Get quad-Xeon performance in a space-saving design

Dell Computer's PowerEdge 6300 server stands out. The server has a compact shape and a distinctive black case that fits into any office environment. You can convert the PowerEdge 6300 to a standard deskside tower cabinet or a rack-mount configuration that requires only seven units of rack space. I reviewed the tower model.

The PowerEdge 6300 arrived preloaded with Windows NT Server 4.0 with Service Pack 3 (SP3). The Windows NT Magazine Lab's benchmark network has four segments to ensure that the network doesn't experience a bottleneck. I configured the server for the Lab's network, configured a printer, and reapplied SP3. Everything went according to plan until a video glitch surfaced: Random spots of video hash appeared on the screen. I reinstalled the video driver from the Dell OpenManage Server Assistant CD-ROM, which fixed the problem.

The PowerEdge 6300 uses the Intel 450NX chipset, which supports a 100MHz frontside bus. The motherboard includes dual Ultra 2 Low Voltage Differential (LVD) SCSI channels (80MBps) and one Ultra Narrow SCSI channel (20MBps). The system supports DIMMs as large as 256MB and has four banks of four DIMMs; thus, the PowerEdge 6300 supports a total memory configuration of 4GB.

On my test server, the boot disk connected to one of the system board's Ultra 2 LVD SCSI channels, and the CD-ROM drive connected to the Ultra Narrow SCSI channel. The hot-swappable bays contained six SCSI hard disks, which connected to the PowerEdge Expandable RAID Controller's (PERC's) primary SCSI channel. The seventh SCSI hard disk was mounted in the upper drive bays and connected to the PERC's second SCSI channel. The eighth SCSI hard disk acted as the boot drive. I chose PERC settings for best performance, configured the seven data drives as a RAID 0 array, and selected the 16KB stripe size. I configured the PERC with a write-back policy, an adaptive read policy, a cached I/O, and a 4-second cache-flush interval.

A side panel on the PowerEdge 6300's tower chassis swings open to reveal the I/O board slots—four 64-bit PCI slots, three 32-bit PCI slots, and one RAID controller slot. The hardware supports hot-swappable PCI slots. Dell designed the PCI slots with an easy-to-use card retainer. Each slot has a retainer bracket that rotates down and snaps into place. The system includes three PCI peer buses for the 64-bit PCI slots, 32-bit PCI bus, and built-in ports. Several thumbscrews hold various panels and cages in place. One thumbscrew secures the main system board chassis. After you remove this thumbscrew and unplug a couple of power cables, you can slide the chassis out from the back of the system. This setup provides easy access to the processors, memory board, and device bays.

The system has two hard disk mounting locations. Four half-height drive bays are located at the top of the system. The system uses two bays for the 3.5" disk drive and SCSI CD-ROM drive. The remaining two slots are available for tape drives or boot disks. Six hot-swappable drive bays are located at the bottom of the tower. Each drive bay can hold a 1" or 1.6" SCSI hard disk. You can also purchase the optional backplane, which supports eight 1" hard disks. These disks typically connect to the Ultra 2 LVD SCSI controllers embedded on the motherboard, or to the PERC's SCSI channels.

The PERC includes two Ultra 2 LVD SCSI channels and supports as much as 32MB of write-back cache with 48 hours of battery backup capacity. The system supports RAID processing with a 33MHz processor.

The Remote Assistant Card 2.0 is an optional feature. A battery and a separate AC adapter provide power for the card, which lets you manage your system remotely and notifies you when problems occur, even when you lose your primary source of power. The card sends notification across the LAN to a Simple Network Management Protocol (SNMP) console or via a modem to your pager. Currently, the card doesn't support Web browser connections.

The system includes an OpenManage Server Assistant CD-ROM that contains a standard assortment of drivers and Portable Document Format (PDF) versions of the User's Guide and the Installation and Troubleshooting Guide. The system also ships with hard-copy versions of the guides. The CD-ROM includes detailed instructions for setting up NT 4.0 and Novell NetWare 4.11. The PowerEdge 6300 also supports SCO UnixWare, Sun Solaris, Banyan VINES, and IBM OS/2 Warp Server network OSs (NOSs).

The PowerEdge 6300 also comes with HP OpenView Network Node Manager Special Edition (NNM SE) and HP OpenView ManageX SE. The NNM SE can manage as many as 250 network nodes. With Dell's Hardware Instrumentation Package (HIP), NNM SE can monitor the server's health and create SNMP traps to notify you of system problems and other events. ManageX SE provides a management console interface to one server.

I used Bluecurve's Dynameasure benchmark tools to test the server's throughput capacity in a file-server application. Dynameasure's Standard File Workload benchmark test copies file data between the test server's disk and the test client's buffer to check the server's disk I/O subsystem as it minimizes the latency of the client disk's I/O subsystem. I chose a 5GB data set to reduce the potential for serverside test data caching. The average maximum throughput for three tests was a respectable 7983Kbps. Server CPU utilization averaged 50 percent and disk queue length averaged 11, indicating a disk I/O bottleneck existed.

The benchmark testing didn't proceed flawlessly. The first few tests failed, and the server rebooted for no apparent reason. The troubleshooting procedures the Lab uses on newly shipped servers failed to locate the problem, so Dell sent a technician and a backup server. The technician replaced a questionable NIC, swapped out memory DIMMs, and low-level-formatted one of the RAID 0 drives that had gone offline during a spontaneous reboot. These actions eliminated the problem, so I didn't need the backup server. After we completed our initial benchmark testing, I decided to determine whether adding the backup server's load to an otherwise unused segment of the benchmark network altered the results I obtained. I constructed the test so that the other client systems generated the load leading to best throughput before I added the backup server's load. The results were interesting: The total throughput of the server remained essentially unchanged. At the same time, the backup server—the only load-generating client on the four network segments—ultimately was responsible for 25 percent of the load moving through the test server. This test confirmed that server resources—not client or network resources—limited the throughput measured at the server.

A Powerful, Compact System
The PowerEdge 6300 is the most compact quad-Xeon system I've tested. As a deskside system, the server can meet departmental computing needs. In higher-end configurations, the server can meet the systems management and performance needs of more demanding enterprise applications.

PowerEdge 6300
Dell Computer * 800-388-8542
Price: $33,817
System Configuration:
Four 400MHz Pentium II Xeon processors with 1MB of Level 2 cache, Windows NT Server 4.0 with Service Pack 3, 2GB of RAM, Eight 9GB 10,000rpm Ultra 2 SCSI hard disks, 3.5" disk drive, 14X/32X CD-ROM drive, PowerEdge Expandable RAID Controller with 32MB of RAM, Four Intel EtherExpress Pro 100B 10/100 NICs, HP OpenView Network Node Manager Special Edition