Mesh X-Serve 146 WS03 review

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Mesh has traditionally had a big presence in PC Pro, with its desktop PCs garnering plenty of awards and often featuring on the A List too. However, its server division has never sought out the same level of publicity. For this inaugural review, Mesh has opted to supply us with an entry-level system. The X-Serve 146 aims to provide a solid combination of value and specification for small businesses on a tight budget looking for their first server.

Mesh X-Serve 146 WS03 review

Whereas competitors such as Evesham prefer complete Intel- or Supermicro-based solutions, Mesh has opted for a partnership of Tyan and Chieftec. The latter’s chassis is certainly on a par with the likes of Supermicro; it’s just as solidly built and offers plenty of room to expand. The chunky front door can’t be locked shut, but behind this you’ll find three 5.25in bays, with one occupied by a Sony IDE DVD writer. Hard disk hot-swapping isn’t on the agenda, so the space below the bays merely provides a grill for airflow through the drive cage on the other side. The side panel is held in place with a couple of thumbscrews, but it also has a catch at the front with a key lock to protect the internals against wandering fingers. However, there’s no intrusion-detection switch provided. Cooling is a high priority, as the chassis has a couple of 90mm fans fixed to the side panel on the other side of the hard disk cage. The processor has an active heatsink, and general cooling is handled by a large 120mm fan at the rear. The upshot is that the X-Serve is one cool customer, but a quiet one as well. Noise levels are low enough for it to be unobtrusive even when placed next to a desk in the office.

The Tomcat K8E motherboard serves a dual purpose, being aimed at either workstations or servers. In the latter guise, it works well, providing all the basic features you’d expect to see in a server. For your money, you’re getting a decent 2GHz Opteron 146 processor, but the motherboard also supports the 100 series dual-core Opterons. The price includes a generous 2GB of PC3200 unbuffered memory, which can easily be upgraded to the maximum 4GB, as two DIMM sockets are left spare. Storage options are good too: the drive cage has room for no fewer than six hard disks. The system comes with a pair of 300GB Maxtor SATA/150 models and these are fitted with plastic guides for tool-free removal. Be careful when you pull out a disk, though, as the rails are only clipped in place and will fall off when the drive is removed.

The motherboard provides a quartet of embedded SATA II interfaces, so if you want to use all the drive slots you’ll need to add a separate SATA controller. However, fault tolerance is on the menu, as the embedded controller supports RAID0, 1 and 10 arrays. Initial configuration is via the controller’s BIOS menu but, once you have the primary drives sorted, you can use Nvidia’s MediaShield Windows utility to monitor arrays and create new ones. It’s a simple tool that provides a basic display showing current arrays and members. It also offers wizards for adding extra drives, rebuilding arrays and modifying them, where you can change a mirror to a stripe and visa versa. However, it’s short on alerting tools, as it can’t issue any warnings if a drive fails.

General remote server management on the X-Serve falls short when compared with the likes of HP or Dell, which bundle their respective Insight Manager and OpenManage packages with the majority of their entry-level servers. Tyan offers a more basic feature set that comprises its Server Monitor utility. This can be used on the local server or loaded on a workstation, where it can access multiple Tyan systems remotely. The first screen provides a tabular readout of fan speeds and voltages along with CPU and system temperatures, while a tickertape-style window can be kept on the Desktop, where it scrolls though each value. You can modify the time period when the system is checked, and the interface provides shortcuts to the Windows System Information and Event Viewer utilities. It also maintains a system log, recording all environment values taken at specified intervals.

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