Rackservers.com Evolution XD1 review

Price when reviewed

When it comes to new advances in servers, Supermicro is always way ahead of the game. The company regularly delivers examples of new technology for us to review well in advance of its rivals. With this in mind, the fact that Dell managed to provide its PowerEdge 2800 dual-core Xeon-equipped server at the same time as this Taiwan-based manufacturer says something for Dell’s commitment to Intel’s latest processors.

Rackservers.com Evolution XD1 review

The launch of the new Xeon processors is a departure from Intel’s original product roadmap. Realistically, though, at this level of the server market, it was essential for Intel to get dual-core product released as early as possible to avoid losing any more market share to AMD and its well-established dual-core Opterons. You’ve only got to look at the HP ProLiant DL385 to see how enthusiastically HP has been promoting dual-core Opterons. Sun Microsystems has also wholeheartedly embraced AMD, Acer is now offering Opteron-based servers and even IBM maintains a small but significant Opteron portfolio within its rack and blade server lines.

The Evolution XD1 brings together a pair of dual-core 2.8GHz Xeon processors and packs them into a slimline 1U rack server. This is a complete Supermicro package that comprises the company’s standard SC-813 chassis along with the new X6DHR-3G2 motherboard. It’s a similar setup to that delivered by Transtec’s 1U SAS Server system, but there are sufficient differences internally to warrant separate reviews of each product. Storage features look particularly interesting, as the motherboard delivers support for SAS (serial attached SCSI) storage as well. Four drive bays are provided at the front, and each came with high-performance 147GB 15K Fujitsu SAS hard disks fitted in hot-swap carriers.

SAS is proving to be a big winner for rack-server applications, since it offers some significant advantages over SCSI. In terms of pricing, SAS and SCSI are virtually identical – Rackservers.com advised us that Fujitsu 147GB SAS and SCSI 15K hard disks cost precisely the same. Performance will be a big differentiator, as we saw when we reviewed the LSI Logic SAS3442X. In our tests, SAS delivered a higher throughput than SCSI as drive numbers increased. Support for both the SATA Tunneling Protocol and serial SCSI Protocol means SAS and SATA I/II drives can be linked to the same controller using exactly the same connector plugs. There’s much more, as both SAS and SATA drives can be mixed on the same backplane and hot-swapped. One of the biggest advantages that SAS will have for low-profile rack servers in the future is the ability to use 2.5in SAS hard disks. Compare the XD1 with Transtec’s server and the asking price is noticeably higher, but when you consider that the Fujitsu SAS drives cost well over £500 apiece, it actually equates to better value.

In the storage department, Rackservers.com treads a different path to Transtec, since it doesn’t use the embedded Adaptec SAS controller. Instead, it’s opted for an LSI Logic eight-port SAS RAID controller fitted in the PCI Express 8x slot offered by a small riser card. A pair of four-port connectors is provided, and one was wired through to the disk backplane. Transtec’s server uses a backplane with four SAS ports connected directly to a single connector on the motherboard. The LSI Logic controller uses an Intel network processor and comes with a hefty 256MB of PC2-3200 cache memory. It supports the standard set of RAID arrays along with hot-swap and hot-standby, and the review system was supplied with all four drives configured in a RAID5 array. External storage expansion is a possibility, as the embedded SAS controller has one four-port connector hard-wired to the rear of the motherboard and presented as an external socket.

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