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Dell PowerEdge R815

The Dell PowerEdge R815's core density is impressive, setting it up neatly for virtualisation duties. Using AMD's 6000 series processors, it hits 48 cores across only four sockets, all in a 2U chassis.
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Written by Craig Simms on
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Dell PowerEdge R815

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The Dell PowerEdge R815's core density is impressive, setting it up neatly for virtualisation duties. Using AMD's 6000 series processors, it hits 48 cores across only four sockets, all in a 2U chassis.

Our particular sample turned up with four Opteron 6174s clocked at 2.2GHz, and a somewhat meek 64GB of RAM — which can thankfully be scaled up to a maximum 256GB across the 32 DIMM slots.

Code-named Magny-Cours, the Opteron 6000 series brings along what AMD calls Direct Connect 2.0, fundamentally an architecture focused on increasing bandwidth between the memory and CPUs. HyperTransport (HT) 3.0 links from processors have been increased from three to four, RAM has gone quad-channel (sort of), and it's all helped along by HT Assist.

The new processors don't actually have all their cores on a single die — rather they've been split into two dies of either four or six cores, for an upper limit of 12 cores per package. Each die has 6MB L3 cache on board, two memory channels (so perhaps not so much quad-channel as dual-dual- channel) and four HT3.0 links to connect to the other die in the package.

Zoom out to the CPU scale, and there's another four HT3.0 links to keep the system connected. Only the CPUs connected to the dual SR5670 northbridges use all four links — the rest only use three, which regardless allow any CPU to talk to any other CPU in a 4P system.

Every CPU can talk directly to each other in a 4P system thanks to possessing four HT 3.0 links. (Credit: AMD)

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In the framework of the PowerEdge R815 all of this leads to a system that has strengths in virtualisation, but thanks to its 2U size could also pass as a generic server for small business purposes.

Of course, the readouts aren't fantastically useful at this size ... but that's a heck of a lot of cores for the size of the box. (Screenshot by CBS Interactive)

So what exactly is inside Dell's PowerEdge R815? Let's take a quick photo tour around the 2U server to see what it offers.

Front of server

The power button, dual USB ports and a VGA port are provided on the front. Under the VGA port the service tag can be pulled out. To the right is a diagnostic readout, to help you, er, diagnose issues with the machine. If it's lit blue the server is running normally, if amber you've got a problem. (Credit: CBS Interactive)

PSUs

Flipping around to the rear, we have dual-redundant power supplies. These ones are rated at 1100W a pop. (Credit: CBS Interactive)

Removed PSU

1100W of power, easily removed. Although the PSUs do contribute a lot to the noise, the R815 is actually reasonably quiet for a 2U server. (Credit: CBS Interactive)

Rear ports

Still on the rear, a serial and VGA port, and to the right, two USB ports. The mystery black plastic on the left is covering where a Dell ILOM port would be. Or, as Dell calls it, the iDRAC. (Credit: CBS Interactive)

Networking

One of the many networking options, our server came with quad-gigabit Ethernet, powered by dual-Broadcom BMC5709C NetXtreme II chips. (Credit: CBS Interactive)

Fan bank

Opening the server up, we're greeted with a bank of six fans positioned halfway down the case. You can either remove the entire bank, or just individual fans. (Credit: CBS Interactive)

Removed fan bank

The fan bank, removed. (Credit: CBS Interactive)

Individual fan

The fans themselves only contain one set of blades, so if you hit a mechanical failure, you'll want to swap in a new one quick smart. (Credit: CBS Interactive)

Savvio drive

Dual-2.5-inch, 146GB, 15K RPM Seagate Savvios were supplied with the review sample, powered by Dell's PERC H700. Previously, the H700 only allowed Dell certified hard drives, but since then a firmware update has been released allowing non-certified drives to be attached. There are six hot-swappable 2.5-inch drive bays in the R815. (Credit: CBS Interactive)

Dual SD cards

Dual-SD card slots are included to offer reliability and redundancy. They're situated at the front behind the diagnostic readout. Directly behind them is a USB slot, the positioning allowing you to use extra length USB keys that are often precluded from use due to the USB slot being mounted on the motherboard. (Credit: Dell)

Battery backup

Battery backup for the PERC H700. This sits somewhat hidden in the plastic baffle that's designed to manage airflow — as a result when removing the baffle for service there's a good chance you'll not see the battery backup and rip it out if you're not careful. (Credit: CBS Interactive)

PERC H700

The PERC H700 handled the storage on our review sample, and offered dual mini-SAS ports. It's locked in with ridiculous amounts of plastic (as is the riser card it's plugged into), and required a huge amount of patience and a half-system disassembly to actually get it out. (Credit: CBS Interactive)

PERC H700 removed

...but we did it anyway. (Credit: CBS Interactive)

Front removal tab

The whole front section, storage, backplane and all, can be detached from the chassis by pressing tabs on either side inwards and pushing forwards. There's also an inconveniently placed notch in front of the tabs that took out a chunk of skin and caused a fun amount of bleeding when performing said activity. (Credit: CBS Interactive)

Broadcom networking chips

The Broadcom chips powering the quad GbE ports on the rear. (Credit: CBS Interactive)

IO board removal

You can separate the IO board from the CPU board for maintenance, simply by pushing out these Predator-mandible looking levers. (Credit: CBS Interactive)

IO board

Inside the machine at the IO board end. The PERC card has been removed here. (Credit: CBS Interactive)

CPU heatsinks

The heatsinks pretending to be armchairs are covering the quad Opterons. This configuration is a bit memory light, with only 16GB per processor. (Credit: CBS Interactive)

iDRAC

The connector for the iDRAC module. (Credit: CBS Interactive)

RAM

AMD enables quad-channel RAM thanks to Direct Connect 2.0. (Credit: CBS Interactive)

AMD northbridge

Bye-bye Broadcom — AMD's new northbridge holds the keys to the 12-core magic. There's two of these chips on the board. (Credit: CBS Interactive)

AMD southbridge

AMD covers the southbridge as well. (Credit: CBS Interactive)

Nuvoton

The Nuvoton chip handles a few things — PCI-based VGA controllers (there's a Matrox G200eW inside), health monitoring via IPMI, and remote keyboard/mouse interaction. (Credit: CBS Interactive)

iSCSI key port

You can optionally throw in an iSCSI key to treat one of your on-board Ethernet ports as an initiator and offload processing from the CPU. (Credit: CBS Interactive)

PCI-e slots

Dual-PCI-E x4 slots. The blue button-looking implement is a thermal sensor. (Credit: CBS Interactive)

Riser card

One of the risers with dual-PCI-e x8 slots. The PERC riser card also had two PCI-e x8 slots on it, although it's electrically limited to x4. (Credit: CBS Interactive)

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