InfoWorld review: Dell, HP, and Lenovo rack servers

Dual-processor Nehalem Xeon rack servers sport sizzling performance, excellent serviceability, and variations in price and power efficiency

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Finally, we ran the freely downloadable Stream benchmark, which was recently added to InfoWorld's complement of server tests. It measures memory bandwidth in a parallel processing context -- a useful test in light of the many cores these systems now support. On this benchmark, the HP holds a slight performance lead over the Dell (as it did with SPECjbb_2005), while both systems led the Lenovo by roughly a 20 percent margin.

As to power consumption, the Dell R710 sipped power when running at 0 percent load (but not hibernating), roughly 63 percent of the HP DL380's consumption -- a substantial difference, especially in the use case of servers that need to be on all the time but see only infrequent activity. The Lenovo ThinkServer, whose processor consumes less power overall, fell between the HP and Dell at 0 percent utilization. At 100 percent load, the Lenovo ThinkServer was the stingiest on power consumption due to its processor model; between the HP and Dell, which use the same higher-end CPU, Dell again was the power-savings leader. (Note that power consumption of each system was measured using only one power supply.)

For sites expecting to use the internal hard disks, it's worth noting that HP's RAID controller, the HP Smart Array P410i, runs at 6GBps for SAS drives, while Dell's PowerEdge RAID Controller (PERC) model 6i works at 3GBps. In both cases, the RAID controllers can be upgraded or downgraded. The Lenovo's RAID controller was harder to establish due to the use of both Lenovo and IBM part numbers, but it appears to be 3GBps, upgradable to 6GBps.

The report card

The report card for the three systems shows patterns that in some ways reflect the features of the scoring system, rather than the devices themselves. When viewing the scores, note that InfoWorld publishes the weightings for each component in the overall score so that you can judge the servers on the parameters as weighted within your organization. One parameter that requires further explanation is the category of value, which represents our view of the price. We use the retail price for the system configuration sent to us. On this review, however, HP and Lenovo both used Microsoft Server 2008 Standard Edition, while Dell sent the Enterprise Edition. The cost difference in editions is significant. In the case of Dell, it increased the price by $2,200. For a relevant price comparison, we repriced the Dell server for the Standard Edition, which is what you find in the accompanying table.

Essentially the Dell and HP systems are tied for first place. The disparity in scores is due to only one factor: power consumption. All other scores are identical. Given the similarity in both the feature sets and the benchmark results, the scores should look a lot alike. The HP has slightly better performance and less favorable power consumption and pricing. How you value these difference will decide which model is for you. It's clear, however, that either way you'll be well served.

The Lenovo ThinkServer slightly lags its two counterparts, but this is due primarily to the difference in performance attributable to the company's use of the E5540 models of Intel's Xeon processor. Had our ThinkServer been outfitted with the same X5570 chip as Dell and HP and scored comparable performance results, it would be tied with the HP ProLiant. Lenovo's choice of processor enables it to be the value leader in this category. There is no doubt that organizations that want to expand computing power without gutting their capital budget will find the Lenovo to be their best option -- and so will small businesses.

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