Revisiting the ProLiant 4500

In November, we reviewed the Compaq ProLiant Server 4500. Since then, the Windows NT Magazine Lab staff has been testing it thoroughly. We took it apart, put it back together, broke it, fixed it, reconfigured it, reinstalled, SQL-ed it, Exchange-ed it, and gave it a hard time.

We're happy to report that the 4500 has performed almost flawlessly. And Compaq's technical support staff redeemed itself nicely (see, "You Call This 'Support?'" October 1995), solving the few problems we encountered.

We started with a dual-processor 100-MHz Pentium system with 160MB of RAM, 10GB of hardware-based RAID 5 disk (8GB effective, using Compaq's SmartSCSI array controller), and an external storage chassis. At just under $32,000, this system is one of the largest to come through our lab--until we received a system with four 166-MHz Pentiums (only 128MB RAM--geez!).

The ProLiant 4500 is not inexpensive. (For a more affordable solution, look at the ProLiant 1500, which has the same overall architecture. The 1500 is not as scaleable--it can take only two CPUs--and has only a shared 512KB Level 2 cache, but it includes many of the same fault-tolerance options, such as hot-swappable drives, and is a good workgroup or file and print server.) The 4500 is a heavy- duty machine. Aimed at the enterprise server market, the 4500 is not for the meek (the quad-processor system is $37,499) and may be overpowered for small corporate environments. This system is more difficult to configure and install than some other servers we've tested (such as the HP NetServer 5/166 LS4). The reason is the proprietary OEM version of NT you need for the 4500 and its EISA-only bus requiring you to run the EISA configuration utility each time you install a card. However, even without PCI, this system still gives you plenty of room to grow.

Because the 4500 has 2MB of Level 2 cache per CPU, slowing this system takes effort. We tested the dual-processor system with Microsoft SQL Server 6.0 and Exchange 1.0 running the Lab email system and the Windows NT Magazine Web site's article and product databases. In that test, the 4500 barely ticked over. Perfmon shows barely 20% CPU usage even under the largest queries. We used the same box for tests of Lotus Notes, Collabra Share, and Microsoft Exchange, all of which ran simultaneously without a hitch. No doubt the 160MB of RAM has something to do with this stellar performance, but a good system architecture doesn't hurt.

On the quad-processor system, performance got even better. In ongoing tests of 10Mbit (Mb) against 100Mb LAN scaleability, we can simulate 250 users on this system without weighing it down. It works as well at 250 as at 10.

We continue to test both systems for our biggest tasks, and you'll see more on these machines soon. Also, look for the "Best Hardware for NT" roundup in November. We'll pit these machines against similar ones from HP, Intergraph, and Digital Equipment; you'll also see the new Pentium Pro-based ProLiant 5000, which gives even better performance at lower prices.

Yes, these are expensive units, but you have to pay for performance--and for support. We encountered a few problems, and Compaq's staff came through.

The dual-processor system suffered a hardware failure on the external disk storage cabinet. First, we had to work through a local service provider, who completely dropped the ball. Compaq called this provider to arrange a service call, and we went several days without hearing a word. I ended up taking the parts (which Compaq shipped directly to the Lab) and tearing into the unit with the telephone-guidance of Compaq's technical support engineers. I heard from the local service provider's staff only when they picked up the old parts. Unfortunately, I never got the storage cabinet to work and had to send it back to Compaq for repair. My solution was to take out the drives and install them in the main CPU cabinet.

The quad-processor had a BIOS/CPU problem, so we sent it back when it reported a failed initialization of the #1 CPU board. Hardware diagnostics revealed a cache failure. Compaq sent us a replacement CPU board, but the BIOS problem meant that it was incorrectly reporting which CPU had the fault.

I'm impressed with these systems. The ProLiant series deserves consideration for high-use environments. The systems make excellent database and resource servers.

Contact Info
Compaq * 800-386-2172
Web: http://www.compaq.com
Price: $37,499