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Since Intel's launch of its latest Xeon 5500 Series processors at the end of March all the main server vendors have gone into overdrive to get this technology to market. In a surprise move that beat HP and IBM to the punch, Dell was one of the first out of the blocks and in this review we take a close look at its 11th generation PowerEdge R610 rack server.
The Xeon 5500 processors aren't just an upgrade but represent a completely new design so server manufacturers have had to produce brand new products to support them. This technology was introduced at the end of last year in Intel's Core i7 products but the 5500 'Gainestown' processors are aimed specifically at dual socket server applications.
The R610 supports most of the 5500 range - our review system had a pair of 2.4GHz E5530 modules but you can pick and choose from 10 other processors. From the front, the R610 has a mean look with the newly designed bezel and behind this is a six-pack of disk bays supporting the smaller 2.5in SFF (small form factor) SAS drives.
The carriers are more sturdy than those in the older PowerEdge 1950 and the new PERC6/i RAID controller has 256MB of embedded cache, supports an optional battery backup unit and brings dual-drive redundant RAID-6 arrays into the storage equation.
In fact, the entire front panel has been redesigned as Dell's trademark backlit LCD display has been upgraded with an operator panel so you can configure the remote management port network address and scroll through readouts of power consumption and temperatures.
Access to the server's innards is gained by removing the top panel and even a quick glance shows a wealth of new features. Server virtualisation is high on Dell's agenda as the optical drive has an SD memory card slot sitting on top of it. This is specifically designed to accept bootable 1GB cards with embedded hypervisors installed although at present Dell only supports VMware's ESXi.
The new layout has a reduced cooling requirement and this task is handled by a row of six small dual-rotor fans mounted in front of the motherboard. This design is a big success as we found the R610 extremely quiet during testing, making it highly suited to office environments.
The two processor sockets are located just behind the fans and each is accompanied by a dedicated bank of six DIMM sockets. The new chipsets support triple channel DDR3 memory only and Dell offers both UDIMM (unregistered) and RDIMM (registered) varieties. UDIMMs cost less and support two per channel whereas RDIMMs support three per channel. If you don't plan on using much more than 4GB in the server then go for UDIMMs.
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