Dell Server Raises the Bar

Xeon MP-based poweredge 6650 exploits hyper-threading and boasts a low entry price point.

Dell Computer Corp.s latest high-end four-way server, the PowerEdge 6650, packs cutting-edge processor technology into a 4U (7-inch), rack-optimized package. For sites that need the heaviest-duty server their money can buy, the PowerEdge takes some of the pain out of the purchase with a low entry price and robust scalability prospects.

The PowerEdge 6650, which began shipping last month, is the first four-way server eWeek Labs has seen that features Intel Corp.s latest Xeon MP processors, which incorporate Hyper-Threading technology and an integrated Level 3 cache to raise performance significantly by lowering transaction response times and increasing the number of users a system can support. However, the PE6650 doesnt offer embedded RAID or remote management capabilities, as do its chief competitors, Hewlett-Packard Co.s Compaq ProLiant DL580 G2 and IBMs xSeries 360.

We tested a decked-out PE6650 system, which costs $33,564 and includes four 1.6GHz Xeon MP processors with 256KB of Level 2 and 1MB of Level 3 cache; 4GB of DDR (double-data-rate) error-correction-code SDRAM (synchronous dynamic RAM); and dual embedded copper Gigabit NICs. The NICs save a PCI slot, have built-in redundancy, and provide Wake on LAN and Pre-Boot Execution support.

Dell offers a basic PE6650 system, including a 1.4GHz Xeon MP pro- cessor; 512MB of DDR SDRAM; an 18GB hard drive; and dual, integrated Gigabit NICs, starting at $5,999. However, this price increases quickly as additional processors and memory are added.

By comparison, the ProLiant DL580 G2 can also scale up to 16GB of RAM, and a two-way configuration costs about $22,000. IBMs xSeries 360 has a 3U (5.25-inch), rack-mount form factor but can hold only three internal drives.

Although the PE6650 offers more PCI-X slots, the ProLiant DL580 G2 and xSeries 360 offer embedded remote management.

Keys to Xeon Speed

with hyper-threading enabled, the Xeon MP processors can simultaneously handle multiple data instructions, or "threads," from different applications, quickly switching among threads without losing data or the status of the instructions.

In addition, the 1.6GHz Xeon MP processors 1MB cache at Level 3 allows the system to handle larger instructions and data sets more effectively by minimizing memory latency.

The PE6650 provides good expansion capability by offering seven PCI-X slots and one 32-bit legacy slot, all of which are hot-pluggable. However, the RAID controller and the remote management card take up two slots, leaving six PCI-X slots available for expansion.

The test system included a PERC (PowerEdge Expandable RAID Controller) 3/DC with 128MB of cache. The PERC 3/DC takes up a PCI slot and handles three 36GB hot-plug hard drives. The PE6650 can hold five 1-inch drives for a maximum internal storage capacity of 365GB with 73GB drives.

We tested the PE6650 running Windows 2000 Advanced Server. The system did well in tests using Ziff Davis Media Inc.s WebBench 4.0 benchmark, which measures the servers response to Web requests. We used static and dynamic test suites to measure the PE6650s response time to Web transactions. The PE6650 scored more than 8,290 tps (transactions per second) in the static test and close to 6,000 tps with the test suite with Internet Standard API content. The server clocked more than 6,600 tps in the test suite that generated Common Gateway Interface dynamic content.

The PE6650 has a tool-less chassis—major components can be removed using levers and knobs, making hardware upgrades and service easy.

Technical Analyst Francis Chu can be reached at