- ✓Dual-core (Woodcrest) Xeon processors
- ✓Upgradable to quad core
- ✓Good choice of SATA or 2.5in. SAS disks
- ✓Integrated TCP offload engine
- ✕1U format limits expandability
A 2-way SMP server designed to accommodate Intel dual-core Xeon processors, the PowerEdge 1950 sits at the top of Dell’s 1U rack-mount range. It’s not a particularly expandable solution — there simply isn’t room for lots of adapters or disks — but that hasn’t stopped Dell’s designers cramming a lot in to create a server that can be used for a variety of purposes.
The PE 1950 is very solid and well built. No special tools are needed to install or service it, and the whole of the top lifts off for access. A sliding rail kit can be supplied as an optional extra and there’s a lockable front bezel to prevent unauthorised tampering and stop the server being switched off accidentally. You can also specify a second, redundant, power supply if required.
The Intel motherboard takes up only a fraction of the space inside the chassis, with two prominent sockets for the 64-bit Xeon processors. The review system came with Woodcrest chips fitted (now referred to as the Xeon 5000 and 5100 series), which are both faster and more energy-efficient than earlier Intel dual-core designs. However, the amount of power you’ll have on tap will depend on the processors chosen, as will the price you’ll have to pay.
Dual-core prices continue to fall as new designs are introduced and quad-core products are released. Our review sample, for example, had a pair of mid-range Xeon 5140 chips, clocked at 2.33GHz with a 1,333MHz frontside bus (FSB). You can also specify the much faster (3GHz) 5160 chips, although this will add an extra £1,090 (ex. VAT) to the price. At the other end of the scale are the Xeon 5050 processors, also clocked at 3GHz but with a 667MHz FSB, which will save £470 (ex. VAT) compared to our review setup. Dell has also recently added quad-core Xeons as an option.
Of course you could start with one processor and add another later as needed, but with such a huge range of options and prices it’s worth getting some expert advice. A low-cost configuration with one processor, for example, will probably be more than adequate for basic file and print sharing, but processor performance can have a big impact when it comes to clustering and application hosting. It’s also worth bearing in mind that processors need to be matched, and if you don’t order what you want up front you could encounter difficulties when upgrading later on. This perhaps explains why very few 2-way purchases are ever beefed up with a second processor.
Memory can also have a big effect, both on your wallet and what you can do with the server. There are eight DIMM sockets on the PE 1950, which can accommodate up to 32GB of DDR2, fully buffered, DRAM with optional memory sparing and mirroring capabilities for those looking for maximum reliability. You can start with as little as 256MB, but ours had a more reasonable 4GB — more than enough for file sharing and a decent amount if you're hosting an intranet server or a small company email system. If you go for a full 32GB of RAM, however, you’ll need deep pockets: you’ll have to stump up just under £20,000 (ex. VAT) on top of the price quoted here.
There are yet more options when it comes to storage, starting with a choice between standard 3.5in. internal hard disks or small 2.5in. notebook-format drives. With 3.5in. drives the limit is just two, using either Serial ATA (SATA) or Serial Attached SCSI (SAS) connectivity. The SATA disks can hold up to 750GB each, while the biggest SAS drive is limited to 300GB. If you opt for smaller 2.5in. drives, SAS is your only choice, at a mere 73GB per disk; however, you can cram four 2.5in. disks into the case, as on our review system.
Our review server also came with a basic integrated RAID controller, although more advanced plug-in RAID adapters are optionally available. You can also specify a TCP offload engine (TOE) to be enabled as an option on the integrated Gigabit Ethernet network interface, which would be valuable when connecting the server to an iSCSI SAN.
Further expansion is via plug-in adapters: riser cards provide either two x8 lane PCI-Express slots or a pair of 64-bit 133MHz PCI-X connectors.
On the software front, Dell will factory-install Windows Server 2003, Red Hat Enterprise Linux 4 ES or SUSE Linux Enterprise Server 10. Finally, you get the usual integrated remote management controller plus additional out-of-band management options.