Review: With PowerEdge R810, Dell Doubles Density


Dell's PowerEdge R810 hit the channel Tuesday, powered by Intel's latest Nehalem-EX processor -- with performance that shows the industry is clearly vaulting into a new era. With a pair of eight-core Nehalem processors wrapped in a 2U fault-tolerant box, the R810 is a Sherman tank designed from the ground up for mission-critical workloads. The tested system did not disappoint, delivering benchmark results that shattered Test Center records.

The Test Center received a preproduction Dell PowerEdge R810 server with two of its four sockets loaded with eight-core Xeon X7560 processors running at 2.26GHz. The system was running full installation of 64-bit Windows Server 2008 R2 and populated with 128 GB of DDR3 memory, of which 32 GB was addressable by Windows. Also inside was the Boxboro EX chipset, which controls the 6.4 GTs (gigatransfers per second) of the PCIe 2.0 peripheral bus. Storage was provided by five 6-Gbps SAS drives configured as a Level 5 RAID array controlled by a PERC H700.

After a fresh installation of Server 2008 and 64-bit GeekBench 2.1.4, the PowerEdge R810 delivered a 14,890, the highest score yet seen by the Test Center. Testers then enabled virtualization in the BIOS and installed a second instance of Windows Server 2008 R2 inside a VMware virtual machine with the optical drive disabled. We kept the VM busy with file downloads while re-running the native benchmark. GeekBench returned an average score of 12,777. We then killed the virtual machine and ran GeekBench natively again; performance dipped only slightly from its original mark, to an average of 14,746.

From an administrator's perspective, there's a lot to like about the PowerEdge. No tools are required for most care and maintenance. Admins can hot-swap drives and power supplies without touching a screw or cycling the power. They can open the case, remove and replace processors, fans, memory, PCI risers and cards and most other components while leaving the toolbox in the car. Forget one of the server's (up to four IPv4) IP addresses or need to reset or switch to DHCP? Perform any of those tasks on the unit's front-panel LCD. You'll also find system health warnings and other useful information there, including MAC and DRAC addresses, SCSI IDs and host name.

Double Density

Further setting the R810 apart from competitive systems, according to Armando Acosta, senior product alliance consultant with Dell, will be its compactness and the flexibility of its socket design. "You can populate only two sockets and still have access to all 32 DIM slots," he said. For enterprise data centers looking to consolidate, Acosta expects Dell's 2U server to compete directly with Hewlett-Packard's DL580 and DL585, IBM's 3850, and Oracle's SPARC T5240 and T5440 servers, all of which are 4U devices. With its four sockets, Dell as much as quadruples comparative server density and rack space optimization.

Dell's included OpenManage software is terrific. The browser-based tool affords access from anywhere to vital server statistics, logs and administrative functions. Remote capabilities include operating system deployment and provisioning, BIOS configuration, update of system and subcomponent drivers and firmware, and inventory discovery and monitoring. For in-person access, RGB and USB ports are available front and rear. There's also a rear-mounted serial port and RJ-45/SD-card console port with Dell Remote Access Card (DRAC) for out-of-band management.

The preproduction unit consumed about 180 watts through each of its two power supplies, running flawlessly over several weeks of testing. By default, the system is set to automatically "spin-down" processors when idle. The PowerEdge runs relatively cool, averaging in the mid-80s near vents, and 115 degrees at the power supply exhaust port, its hottest point. On the morning this review was published, one of its power supplies failed, causing consumption of the other to fluctuate between 355 and 510 watts. Consumption settled in at about 345 watts. The wayward power pack worked again after reseating it a few times.

Bottom Line

Power problem aside, the Test Center recommends the Dell PowerEdge R810 as tested for its super-fast performance, reliability features, optimal compute density and easy administration, care and maintenance. List pricing starts at $4,999, and includes a single Nehalem-EX 6510 processor, 16 GB DDR3 1066 memory, 146 GB SAS (10K) drive and three-year warranty and support.