REVIEW: 'Nehalem'-Based Sun Fire x4170 Is a Compelling 1U Server Choice

Providing stiff competition in its market space, Sun Microsystems' Intel "Nehalem"-based Sun Fire x4170 packs generous amounts of compute power, local storage, network bandwidth and PCIe expansion capability into a small footprint.

With support for the latest Intel "Nehalem" processors, Sun Microsystems' Sun Fire x4170 server packs copious amounts of compute power, local storage, network bandwidth and PCIe expansion capability into a neatly engineered, 1U footprint.

While there is uncertainty about the future of Sun after Oracle's acquisition of the company, the Sun Fire x4170 is a compelling offering for data center IT managers.

The x4170 ably functioned as a virtualization host in eWEEK Labs' VMware vSphere 4 test environment. The server combines a dual-socket processor configuration with 18 DIMM slots for up to 144GB of DDR3 RAM and a maximum of eight 2.5-inch SAS, SATA or solid-state drives.

For images of the Sun Fire x4170, click here.

Sun uses plenty of fans and carefully crafted compartmentalization to keep the power supplies, disk drives and processors cool. Like one of its direct competitors, Hewlett-Packard's DL360 G6, the x4170 expels hot air through a grille in the top rear of the unit instead of straight back to accommodate connectors and expansion cards.

My test system was equipped with two top-of-the-line Xeon 5570 quad-core processors, 12GB of RAM and four 2.5-inch SAS drives. Priced from Sun's Website, the system lists for $9,721.

The x4170 comes with plenty of configuration flexibility, including three PCIe 2.0 slots (1x16 and 2x8) and dual, hot-swappable power supplies. The hot-swappable fan systems are mounted behind the disk drives. In a nod to field serviceability, the top lid is articulated to enable access to the fan trays without exposing the processors and memory.

The x4170 is part of a family of performance- and capacity-oriented servers offered by Sun. Because it uses the same basic chassis as the 2U x4270 and x4270 servers, it's a good choice for organizations that are invested in the Sun platform and need a reliable, easy-to-service rack-mount production server for virtualization or for applications such as e-mail and file/print.

ILOM (Integrated Lights Out Management) 3.0, which comes standard on the x4170, can be used to manage and monitor the x4170. As is common with rack-mount servers, this feature is accessible via an RJ-45 port on the rear of the system. For IT managers who want to reduce cabling and per-port connection costs, ILOM 3.0 can be configured so that it can be accessed via the standard network interfaces.

The x4170 is situated in a densely competitive space. In addition to the HP DL360 G6, the x4170 competes with the Dell R610 and the IBM x3550 M2. These two-socket workhorse systems vary primarily in the amount of RAM, disk drives and expansion slots they can accommodate. However, as they all can use the Intel Xeon 5500 family of CPUs, their compute performance will vary only slightly.

The x4170 ties with the HP DL360 G6 both in memory capacity and disk drive space; both systems have 18 DIMMS and can accommodate up to eight 2.5-inch drives. The HP system provides two PCIe slots and two GbE network ports, while the Sun x4170 has room for three PCIe cards and comes with four GbE ports.

Technical Director Cameron Sturdevant can be reached at [email protected].