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 advanced version of iRMC (available via upgrade) allows for better video redirection to the remote admin without the need for the JVM, supports two simultaneous "virtual" connections to the same server, and best of all, provides virtual media capabilities. Both standard and advanced iRMC integrate seamlessly into Fujitsu's ServerView Suite management platform.

Bottom line: The Primergy TX300 is the largest server in the roundup, but boasts the most drive bays and USB ports of the group. It is also the most expensive server and has the most fan noise of the three servers tested. Remote management is great, and its performance numbers were right with the Dell and HP servers. One big negative is its power usage –- by far worst of the bunch.

HP ProLiant ML350
Answer: Death, taxes, and HP ProLiant servers. Question: What can you always count on?

The third entry in our server roundup is the 6th-generation ProLiant ML350. Available as a stand-alone tower or 5U rack server (with appropriate rack kit), the ML350 was the lowest-cost server in our group without sacrificing any features or capabilities. Like the other two servers, the ProLiant can grow to hold up to 8TB of online disk storage. It can also handle up to 196GB of DDR3 RDIMM -- the most in our group. HP's iLO2 (integrated Lights Out) remote management controller takes care of remote management.

The inside of the ProLiant is a study in simplicity. A single, clear air baffle covers the RAM and most of the massive heat-tubed CPU heat sinks. Two pairs of 90mm fans -- a pair at the rear and a pair in front of the baffle -- handle cooling chores, pulling air through the chassis front to rear. The ProLiant's fans are not hot-swappable, but they are much quieter than their Fujitsu counterparts.

Like the Fujitsu, the ML350 comes with an internal USB port for bare-metal booting. There are two USB ports on the front and two on the rear of the chassis, and one additional internal USB tape connector, for a total of six USB ports, the fewest in our group. The ProLiant motherboard has six PCIe slots; an optional configuration adds two PCI-X slots.

HP provides three power supply options for the ML350 chassis. Depending on hardware needs, you can choose from 460-, 750-, and 1,200-watt power supplies in single and redundant configurations. I was very pleased with how little noise came from the HP server, even while under load. There were times that the fans would spin up more than usual, but even then I wasn't subjected to the sound of jet engines. I could easily place this server in a common work area and not be bothered by the noise.

The ML350's power consumption was second best overall. It recorded the best score of the bunch when powered off (7.8 watts vs. Dell's 14.5 watts and Fujitsu's 15.7 watts), a dubious distinction considering that no one buys a server to plug it in and not turn it on. When running, the ML350 consumed 156.4 watts at idle and 322.3 watts with the dual Xeons maxed out, about 44 watts better than the Fujitsu but 59 watts worse than the Dell.

Like the Dell PowerEdge T610 and the Fujitsu Primergy TX300, the ProLiant can handle up to 8TB of online disk space. This chassis will accommodate as many as sixteen 2.5-inch SFF or eight 3.5-inch LFF drives, twice as many SFF as the PowerEdge but four fewer than the Primergy. The ML350 uses a SAS RAID controller interface for its drives and can connect with both SAS and SATA drives. My test unit came with three 146GB 10K RPM SAS drives in RAID 5.

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