Review: Dell PowerEdge R730 Is Furious Fast

Edward J. Correia

The results are in, and the Dell PowerEdge R730 kicks some serious butt.

News of the company's 13th-gen server is timed to coincide with the official launch of Grantley, Intel's Haswell-EP line of 22nm Xeon processors for two-socket servers and workstations. The R730 not only replaces the PowerEdge R720 Sandy Bridge-based servers introduced in 2012, it blows its predecessor completely off the charts.

Designed as a drop-in replacement for the R720, the 2U rack-mounting R730 uses the same rails as that 12th-gen server, but most similarities end there. Grantley requires a new socket and a new chipset -- the Wellsburg -- which also supports four-socket designs. Systems old and new both can accept as much as 768 GB of RAM in 24 DIMM slots, but Grantley's memory controllers support DDR4 memory and speeds of up to 3,200 MHz once it becomes available. For now, the R730 can handle memory speeds of up to 2,133 MHz compared with 1,600 MHz in the older model.

[Related: Partners: Intel's Xeon Grantley Chip Will Be Big Revenue Driver ]

In advance of today's news, Dell sent the CRN Test Center a two-socket R730 containing a pair of Intel Xeon E5-2690 12-core, 2.6 GHz processors, 64 GB of 2,133 MHz RAM. Also inside were five 300 GB 10,000 RPM SAS drives connected to a PERC H730P embedded RAID controller. Three of the drives were configured in a RAID-0 array against which performance tests were conducted. The system was running Windows Server 2012 R2 Datacenter (build 9600).


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To test throughput and transactional capabilities, testers installed the latest version of IOmeter on the server and a high-performance laptop. The server was configured to run IOMeter's Dynamo load generation utility and the laptop was set up to control the workload and measure performance. With test-packet size set to 512 bytes to simulate a database, the R730 was able to sustain a transaction processing level at 530K input-output operations per second (IOps). This rate was observed when testing with five simulated network nodes conducting equal percentages of sequential read and write operations. Interestingly, when testers doubled the number of workers, the IOps dropped by just 21.5 percent, to a rate of 416K. In either scenario, the server's CPU utilization hovered at around 5 percent; barely a blip on its overall system radar.

According to Frank Robinson, Dell's server product manager, much of the credit for this should go to the PERC controllers. Dell offers the H330, H730 and H730P, as in the tested unit. The latter two models double the cache size, he said, and all three are capable of pass-through operations.

"So if a customer doesn't want a RAID stack in the way, they can pass through to a software-defined storage environment," he said, as might be implemented through VMware or Hyper-V.

The R730 also excelled in streaming tests. Using the same test rig, we switched the tested packets to 32K bytes and operational pattern to 100 sequential reads. The new PowerEdge exhibited a sustained transfer rate of 2,014 MBps, when serving a single client, and dropped off gradually as the number of workers climbed. In the end, the R730 sustained a 1,007 MBps transfer rate as it served 10 clients, all the while using only 4 percent of its CPU horsepower. The R730's throughput and transaction processing numbers crushed those of its R720 predecessor, which peaked at 311K IOps and 462 MBps.

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In terms of power consumption, Haswell's efficiency was clearly in evidence throughout testing. We monitored the consumption of the R730's redundant hot-swap power supplies, which hovered around 86 watts during benchmarks and settled at 56 watts during idle times. Neither drew more than 113 watts at any time. Unlike prior generations, the power-sipping PowerEdge R730 remained relatively quiet. Its bank of multi-speed cooling fans, which are quite loud during its power-on self test, hummed along quietly during tests and never never needed to go into overdrive.

NEXT: Physical

Dell has retained many of the better attributes of prior models, including removable air ducts that not only maximize airflow over processors and memory, but also provide labeling to simplify memory installation. And the underside of the R730's cover is home to motherboard layout, a memory population diagram and other servicing vitals.

Amazingly, Dell's 2U chassis can house as much as 48 TB of SAS, SSD or SATA storage in eight 3.5-inch bays or 29 TB in eight 2.5-inch bays. What's more, there's room for seven PCIe 3.0 cards (four slots plus three optional risers), and space and power enough for two of those cards to be double-wide, 300-watt graphics cards (or four single-wides, drawing 150 watts each).

"Dell is committed to supporting graphics cards in its PowerEdge servers," Robinson said.

Support also extends to the new NVidia GRID K1 and K2 boards, which enable deployment of graphically-rich virtual environments.

Also for virtualized environments, Dell has made its failsafe hypervisor even more fault resistant for VMware by mirroring a subset of protected processor memory.

"By allowing a selective island of mirrored memory, the hypervisor works in a highly protected manner," he said.

The protected memory itself also is redundant.

"The single SD card was viewed as single point of failure," Robinson said.

This led to the development of a dual internal SD module which hosts two mirrored SD cards that the OS sees as a single-memory device.

"It doesn't know there are two and that they're redundant," Robinson said.

In the event of failure of one of the cards, the system sends an alert and the "system admin is prompted to replace the card and the system automatically re-mirrors the new card when it's inserted," Robinson said

The PowerEdge R730 offers redundant hot-swap power supplies in 495-, 750- and 1100-watt models; dual- and quad-port Gbit Ethernet options; out-of-band management; and, of course, Dell's iDRAC lifecycle controller and remote management system. Now at v8, the latest iDRAC permits version lets resellers drop-ship units to a customer site and remotely configure them from XML files or ISO images.

Dell has removed support for PCIe-based SSDs (via NVMe) from the R730, a feature that was present in the R720. Instead, that's reserved for the PowerEdge R730XD, a storage-optimized chassis that can combine 1.8-inch SSDs with a layer of 3.5-inch SAS or SATA drives.

"That will give the capability to deploy tiered storage within a server," Robinson said.

The versatile R730 also is available in 1U and tower form factors. The new server also now includes USB 3.0 and at-server diagnostics via NFC and an Android app. Base pricing starts at $2,249.


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