Thin, but no flakes: 4 thin-clients reviewed

Last month we looked at thin-client terminals. This month RMIT examines the back end for thin-client setups.



Thin, but no flakes: 4 thin clients tested
Last month we looked at thin-client terminals. This month RMIT examines the back end for thin-client setups.


Contents
Introduction
Acer Altos R510
Primergy RX200 S2
SunFire V20z
SunFire V210
Specifications
Editor's choice
About RMIT IT

In many server applications, the most critical performance factors are drive and LAN I/O because in many situations the server quite simply serves files and this usually has minimal CPU overhead. A powerful file server can make do with a single processor as long as you have a fast disk system and of course lots of disk cache to help it along.

Exceptions are of course things like database servers and thin-client servers, where not only are our clients requesting file data they are also putting a load on the server's CPU as it processes tasks such as a database index or, in the case of thin clients (TC), actually carrying out each TC's processing requirements.

In thin-client servers pretty much everything needs to be on steroids -- your disk subsystem, LAN I/O, CPU, and memory. Which is why each of the four servers in this product comparison feature dual CPUs and, in most cases, loads of memory.

Redundancy also needs to be a seriously considered. In a PC and server environment, if the server goes down, or at least the LAN link to it fails, then the PCs are quite capable of carrying out work locally meaning your staff can continue on with their work. Naturally there are plenty of scenarios where, even with PCs, productivity grinds to a halt and that is precisely what is going to happen with most thin-client workstations. Most TC workstations rely on the server for its applications, virtual processing, and system memory so if you lose the server it means your workers can only sit and twiddle their thumbs.

For me, an ideal thin-client server would need redundant power supplies, hard drives, disk controllers, CPUs and LAN ports (of course you would also need to support this with a sensibly-designed LAN infrastructure that offered path redundancy).

In terms of this review, all of the servers supplied to the Lab were only one rack unit (1RU) in size, so we know that expecting loads of redundancy in such a small form factor is a big ask. However, much to our surprise, Fujitsu actually managed to squeeze dual redundant power supplies into its 1RU chassis.

With the exception of the SunFire V210, all the servers feature direct mouse, keyboard, and monitor connectivity so they can be configured locally. The V210 on the other hand must be configured remotely via LAN or serial port.

When calculating the interoperability star rating, we assessed the server's support of network operating systems -- while bonus points were awarded for the support of Novell Netware, for example, it is not necessary for either of the major thin-client operating systems from Microsoft and Citrix.

Unfortunately, the Lab was unable to complete performance testing of the servers in time for this issue of T&B but will provide an update on the relative performance of each server in the next issue.


Contents
Introduction
Acer Altos R510
Primergy RX200 S2
SunFire V20z
SunFire V210
Specifications
Editor's choice
About RMIT IT

Acer Altos R510

The R510 is a very neatly designed server and while it may not have some of the redundancy features of the Fujitsu it nevertheless has some nice design touches.

The R510 features dual 3.0GHz Xeon EM64T processors with 1MB of cache and an 800MHz FSB. While the Acer only has six memory expansion slots compared to the eight featured in the other units, it can nevertheless support up to 2GB memory modules for an impressive 12GB total system memory; our test system shipped with two 512MB DDR ECC modules.

Interestingly, the front of the chassis conveniently features a second video port and USB port (there is a second video port at the rear along with standard PS/2 keyboard and mouse connectors). There is provision for three hot-swap drive bays at the front of the unit as Acer has tucked the CD-ROM drive on top of the first drive cradle. Our system shipped with just two drives. Acer, in an attempt to reduce sticker price, has opted for SATA drives, the remainder of the units tested feature Ultra SCSI 320 drives, although SCSI is available as an option.

However, the motherboard only natively supports two SATA devices so to make use of the third storage bay, an optional single SATA port expansion card must be purchased from Acer. The drive cradles slide in and out smoothly and have a positive locking mechanism.

The R510 has a single 450W power supply and two 66MHz PCI-X slots although one slot is only half height. The PCI-X slots are horizontal and are both on a removable passive backplane, which is the easiest to remove of the backplanes and has a simple tool-less locking mechanism to retain expansion cards.

Cooling has been taken seriously with four dual-rotor fans drawing air from the front of the chassis and via an airflow guide passing the air through the CPUs' large copper heat sinks and the memory modules. A single fan cools the expansion slots and the power supply features a pair of cooling fans although if one of the power supply fans fails it is not a simple replacement task like the other fans.

The case cover has the obligatory Quick Reference sheet stuck to the inside and, while not as extensive as some, it nevertheless does save some trips to the manuals on occasion. Another feature unique to the Acer, in this group at least, is the inclusion of a case intrusion sensor. OS support is quite good with support for Netware -- only the Fujitsu also supports Novell -- although Linux support is a little sparse.

Product Acer Altos R510
Price AU$3200 inc GST
Vendor Acer Computer Australia
Phone 02 8762 3000
Web www.acer.com.au
 
Interoperability
½
Solid OS support with Windows, SCO, Linux, and Novell Netware.
Futureproofing
½
No out-of-band LAN management port but does have three drive bays and good memory expansion potential.
ROI
½
Very good feature set at a bargain price.
Service
24x7 phone support, 3-year parts and labour, next business day on-site
warranty.
Rating
½
Acer Altos R510


Contents
Introduction
Acer Altos R510
Primergy RX200 S2
SunFire V20z
SunFire V210
Specifications
Editor's choice
About RMIT IT

Fujitsu-Siemens Primergy RX200 S2

The little 1RU RX200 has quite a few features that the other servers do not and manages to pack a surprising amount of functionality in the thin chassis.

The first thing you notice upon unpacking the unit is the short 240V power cable issuing from the front of the case and plugging into the front-mounted power supply. This means that you must first remove the 240V feed when replacing the power supply, and really it could've been implemented more elegantly inside the system, but it's a small gripe really.

And the reason for the power supply at the front of the RX200? Quite simply the RX200 is the only unit tested that includes dual 480W hot-swap power supplies, both inline, with one at the front and one at the back of the case. Each power supply has an independent external 240V feed and four small fans provide the cooling. The fans can all be replaced without the need for tools and clip-on plastic flow guides ensure the airflow is directed where needed.

Cooling for the remainder of the system has certainly not been shirked either with 11 cooling fans providing airflow through the hard-drive enclosures and through the massive copper CPU heat sinks and memory modules, and surprisingly there is provision for another two fans at the rear of the case.

Beneath the heat sinks are a pair of 3.6GHz Xeon EM64T processors with 1MB of cache and an 800MHz FSB. The eight memory modules in the test rig amounted to an impressive 8GB of DDR ECC memory all providing substantial grunt for your thin clients.

The inclusion of the second power supply has meant that the case no longer supports as many drive bays as the other 1RU chassis. It makes do with two Ultra SCSI 320 capable hot-swap bays, which can of course be configured to RAID 0 to provide redundancy. The hot-swap cradles are quite finicky to remove and install but this should be a relatively rare need anyway. The RX200 has a pair of gigabit Ethernet ports and two horizontal PCI-X slots that reside on a removable passive backplane.

There is no case lock and the cover can be removed after loosening a single screw, however the cover does include a very detailed map of the inside of the RX200 often negating any need to refer to the manual.

Product Fujitsu-Siemens Primergy RX200 S2
Price AU$13,862
Vendor Fujitsu Australia
Phone 02 9776 4766
Web www.fujitsu.com/au/
 
Interoperability
Very good with support for Windows, Solaris Linux, and Novell Netware.
Futureproofing
Very good memory expansion potential, no out-of-band LAN management, the only unit with redundant power.
ROI
Great features set with class-leading redundancy but also significantly more expensive than the other units.
Service
3-years next business day on-site warranty, 24x7 phone support.
Rating
½
Fujitsu-Siemens Primergy RX200 S2


Contents
Introduction
Acer Altos R510
Primergy RX200 S2
SunFire V20z
SunFire V210
Specifications
Editor's choice
About RMIT IT

SunFire V20z

In the 1RU SunFire beats a pair of Opteron 248 hearts running at 2.2GHz, each equipped with 1MB of cache. The benefit of the Opterons, other than blistering CPU performance, is that they can simultaneously run 32- and 64-bit code.

Each processor has access to four memory slots, two of which were occupied by 1GB DDR ECC modules for a system total of 4GB -- add another four modules and the system will top out at the same 8GB as the Fujitsu. However this is not the system limit, with higher density modules the V20z can support up to 16GB.

The front of the chassis features a CD-ROM and floppy drive and just two hot-swap Ultra SCSI 320 drive bays -- other vendors manage to squeeze the floppy and CD-ROM drive above the drive bays and thus provide three bays. But then again, the front space is also restricted by the operator panel and liquid crystal display. The drive cradles were not "over-engineered" but were robust and were refreshingly smooth and positive when removed or inserted.

The internal layout of the system has not left space for a pair of power supplies and the V20z has no redundancy in this regard with a single 470W unit. Cooling fans are not as abundant as the Fujitsu but with two for each CPU's very large copper heat sink and another four fans cooling the memory slot's power supply it is certainly more than adequate. It is also worth noting that, like the Fujitsu, all the fans are paired so if one fails the second fan will ensure airflow is still maintained in that region, albeit slightly diminished.

The V20z has a pair of horizontal PCI-X slots, one of which is full length; we should note that the full-length slot supports card speeds up to 133MHz and the half-length slot up to 66MHz.

Another redundant feature is the inclusion of a pair of gigabit Ethernet ports. The quick reference guide mounted on the case cover is even more detailed than the Fujitsu and includes a diagram of major components, cabling diagram, the locations and setting of jumpers, and an extensive list of POST codes.

Unlike the SunFire V210, the V20z has PS/2 mouse, keyboard, and a monitor port, and so can be directly configured. Surprisingly, the V20z IP can still be configured via the front panel with three buttons and an LCD providing navigation and menu display -- I guess this is still very convenient if you simply plug the server into your rack and do not want to fiddle around with keyboards and monitors.

Being a Sun product one could perhaps be forgiven for assuming that the only OS supported is Solaris but the V20z also supports various 32- and 64-bit versions of Linux and Windows 2000 and 2003 Server.

Product Sun V20Z
Price AU$5325
Vendor Sun
Phone 1800 628 193
Web www.sun/com/v20z
 
Interoperability
Very good support for Windows, Solaris and Linux, with some support for 64-bit versions as well.
Futureproofing
Very good memory expansion potential, out-of-band LAN management.
ROI
A lot of grunt and features at a very modest price.
Service
Hardware only. Included 3-year, next business day, on-site warranty.
Rating
SunFire V20z


Contents
Introduction
Acer Altos R510
Primergy RX200 S2
SunFire V20z
SunFire V210
Specifications
Editor's choice
About RMIT IT

SunFire V210

While the V20z broke the mould by eschewing some of Sun's more traditional features, the V210 is more loyal to the fold. For starters, the V210 has a pair of 1.34GHz UltraSPARC IIIi processors rather than the Opterons in the V20z. So it would not come as a surprise that the V210 is not as flexible in terms of OS support with Solaris 8, 9, and 10 the start and the end of it.

Each processor has four memory slots available and the test system was equipped with four 512MB DDR ECC modules for a total of 4GB. However, the system can be configured with 1GB modules for a total of 8GB.

In common with the other Sun, the V210 has two mass storage bays at the front, the potential third location is occupied by the CD ROM drive and System Configuration Card (SCC) reader. Sadly we did not receive any documentation with the server but after some searching on Sun's Web site we managed to find details of the data stored on the SCC which includes unique network ID information as well as OpenBoot PROM (NVRAM) that is read by the system on boot up.

The V210 does not have keyboard, mouse, or video connectors, so during initial installation the configuration is carried out via the serial or dedicated LAN management ports.

The V210 has a single 320W power supply which has a relatively large footprint; with a slight redesign it should be possible to fit a pair of hot-swap redundant supplies in the same footprint. The system only has a single, full-length PCI-X slot and this is modestly clocked at 66MHz. There can be no complaints when it comes to LAN bandwidth on this baby -- with four Gigabit Ethernet ports the V210 can cope with an awful lot of traffic, plus you have the luxury of multiple redundant paths. It is worth noting that should the V210 not have enough expansion potential for your needs, there is a 2RU version of the unit called the V240 and this features two additional drive bays, three PCI-X slots, and dual power supplies.

Cooling is certainly adequate with four fans providing airflow for the drive bays and motherboard. The power supply has two fans and each CPU has an enclosed heat sink with a pair of fans at one end; the enclosure ensures all the airflow passes through the cooling fins.

Velcroed to the inside of the case cover is a component map and service procedures chart that covers the basics, such as fan replacement and motherboard replacement.

If data security is one of your primary concerns then the optional Sun Crypto 500 Accelerator Card may well help you sleep peacefully as it provides on the fly encryption without impacting on the primary processors.

Product Sun V210
Price AU$7325
Vendor Sun
Phone 1800 628 193
Web www.sun.com/v210
 
Interoperability
Only supports Solaris OS which is certainly adequate for use as a thin-client server.
Futureproofing
½
Relatively low memory expansion potential when compared to the other servers, but has 4Gb LAN ports and out-of-band LAN management.
ROI
½
A good feature set but even with the four LAN ports we feel the V20Z is a better buy.
Service
½
Hardware: 1-year, next business day, on-site warranty. Software: 90-days phone support.
Rating
SunFire V210

Specifications

Model tested Acer Altos R510 Fujitsu-Siemens Primergy RX200 S2 SunFire V20Z SunFire V210
Company Acer Computer Australia Fujitsu Australia Sun Microsystems Sun
Web site www.acer.com.au www.fujitsu.com/au/ www.sun/com/v20z www.sun.com/v210
Phone 02 8762 3000 (02) 9776 4766 1800 628 193 1800 628 193
Price range (min. config to max. config) AU$2530 inc GST / due to the variety of configurations available, please refer to www.byo.acer.com.au AU$3600-AU$40,900 AU$3455 (1 x Opteron 244, 1GB, 73GB disk) AU$8525 (2 x Opteron 252, 4GB, 73GB disk) AU$4610 ( 1 x USIIIi 1.34GHZ, 1GB, 73GB Disk), AU$12,970 (2 x USIIIi 1.34GHZ, 8GB, 2 x 73GB Disk)
Price as tested AU$3200 inc GST AU$13,862 AU$5325 AU$7325
Included standard warranty period and support features 24x7 phone support, 3-year parts and labour next business day, on-site warranty. 3-years next business day on site Callcentre 24x7 Hardware only -- included 3-year, next business day, Sun on site Hardware: 1-year, next business day, Sun on site. Software: 90-days phone support.
Extended warranty availability, duration and cost 3-year parts and labour 4-hour response Mon-Fri 9am-5pm AU$155 inc GST, 3-year parts and labour 4-hour response 24x7 AU$1940 inc GST Mon-Fri same business day AU$479 24x7, 4-hours response AU$810 24x7, 2-hours response AU$1200 Hardware options available to upgrade to 24x7, same/next day hardware support for 1, 2, or 3 years. Options to upgrade hardware to 7x24, same/next day hardware for 1, 2, or 3 years. Software 24x7x365 included in any upgrade.
Specifications        
Rack mount chassis height (xRUs) 1RU 1RU 1RU 1RU
CPU type (brand/model) Intel Xeon EM64T Intel Xeon EM64T AMD Opteron 248 Sun UltraSPARC IIIi
CPU speed (supplied) 3.0GHz 800MHz FSB 3.6GHz 800MHz FSB 2.2GHz 1.34GHz
CPU internal cache (supplied) 1MB 1MB 1MB 1MB
Number of CPUs supported (min/max supplied) 1 / 2 / 2 1 / 2 / 2 1 / 2 / 2 1 / 2 / 2
Memory (min/max supplied) 512MB / 12GB / 1GB 1GB / 16GB / 8GB 2GB / 16GB / 4GB 512MB / 8GB / 4GB
Memory type DDR 333 CL2.5 ECC Reg DDR2 333 (up to 400) ECC DDR 333 CL2.5 ECC Reg DDR 333 CL2.5 ECC Reg
HDD capacity (supplied /max) 2 x 80GB SATA / 3 x 250GB SATA OR 3 x 300GB SCSI (SCSI HDD requires SCSI RAID controller) 2 x Fujitsu MAS3735NC 15k RPM 73.5GB / 10k RPM 320GB 2 x SUN (Seagate) Cheetah ST336607LC 10k RPM 36GB /One or two 73/146/300-GB Ultra320 SCSI disk drives 2 x SUN (Seagate) Cheetah ST336607LC 10k RPM 36GB / One or two 73/146-GB Ultra160 SCSI disk drives
HDD interface SATA 150 OR SCSI U320 Ultra SCSI 320 Ultra SCSI 320 Ultra SCSI 320
HDD controller RAID capable Yesâ€"SATA RAID 0, 1 (SATA RAID 5 with optional SATA RAID Controller. SCSI HDD requires SCSI RAID Controller) RAID 1 (optional RAID 0, 10) RAID 1 No
Hot swap HDD bays (Yes or No) Yes Yes Yes Yes
Number of drive bays (total/used) 3 / 2 (note expansion card needed for third bay) 2 / 2 2 / 2 2 / 2
Optical drive (type) CD-ROM (optional DVD-ROM/CD-RW drive) DVD-ROM CD-ROM DVD-ROM
Network chipset (brand/model) 1 x Intel 82541PI and 1 x Marvell 88E8050 (PCI-E) Intel 82546EB N/A N/A
Number of LAN ports included 2 x gigabit 2 x gigabit 2 x gigabit; 1 x 10/100Mb (out-of-band management) 4 x gigabit; 1 x 10Mb (out-of-band management)
USB / serial / PS/2 / video 3 / 1 / 2 / 1 3 / 1 / 2 / 1 1 / 1 / 2 / 1 2 / 1 / 0 / 0
Mainboard chipset Intel E7320 MCH Intel E7520 AMD N/A
Mainboard expansion (AGP, PCI, PCI-X) 1 x 66MHz PCI-X/PCI Express & 1 x low profile 66MHz PCI-X 1 x 133MHz PCI-X and 1 x low profile 66MHz PCI-X 1 x 133MHz PCI-X & 1 x 66MHz PCI-X (half length) 1 x 66MHz PCI-X
Power supply (watts) 450 2 x 480 1 x 470 1 x 320
Power supply redundant hot swap (Y/N) No Yes No No
Other hardware included None Fan unit with 10 fans IPMI v1.5 and CLI (inbound management), IPMI v1.5, CLI, SNMP (outbound management)â€"Remote power on / off, remote access to BIOS, remote FRU status SNMP, CLI (inbound management), CLI SNMP (outbound management), Remote power on/off
Operating systems supported Windows Server 2003; Netware 5.1/ 6.0 6.5; Ent Linux Adv Server 3.0; SCO UnixWare 7.1.4; SCO OpenServer 5.0.7 Windows Server 2000, 2003 (Std, Ent, Web); Netware 6.5; SUSE Enterprise Server 8/ 9; Red Hat Enterprise 2.1/ 3/ 4 Solaris 10 on x64 (64-bit), Solaris 9 OS (x86 Platform Edition 4/04), standard 32- and 64-bit Linux distributions (Red Hat Enterprise Linux 3.0 32-bit and 64bit, SUSE Linux Enterprise Server 8, 64-bit, community 64-bit Linux support via SUSE PRO 9), 32-bit Windows 2000, Windows Server 2003 WHCL-certified Solaris 10 Solaris 8 (02/04) or later / Solaris 9 (09/04) or later/ Solaris 10
Bundled software EasyBUILD CD Suite (Includes System CD for OS installation, Management CD containing Acer Server Manager software, Resource CD containing drivers, and Utilities and Manuals CD) ServerStart package incl. ServerBooks CD, ServerSupport CD and ServerView Management CD None Solaris 10, Java Desktop System, StarOffice


Contents
Introduction
Acer Altos R510
Primergy RX200 S2
SunFire V20z
SunFire V210
Specifications
Editor's choice
About RMIT IT

T&B Editor's choice

Editor's choice: SunFire V20z

There is no denying that the Fujitsu-Siemens Primergy RX200 S2 is a very sweet system with great attention to detail and loads of features, including hot swap redundant power supplies, but at the end of the day it's just too expensive.

We could almost buy four similarly configured Acer Altos R510 servers for the same price, and in this case who would care if one of the Acer's single power supplies failed when there would be three others to take up the load.

You could argue that the redundancy features of the Fujitsu are a bit of a moot point in a large thin-client server farm, however if you are just starting down the thin-client path with just a single server the redundancy of the Fujitsu could be a compelling argument.

But for our money the SunFire V20Z, only a little more expensive than the Acer, is the way to go and we are hoping to confirm later this month during the performance testing that the dual Opterons in the V20Z will blow away the competition.

This article was first published in Technology & Business magazine.
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Contents
Introduction
Acer Altos R510
Primergy RX200 S2
SunFire V20z
SunFire V210
Specifications
Editor's choice
About RMIT IT

About RMIT IT Test Labs

RMIT IT Test Labs

RMIT IT Test Labs is an independent testing institution based in Melbourne, Victoria, performing IT product testing for clients such as IBM, Coles-Myer, and a wide variety of government bodies. In the Labs' testing for T&B, they are in direct contact with the clients supplying products and the magazine is responsible for the full cost of the testing. The findings are the Labs' own -- only the specifications of the products to be tested are provided by the magazine. For more information on RMIT, please contact the Lab Manager, Steven Turvey.