HP ProLiant DL380 G4 review

Price when reviewed

This month, we bring you yet another exclusive server review: the new fourth generation of HP’s ProLiant DL380. It’s the first time we’ve had the DL380 in the PC Pro Labs, and we find out why this is one of HP’s most popular rack-mount models.

HP ProLiant DL380 G4 review

Choice is a key factor, as HP offers myriad variations in server specifications. You can pick from a wide selection of single-core Xeon processors right up to 3.8GHz, while storage options range from standard to RAID-protected SCSI and SAS hard disks. The DL380 G4 now brings in an extra processor choice, as the review system came supplied with a pair of Intel’s latest 2.8GHz dual-core Xeon processors.

Codenamed the Paxville Xeon DP, this processor has received a mixed reception. We initially viewed it as a knee-jerk reaction by Intel to AMD’s increasing sales of its dual-core Opteron. However, we already know that Dell is supporting the new processor with its PowerEdge 2800, and Supermicro came onboard at the same time. IBM is definitely playing ball as well, and we plan to bring you an exclusive review of its new xServer 336 next month. Still, it’s by no means as frugal as the Xeon LU, rated at 150W maximum.

It’s easy to see why the DL380 is a popular choice for many businesses. This 2U chassis is solidly constructed, with very little flexing evident. The system was designed primarily for SCSI storage, and the review system came with three 146GB 15K Ultra320 drives in hot-swap carriers. However, performance comes at a price, with these drives costing a whopping £465 apiece. If capacity is a higher priority then consider the 300GB 10K Ultra320 models, which come in at around £495 each. The DL380 uses the same chassis as the Opteron-equipped DL385, which HP has neatly converted to accept the latest SAS storage. The review system has room for up to six SCSI hard disks and RAID is on the cards, as the motherboard sports an embedded Smart Array 6i Ultra320 RAID controller. A proprietary socket holds the 128MB of cache memory, which is wired through to a separate battery backup pack. The hard disk hot-swap backplane can also be easily re-cabled to operate in simplex or duplex modes. The latter allows the RAID controller to manage two drives on one channel and four on the other.

Internal design is excellent, with all components neatly laid out to maximise cooling. Six fans are arranged across the chassis behind the drive bay and all are hot-swappable. In fact, the entire assembly can be removed if required by using a lever at each end. Next in line come six DIMM slots, with two occupied by 1GB PC-3200 modules. Behind these are the processor sockets. Each dual-core Xeon module is fitted with large passive heatsinks, and processor removal and replacement is facilitated by simple but effective clamp and lever mechanisms. A second fan assembly sits at the rear of the chassis with two more hot-swap fans installed. Tool-free maintenance is evident throughout the server and cabling is reduced to an absolute minimum.

First-time server installation is assisted admirably by HP’s SmartStart bootable CD-ROM. This has been updated with each new server-family release. It makes light work of installing your chosen OS, loading drivers and utilities, and providing access to the 6i array configuration utility. It also automatically installs HP’s Web Services, allowing the server to be remotely accessed for general monitoring. Whereas IBM seems unconcerned about the fact that its Director management software is looking dated, HP continues to update and improve its Systems Insight Manager. It offers quality browser-based management and monitoring tools and can remotely access any HP server with an Insight agent installed.

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