NEC Express5800/120Rg-2 review
NEC is the next to step in line with Intel’s EM64T technology. Its latest rack server aims to put performance, expandability and versatility high on the agenda. We have no arguments here, as the 120Rg-2 offers a fine specification for the price and is presented in a well-built chassis with plenty of options.
This server also represents a new direction for NEC. Whereas many previous models were designed and built by the company itself, this time it has sourced the entire machine from MSI. This is no bad thing, as this rebadged MS-9247 2U chassis and motherboard package has a lot going for it. The strongest competition will come from Dell in the shape of its PowerEdge 2850 (see issue 124, p186), which offers a similar proposition. The 120Rg-2 delivers the same levels of storage capacity. The front panel is home to six hot-swap drive bays also arranged in two groups to the left. The review sample was supplied with a quartet of high-performance 36GB Maxtor 15K Ultra320 disks. Space on the opposite side has been put to better use than on the Dell, though, as there’s room for a single 3.5in device – to achieve this on the 2850 you have to sacrifice one drive bay. The price includes a Sony AIT-1 tape drive, which is also a better choice than Dell’s DAT72, as it offers almost the same native capacity but twice the performance. This makes it a better bet for local server backup.
There are a lot of similarities under the lid, as the 120Rg-2 presents an equally busy interior. The main reason is that it’s also the location of the large hot-swap power supply assembly, as this takes up a fair chunk of internal real-estate. Consequently, all expansion slots have been located on a large riser card. Here, NEC beats Dell as it delivers twice as many PCI-X slots. You get three full-length 64-bit slots on one side and three low-profile 64-bit slots on the other. The latter supports Adaptec’s ZCR (Zero Channel RAID) cards but NEC has opted to go for an LSI MegaRAID PCI card instead. This improves fault-tolerance options over the Adaptec controller, as it offers 128MB of cache memory and a battery backup pack as well. Note that there’s no indication yet from MSI or NEC that a PCI Express riser card will be made available, although this shouldn’t be a problem to implement.
The MSI motherboard is designed specifically for this chassis and makes the most of the available space. The 3GHz Xeons are located behind a large bracing bar and the high heat levels generated by their 1MB of Level 2 cache are handled efficiently by large passive heatsinks. In fact, general cooling is particularly well handled, with four hot-swap fans located on the other side of the bar, and there’s room for four more to be plugged in behind them as well. Once the variable speed fans had settled down, we found the operational noise levels were low and on a par with the PowerEdge 2850. Only DDR memory is supported, but the system came with 2GB made up of four modules. A total of six slots are provided and MSI reckons this board can support 24GB, although 4GB DDR modules are highly unlikely to become available now that DDR2 is here.
Remote management options look good, as the price includes the optional QLogic IPMI 2-compliant BMC (baseboard management controller). This slots into an SODIMM socket on the motherboard and is cabled through to a small riser card at the rear, which provides three Ethernet ports for issuing SNMP traps and management information. Two of these support ICMB (intelligent chassis management bus) connections between IPMI-enabled systems. The new DianaScope utility replaces NEC’s elderly MWA and offers a smart new browser interface that provides high levels of access to the server regardless of its condition. It compares well with HP’s RiLO and Dell’s DRAC 4/I remote management systems, with the only omission being support for remote CD-ROM drives. DianaScope offers full access to server power settings, allows the OS to be shut down and provides VNC-based remote control facilities. You can closely monitor server components and also schedule maintenance tasks such as power cycles at specific intervals.