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Sun Microsystem's Sun Fire X4275 is an excellent all-rounder, although we'd love it if the noise could be cut down a little more.
External and internal design
The front of Sun's 2RU Xeon 5500 series server is dominated by 12 quick-release 3.5-inch drive bays, with a smattering of diagnostic lights — some on the drive sleds themselves for quick-look determination of failure. Six of the sleds in our supplied machine were blanks, waiting to be replaced with the real thing when necessary.
A flip lid exposes two banks of six Servo G0638D12BAZP-10 60mm fan units for a total of 12 units, each unit containing its own redundant fan. They're quick-removable simply by pulling on them, no latch required — however, you can't pull only one fan at a time if it fails, as two fans are attached to each quick removable module.
The 60mm fans are quite loud as server fans tend to be, and come in modules of two. (Credit: CBS Interactive)
Each one of these pushes 69.3CFM of air at a maximum of 12,000rpm at 63dBA — needless to say the 12 of them, in combination with the Sanyo Denki 40mm, max 14,700rpm, 24CFM, 55dBA fans in both Power-One SPASUNM-03G 1050W, 85 per cent efficiency power supplies make a hell of a racket when the server is running at full load. Sun claims an operational noise level of 69.8dBA.
The redundant power supply. Each module runs at a stonking 1050W. (Credit: CBS Interactive)
Once you've flipped the fan lid you can push the rest of the lid off by sliding a button to the side, although if the server is running this will immediately power it down. This not only reveals the machine's innards, but the plastic baffling shielding the RAM and CPU heatsinks to direct airflow from the front of the machine to the back. This can be lifted off via a hinge attached to the rear of the fan cage.
The dual CPUs and RAM are covered with a plastic baffle to direct airflow. (Credit: CBS Interactive)
While the BIOS in the Sun Fire is very much standard fare, hitting F4 puts you into "expert mode", opening up a swathe of extra configuration options for CPU, power states, memory, USB configuration, PCI latency and QPI adjustment.
The server supplied to us by Sun contained two Xeon E5540 "Gainestown" CPUs clocked at 2.53GHz with four physical cores apiece. With a Hyperthreading-aware OS, though, it presents itself as capable of handling 16 threads, resulting in a task manager likely to create a bit of envy. Three 2GB PC3-8500 RAM sticks were dedicated to each CPU for a total of 12GB system RAM, with timings of 7:7:7:20:1T. There's 18 RAM slots total, supporting a maximum of 144GB RAM.
Internally Sun supplies three proprietary slots that are connected to three daughterboards, each supplying dual-90° rotated PCI-E 2.0 8x slots. An internal USB port and a CF card slot are present on the motherboard should you need to boot an OS or VM off them, run a USB dongle internally or you require an intent log.
Two mini-SAS ports are on-board. One supports four channels, the other two, however, the two Seagate 300GB Cheetah 15K.6 SAS drives and four Hitachi Ultrastar 1TB drives that were supplied, were hooked into an Adaptec 5805 that identified itself as a "Sun STK RAID INT Controller". Interestingly, neither hardware arrays or zpools were set up, each drive was just sitting happily on the card individually, waiting for the sysadmin to configure it to their needs.
Adaptec's 5805 supplies the RAID acceleration for the Sun Fire. (Credit: CBS Interactive)
An Aspeed AST2100 performs its requisite underpowered VGA duties, only offering 4:3 resolutions. In Solaris it can manage up to 1600x1200, in Windows Server 2008, 1024x768. Flipping around to the rear presents two more USB ports, four gigabit Ethernet ports powered by Intel 82575EB chipsets, net management and serial management ports, the latter of which can be plugged into a supplied RJ45 > DB9 adapter, all connecting to Sun's ILOM.
Management ports and Ethernet ports dot the rear of the machine. To the right are two USB ports and a VGA port. (Credit: CBS Interactive)
Of course, as with any server, configuration options are vast depending on your needs and budget. While no doubt Sun would love to ship you Solaris (our review sample came with Solaris 10 10/08 installed to one of the SAS drives), being one of its x86 machines allows it to offer OpenSolaris, Red Hat Enterprise Linux 4.7 or 5.3, SUSE Linux Enterprise Server 10 SP2, VMware ESX/i 3.5 U4, Windows Server 2003 and 2008 as well.
Performance in any situation when it comes to a server is an open-ended question. How is it configured? What environment is it installed in? What software do you need to run? What's more important, CPU grunt or disk I/O? Ultimately establishing a set of meaningful benchmarks that can appeal to all is a tough exercise at the server-end of town, and most would be best off running an evaluation program and testing what IOPS they can pull in their own environment before purchasing.
For those interested in the new Xeon 5500 architecture though, a few "canned", CPU-based benchmarks were run for the sake of comparison: Cinebench R10, STARS Euler3d CFD, and wPrime.
Cinebench R10, 1 CPU
Cinebench R10, 16 CPU
STARS Euler3d CFD, 16 threads
For energy efficiency, Sun provides a power calculator here to help calculate your costs based on your configuration.
Sun Microsystem's Sun Fire is an excellent all-rounder that can be custom-specced to suit most small-to-medium-business needs. Whether you need to apply yourself with some dense storage or just need the compute power of 16 cores, its flexibility is commendable. It's not the quietest server around, but stuck in a server room no one is likely to notice.
Sun offers a base level warranty of three years, next-business-day on-site servicing and delivery of parts, as well as eight hours per day phone support.