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Asus' TS500 offers reliability, speed and efficiency at a low price for a mid-range tower server. However, case design is not ideal, and the system strangely requires a PS2 keyboard and mouse.
Small to medium business owners are generally well provided for by a simple tower style server connected to other computers and devices by a small switch. More complicated multi-server arrangements are unnecessary complications. And yet, such businesses still deserve the security of more massive and complicated systems.
Tower servers can provide the simplicity of a stand-alone unit while still allowing for a great amount of power, flexibility and of course reliability. RAID, dual CPUs and redundant power supplies are all possible with the added benefit of plenty of free space for expansion cards.
After a subjective assessment of the native pre-installed operating system, we installed MS Windows Server 2003 in preparation for benchmarking. Test software used was SiS Sandra 2008, Cinebench 9.5 and Intel Sungard 2.5. Sandra provides general information about the system while Cinebench and Sungard are multithreaded applications used to assess the machine's overall computational power. We also measure power consumption and consider the build quality of the machine.
Design and Features
Businesses don't have to have astronomical IT budgets to benefit from fast reliable servers in convenient packages. The Asus TS500 is a mid-range, tower type server with plenty of features and room to grow. The large lockable black case has silver front trim. Larger than a standard PC it can still be comfortably situated under a desk in the back office or beside the "IT guy". Furthermore, this machine can be attached to rails and mounted in a rack if business expansion later warrants the purchasing of a rack.
Aside from a slot that allows for a case lock, there is a second lock at the front which blocks access to the drive slots and power switch. This ensures that data is relatively secure from on-site attacks or carelessness. At the same time, the machine is engineered such that authorised personnel can readily remove drives and open the case to access other components as necessary. Access to all components is easy once the case is open.
The processing power comes from a dual quad-core Intel Xeon 5410 2.33GHz CPU. Aside from top of the line 45nm dual- or quad-core processors, the machine also ships with older 65nm processors if desired. The mounting of CPU cooling systems was a little unusual. Each system was oriented in opposite direction such that the fan on one blew toward the back of the machine and the other blew towards the front. It seems unlikely that this represents the most efficient way to promote airflow through the case.
Provided to the lab with 4GB of RAM, the TS500 supports up to 24GB across six slots. Permanent data storage is also well catered for. The optional PIKE 1078 SAS RAID module supports up to eight hot-swappable drives. (The machine as tested came with 3x 500GB drives). This controller supports RAID 0, 1, 5, 6, 10, 50 and 60. Alternatively four- or eight-port controllers supporting only RAID 0, 1 and 1E are available.
This capacious machine takes standard 3.5-inch drives. This measurement also brings to mind that a 3.5-inch floppy drive is also included — a useful addition given that RAID drivers still insist on loading from this medium. Finally there was an Asus branded DVD RW optical drive.
"All appliance inlets shall be removal of all powers from the product together." This little gem was printed on a sticker on one of the power supplies and highlights the need for manufacturers to work more closely with local distributors when producing documentation for equipment.
The final step in any translation process should be to have the text read by a native speaker. One can only guess at what the instruction is meant to convey. The Asus website is also poor so perhaps local suppliers are the best source of troubleshooting information. The printed manuals, on the other hand, are of a much higher standard.
Asus also provides server management software called ASWM with the device. Administrators can remotely monitor server health via a web interface. Temperatures, fan speed, network activity and drive usage data is logged and can be displayed graphically to enhance system troubleshooting. Both Windows and Linux versions are supplied.
The TS500-E5 also comes in a PA4 design which includes a single power supply and different PCI slot configuration.
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The TS500 is built for both reliability and speed. Hot swappable hard-drives and power supply reduce costly maintenance downtime. For the most part the machine appears to be well engineered. Energy consumption was remarkably low peeking at only 228.4W and idling at 148.5W. Obviously adding more drives will increase power consumption figures. Annoyingly, USB keyboard and mouse did not operate when plugged in initially and so PS2 devices were used; it's hard to believe the device would be sold with anything but USB input devices.
The tower form-factor lends itself to expansion and flexibility via the five PCI/PCI-E slots. The capacity to take the latest processors further enhances the longevity of this product. Memory and drive capacity also have excellent expansion potential.
Performance scores were remarkable for a server in this price range and achieved with such low power consumption. The score achieved with Sungard was particularly good. The new 45nm processors and chipset certainly prove their worth.
As tested, the TS500 sells for AU$4,299, though the base model is priced as low as AU$1,999. The base model differences include lower specifications for processors and RAID control. The warranty period is three years with an "advance replacement" policy for the first 12 months. This allows replacement parts to be shipped to the owner prior to inspection by the manufacturer — obviously this is done in conjunction with consultation with technical support to ascertain the nature of the problem.