Prescott Server Raises Bar—A Little

Dell's PowerEdge 750 makes gains, but it managers should wait for faster chips.

With its affordable price and compact 1U (1.75-inch) rack-mount form factor, Dell Inc.s PowerEdge 750 is well-suited for running front-end applications such as Web or firewall services in small and medium-size companies.

The PowerEdge 750, which shipped last month, priced from $2,000, is the first system in Dells server lineup that features Intel Corp.s latest Pentium 4 processor (formerly code-named Prescott), with a clock speed of 2.8GHz.

In eWEEK Labs tests, the Prescott processors architectural enhancements were impressive. However, we dont recommend that IT managers upgrade their current Pentium 4 systems to the Prescott offerings yet because the performance gained by upgrading from the current Pentium 4 to Prescott would be negligible. The Prescott will be able to scale to much higher clock speeds down the road, and Intel will likely launch a 4GHz or even a 5GHz chip by next year.

The PowerEdge 750 we tested, priced at $3,500, had a single 2.8GHz Prescott processor with 1MB of Level 2 cache, 1GB of double-data-rate synchronous dynamic RAM, a single onboard SCSI hard drive, dual embedded Gigabit Ethernet ports and a single nonredundant power supply.

The Prescott will perform significantly better than the entry-level Celeron-powered PowerEdge 750 and slightly better than the Pentium 4 system. More important, the Prescott boxs improved L2 cache allows it to perform better on cache-reliant applications.

Intel originally planned to release the Prescott Pentium 4 with clock speeds of 2.8GHz, 3GHz, 3.2GHz and 3.4GHz. However, the 3.4GHz processor isnt yet available, and because of limited supplies of the other processors, the Dell PowerEdge 750 currently provides only the 2.8GHz Prescott chip. Dell servers with 3GHz, 3.2GHz and 3.4GHz Prescott processors will be available later this year, Dell officials said.

The Prescott Pentium 4 processors are manufactured using Intels new 90-nanometer process using 300-millimeter wafers. These larger wafers lower manufacturing costs. In comparison, the current Northwood Pentium 4 processor is manufactured using a larger 0.13-micron process, with 55 million transistors versus Prescotts 125 million. The reduced die size of the Prescott allows Intel to double the L2 cache size to 1MB.

The 90-nm process also introduces a Strained Silicon technology, where the silicon used in transistor channels is "strained" by a layer of substrate with atoms that are more widely spaced. The substrates atomic structure forces silicon atoms to stretch to match the atomic spacing in the substrate, creating a more efficient current flow and resulting in better overall transistor performance.

Like its Northwood predecessor, the Prescott also supports Intels Hyper-Threading technology. Hyper-Threading allows the physical processor to appear as two virtual processors on supported operating systems and applications. Using Hyper-Threading, the processor can perform multiple tasks at the same time to optimize CPU cycles and resources, improving overall application performance.

Dells entry-level PowerEdge 750, which has a starting price of about $2,000, is outfitted with an Intel 2.4GHz Celeron processor, 512MB of memory, an onboard Serial ATA hard drive and onboard dual NICs.

Regardless of the processor inside, all PowerEdge 750 models have only two PCI slots for I/O expansion; the optional remote management card will take one of those slots. The PowerEdge 750 doesnt come with redundant power supplies—but with its low entry price, the system is a good choice for small and midsize companies looking for a rip-and-replace server to run tier-one applications.

Technical Analyst Francis Chu can be reached at