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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The SPECjbb2005 results of all three servers -- 219,342, 218,527, and 217,820 bops -- varied by less than 1 percent, showing performance of the systems to be essentially identical. This is due in large part to the similarities in the underlying architecture of the motherboards. For comparison with a previous server generation, I ran SPECjbb2005 against an HP ProLiant ML360 G3 and saw just how far the technology has come. My G3 ProLiant has a pair of 2.8GHz dual-core Xeons (533MHz FSB, 512MB of L2 cache) and 4GB of PC2100 DDR RAM. SPECjbb2005 was only able to run up to eight warehouses (my dual-core Xeons were not Hyper-Threaded), but the results were only about 5 percent of what the new Nehalem-based systems posted. For example, at eight warehouses, the three Nehalem servers averaged 153,259 bops, while my G3 ProLiant scored only 7,596 bops -- not even close.

While the load testing took place, I monitored power usage using the Watts Up Pro "plug load" meter. Watts Up Pro logged all of the collected data via USB cable to a client PC where I was able to view watts, voltage, amperage, and other metrics specific to power consumption.

This is one area where I did see a variance among the servers. All three servers drew very little power while in standby mode (plugged in but powered off). Once the systems were powered on and booted up, the Dell PowerEdge consumed fewer watts under load than the HP server and substantially less than the Fujitsu server. The potential impact on your power bill? Assuming a rate of 14 cents per kilowatt hour (roughly the U.S. average), the Dell would cost about $100 less than the Fujitsu, and about $25 less than the HP, to run 24 hours per day for a year. 

The STREAM 5.8 memory benchmark allowed me to see how fast bytes could be moved in and out of memory. STREAM measures sustainable memory bandwidth in megabytes per second, and all three servers recorded performance numbers that back up Nehalem's architectural advances. As with SPECjbb2005, the STREAM Triad results -- 33,463, 33,508, and 33,536 -- were again very close together, varying less than 1 percent across the three servers.

Server virtualization is high on most admins' checklists, and the Nehalem Xeons are built to provide support for all popular virtualization packages. All three servers are identical in this regard, supporting bare-metal hypervisors as well as OS-based virtualization without a problem.

Rank and file
At the end of my testing, it was very clear to me that Intel's new Xeons have opened a new door of server performance. Nehalem represents a landmark shift in processing power, and all three servers demonstrated this fact with their fantastic SPECjbb2005 and STREAM 5.8 performance numbers. Regardless of the task, it will run faster on a Nehalem-based server.

The uniformly excellent performance made it very difficult to rank the three servers. In the final analysis, the differences in scores came down to minor things like hardware expandability, power consumption, and price. All of these servers are impressive performers, and none of them lacks any substantial features. All of them are great for small to medium-sized businesses, and each one's remote management is top notch. If noise is a concern, then look to the Dell. If you need room for lots of hard drives, then the Fujitsu is the one. If cost is king, HP is your choice. You won't go wrong with any of them.

Dell PowerEdge T610
Dell has always had style on its side, and the PowerEdge T610 keeps the tradition going. This stand-alone tower, which can also serve as a 5U rack server, bundles power behind a pretty face. The chassis has plenty of room for growth for any small to medium-sized business, capable of 8TB of internal storage and 96GB of DDR3 RAM. Remote management chores are handled by iDRAC6 (Integrated Dell Remote Access Controller). A nifty front-panel mini-LCD does the trick for boot-time monitoring.

Nehalem tower servers by the features

 Dell PowerEdge T610Fujitsu Primergy TX300HP ProLiant ML350
Installed CPUs / max CPUs2/22/22/2
Type of CPU (as tested)Intel Xeon X5550 2.26 GHzIntel Xeon X5550 2.26 GHzIntel Xeon X5550 2.26 GHz
Installed RAM / max RAM24GB/96GB24GB/144GB24GB/196GB
RAM type/speed?DDR3 Registered, 1333MHzDDR3 Registered, 1333MHzDDR3 Registered, 1333MHz
# of RAM sockets12 DIMM slots18 DIMM slots18 DIMM slots
# of PCIe slots5 PCIs slots7 PCIe slots6 PCIe slots/2 PCI-X optional
# of USB ports8 USB ports10 USB ports6 USB ports
Drive bay options8 SFF or LFF20 SFF or 8 LFF16 SFF or 8 LFF
Controller typesSAS controllerSAS controllerSAS controller
# and type of drives installed (as tested)4 x 73GB 15K RPM SAS3x 450 GB 15K RPM SAS HDD3 x 146G 10K RPM SAS
Max storage available8TB8TB8TB
Front Panel LCD?YesYesNo
# and type of Ethernet ports2 port GbE2 port GbE2 port GbE
Integrated managementiDRAC6iRMCiLO2
Power supply options570W/870W, redundant optional800W hot-plug standard, redundant optional460W/750W/1200W, redundant optional
Tool less case design?YesYesYes
Chassis typeTower or 5U rackTower or 4U rackTower or 5U rack
Hot-swap fans?No, redundant fan supportYesNo, redundant fan support
Price as tested$7,315$9,316$6,560
Warranty3 Years3 Years3 Years

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