Dual Pentium 100s Come Out with Both Barrels Blazin'

This thing is fast! And the greatest feature of a really fast machine is that when something isn't working, you know it instantly! But before I get into the few problems this machine has, let's look at its features and capabilities.

The Proliant Server 4500 is Compaq's top-end platform for server applications. The test unit came equipped with enough goodies to satiate even the greediest system administrator: two 100-MHz Pentium chips, 160MB of RAM, 10GB of disk--RAID 5 (with parity) so there's only 8GB of effective storage space--a quad-speed CD-ROM drive, and dual SCSI-2 controllers--one 32-bit fast and wide SCSI controller and one SMART SCSI Array Controller. These are the upgrades that make this system so fast. A dual-processor architecture is great, but without the memory (and the disk) to back it up, system overhead eats up any computing-speed advantages you would otherwise see. Having two controllers allows you to break system operations away from software and data operations, so that the same drive isn't servicing the operating system--for virtual memory, swapping space, etc.--while it's trying to run applications.

Out of the box, the Proliant Server 4500 is impressive: Its full-tower chassis can house up to four hot-pluggable full-height hard drives and has eight EISA slots, two of which are already taken by the SCSI controllers. The 4500 has a standard HD floppy and a CD-ROM drive (plus one unused 51/4" drive bay), as well as the usual array of expansion connectors (SCSI, serial, parallel, SVGA graphics, PS/2 keyboard and mouse, and 10BaseT connection). Where the 4500 really shines, however, is in upgradability: four processor slots and up to 1GB of Error-Correcting Circuitry (ECC) RAM. It will take most users quite a while to outgrow this machine.

I also had the SMART SCSI Array Controller and the auxiliary storage expansion unit jammed with five 2.1GB drives. This setup is most impressive; it took perhaps 15 seconds to format an 8GB NT File System (NTFS) partition spanning all drives.

The few problems I had with this system can be summarized in one statement: Whatever you do, don't try to manually configure this beast on your own! If you do, you're in for a long trip through computer never-never-land. Compaq supplies a SmartStart kit with these systems, from which--with the appropriate code keys--you can install any of a variety of operating systems (among them, SCO UNIX, DOS, and Windows NT), databases (SQL Server 4.21, Oracle7, etc.), and other server-management packages (Cheyenne's ARCServe, Compaq's proprietary administration software, etc.). However, I didn't have the SmartStart kit to begin with, so I tried to do a standard install of Windows NT Server 3.51. This process introduced me to the intricacies of Compaq's proprietary Hardware Abstraction Layer (HAL), as in, "There is one." Thus, you must run Compaq's own flavor of Windows NT to make it work. Heaven help you if you lose your source disk!

Once I discovered this fact and received the appropriate package from Compaq, SmartStart automated the entire installation and configuration process. That's both good and bad. It's good because it steps you through everything you need to do; and it's bad because it steps you through everything you need to do. If you are missing one piece of information, such as a network address, you must abort the configuration and start again when you have all the pieces. (And be sure that you have the activation keys ready for any software you want to install, especially the operating system). This process is quite cumbersome: You must enter everything in its entirety before you can continue, rather than being able to skip parts and fill them in later. To its credit, however, Compaq reports that it is improving the SmartStart kit to make it even easier to use--improvements that will address some of these problems.

When all is said and done, once the Compaq Proliant Server 4500 was up and running, it proved to be one incredible piece of hardware. It's fast, stable, and doesn't appear to suffer from any major compatibility problems. In fact, this is one machine that Windows NT Magazine Lab would love to keep around as a test platform.

Proliant Server 4500
Contact: Compaq 800-386-2172
Price: $31,934 (as configured)