NEC i-Select TS100 review
NEC has traditionally offered a wide range of pedestal and rack servers based around Intel processors, but the i-Select TS100 sees it taking a tentative step into AMD territory. This is the first time NEC has put forward an AMD-based server and it does so with a simple, low-cost system aimed firmly at small businesses on a tight budget.
At this level of the market, performance isn’t the highest priority, as small businesses are looking for top value. Our discussions with a number of server vendors have shown these companies won’t pay four figures for their first server. The choice between Intel and AMD for processor duties could literally come down to brand loyalty, as there’s unlikely to be anything between a Pentium 4 and an Athlon when dealing with basic file and print, email, firewall and web services.
Storage options are good, since the system has been designed with Serial ATA (SATA) as a priority, and the price includes a pair of 160GB Maxtor SATA/150 hard disks. There’s also room to expand: the Gigabyte motherboard is equipped with an embedded four-port SATA RAID controller. The review system was supplied with the drives configured as a striped pair, but the server can be delivered preconfigured in any storage combination. The drives are fixed in an internal cage with room for two more, and the complete assembly can be released and pulled out simply by undoing a single thumbscrew. If you go for optional SCSI support, NEC offers a three-drive hot-swap cage that occupies two 5.25in bays.
The steel chassis looks tough enough to handle being kicked around in a small office and can also be converted to a 4U rack mount. Tool-free maintenance is on the cards, as the side panel can be released with a single lever at the rear. All the 5.25in bays have rails and release clips, the PCI slots use simple plastic clamps to hold the cards in place, and even the front panel can be removed just by pulling on a couple of internal levers. Physical security is a cut above the rest, as the side panel lever may be key-locked shut, which also stops the front panel being removed.
The chassis offers four 5.25in bays and, along with a DVD-ROM, the price includes a Sony IDE AIT-E Turbo tape drive, which would cost more than £300 if purchased separately. This drive represents the entry point into Sony’s AIT family and is a good alternative to the elderly DAT DDS-4 drive for small-business backup. Its native storage capacity of 20GB is the same as DDS-4, but a performance of 6MB/sec is double that of even the latest DAT72 tape drives. Running backup and restore performance tests also showed Sony’s claims aren’t idle either, with the AIT-E Turbo delivering 6.6MB/sec and 6.1MB/sec respectively.
There isn’t a lot to see internally. Cooling is handled by an active heatsink on the processor and a second chassis fan to shunt air out at the rear. For your money, you’re getting a decent Athlon 3500+ processor, and bear in mind that nVidia’s manual states its chipset supports dual-core Athlon processors as well, so there’s a future upgrade possibility here. Three PCI Express slots are available, but NEC has sensibly cut costs by installing a simple PCI graphics card with 8MB of memory, which is quite adequate for server administration.
Server setup is handled ably by NEC’s ExpressBuilder utility, which is supplied on a bootable CD-ROM. It opens smartly with a single screen that asks for the version of Windows being installed, the product key and administrator password. Add a machine name, select the system partition size and file format, choose a keyboard, time-zone and graphics resolution, and the utility will do the rest. Just pop in the Windows disc when requested and it will load all necessary drivers and complete the task with no further intervention. The integrated SATA controller has its own BIOS setup menu, where you can choose hardware-managed mirrored and striped arrays or just individual drives.