Dell 400-MHz Pentium II has an edge

Pros:
+ Departmental power at workgroup price
+ Excellent expansion and management options
+ Improved chassis design for standalone or rack-mount use


GCNdex32 scores:
PowerEdge PowerEdge
2300 2100
400-MHz 200-MHz
Pentium II Pentium Pro
Floating-point
  math 12.05 6.16
Integer math 11.38 5.77
Video 29.68 16.43
Small-file access 11.86 5.74
Large-file access 12.81 6.61
CD-ROM access 46.98 27.66



The 400-MHz Pentium II processor in Dell Computer Corp.’s PowerEdge 2300 bears out
Moore’s Law, stated in 1965 by Intel Corp. co-founder Gordon Moore: Processors double
in complexity and processing speed every 18 months.


In March 1997, when the GCN Lab reviewed six of the latest and greatest workgroup
servers, including Dell’s PowerEdge 2100, all had the fastest processor at the time,
the 200-MHz Pentium Pro.


The GCNdex32TM benchmark scores for the 400-MHz PowerEdge 2300 are in fact double those
for the PowerEdge 2100 reviewed last year, though not merely because the processor has
twice the clock rate.


Dell has packed departmental-level features into the 2300, a workgroup or entry-level
server. One of the biggest improvements is in storage. The 2100 had only a SCSI hard
drive. The 2300 delivers high-performance storage through an optional dual-channel
expandable RAID controller for Ultra Wide SCSI-2 drives, including the latest
10,000-revolution-per-minute drives.


The controller, which supports 4M to 32M of cache memory, is the same as that in
higher-end PowerEdge 4300 and 6300 servers.


For sites that do not need massive RAID support or are concerned about cost, Dell also
sells the PERC/SC2 single-channel controller for about half the price. It supports up to
8M of cache memory and can handle low-voltage differential Ultra 2 SCSI drives, which can
operate farther from the controller and deliver throughput twice that of Ultra SCSI.


Another departmental-level feature is a hot-plug backplane for up to six 1-inch drives.


Memory speed also has improved with the advent of 100-MHz error-correcting code
synchronous dynamic RAM. The 2100 accepted a total of 256M of RAM; the 2300 goes all the
way up to 1G of RAM. And expandability likewise has increased. The lab’s test unit
had 128M of RAM installed, as the 2100 did. But the 2100 had no free memory slots; the
2300 has three.


Integrated video controllers may not be a deal breaker for some, but I prefer to have
them on network servers, where expansion slots are always at a premium.


The 2300 has an integrated ATI Technologies Inc. 3D Rage Pro controller with 2M of
synchronous graphics RAM, for a maximum resolution of 1,600 by 1,200 pixels. Not bad for a
file, print and application server.


The PowerEdge 2300 comes standard with an Intel EtherExpress Pro 100B network interface
card. 100Base-T support is now considered a requirement on network servers, but this is
one area that has not seen the same large performance increase over the last 18 months.


The 2300 shows its maturity as a workgroup server with four PCI slots and two shared
ISA/PCI slots. There is room for four 1.6-inch drives or six 1-inch drives. As for
external drives, the 2300 has three 51/4-inch bays and one dedicated 31/2-inch
bay—more than enough for a workgroup server and maybe enough for a low-end
departmental server.


Speaking of drives, the servers in the earlier review mainly had 8X CD-ROM drives; the
2300 has a 12X/24X SCSI CD-ROM drive.


How far has this server advanced beyond simply turning a PC on its side and sticking in
a SCSI card? The most obvious difference is a completely new physical design.


The 2300 can operate standalone or mounted in a rack configuration. Phillips screws
have been replaced by thumbscrews, and nooks and crannies have given way to easy-access
design. The interior is completely uncluttered, making it easy to insert cards or get at
cables and connections. The hot-pluggable drives are reachable from the front of the unit
without even removing a screw.


Finally, the 2300 plugs in the most important piece of the server puzzle: a host of
management tools and extra options. Standard management features include server management
bus connectors, Dell’s OpenManage tool suite, Hewlett-Packard Co.’s OpenView
Network Node Manager Special Edition and support for automatic server recovery.


Moore’s Law holds true in the PowerEdge 2300, but a workgroup server is more than
its benchmark scores. The welcome departmental-quality management options and excellent
chassis design prove that bringing high-end features down to the entry level is as great
an advance as bumping up the processor speed.


The Dell PowerEdge has improved in both areas without a cost increase.  

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