By Francis Chu  |  Posted 2005-01-31 Print this article Print

IBMs latest midrange two-way server, the xSeries 346, offers a compact footprint with flexible internal storage and memory configuration, making it a strong contender in the general-purpose-server market.

The x346, which started shipping in December, is a solid choice for departmental offices or server farms in data centers, where its compact size and impressive expandability make it a good fit. The x346s use of the latest Intel Corp. Xeon processors with EM64T (Extended Memory 64 Technology) make it a strong candidate for shops that plan to migrate to 64-bit. The x346 lists for $2,219 with a single Xeon 2.8GHz processor and 512MB of memory but no hard disk. Adding a 36GB hard drive brings the price to about $2,500.

The x346 vies with comparably priced rack-optimized two-way servers such as Hewlett-Packard Co.s ProLiant DL380 G4 and Dell Inc.s PowerEdge 2850. These systems also use Intels EM64T Xeons and new chip sets that support an 800MHz front-side bus. This new breed of EM64T servers offers a performance upgrade to current 32-bit applications while paving the way for 64-bit-application transition.

Click here to read about an embedded version of the 64-bit Xeon processor designed specifically for smaller-form-factor NAS and SAN storage applications. The $8,382 x346 we tested comes with dual 3.6GHz Xeons with EM64T, 5GB of PC2-3200 DDR2 (double data rate 2) memory, three 73GB hard drives, dual embedded Gigabit NICs and an integrated IPMI (Intelligent Platform Management Interface) management processor. Like competitors, the x346 supports as many as six internal hard drives with RAID 5 support. The system we tested comes with an optional IBM ServeRAID-7k Controller for RAID 5 support.

We tested the optional IBM DDS Gen-5, an internal tape drive for on-board server backup. The $899 drive fits into the front of the server and occupies two hard drive bays. The drive supports 36/72GB tapes and handles Ultra2 SCSI connections and data transfer rates of up to 3.5MB per second (or 7MB per second compressed). The on-board tape option gives IT managers more localized backup flexibility for such smaller sites as departmental offices.

Dells PowerEdge 2850 offers a slimmer internal tape drive option, the PowerVault 100T Travan40, which takes up only one hard drive slot. However, the Dell drive uses IDE with a 2MB-per-second uncompressed data transfer rate, and it supports only 20/40GB tapes.

Compared with competing 2U (3.5-inch), two-way systems such as the DL380 and the PowerEdge 2850, the x346 has the edge in memory expandability. It has eight 2GB DIMM (dual in-line memory module) slots that can support as much as 16GB of memory. Both the DL380 and PowerEdge 2850 have six DIMM slots. In addition to higher maximum performance, the x346 has a greater degree of flexibility for configuring disk mirroring.

Technical Analyst Francis Chu can be reached at francis_chu@ziffdavis.com.

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