Intel's S3420 Serves Up Great Storage Support


If you're putting together a server or server appliance design, you might want to consider building it around the Intel S3420GP family of server boards. Winner of this year's CRN Test Center Tech Innovator award, this versatile motherboard was designed from the ground up to deliver top performance for file and print servers, e-mail, Web storage and any vertical application for which a system integrator might have a market. The board also is well suited for embedded applications such as kiosks, navigation systems and medical devices, as well as high-performance computing apps.

Intel's one-socket S3420 series of ATX-style boards can accept Xeon 3400 series processors as well as the Core i3 or Pentium G6950. It provides two memory channels to six slots (except the GPV, which has four) for a maximum of 32 GB of 1,333MHz, DDR3 RDIMMs with ECC support. As one might expect from a server line, these boards offer limited expansion capabilities via PCI. All but the GPLX has four slots, either one or two PCI Express 2.0 x8 and x4 and a PCI 32/33 legacy slot (GPV) or a Mezzanine (GPRX) slot. All have at least two Gbit Ethernet ports (the GPRX has five). All are driven by the Intel 3420 chipset.

Where these boards really shine is in their ability to handle storage. All are equipped with six SATA ports, each capable of the 3-Gbps SATA II transfer rate. Behind that is Intel's Embedded Server RAID logic, which can configure attached devices as RAID 0, 1, 5 and 10, or treat them as just a bunch of disks. The GPRX and GPLX models also include IDT's PCI Express 2.0 switch logic, which integrates line-rate throughput with system-level thermal management. The IDT technology provides additional switching and routing benefits for systems employing 10-Gbit Ethernet or 8-Gbit Fibre Channel.

Intel would not offer support when the CRN Test Center asked to conduct its own performance tests. Instead the company provided test results from Principled Technologies, an independent technology assessment and market analysis firm that Intel had commissioned to test its products. Of the results provided (which involved only Intel products), the most interesting and relevant to resellers were those comparing performance of Intel servers built around the 3420 motherboard platform when populated with various Xeon and Core 2 processors. Tests of Web, e-mail and database service performance were conducted simultaneously using industry-standard benchmark utilities WebBench, Microsoft LoadGen and DVD Store 2. Systems under test were running Microsoft Windows Server 2008 Standard Edition x64, Exchange 2007 and SQL Server 2008. To the extent possible, system hardware was identical except for the processor.

At bottom, the Xeon X3450 was superior across all workloads and in terms of power consumption, surpassing others in speed by at least 48 percent (over the Xeon X3380) and by as much as 119 percent (over the Core 2 Quad Desktop Processor Q8400). It topped the X3220 by 110 percent. When calculated in terms of power consumption, the X3450 delivered 136 percent better performance-per-watt than the X3220-based server, 87 percent better than the quad core Q8400, and 49 percent better than the X3380. What's more, the X3450-based server outperformed its rival Intel processors while barely breaking a sweat; its processor utilization remained at less than 60 percent all the while.

Intel has clearly made strides in performance and power efficiency with both its motherboard and its processors. For solution providers and system integrators seeking a high-performance platform that won't overtax operating expenses, the CRN Test Center recommends the S3420 server board from Intel.