If you thought tower servers were low-spec systems best suited to small businesses and simple file and print sharing, think again. With sockets for two Intel Xeon E5-2600 processors and up to 768GB of RAM, the Dell PowerEdge T620 is capable of handling demanding application workloads, just like the we reviewed in April. The tower chassis has room for a huge amount of storage — plus, of course, all the availability, management and virtualisation options expected of the PowerEdge marque.
The T620 chassis is a huge, very solid and impressive-looking piece of kit, calling for two people to lift it into position. Ours came with redundant 750-watt power supplies, with even higher outputs available should the specification require it.
Access to the interior comes via a lockable side panel that lifts off to reveal an incredibly tidy and spacious interior, mostly shrouded by a large plastic baffle to direct the airflow.
Two big hot-swap fans plug in at the rear handle all the cooling, apart from a fan in each power supply. However, that's not an issue as the T620 is a remarkably cool and quiet server — not something you'd want to sit next to, perhaps, but it could be located in a cupboard and not be too intrusive.
CPU & RAM
The dual-socket motherboard can accommodate any of the Xeon E5-2600 (Sandy Bridge EP) processors. Ours came with a pair of 8-core E5-2650 chips clocked at 2GHz, this variant featuring 20MB of L3 cache, Intel Turbo Boost 2 technology and a maximum QPI of 8GT/s, enabling the T620 to record an impressive score of 22182 on the Geekbench 64-bit processor benchmark. That's not far off the 24329 returned by the very similar PowerEdge R720 we tested earlier this year — the R720's higher score coming courtesy of slightly faster 2.7GHz Xeon E5-2680 processors.
An impressive 24 DIMM slots are located in banks on either side of the processors. Our review unit had a relatively modest 64GB of ECC-protected DDR3 memory installed, but you can go a lot higher. However, be prepared to pay handsomely to do so and try to specify the correct amount right from the start as swapping out existing DIMMs for bigger ones later on is even more costly. It's also worth noting that the memory on the review system had a 1333MHz rating, even though the E5-2650 can handle 1600MHz RAM.
Storage and expansion
When it comes to storage you're really spoilt for choice, with the disks all located behind a snap-off bezel at the front of the tower and several configurations available.
Go for 3.5in. disks, for example, and you'll get up to 12 hot-swap bays, with either 16 or 32 bays on offer if you opt for 2.5in. SFF drives. The 32-bay chassis can also be had with two backplanes, each with its own RAID controller — our review system shipped with twin PERC H710P adapters for just this purpose. And if you just can't resist it, the T620 can even be flipped on its side and slid into a rack server, with separate 5U chassis options to switch the disk orientation to match.
Finally, as with the rack-mount R720, you can also specify a chassis to take four hot-plug Dell Express Flash PCIe solid-state drives, delivering fast storage without the processor overheads of conventional SSDs.
The bulk of the storage, meanwhile, can be SATA or SAS, with a number of SSDs also available to order. Our review unit came with twelve 300GB 10,000rpm SAS disks, with larger and faster alternatives if required, plus copious SATA options for buyers on a budget.
A PERC S110 controller is built onto the motherboard, delivering RAID 0,1 and 5 — but this is limited to SATA, and just four disks at that. Most buyers will therefore need to specify a plug-in RAID controller, like the two PERC H710P cards on the review system.
There are seven PCI Express 3.0 slots available for expansion, two of which were already filled on our T620 by the RAID adapters. Even then, that left plenty of slots free, whether for yet more storage controllers, add-on LAN cards or multi-core GPU accelerator cards from NVidia and AMD, which can be used to further boost performance — assuming, of course, you're running compatible software.
Like other 12th-generation PowerEdge products, the T620 can be monitored and managed remotely using its built-in iDRAC 7 Express controller. One of our favourite management options, the latest implementation features an update to Dell's unique lifecycle controller and further improvements to the web interface, including enhanced power monitoring and management.
The Express controller comes free, but if you upgrade to the iDRAC 7 Enterprise edition you also get a graphical remote console and virtual media. Moreover, this upgrade is now implemented in software at a cost of £250 (ex. VAT) — or £291 (ex. VAT) if you go for the iDRAC 7 Enterprise with VFlash option, which comes with an SD card to pop in alongside the LCD status panel on the front of the server.
A network port dedicated to the iDRAC 7 controller is located at the back of the server, alongside a pair of Gigabit Ethernet interfaces for LAN connectivity. There are also four USB ports at the rear with two more at the front of the unit.
Finally, our review unit had an embedded hypervisor in the form of a dual SD card module, tucked away inside the casing in a slot at the top of the motherboard. This came with a VMware ESXi hypervisor on each of the SD cards, the second providing extra redundancy should one of the hypervisors fail.
In terms of processor and memory specifications the PowerEdge T620 tower and rack-mount R720 are very similar, if not identical. However, they differ enormously in terms of storage, with the tower server offering greater capacity and more configuration options. It's also a much quieter server, making it a better choice where a high-performance system is required but can only be deployed in an office rather than datacentre environment.
As already mentioned, we wouldn't want to sit next to a T620, but we'd happily recommend it for all sorts of uses. Maybe not file and print, as it's massively overspecified for such a role, but definitely to host web, email and database servers, as a virtualisation host for server consolidation, in a branch office or to run a private cloud.
Correctly configured, the PowerEdge T620 can do all this and more.