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Mesh X-Serve 146

  • Editors' rating
    7.8 Very good

Pros

  • Fast 64-bit AMD Opteron processor
  • dual SATA disk drives and on-board RAID
  • dual gigabit Ethernet interfaces
  • Windows Small Business Server 2003 pre-installed

Cons

  • Single processor
  • single power supply
  • non-ECC memory

With the server marketplace dominated by big-name vendors like Dell, HP and IBM it’s easy to overlook others, such as Mesh Computers, who are equally able to meet the needs of small businessses. Moreover, Mesh's X-Serve 146 is quick, remarkably well specified and, with Microsoft's Windows Small Business Server 2003 included in the price, great value for money.

Design & features

The X-Serve 146 is nothing special to look at: it comes housed in a conventional desk-side casing with a hinged front door to protect the on/off and reset buttons; usefully a set of USB ports is accessible from the front, while power is supplied by a single 550-watt PSU with an extra fan alongside to keep everything nice and cool.

A large lockable door on the side swings out to expose the innards; inside the roomy chassis you’ll find a compact Tyan Tomcat motherboard, based on an nVIDIA chipset and fitted, -- on this model -- with an AMD Opteron 146 processor. One limitation is the lack of a slot for a second processor, although few buyers bother to upgrade even where such a facility is provided. Moreover, the Opteron 146 is a 64-bit chip that's more than capable of handling a small business or departmental network.

On the memory front, the processor is accompanied by 2GB of RAM, expandable up to 4GB if required. You can fit ECC (Error Checking and Correcting) DIMMs if you want, although the base model comes with non-ECC PC-3200 DRAM as standard.

All the controllers required for normal server use are built onto the motherboard, including a pair of Gigabit Ethernet interfaces for LAN attachment. This is an important consideration, as two Ethernet connectors allow the X-Serve 146 to be used as an Internet gateway -- the default configuration with Windows Small Business Server 2003.

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You also get an integrated SATA controller for the storage, which is particularly well provided for on this model. Indeed, as well as slots for optional tape and optical drives there’s a cage and cabling for up to six internal hard disks. Ours came with just two 300GB Maxtor drives installed, configured as a mirrored pair using the hardware RAID facilities provided by the nVIDIA chipset. However, all the fixings are provided if you want to add more and, although it's not as neat as some we’ve seen, the cabling is workmanlike and there are yet more fans to help keep the drives cool.

The review server also came with a Sony DVD-RW drive that might seem a bit over the top, but can be useful for backup purposes. Similarly the on-board ATI Rage XL video controller is a little over-specified on a server, but it does the job and because it’s integrated onto the motherboard it doesn’t add to the price.

A conventional IDE interface is also available, and there are four PCI Express slots to accommodate other adapters should you need them. Four USB 2.0 and a pair of FireWire interfaces allow you to connect printers, external storage devices and other peripherals.

Performance

On paper, then, the X-Serve 146's specification is impressive. It also has a lot to commend it in use. To start with, it booted in just a few seconds, and then loaded the OS very quickly compared to other similarly specified systems we've examined, which can take ages to get up and running.

Another plus was the pre-installed Windows Small Business Server 2003 software, although you will have to complete the setup and customise it for your particular needs. Fortunately all the software required comes ready to configure as part of the disk image; there are also the usual wizards to help simplify the procedure. Consequently, it took us little more than an hour to build a working file and print server, plus both an IIS Web and Exchange email server setup.

That done, we had performance and storage capacity to spare, enabling us to also load the latest VMWare virtualisation software and support additional virtual machines on the same system. Indeed, we were surprised at just how capable and versatile the X-Serve 146 proved to be compared with similar systems from bigger vendors costing a lot more. At just under £1,000 (inc. VAT) it’s very good value with five Windows client access licences and a year’s on-site warranty also included as standard.

All in all, the Mesh X-Serve 146 is a remarkably agile, well-specified and competitively priced small-business solution. It's certainly well worth considering alongside similar products from the big-name vendors.

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