Despite the wholesale move to a client/server networking environment in the small business arena all too many companies are still relying on cheap or elderly PCs for this role. Usually commandeered in an effort to keep costs down, these systems are often tasked with running systems and applications critical to business operations – a job they were never designed to do. It’s far safer to buy a purpose built system and there are plenty of low-cost entry-level systems to choose from.
Dell’s latest PowerEdge SC430 is aimed directly at these companies and is designed to offer a range of server-specific functions but at an affordable price. The system on review delivers a healthy hardware specification with a 2.8GHz Pentium D in the driving seat and partnered by 1GB of PC2-5400 memory. True – that’s nothing amazing by today’s standards but it’s the package that Dell presents them in that makes the difference. No flimsy plastic chassis here as the SC430 is constructed from solid steel panels and looks quite capable of handling the rigours of life in a busy office. The side panel is released with a large catch on the upper surface as this can be padlocked shut to protect against wandering fingers.
The front panel has room for a pair of 5.25in bays and these are both occupied by a CD-ROM drive and a DAT72 SCSI tape drive. The latter isn’t a bad choice for data backup although it’s not our favourite as it can only muster a pedestrian 3MB/sec transfer rate, which means a long wait if you’re backing up large amounts of data. Furthermore, the cartridges can only hold a native 36GB which isn’t a lot of room for a server that can deliver up to 1TB of internal storage. It’s a pity the only other option Dell offers for this system is a Travan TR40 tape drive which at 2MB/sec is painfully slow and in terms of capacity per pound the cartridges are comparatively expensive.
The server’s side panel is easy enough to remove and behind you’ll find a somewhat untidy interior. A good design means everything is easily accessible but cable related clutter could be reduced. The most obvious component is the processor heatsink which rises some 15cms from the motherboard and is enclosed in a plastic shroud with an integral cooling fan. The biggest bonus of this arrangement is that the heatsink is so efficient the fans speeds can be kept down to reduce noise levels. In fact, the SC430 was so quiet we had to switch everything else off in the lab before we could hear it. There’s another smaller fan underneath for general chassis cooling but this adds very little to the noise levels making the SC430 a great desk-side companion in a small office.