Acer Altos R520

  • Editors' rating
    7.7 Very good


  • Dual- or quad-core Xeon processors
  • Up to 32GB of memory
  • Six hot-swap disks
  • Choice of SATA or SAS interface
  • Optional RAID
  • PCI Express expansion slots


  • Noisy when all ten cooling fans are running
  • Operating system and optical drive not included in price

Server vendors would have us believe that there’s a huge amount of work involved in designing a new server when, for the most part, it’s just a matter of taking industry-standard components and bolting them together. Companies with a small market share, like Acer, can therefore still mix it with likes of Dell, HP and IBM, and develop products such as the Altos R520 that are every bit as competent and powerful as anything the market leaders have to offer.

The Altos R520 is a 1U rack-mount server with a clear role hosting infrastructure services such as Active Directory, DNS, DHCP, security firewalls and so on. It’s also very scalable: it can be configured with enough processing power to handle Web applications, and has room for enough internal storage to cope with basic file- and print-sharing duties. At a push you could even use it as a database or email server, although you may need to add external storage or connect to a SAN (Storage Area Network) where large amounts of data are involved.

It’s only 1U high, but there’s a lot crammed into the Altos R520, including dual core processors, masses of memory and up to eight internal hard disks.

Housed in a solid metal chassis with a clip-on front bezel, Acer has opted for a standard Intel OEM case with a slide-off lid giving plenty of elbow room when the internals need attention. Dual redundant power supplies were fitted on the review system, and we also counted some ten cooling fans in the main cavity plus two more in each of the power supplies. That's more than enough to ensure adequate airflow in a crowded rack, but when they’re all running they do make the R520 sound a bit like a jet fighter.

The internal layout is extremely neat. The Intel S5000PAL motherboard occupies about a third of the space with very few cables required; those that are needed are all clearly labelled. Diagrams and part lists are also pasted on the inside of the lid.

Two sockets are provided for 64-bit Intel Xeon processors. The test machine came with a pair of dual-core 1.6GHz Xeon 5110 chips, but any processor from the Xeon 5000 family can be specified including both dual and quad core implementations, with 4MB of L2 cache and clock speeds of up to 3GHz.

That makes the server very scalable. With dual-core processors, for example, you’re effectively buying a 4-way server, while with quad-cores fitted you’re into 8-way territory. Moreover, the Xeon 5000 processors all include support for Intel’s Virtualisation Technology (VT), making the R520 a good choice when it comes to running the latest VMWare, XenSource and Microsoft virtualisation tools that can take advantage of this feature.

To go with the processors the motherboard has lots of room to add memory, with eight paired DIMM slots on the quad-channel memory bus designed to take fully buffered DDR2 667 modules. The review server came with a modest 2GB installed, but, with the right capacity DIMMs, you can fit as much as 32GB altogether.

Error Checking and Correction (ECC), also comes as standard with optional memory mirroring and sparing to cope with possible failures. However, you’ll need at least double the RAM to take advantage of these options, making the server unnecessarily expensive if high availability isn’t a priority.

A year or so ago we wouldn’t have expected much internal storage on this kind of 1U server. However, with the advent of smaller 2.5in. disks that’s no longer the case. In fact, the Intel chassis used here has slots to take up to eight such disks altogether, plus an optional optical drive if required. In Acer’s configuration, two of these slots are for fixed disks while the remaining six are designed to be hot-swappable, with the disks mounted in special slide-out carriers.

Note, though, that the base models shipped by Acer don’t include any disks as standard — that’s typically down to the reseller. Ours came with a pair of 5,400rpm 80GB SATA Hitachi disks cabled to a separate daughterboard that can be swapped for a Serial Attached SCSI (SAS) card and drives if preferred. Either way, the maximum internal capacity is just under 1.2TB with plenty of choice when it comes to 2.5in. disk capacity and speed. RAID facilities are also built in, although mostly implemented in software — in which case, if data availability is an issue, it might be worth considering a plug-in host bus adapter instead.

An ATI controller looks after the display, while a pair of Intel PRO/1000 Ethernet interfaces handle network connection. You also get two expansion slots, both capable of taking PCI Express adapters, one of which takes high-profile cards and can also accommodate PCI-X adapters. As a result, you could easily add a host bus adapter for either internal or external storage, or additional network cards for connection to an iSCSI Storage Area Network.

Remote console redirection is yet another built-in option, and Acer also bundles its own server management tools with the R520. However, unlike servers from a direct seller such as Dell, the price doesn’t include an operating system or any help when it comes to installation. An optical drive is extra too, but both can be supplied by the reseller. Given that it’s based on industry-standard Intel components, all the usual certifications for Windows, Linux and NetWare apply to the R520. Acer itself offers a three-year on-site warranty for the hardware with additional installation, service and support services available from the reseller or system integrator involved.