Volume 3, Number 22 -- June 13, 2006

Dell Pre-Announces Generation 9 of PowerEdge Servers

Published: June 13, 2006

by Timothy Prickett Morgan

Server maker Dell launched the ninth generation of its PowerEdge server line last week, and began the launch with machines that use Intel's "Dempsey" dual-core Xeon processors and its "Bensley" two-socket server platform. The Bensley platform will also support Intel's much-improved "Woodcrest" Xeon Core processors, which offer better performance per watt than the Dempsey chips and which are expected to start shipping in a matter of weeks. Dell is expected to formally launch the new PowerEdge line on June 15.

Dell has announced three new PowerEdge servers last week: The PowerEdge 1950, 2900, and 2950 machines, which all use the Xeon 5000 series processors that go by the Dempsey code name. They will, of course, support the Xeon 5100 series, which is the other name the Woodcrest chips go by. You might be asking yourself, why is Dell pre-announcing its own announcements? Well, it wants to keep people from buying competitive Woodcrest products and maybe even buy a Dempsey machine for now.

The new PowerEdge 1950 uses the 3.2 GHz and 3.73 GHz Dempsey processor with a 1.07 GHz front side bus, or customers can choose the 3 GHz part with a 667 MHz front side bus. Each Dempsey core has 2 MB of L2 cache, and interfaces with the Intel 5000X chipset, which is code-named "Blackford." This machine supports Fully Buffered DIMM main memory, and has eight memory slots. It can use 533 MHz or 667 MHz main memory, and use DIMMs with capacities ranging from 256 MB to 4 GB. Using the densest memory, this 1U rack-mounted server will be able to handle 32 GB of main memory across four processor cores (with a potential for eight software threads if customers turn on HyperThreading). That's twice the memory of the prior generation of 1U servers from Dell. The machine can support two 3.5-inch drives or four 2.5-inch drives, and has room for a two PCI-X or PCI-Express slots. It comes with dual Gigabit Ethernet ports, with room for optional ports, and supports the TCP/IP Offload Engine support in Windows Server 2003.

If you are thinking that this two-socket server is going to cost only a few grand when it is loaded, think again. While the base machine with a single 3 GHz, dual-core Dempsey, 1 GB of memory, and a 3.5-inch 73 GB SAS disk only costs $3,636, a heavy configuration of this box with two dual-core 3.73 GHz Dempseys, 16 GB of main memory (populating only half the slots to leave room for expansion), four 2.5-inch SAS drives, a RAID 5 controller, and no operating system will set you back a cool $21,302. However, if you are willing to use up all of the memory slots, you can just about cut the price of the machine in half by using 2 GB FD-DIMMs. Which most customers will probably do.

The PowerEdge 1950 has been certified to run Microsoft's Windows 2000 Server and Advanced Server as well as Windows Server 2003 Standard and Enterprise Editions, but only the latter two are factory installed by default. The machine will also run Red Hat Enterprise Linux 4 ES and WS and Novell SUSE Linux Enterprise Server 9. The earlier Red Hat Enterprise Linux 3 can be installed on request, but this is not a standard option.

The PowerEdge 2950 that Dell pre-announced last week is a 2U version of the same basic rack-mounted machine, but it has more room for slots, storage, and peripherals. The PowerEdge 2950 has all the same basic motherboard feeds and speeds, expect it has room for either eight 2.5-inch SAS drives or four 3.5-inch SAS drives. 3.5-inch SATA drives are also supported if you don't want to spend a lot on disk storage. The machine has two PCI-X slots and a PCIe riser that provides three PCI-Express slots.

A base PowerEdge 2950 comes with a dual-core 3 GHz Dempsey chip, 1 GB of memory, a 73 GB disk drive, and no operating system; it costs $4,007. With two top-end 3.73 GHz Dempsey chips, 16 GB of main memory, four 73 GB SAS drives in a RAID 5 configuration, and no operating system, the PowerEdge 2950 costs $21,382.

The final new Dell box is the PowerEdge 2900, which is a tower version of the two-socket Bensley box. Because this box is not so compact--and therefore heat is not such a big issue--Dell is able to ramp the main memory up to a maximum of 48 GB by providing a dozen instead of eight memory slots. The PowerEdge 2900 has room for 10 disks and up to 3 TB of internal disk storage; however, it only supports 3.5-inch SAS or SATA disks. It also has six PCI-X slots and four PCI Express slots, which allows lots of different peripherals to be attached to it. And, unlike the other two new PowerEdge servers, this one has been certified to run Novell's NetWare 6.5 operating system, although it has to be custom installed. A base PowerEdge 2900 with a single 3 GHz Dempsey chip, 1 GB of memory, a 73 GB disk, and no operating system costs $4,126. With a heavy configuration with two 3.73 GHz Dempseys, 16 GB of memory (with half the DIMM slots empty), four 73 GB disks, and no operating system, the PowerEdge 2900 costs $21,271.

All of the servers have a customizable LCD screen, color coding and cabling for peripherals to make it easier to support, tool-less case designs, a feature called ImageWatch to protect servers from being changed without the proper authority, and Dell's OpenManage 5.0 system management hardware and software. OpenManage 5.0 includes the Dell Remote Access Controller, an embedded system management processor for secure, remote management of the boxes, which can link into Microsoft SMS and Operations Manager, Novell ZENWorks (which comes in a Dell edition), or Altiris Server Management Suite. Dell says further that OpenManage can interface with VMware's new ESX Server 3 virtual machine hypervisor, which was announced last week and which will begin shipping in a few weeks.

The machines are also noteworthy in that they fully support preconfigured SUSE Linux Enterprise 9, which Dell only had as a custom operating system up until now. Dell does not officially support Solaris 10 from Sun Microsystems, but it should if it wants to directly attack the vast Solaris installed base. People love Solaris; they don't always love the Sparc servers it runs on.


Server Makers Dabble in Dempsey Xeons, Wait on Woodcrest

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Editor: Timothy Prickett Morgan
Contributing Editors: Dan Burger, Joe Hertvik, Kevin Vandever,
Shannon O'Donnell, Victor Rozek, Hesh Wiener, Alex Woodie
Publisher and Advertising Director: Jenny Thomas
Advertising Sales Representative: Kim Reed
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