By Anne Chen  |  Posted 2005-09-12 Print this article Print

Sun Microsystems Inc.s Sun Fire x4100 combines dual-core Advanced Micro Devices Inc. Opteron processing capabilities with a slew of management features that make the server an aggressive player in Suns—and AMDs—efforts to gain more ground in the x86 arena.

eWEEK Labs got an exclusive look at the X4100, which was announced this week and is the first release in the companys server line code-named Galaxy. The X4100 is also the first server designed by Sun co-founder Andreas Bechtolsheim since his return to the company following Suns acquisition of his server design company, Kealia, in February 2004.

Like its predecessor, the Sun Fire V20z, the X4100 can support both 32-bit and 64-bit operating systems and applications. In tests, eWEEK Labs found the server well-suited for memory-intensive applications and workloads, such as those in high-performance computing environments, and for Web and application server tasks.

The X4100 will eventually replace the V20z and has an aggressive entry-level price of $2,195. We found the server to be a good fit for organizations that are pursuing 64-bit computing now or plan to do so in the future. We also believe organizations considering Intel Corp.s Xeon-based servers will want to take a look at the X4100.

The X4100 is a 1U (1.75-inch) single- or dual-socket system armed with the AMD-8000 Series chip set. The server can be outfitted with either single- or dual-core Opteron processors and comes with two PCI-X slots and as much as 16GB of RAM. The system can accommodate two hot-swappable 2.5-inch SAS (Serial Attached SCSI) hard drives with DVD or four SAS drives without DVD. The server also features redundant hot-swappable fan modules.

The X4100 that we tested had two AMD Opteron 254 (2.8GHz) processors, 8GB of memory, two 73GB SAS hard drives, four integrated Gigabit Ethernet ports, an SSP (System Service Processor) and dual redundant hot-swappable power supplies. The system as tested costs $7,395.

Although servers with AMD Opterons are still fairly rare, more Opteron-powered options are coming to market. In addition to the entry-level X4100, Sun introduced the Sun Fire X4200 this week. This 2U (3.5-inch) system can contain the same amount of processors and memory as the X4100 but will have up to four hard drives and as many as five PCI-X slots.

The X4100 is available with two single- or dual-core Opteron 200-series processors. The single-core X4100 uses AMDs Opteron 248, 252 and 254 chips, with clock speeds of 2.2GHz, 2.6GHz and 2.8GHz, respectively. The dual-core X4100 sports either an Opteron 275 or 280 chip running at 2.2GHz or 2.4GHz, respectively.

The X4100 ships with the latest build of the Solaris 10 operating system for x64. In addition to its solid platform support, the server will support standard 32-bit and 64-bit versions of Red Hat Inc.s Red Hat Enterprise Linux 3.0 and 4.0, the 64-bit version of Novell Inc.s SuSE Linux Enterprise Server 9, and 32-bit and 64-bit editions of Windows Server 2003 (Enterprise Edition).

To read more about the x64 versions of Windows, click here. The X4100s chip sets come with AMDs HyperTransport memory bus links that have been bumped up to 1GHz. The X4100 also uses a four-slot-per-CPU configuration that supports faster DDR (double data rate) 400 DIMMs (dual in-line memory modules). With 2GB DDR 400 DIMMs, the X4100 can support as much as 16GB of memory.

The element we like most on the X4100 is the integrated yet separately powered service processor. This processor is based on a Motorola Inc. MPC8248 microcontroller that communicates with the two main system processors and the rest of the system. Unlike vendors such as Dell Inc. and Hewlett-Packard Co., which require organizations to purchase the service processor separately, Sun has integrated the service processor in the server. The service processor is accessible through either a serial port or a dedicated 10/100M-bps Ethernet NIC.

The X4100s lights-out management solution allowed us to remotely administer the server by using a variety of methods, including a Web-based GUI, a command-line interface and a remote console. We took advantage of the remote KVMS (keyboard, video, mouse and storage) support provided over Ethernet, which gave us the ability to remotely turn the system on and off, monitor system status, and load operating system software.

The X4100 employs 2.5-inch hard drives based on the SAS hardware interface. This allows IT managers to fit more drives into each server, thus providing redundancy for mission-critical applications. The X4100s disk drives are located at the front of the server and are hot-swappable.

Because SAS is compatible with Serial ATA, a competing hardware interface, the move to SAS means customers will eventually have the option of purchasing less expensive SATA drives with their systems. At press time, the X4100 did not support SATA, but Sun officials said support will be added in the near future.

Next page: Evaluation Shortlist: Related Products.

As a senior writer for eWEEK Labs, Anne writes articles pertaining to IT professionals and the best practices for technology implementation. Anne covers the deployment issues and the business drivers related to technologies including databases, wireless, security and network operating systems. Anne joined eWeek in 1999 as a writer for eWeek's eBiz Strategies section before moving over to Labs in 2001. Prior to eWeek, she covered business and technology at the San Jose Mercury News and at the Contra Costa Times.

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