Caption by: Alan Stevens
In 2010 Dell was kept busy revamping its family of PowerEdge servers to take advantage of Intel's latest Xeon processors. The result, in the main, was big and highly scalable products, mostly aimed at the large enterprise market. By contrast the PowerEdge R310 which, with a current starting price of just £519 (ex. VAT), is designed to appeal to buyers of much more modest means.
Dell's entry-level PowerEdge R310 starts at just £519 (ex. VAT)
Given that the price tag is similar to that of a decent desktop, some compromises have inevitably been made — the most obvious being the R310's single processor socket. Still, that socket can take a range of quad-core Intel Xeon 3400 processors, designed specifically to run in entry-level servers. Moreover, with up to 32GB of DDR3 memory, the R310 can be configured to handle a variety of small-business or departmental workloads, from general file and print sharing through specialist server hosting to more demanding virtualisation duties.
Naturally, the processor you choose will affect the price, although not hugely. Indeed there's just £100 between the slowest and quickest on offer: our review system shipped with a mid-range 2.66GHz Xeon X3450, costing just £50 more than the entry-level 2.4GHz X3430. For another £50 you can specify the 2.93GHz X3470, although for reasons best known to itself Dell has omitted the even quicker 3.06GHz X3480 from the option list. You can, however, choose a low-power 45W variant, the 1.86GHz L3426 — and, again, it's not expensive, adding just £90 to the base price.
You only get six DIMM slots, but on a system of this type that shouldn't be an issue. Ours came with 16GB of ECC-protected memory configured as standard which can be doubled to 32GB if you want. Unfortunately that will push the cost up quite a bit as you have to switch to RDIMM modules to go beyond 16GB, and that can be pricey.
The PowerEdge R310 has the build quality of its more expensive stablemates
That's about it as far as obvious compromises are concerned and, despite the PC-level starting price, the R310 is as well-engineered as much more expensive PowerEdge servers. The all-metal 1U chassis, for example, has a lift-off lid for access and there's the option for dual redundant power supplies to keep things running no matter what. The interior is neat and tidy, too, with five twin-rotor fans in the middle to keep everything cool; there's room at the front for four hard disks, with the option of either fixed or hot-swappable bays.
To fill the drive bays there's the choice of SATA and SAS disks up to 2TB per spindle, with support also for solid-state drives. The latter can be extremely expensive, though: Dell currently charges £1,410 (ex. VAT) for 100GB SSDs.
Our review unit came with a more modest pair of 2.5in. 146GB SAS drives. Because the on-board controller can only handle SATA, it also shipped with a Dell PERC H200A RAID controller. As well as SAS, this adapter also adds support for hot-swapping, with a variety of other storage HBAs available along with two PCI Express expansion slots to accommodate them.
Finishing off the spec are two Broadcom Gigabit Ethernet interfaces and a Dell iDRAC6 Express remote management controller, the review system shipping with the optional iDRAC6 Enterprise update (£220 ex. VAT), adding full graphical remote control and a dedicated management port. And finally, Dell's unique Lifecycle controller is also included, making for simple configuration without the need to hunt about for driver disks every time.
Dell's management console is included with the PowerEdge R310
Software, of course, will also add to the price with, at the time of our review, Dell offering to preload the 5-user version of Windows Small Business Server 2008 for £566.95 (ex. VAT). Other Windows versions can be employed if preferred; as well as loading up Windows, we also used the R310 as a testbed to review the latest release of Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL6).
Windows and Linux both installed without any problems, and performance levels proved respectable throughout our tests. The speed is nothing like what you'd expect to get on bigger PowerEdge servers, but it's fine for this type of entry-level solution and more than adequate for most small business and departmental needs. That said, most buyers will have to pay more than that desktop-level £519 to get a workable solution — our review configuration came in at £2,360 (ex. VAT). Still, it's worth it, and you're unlikely to break the bank no matter what specification you end up buying.
Caption by: Alan Stevens