Dell PowerEdge 2850

  • Editors' rating
    8.0 Excellent


  • Dual-core Xeon processors
  • six hot-swap drive bays
  • integrated remote management
  • integrated RAID controller
  • lots of high-availability options


  • Fairly hefty power consumption

Unlike desktop PCs, network servers tend to evolve gradually, vendors preferring to update existing products as new technologies get released rather than launch completely new models. This is exactly what’s happened with the PowerEdge 2850: it may have been a mainstay of the Dell server range for over two years, but thanks to support for dual-core processors, it's still a force to be reckoned with.

The PE2850 is a 2U rack-mount server with a neat and very well-designed interior that leaves plenty of space to add extra adapters and internal disk drives. A set of six hot-swap fans means that cooling shouldn’t be an issue, and there’s an optional redundant power supply for high availability. Slide-out mounting rails come as standard, and no special tools are required for access or servicing.

The motherboard is built around an Intel E7520 chipset with an 800MHz frontside bus and two processor slots capable of accommodating both single-core and the latest dual-core Xeon EM64T chips. The single core processors can be clocked at up to 3.6GHz, while there's a 2.8GHz limit on the dual-cores, a pair of which were fitted on our review system.

Maximum memory is 16GB, although our system shipped with a more modest (yet still reasonable) 2GB of 400MHz DDR2 SDRAM; as you'd expect, ECC protection is provided as standard. Memory mirroring is yet another option, but this requires at least four memory modules (our system had just two), halves the amount of available memory and boosts the price significantly.

Still, the PE2850 isn’t overly expensive product, and there's the added bonus that much of what you need in a server comes integrated onto the PE2850 motherboard. This includes a pair of Gigabit Ethernet interfaces and a more than adequate ATI Radeon video controller. Further options can then be added via the three expansion slots, the exact nature of which depend on the type of riser fitted.

As installed on the review model, for example, the default is a PCI-Express riser with one four-lane and one eight-lane PCI Express slot, plus a single 64-bit/100MHz PCI-X connector. Alternatively you can specify a PCI-X riser with three 64-bit/133MHz slots, with a basic hardware RAID controller also provided on both cards.

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Storage is all Ultra320 SCSI, with six internal drive bays providing plenty of scope to handle a wide variety of tasks. Indeed, maximum capacity is an impressive 1.8TB using 10,000rpm disks, although if you opt for the faster 15,000 rpm drives that figure drops to 876GB. We didn’t need anywhere near that, so the review system just came with a pair of 15,000rpm 73GB Maxtor Atlas drives with simple mirroring configured for protection.

The drive bays are all hot-swappable and one can be used to accommodate a tape drive, if required. You can also choose to add an optional dual-channel RAID controller with battery-backed cache and, as on the review system, external SCSI ports to support additional storage and backup devices.

Management is well catered for. A small diagnostic panel at the front tells you if anything needs attention, on top of which you get remote monitoring as standard, courtesy of an integrated baseboard management controller (BMC). Compatible with the Intelligent Platform Management Interface (IPMI) 1.5 specification, this can be used with similarly compatible management tool, such as Dell’s own OpenManage application (included), and further extended by fitting a Dell Remote Access Card (DRAC) like that on the review system.

We arranged for the server to ship without an operating system, but there’s the usual choice of Windows Server, Red Hat Enterprise Linux and Novell products to choose from, all of which can be factory installed. You also get a three year on-site warranty as standard.

It may have been around for a while now, but it’s hard not to be impressed by the PowerEdge 2850 and its easy to understand why it has proved so durable. With a huge choice of options it’s a very flexible workhorse, capable of being used for a range of purposes from general file and print sharing through to Web, database and application hosting. It’s also highly suited to life as virtual server platform -- in fact, the review system was supplied expressly for us to test out a variety of such products.

We used the server to run both the Linux implementation of VMWare Server and Microsoft’s Windows Virtual Server 2005 R2. We then configured and ran a variety of Windows and Linux virtual machines under these environments. The PE2850 handled this work with ease, enabling us to run several virtual machines simultaneously and still get respectable test results.

Similar servers are, of course, available from other vendors, but the PowerEdge 2850 remains a hard act to beat.