The 10 Coolest Servers Of 2012 (So Far)

Cool Server Moves

Staying ahead of Moore's Law has driven chip makers to focus more on increasing cores -- and less on transistors -- when deciding how die real estate should be landscaped. So too has been the trend in servers, with socket and core counts steadily on the rise.

Beyond scores of cores, there have been other interesting innovations in servers in the first half of this year ranging from super-dense bladed systems to one that's akin to a smartphone. Here's a look at 10 of the coolest servers of 2012 so far.

Low-Power ARM Server

With ARM processors poised to take over the world of smartphones, tablets and thoudands of other device types, it seems fitting to see the processor IP giant sights set on the general-purpose server market.

The Boston Vidiris from Boston Limited is a 2U rack-mount server built around the ARM-based Calxeda EnergyCore system-on-chip. With 192 processor cores in all, a fully populated Boston Viridis is actually a 48-node cluster deployed on a dozen so-called EnergyCards -- each with four SoCs and 4 GB of DDR3 memory -- which together can reportedly outperform "a whole rack" of x86 servers while consuming one-tenth the power. Processors themselves consume between 0.5 and 5 watts and the entire system including networking and fabric interconnect consumes about 300 watts; it runs Ubuntu Server 12.04 LTS or Fedora 17. Pricing and availability have not yet been announced. Dell and Hewlett-Packard reportedly are developing prototypes. Really cool.

32 Servers In A 10U ARack

This year Dell did some cool things to its M-series blades server line. According to the company, its brand-new PowerEdge M420 is the world's first blade server node in a quarter-height form factor. And for such a small package, the M420's specs are impressive. Each dual-socket unit can cram as many as 16 Intel Xeon E5-2400 processor cores (2.3GHz maximum), and 192 GB of DDR3 1,600MHz memory in six DIMM slots, plus two 1.8-inch hot-swap SSDs of as much as 200 GB each.

The M420 units can fit into Dell's M1000e Blade Enclosure, which can house as many as 32 M420 server nodes in 10U of vertical rack space. Dell's M420 and M1000e Blade Enclosure is cool for high-availability business applications, distributed workloads in cloud and high-performance computing environments and virtualized environments with high node counts. The system is certified for Citrix XenServer, Microsoft Hyper-V v2 and VMware vCenter, as well as Red Hat and SUSE Linux and Windows Server 2008 R2 SP1 x64.

Dell's 12th-Gen Servers

With Dell's latest servers, the 12th time's the charm. The Dell PowerEdge R720 currently holds the

Intel's Enterprise Platform and Services Division (EPSD) this year rolled out eight new server platforms for white-box solution providers. The company sent its high-end Grizzly Pass board to the CRN Test Center for evaluation, and we were impressed. The model S2600GZ motherboard was installed in a 2U rack server chassis and outfitted with 128 GB of memory and a pair of Intel Xeon E5-2660 eight-core processors running at 2.2GHz. At the time, its Geekbench performance was good enough to land it in second place on the Test Center's all-time list; it has since moved to third, but EPSD's server products are quite cool indeed.

Two Cool Lenovo ThinkServers

May saw two models added to Lenovo's RD-series ThinkServer rack servers. First is the ThinkServer RD530, a two-socket, 1U server that can pack as many as 16 Intel Xeon E5-2600 processor cores, up to 2 TB of hot-swap storage, 320 GB of 1,333MHz DDR3 memory, quad-port and 10Gbit Ethernet options and redundant power supplies. At a $2,399 starting list price, Lenovo's ThinkServer RD530 is a very cool choice for a small company, department or office.

Step Up: ThinkServer RD630

A step up from the RD530 is Lenovo's ThinkServer RD630, which offers the same 16 Intel Xeon E5-2600 processor cores, 2 TB of hot-swap storage, 320 GB of 1,333MHz DDR3 memory, quad-port and 10 Gbit Ethernet options and redundant power supply capabilities, plus more of the storage options available to a 2U enclosure for a list price of $2,699.

Both new ThinkServers also offer Lenovo's SmartGrid power management technology, which simultaneously monitors the power usage of as many as 1,000 servers and can implement power-saving policies that Lenovo claims can increase efficiency by as much as 45 percent from its prior server generations.

ProLiant A Solid Performer

One of HP's eighth-generation ProLiant servers, the ProLiant DL380p, offers twice the memory capacity of its seventh-gen predecessor, one-third more cores and as much as triple the storage capacity -- a maximum of 36 TB of internal SATA. And in CRN Test Center's performance benchmark tests, HP's 2U server stood out from the crowd. Its low starting price, numerous configuration options, advanced management features and stellar benchmark performance make this a cool choice for companies large and small.

Acer's Small, Powerful Box

In April Acer made the AC100 available to U.S. resellers, and with it the prospect of an Intel Xeon E3-1200-based server with 6 TB of storage in four hot-swap 3.5-inch bays and 16 GB of memory in the corner of someone's desk. For $999 list, the AC100 also includes RAID 0, 1, 5 and 10, front and rear USB/eSATA ports, VGA output, one PCI-e x8 slot and Gigabit Ethernet, and is a good choice for a general-purpose file server for the small office. And in March, Acer unveiled the latest generation of its F2 servers with support for Intel Xeon E5 processors.


Who needs CPUs when so many cool GPUs are available? Testing that question is Asus, which in May unveiled the ESC G2 series of high-performance servers and workstations. Short for Extreme Super Computer, these futuristic systems combine multiple high-end GPUs with two Intel Xeon E5-2600 processors and are designed for applications that require "massive computing power," according to the company.

The high-end ESC4000/FDR G2 includesd eight 3.5-inch hot-swap SATA bays, nine PCI-e G3 x16 expansion slots and a whopping 1,620-watt power supply. It's intended for performance-grabbing applications in life- and medical sciences, engineering, financial modeling and virtualization. Asus also recently unveiled a series of four-socket AMD and Intel servers.

Time To Switch Blades?

Last but certainly not least is IBM. The company that gave birth to the Jeopardy-champion Watson supercomputer in March unveiled to the world the IBM BladeCenter HS23 Express, with significant performance and scalability improvements over its HS22 predecessor. Now supporting Intel Xeon E5-2600 processors, HS23 also now contains a 10 Gbit Ethernet virtual network fabric for managing huge volumes of data common to virtualization and cloud infrastructure workloads.

The latest edition now also supports PCI-e 3.0 and its eight gigatransfers per second, as much as 256 GB of 1,600MHz DDR3 memory in 16 DIMM slots, up to 18 I/O ports per blade to deliver 82 percent higher performance than the prior model, IBM claims. As many as 14 HS23 blades and can be deployed in IBM's BladeCenter Chassis. Pretty cool, huh?