A Fast, Powerful Machine Capable of
Housing a Number of Upgrade Options

NEC RISCServer 2200
At the top of NEC's server line is the recently released RISCServer 2200, based on NEC's proprietary MultiRISC architecture that reportedly enhances performance by granting direct memory access (DMA) control for all I/O devices. This unit allows for either one or two MIPS R4400MC microprocessors running at 200 MHz with 2MB of secondary cache, up to 128MB of RAM on the system board (by using four 32MB SIMMs on a 128-bit Error Correcting Circuitry bus), and a 384MB expansion-board option (12 32MB SIMMs), multiple disk drives, and a host of other features that make it well-suited to a networked NT environment.

The 2200 can house up to eight 31Ž2" half-height hard drives, attached via twin SCSI-2 controllers (for a total of 11 SCSI devices) on a hot-swap RAID-capable backplane (available as a 32-bit EISA upgrade), as well as four accessible 51Ž4" device bays (two at 1" high and two at 1.6" high) holding the IDE floppy and 4X SCSI CD-ROM drive. A nice feature here that seems to be lacking in some other server architectures is an external SCSI-2 connector, permitting you to connect external tape drives, jukeboxes, etc., without adding another SCSI controller card.

The processor itself (200 MHz internally, 100 MHz on the bus) contains floating-point and memory-management units and a 32KB internal write-back cache. (In a write-back scheme, information is written to the memory block or page currently in the cache--this modified block is written back to main memory only when it is replaced.) You can upgrade the system board by adding a second processor card holding another 2MB of secondary cache.

As far as standard connections are concerned, the RISCServer 2200 has the standard ports (two serial, one RJ-45 type 10BaseT, two PS/2 mouse/keyboard, and one parallel), and even a modem integrated onto the I/O board, although it's only 2400 bps.

With six 32-bit EISA bus-master slots, the machine is expandable, but there's a surprising lack of any PCI-compatible slots. This may prove to be a disadvantage, especially to anyone hoping to use this high-powered MIPS RISC system as a graphics station where extremely high-speed video is required and PCI cards are now a cheap solution.

Along those lines, the 2200 has an accelerated ISA 16-bit SuperVGA controller (1MB video DRAM), supporting a maximum resolution of 1280 x 1024 x 16 colors.

Again, this is very limiting for graphics professionals, but not so much to anyone using it as a simple file/compute server or service provider. However, a high-performance video upgrade option is available, which will provide up to 4MB of VRAM, a 100MB/second bandwidth, linear frame buffer, and 24-bit true color, all on a 64-bit Local VXL bus.

The RISCServer comes with Microsoft Windows NT 3.5, but no other utilities are provided. And, while there is more software available for MIPS processors than for the new PowerPCs, it's still not a huge market segment. As an SQL or standard file server, though, the RISCServer 2200 should be more than adequate for most applications.

This machine has some advantages and some disadvantages. On the plus side, it's a very fast and powerful machine capable of housing a number of upgrade options. Plenty of device bays, with an external SCSI connection, means you won't outgrow its storage capacity. However, the external SCSI isn't actually attached to anything when you get the machine. It's just a coil of cable inside the unit that you need to plug into the main bus and disable internal SCSI termination if you're going to use it.

On the minus side, the RISCServer's full-tower chassis is a little flimsy: Once opened, it really doesn't want to close again, and its plastic front panels are clumsy. As far as software compatibility goes, many Win16 applications won't run, and only Win32 applications specifically compiled for the MIPS work with any reliability.

And, during the test cycle--in the first two weeks, actually--the system blew up! So, beware of infant mortality! As a rule, don't try to replace your main system without building some integration time into the process of moving from the old system to the new one.

However, NEC tech support was very responsive to us (possibly because of who we are) and sent out a technician within 48 hours with a replacement system board. His guess was that our 2200 had burned out its video memory, which caused the display, SCSI, and Ethernet controllers to fail as well. Although I can't explain how failing video involves these other I/O subsystems, replacing the main board fixed all the problems.

NEC RISCServer 2200
Contact: NEC Technologies, Inc., 800-632-4636
Base Price: $11,400