Exclusive: Sun's new big iron bends the rules
Sun Fire x4600 M2 octo-Opteron server proves a triumph of capability and designFollow @pvenezia
Looking at Sun’s brand-new Sun Fire x4600 M2, most would figure it for a quad-socket system. After all, at 4U it matches the profile of the four-way HP ProLiant DL585 and Dell PowerEdge 6850. A quick peek under the hood tells a different tale, however: The Sun Fire x4600 M2 holds eight (eight!) easily swappable sockets.
Armed with current dual-core Opteron processors, this equals 16 cores per server, so a rackful would bring the total to 160 cores. The Sun Fire x4600 M2 will also be able to run with the next-generation quad-core AMD Opteron chips, bringing the total core count per rack to an amazing 320. Packed with 128GB of RAM per server, that’s a full terabyte of RAM in the same rack. At $51,995 for a single x4600 with eight dual-core Opteron 8128 CPUs, 32GB of RAM, and two 73GB SAS drives, that power doesn’t come cheap, but the x4600 offers quite a bit of bang for the buck.
While unpacking the x4600, the first thing I noticed was the enormous fan arrays. Two sets of four large fans sit right in the front of the case. The only cooling fans in the entire chassis, they push air directly over the vertically mounted CPU modules, and they are surprisingly quiet during normal operation. Behind these modules are six half-height PCI-E and two PCI-X expansion slots with plenty of elbow room. The almost complete absence of ribbon cables was also surprising.
Hardware error conditions in the x4600 are handled with aplomb. Should a DIMM fail on any of the processor modules, the release handles light up. Further, pulling a CPU module out of the server and tapping a button will cause the socket containing the bad DIMM to light up using power from an on-board capacitor. All these features lead me to the conclusion that this is one of the best-designed server chassis I’ve ever seen.
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Whither RAID 5?
The x4600 sports four Gigabit Ethernet NICs, two USB2 ports in the rear and two up front, four hot-swap 2.5-inch SAS drive bays, and a vertically mounted DVD-ROM drive. The eight I/O slots in the rear enjoy bandwidth of more than 20GBps to the processor racks. Local disk is handled by an LSI Logic SAS RAID controller, which proved to be the only poor choice in an otherwise pristine piece of server engineering.
While performing initial OS installs on the x4600, I noticed that the system seemed slightly sluggish when the local disk I/O was taxed. Considering the 16 cores ticking over inside the box, the problem clearly wasn’t the CPUs, but the local disk controller.