IBM eServer xSeries 346 review

Price when reviewed

Since the launch of Intel’s EM64T processors, we have brought you reviews of examples of this technology from every major server manufacturer. Over the past six months, we have seen samples from Supermicro, HP, Dell and NEC. The arrival of IBM’s eServer xSeries 346 now leaves just Fujitsu Siemens lagging behind as the last to support the new Intel processors.

IBM eServer xSeries 346 review

IBM’s build quality usually impresses, but the 346 takes this to new levels. The sturdy 2U chassis is brimming with interesting features and offers more expansion options than you can shake a stick at. For starters, you get a six-disk hot-swap cage to one side of the front panel, and the review model came supplied with a quartet of 146GB Hitachi Ultra320 drives. The panel layout is similar to the PowerEdge 2850. You can add an internal DAT72 tape drive, although this will be at the cost of two drive bays as opposed to one in the Dell server. Don’t be fooled into thinking the space above the DVD-ROM drive can be used. This is left empty to provide a clear path through the chassis for processor cooling.

IBM’s unique light-path diagnostics could prove a boon for troubleshooting. Previously implemented on the motherboard, IBM has moved this bank of 18 LEDs onto a smart little panel that pops out from the front of the chassis to reveal precisely which component has failed.

With the top panel removed, the 346 starts to show off its exemplary design. The most obvious feature is the bank of 12 hot-swap fans stretching the full width of the chassis. Each can be replaced individually or the entire assembly removed in one piece just by pulling up locking levers on each side. Remarkably, although the fans look capable of creating a mini-hurricane, noise levels are extremely low.

The pair of Xeon Nocona processors is located directly behind the fans and topped off with large passive heatsinks and a plastic shroud. A simple lever system similar to that used in HP’s ProLiant ML370 G4 makes heatsink and processor removal easy. Further back is a bank of eight DIMM sockets. The 8GB of DDR2 SDRAM comprising a quartet of 2GB modules goes some way to explaining the high price of the review sample. In an effort to provide as many options as possible, IBM has made use of every available bit of space, so expansion potential is very good. You get two riser-card cages, with one offering a pair of 133MHz PCI-X slots and the other a pair of 100MHz low-profile slots. IBM also offers PCI Express versions. A proprietary socket in the centre of the board came with IBM’s Remote Supervisor Adapter II SlimLine, which activates the dedicated Ethernet port at the rear for remote server management.

An integrated Adaptec 7902 Ultra320 chipset manages storage and has one channel linked to the hard disk backplane and the other routed to the rear panel. RAID options abound, as the chipset includes Adaptec’s HostRAID feature that supports RAID0, 1 and 10 arrays. A useful feature is the ability to create mirrors of existing drives later on by copying data from selected sources to new drives. HostRAID is implemented on both channels, so it is possible to provide striping and mirroring services to externally attached hard disk enclosures as well. If you want more RAID options, slot in IBM’s optional ServeRAID-7k module in the socket at the back of the motherboard. With 256MB of cache memory and a battery backup pack, it takes over the existing SCSI channels and adds RAID5 and 50 to the mix.

IBM’s ServerGuide utility gets system installation off to a flying start. It leads you through setting up the hard disks, creating a system partition, installing drivers and loading your chosen operating system. IBM’s ServeRAID utility loads as part of the process and provides full access to settings for the HostRAID or the 7k controller. The bundled Director is IBM’s standard management tool for its servers, workstations and notebooks and requires a local agent on each system. Plenty of information is to hand about the server’s hardware, and alerting facilities are particularly impressive.

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