read the original story at InfoWorld.com. ]

The second criterion for good performance is access to the CPU. On these servers, the processing power is delivered by either quad-core or hexacore AMD Opteron processors. The R805 server I tested came with two 2.6GHz hexacore Opteron 2435 processors, while the R905 came with four 2.6GHz hexacore 8435 chips. The Opteron processors were the first x86 processors to come to market with six cores each. Intel is expected to ship a hexacore processor in 2010.

InfoWorld Scorecard
Expandability (20.0%)
Performance (40.0%)
Value (10.0%)
Serviceability (15.0%)
Power usage (15.0%)
Overall Score (100%)
Dell PowerEdge R805 7.0 9.0 9.0 9.0 9.0 8.6
Dell PowerEdge R905 8.0 9.0 7.0 8.0 9.0 8.5
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