Sun Microsystems Sun Fire X4450 server

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For raw power Sun Microsystem's Sun Fire X4450 is the gutsiest server we've seen, and at 2RU it's compact considering its specs. However, priced at over AU$27,000, this machine will make a dent in your budget.

Test Procedure
After a subjective assessment of the native pre-installed operating system, we installed MS Windows Server 2003 in preparation for benchmarking.

Test software used was SiS Sandra 2008, Cinebench 9.5 and Intel Sungard 2.5. We also measured power consumption.

Sun Fire X4450
Sun is not wasting your money with exotic looking casings, after all, it's a server intended to be hidden away in a rack. Who cares what it looks like?

But we do care about how it looks inside, and the internals of this system are neat and compact. This 2 RU machine is crammed with raw power. There are two sets of six fans lined up for redundancy, so 12 in total that cool the drives, main board and processors.

An additional small fan can be found in each power supply, but these also benefit from the main fan bank already mentioned. Naturally the twin power supplies are hot-swappable. Too often we look inside a server and think, "what a mess!" Strange air flow and cable routing is common — but not so with the X4450. There is hardly a cable in sight and airflow is straight as an arrow from front to back.

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The Sun Fire was supplied with Sun's Solaris 10 operating system — as we would expect. The Solaris interface is similar in look to the Microsoft Windows OS family, perhaps bearing the closest resemblance to Windows XP. It comes complete with system tray and the primary menu on the taskbar at the bottom left of the screen. However, digging into Solaris reveals a menu structure that is markedly different to Windows and thus some time for adaptation may be required for those new to Sun systems.

Nevertheless, we found navigation to be straightforward and logical. There was no obvious control panel, unlike Windows. However, a similar panel can be found via the file system and each configuration component is individually accessible from the menu tree. Hardware composition is difficult to assess via software and even asking how much RAM is present appears to be a nonsense question given Sun's decision to combine RAM and swap files into a virtual memory structure.

The application suite associated with Sun servers is a veritable roll-call of major open source applications (for which Sun has often had major developmental input). There is the Mozilla and Firefox Web browsers, Thunderbird email client and GNU Image Manipulation Program (GIMP) for graphics manipulation.

Finally there is StarOffice 7 — the more stable commercial version of OpenOffice that contains some propriety code. Open Office should not be too bewildering to MS Office users. There is also "Java Media Player" — Sun is also responsible for the development of the increasingly widespread Java programming language.

You are also not restricted to using Solaris. Windows, Linux and VMWare operating systems are also supported on the hardware.

Ports include two USB at the front and back, VGA, four gigabit Ethernet and a management port. There are eight hot-swappable drive bays plus a DVD RW drive. Two drive bays were filled with 146GB 10,000rpm SAS drives. At the rear there are six PCIe slots (two 8-lane and four 4-lane).

There was 32GB RAM installed (an interesting mixture of 2GB and 4GB units) with the capacity to expand to 128GB. Processing power was delivered by four quad-core Intel Xeon E7350 2.93GHz CPUs.

The machine consumes 23 Watts when powered down and 395W when idle. Our score for typical power consumption was 586W — this is rather high, but perhaps not for such a powerful machine as this.

Benchmark Test Overall
Cinebench 1 CPU Render 45 seconds
X CPU Render 7 seconds
Sungard 144.5 seconds

For raw power this is the gutsiest server we have seen. The benchmark results are the best we have seen in high end servers — particularly the Sungard score — although we cannot claim to have tested such a machine with specs quite like this before.

Sun compares this machine against an IBM x3850 and a Dell R900 in its features description. These are both 4 RU machines (the Sun Fire is just 2 RU in size), yet Sun manages to pack just as much inside the case.

It would certainly be interesting to see how one of these machines fared with the 16-core configuration of the Sun Fire. Smaller drives (2.5-inch) help cut down the size of this machine, but these may be harder to source and be more expensive.

The Sun Fire is supplied with a three-year warranty with additional service plans being available. Sun also offers training, online FAQ and support. At over $27,000 this machine will make a dent in your budget, but its pricing is akin to a similarly configured Dell R900 and likely to be cheaper than the IBM x3850. Pricing tends to vary with location and customer so we can't away anything precise on this point.