Apple Xserve review
Apple’s server division has never been known as a rapid reaction force so it was quite a surprise when it offered PC Pro Business an early look at its new Xeon 5500-equipped Xserve. This makes it one of six server vendors to deliver a “Nehalem” equipped system to our labs since Intel announced its new processors at the end of March and, most notably, yet another that’s done it ahead of IBM and HP.
Apple made a relatively painless switch from PowerPC to Xeon processors a couple of years ago but this 1U rack chassis gives no clues away to what’s inside as it hasn’t changed the physical design at all. However, there’s no need to as it’s still one of the best built chassis on the market and exudes class by the bucket load.
Plenty of status LEDs are presented at the front with indicators for general system health and both network ports while each drive carrier has its own status and activity lights. Two banks of eight LEDs show processor activity and these also come into play during system start-up as you use them in conjunction with the system ID button to choose a boot-up method.
For storage the drive bays support both SAS and SATA hard disks, and the price of the review system includes a triplet of 1TB Western Digital SATA drives. Apple bangs on about this triple drive bay arrangement being industry leading as it reckons most 1U servers can only support two 3.5in drives or four 2.5in. models at most. We don’t know what planet it’s been living on for the past year but most 1U rack server can handle three or four 3.5in drives and the A-Listed Dell PowerEdge R610 supports six 2.5in drives.
The optional RAID controller was also included and this is implemented as a new drive backplane complete with processor, cache plus battery backup and support for RAID0, 1 and 5 arrays. An interesting option is Apple’s 128GB SSD which can be used as a high-performance system disk. Its small form factor allows it to be installed inside the chassis so it doesn’t lose a standard drive bay.
For further storage expansion Apple has replaced its elderly Xserve RAID option with the new Promise VTrak E-Class disk arrays. These connect to the Xserve via optional FC adapters and support both SAS and SATA hard disks. With 16 hot-swap drive bays up for grabs there’s plenty of room to grow and they include dual active/active controllers, although £11,500 for 16TB of SATA storage is comparatively pricey.
Internally, the Xserve lives up to our high expectations of Apple as build quality is superb – this server is designed to last. The pair of E5520 processors is mounted with very solid heatsinks and cooling is handled by a removable cage with seven dual-rotor fans in it. Each processor socket is accompanied by a dedicated bank of six DIMM sockets and the price includes a decent 12GB of 1066MHz DDR3 memory – note that MAC OS X Server only supports a maximum of 32GB.
Operational noise levels are commendably low but power consumption is surprisingly high. With both 750W hot-plug supplies linked to our in-line meter we recorded the server drawing 20W in standby and an uncomfortable 225W with the OS running in idle. With the CPUTest utility lighting up all the processor activity LEDs we measured a hefty draw of 372W. Dell’s PowerEdge R610 pulled 15W, 144W and 260W for the same tests and yet the review system had a very similar specification.
A valuable feature of the Xserve is that it comes preinstalled with the latest Mac OS X Server 10.5 Leopard with an unlimited user licence. Apple has made good on its promises with this OS as installation is a very pleasant affair. The process starts with a server setup screen where you can choose from standard, workgroup and advanced configurations.
|CPU family||Intel Xeon|
|CPU nominal frequency||2.26GHz|
|CPU socket count||2|
|Hard disk configuration||3 x Western Digital RE3 SATA hard disks|
|Total hard disk capacity||3,000|
|RAID module||Apple Xserve RAID|
|RAID levels supported||0, 1, 10, 5|
|Gigabit LAN ports||2|
|Conventional PCI slots total||0|
|PCI-E x16 slots total||2|
|PCI-E x8 slots total||0|
|PCI-E x4 slots total||0|
|PCI-E x1 slots total||0|
|Power supply rating||750W|
Noise and power
|Idle power consumption||225W|
|Peak power consumption||372W|
|OS family||Mac OS X|