Dell PowerEdge 6850 review

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Dell’s Intel-only policy for its servers left it in limbo during 2005 in the dual-core MP processor market. While the competition – primarily HP – has been happily churning out dual-core Opteron-based multiprocessor systems, Dell has had to sit back and twiddle its thumbs waiting for Intel to deliver. Well, the wait is over. This month, we bring you an exclusive review of its latest PowerEdge 6850, which comes equipped with Intel’s new Xeon 7000 MP processors.

Dell PowerEdge 6850 review

There are four models in the 7000 family, and the review system was equipped with twin 2.66GHz 7020 modules with 1MB of Level 2 cache on each core. All models are based on 90nm fabrication, with the 7020 and 3GHz 7040 featuring a 667MHz FSB, while the 2.8GHz 7030 and 3GHz 7041 have an 800MHz FSB. The only other difference is in the Level 2 cache complement, as the 7040 and 7041 have 2MB per core.

However, processor choices are currently limited to the 7020 and 7040, as Intel’s E8501 chipset with an 800MHz FSB has yet to make an appearance. This puts HP in the same boat, because its ProLiant DL580 is only being offered with these two options at the moment. It’s worth noting that the 6850 is also now Dell’s largest rack-server offering, since it stopped bailing and jumped overboard from the good ship Itanium last year.

For such a highly specified system, the chassis is comparatively compact, coming in at 4U high – 1U smaller than the ProLiant DL580. Cooling requirements are largely responsible for the front-panel design. This has two large grilles, each servicing a pair of hot-swap cooling fans handling all air movement through the chassis. The design does limit storage potential, although Dell has managed to squeeze in a five-bay hot-swap drive enclosure in between the grilles. The review system came fitted with a trio of 300GB Ultra320 SCSI hard disks.

On the base system, you can use the embedded LSI Logic Ultra320 SCSI controller, which provides a pair of channels that can be connected to the drive backplane. However, this lay idle on the review system, as it was supplied with Dell’s Perc 4E/DC PCI-X RAID controller fitted with 128MB of cache memory and a battery backup unit. In terms of value, this isn’t the best option, as the 6850 also has the necessary sockets for supporting Dell’s embedded RAID controller, which can be activated for less cash than adding the PCI-X card. Furthermore, you have a single cable routed across the chassis to connect the card to the drive backplane.

In general, the chassis is well designed internally, with the four processor sockets located in a neat row directly behind the cooling fans. The two resident Xeon 7020 modules are fitted with large passive heatsinks. The layout further back is unusual, as the system memory is implemented in four proprietary riser cards, allowing the 6850 to take full advantage of the mirroring and memory RAID feature offered by the E8500 chipset. You can designate one bank of memory as a spare, install an even number of riser cards with identical memory capacities, and then implement mirroring. This splits the total memory into two and duplicates data across each half. If all four risers are populated with matching memory configurations, you can go for the memory RAID feature. Rather like disk RAID, it creates system memory partitions for full redundancy even in the event of a complete riser card failure. It’s easy to set up: just go to the BIOS setup screen, activate the redundant memory option and choose a scheme from the list.

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