Check out the new class of value servers

My expectations weren't high for the Altos 900 Pro, the least expensive server in the
comparison. But it surprised me with good performance and nice features, such as toolless
case entry.

 The case can be secured, but when you want to upgrade or replace a part, the case
slips off easily with two small levered handles. Total cost of ownership being such a big
issue, I'm surprised this was the only server with toolless entry.

 The minitower chassis contained 32M of RAM and a 4.2G SCSI hard drive. One of this
server's problems was meager memory. Acer sent it with Novell NetWare 4.11 installed, but
I had to load Windows NT Server 4.0 for consistent testing.

 The fact that NT 4.0 is much more of a memory hog than NetWare 4.11 may have
influenced the Altos 900 Pro's poor disk performance, but not significantly.

 The Altos unit had an 8X CD-ROM drive, an integrated Ultra-Wide SCSI-2 adapter and a
10/100-megabit/sec Fast Ethernet network interface card.

 This was the only server in the review with single in-line memory module sockets
instead of double sockets. You would have to add memory chips in pairs.

 The maximum addressable memory fell on the low side, at 384M of RAM. All the other
systems except the Dell PowerEdge 2100 could handle between 512M and 1G of memory.  


Dell Computer has made great inroads into the server market with its PowerEdge 2100 and
4100 servers, and soon it will sell the 6100 four-processor model.

 The 2100 tower model reviewed here, with 128M of RAM and one 2G drive, is a little
brother to the Dell 4100. One mark against it is that you cannot upgrade by adding a
second processor.

 To do that, you'll have to start with the more expensive 4100. Also, the 2100 had
the lowest memory ceiling of any of the servers tested, maxing out at 255M.

 Considering what you get for $4,428, though, it still ranks as a bargain. If you
want a server that meets your needs now, and those needs don't look like they're going to
change anytime soon, I recommend this Reviewer's Choice. You don't get as long an upgrade
path as with some servers, but what you get works well and is affordable.

 I don't mean to say that you can't upgrade. With two free internal drive bays and
one free external bay, the review unit could easily accept more storage and an internal
tape drive.

 The unit had one free PCI slot and three free EISA slots. Dell would have done well
to integrate the network interface on the motherboard, freeing a much-needed PCI card
slot.

 An optional Ultra-Wide SCSI controller occupied the third PCI slot, which would
allow for duplexing your storage system.

 The 2100's performance on benchmarks was near the top of the heap. Its PowerScore
ranked third, but among the top three performers, the 2100 had the lowest price.  


Building a value server out of a box with a SCSI adapter and a NIC is just what Dunn
did with this server. It basically has a desktop motherboard with integrated sound and
game port.

 The tower unit came with 64M of RAM and one 2G SCSI drive, which appeared
hot-swappable but wasn't.

 The Dunn offers very little in terms of upgrading. It has three PCI slots-one of
which is taken up by the display adapter- and one shared PCI-ISA slot. So options are
limited.

 It's surprising that all the special features integrated on the motherboard,
including two Universal Serial Bus ports and a network interface, don't include integrated
video.

 The Dunn server actually is one of the best pseudo-servers out there. It even has a
Zero Insertion Force socket for a second Pentium Pro processor and four double in-line
memory module sockets.

 However, it underscores why I developed the weighted benchmark scores for figuring
the Server PowerScore.

 If I hadn't weighted the scores, the Dunn would have ranked higher based on its
video and CD-ROM scores. However, a workgroup file server's most important performance
metric is disk access, and the weighted scores reflect that.

 One other problem is the fact that the Dunn has an 8X IDE CD-ROM drive. If you're
going to shell out the money for an integrated SCSI adapter and an 8X CD-ROM drive, the
drive should be SCSI, not IDE.  


The Vetix Lxi and the Compaq ProLiant 800 were the two newest entries in this
comparison. Compaq has years of experience in the server market, whereas Micron is fairly
new. But the Vetix Lxi was one of the best workgroup servers I saw-good enough to garner a
Reviewer's Choice designation.

 The tower had 64M of RAM and one 4G hard drive. There were eight DIMM sockets, 1G
maximum memory ceiling, Ultra-Wide SCSI-3 integrated controller and loads of expansion
room. The system featured a 12X SCSI CD-ROM drive, which might sound like overkill for a
server, but you'll install Microsoft Office or Lotus Notes all the faster.

 There were seven expansion slots: five PCI, two ISA and one shared ISA-PCI. Since
the video, network interface, and SCSI controllers are all integrated, all the slots were
free. Three 514-inch bays were available externally, with six 312-inch bays available for
internal devices.

 The internal drive bays were stuck in a small space at the rear but easily
accessible through a swing-out drive cage.

 The only problem I had with the Vetix was removing the unit's three nonstandard
screws to get inside the case. A case that's this good on the inside deserves better on
the outside.

 The Vetix ranked second on the weighted benchmarks and achieved the top Server
PowerScore, 151.88. It ties together everything you look for in a workgroup server: good
design, reliability, management and performance.  


Offices that grow beyond their IT infrastructures quickly overload network servers. The
HP NetServer LH Pro server can keep that from happening. You could regard it as a high-end
value server or as a low-end midrange server with second-processor and RAID capabilities.

 The review tower had 64M RAM and two 2G hot-swappable SCSI hard drives. The six
drive bays were accessible from the front, and there were three external drive bays,
one 
312-inch and two 514-inch. This was the only server I tested with the option for a second
power supply.

 The optional RAID support includes RAID levels 0, 1, 5 and 6, and as server load
increases, this is a very important option.

 The LH Pro has two Fast and Wide SCSI-2 controllers and a 4X SCSI CD-ROM drive
which, though slower than the others reviewed, is fast enough for installing software-the
main duty of a CD drive on a server.

 Four EISA ports, four PCI slots and one shared EISA/PCI slot allow for multiple
cards, and the 64M dual in-line memory modules chip leaves three DIMM sockets open.

 The NetServer LH Pro has many possible upgrades, including an internal DAT drive,
rack-mount assemblies and an EISA server management card that supports remote access to
diagnostic and monitoring information. This server and the Micron Vetix Lxi were the only
ones that could handle up to 1G of RAM.

 Even after weighting for server performance, the LH Pro turned in the lowest scores.
It's a testament to other features that it moved up to fourth in PowerScore rankings.

 I was surprised, because the LH Pro had the lowest scores in every single category
except for the small-file and large-file benchmarks. The NetServer LH Pro earned a Server
PowerScore of 139.63 for its feature-rich chassis, multitude of options and robust
Hewlett-Packard support.

 Next issue: A review of client machines.


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