HP ProLiant ML350 G4 review

Price when reviewed

Discussions with some manufacturers have shown that while there’s a move away from 1U rack servers in favour of blade servers, companies are sticking with their rack servers of 2U and higher for one main reason: data storage. Blade servers clearly offer a greater processing density than low-profile racks, but where a high storage capacity is a critical factor the larger rack servers are staying the course.

HP ProLiant ML350 G4 review

The latest ML350 G4 from HP is a prime example, as this 5U chassis offers an impressive storage density that centres round a large six-disk hot-swap bay. The system on review was supplied with a pair of high-performance 73GB 15K drives, but with HP currently offering 300GB alternatives the ML350 can support up to 1.8TB. However, there’s more, as the two spare 5.25in bays can accommodate another hot-plug cage with room for two SCSI drives, taking the total to an impressive 2.4TB.

The standard system comes with an embedded dual-channel LSI Ultra320 chipset, with both motherboard connectors positioned close to the expansion cages. RAID features in the review system, although HP’s implementation isn’t particularly exciting. It comprises a full-length Smart Array 641 PCI card, which doesn’t integrate with the embedded controller and must be cabled separately to the hard disk backplane. The card comes with an embedded 64MB of cache memory and there are options for adding more memory and a battery pack. Note also the 641 is a single-channel card, so you’ll need the 642 version if you want an extra port on the backplate for connecting external devices.

The ML350 offers a reasonable hardware specification for the price, although not as good as the Fujitsu Siemens Primergy TX300 S2 (see p173). For starters, there’s a pair of 3.2GHz Xeon processors, but the motherboard supports only DDR memory, and HP included just a single 1GB module of slower PC2700 SDRAM in our review sample. Expansion potential is better. Although none of them support hot-swap, there are five standard PCI-X slots offering a variety of speeds. PCI Express is also provided in the form of 8x and 4x slots. Cooling is nowhere near as good as that found in the TX300, though. There’s only a pair of active processor heatsinks, a fan in the power supply and a large variable-speed fan at the rear of the chassis. None of the fans are truly hot-swappable, and the hard disk and expansion bays have no accompanying fans or any facilities to fit one to them. Furthermore, it was disconcerting to hear the main chassis fan constantly varying its speed, indicating that either its sensor was too sensitive or it was having trouble holding a stable internal temperature. Offering a single HP gigabit embedded NIC is also a bit a mean nowadays. However, you can add another PCI card, as adaptor teaming is supported, and it can be configured with HP’s preinstalled Network utility.

As always, HP scores highly with its server-management tools. The revamped SmartStart utility makes initial server installation even easier, as it gathers together general user and system information, loads drivers for all detected devices and automates OS installation. Supplied on a bootable CD-ROM, it will set up a system partition ready for use and provides direct access to the RAID controller settings. General server management is handled by the bundled Systems Insight Manager (SIM). Being Java-based, performance is slow, but it does offer high levels of local and remote access, plenty of operational information and good alerting facilities. It now requires SQL Server to store server information and inventory data, but a copy of MSDE is provided on the CD-ROM.

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