For some inexplicable reason, Dell appears to be the only mainstream vendor to offer a server based on AMD's Opteron 4100 series processor. Which is surprising, because the server in question — the PowerEdge R415 — looks like excellent value for money, offering scalable server performance for buyers on a budget. It's also very configurable — although the various options do push up the price, and the R415 can quickly lose its bargain-basement appeal if you're not careful.
As with other 'R' models in the PowerEdge range, the R415 is a rack-mount server, just 1U high with a lift-off lid for easy access to a well-designed and cable-free and interior. Not that you can see much inside underneath the large amount of plastic trunking used to direct the airflow. This trunking, plus a central set of thermostatically controlled fans, results in a fairly quiet server by rack-mount standards.
The PowerEdge R415 is a slim (1U) rack-mount server based on AMD's Opteron 4100 series processors; the (very basic) entry-level configuration costs just £379 (ex. VAT)
At the time of writing, we found the R415 on sale on Dell's UK website from a very affordable £739 (ex. VAT), although that's for a very basic 'entry level' specification and most buyers will end up paying a lot more to get what they need.
To start with, for example, the base server comes with just one AMD processor, a quad-core Opteron 4122, leaving the second slot empty. Most buyers will want to fill this as a matter of course.
A second Opteron 4122 is only another £73 (ex. VAT), but if you're going to up the processor ante you might as well specify a pair of the many 6-core variants on offer. There's a choice of clock speeds and both 50W HE (Highly Efficient) and 32W EE (Extremely Efficient) 4100-series CPUs available.
All this adds to the price, and buyers looking for extra CPU muscle are likely to end up paying between £225 and £450 (ex. VAT), depending on the exact processors ordered.
It's the same story when it comes to memory: the base configuration ships with just 2GB of DDR3 RAM, but those with money to spend can expand this to a massive 128GB using all eight DIMM slots.
Some care is needed here, however. For example, if you only specify a single processor the memory ceiling is halved. There's also a choice of standard or low-voltage modules and UDIMM and RDIMM variants, each with its own limitations. Less technical buyers, who may be unsure of what they might need, are advised to get help before ordering.
The 1U chassis doesn't leave much room for storage — just four hot-swap front-accessible bays, plus the usual selection of 3.5in. and 2.5in. disks in a variety of capacities up to 3TB per spindle.
A paltry 250GB SATA disk is the default offering, although that's easily remedied. SAS and cheaper near-line SAS drives can also be specified, with a maximum spin speed of 10,000rpm. You can even go the whole hog and choose SSD, but that really will hike the price up and seems like overkill on what's supposed to be budget server. A 50GB SSD, for example, costs as much again as the base server!
A controller capable of handling SATA and SAS disks is included as standard (a Dell SAS 6/iR), but this only offers basic mirroring and data striping capabilities, so yet another upgrade is required to get more advanced RAID support. Several different adapters can be specified here, to go in the single PCI Express expansion slot. Alternatively, you can opt for an HBA to connect the server to external storage sources.
All these extras soon add up — and there's yet more, such as redundant power supplies, which add another £102 (ex. VAT), plus a choice of management cards.
To get an idea of what you're likely to have to pay, we priced up our test server, the specification we went for coming in at a whisker under £3,000 (ex. VAT) with the Dell discounts applied at the time of writing.
That price was for two Opteron 4162EE processors (1.7GHz, 6-core) supported by 16GB of low-voltage memory and four 2TB SATA disks. We also went for redundant power, along with a PERC H200 RAID controller and an iDRAC6 Express management card to enable us to configure and manage the server remotely. Dual Gigabit Ethernet ports are included as standard, along with a front bezel and mounting rails.
Although it's a long way off the base price, this is not bad for a 12-core server, which is built to the same high standard as other PowerEdge models, that can be put to all kinds of uses. Of course you'll also need an operating system, which will push the price up still further. It's a good idea to avoid the Foundation Edition of Windows Server 2008 R2 that we were sent, as this only supports a single processor. Indeed, you're better off going for a full Windows server install or one of the supported Linux distros that Dell offers to preinstall.
We can see the R415 used both as a general-purpose branch office or departmental server in large organisations, and also as a platform for email, security and other applications in small to medium-sized companies. We've also heard of it being used by vertical market specialists to deliver their solutions in an appliance-like format. It's not an HPC candidate, and although it could also be used for virtualisation, if that's what you're after a more scalable server with on-board hypervisor and more storage is going to be a better fit.