Comparing the Compaq ProLiant ML530, Dell PowerEdge 4400, and HP NetServer LH 3000

In this comparative review, I look at three departmental-class dual-processor servers: the Compaq ProLiant ML530, the Dell PowerEdge 4400, and the Hewlett-Packard NetServer LH 3000. All three systems are 800MHz Pentium III processor-based, and both the Compaq and the Dell sport the processor's Xeon versions. All processors have 256KB of Level 2 cache. All are based on ServerWorks' ServerSet III LE chipset, which provides support for a 133MHz front-side bus, 4GB of 133MHz Error-Correcting Code (ECC) SDRAM, and 64-bit PCI slots. Table 1, page 110, compares the systems' features.

Using Microsoft BackOffice Server as a base application platform, I installed Microsoft IIS 4.0, SQL Server 7.0, and Exchange Server 5.5. I used a 2.1GB SQL Server database and a 64MB Exchange Server private message store. I used Windows NT 4.0 because not all three vendors supported Windows 2000 at the time of testing. (At press time, all three vendors support Win2K.)

I performance-tested the servers while they ran a variety of applications concurrently: My test workload consisted of Doculabs' @Bench e-commerce benchmark test combined with a Messaging API (MAPI) mail workload (for information about @Bench, go to http://www.doculabs.com/). The sidebar "How I Tested," page 111, describes my testing environment and procedures. For information about restoring databases for each test iteration, see the sidebar "Restoring the Database During Benchmark Testing," page 112.

As Graph 1 shows, I found no appreciable difference in the three systems' performance. Looking at the test's performance-monitoring counters, I found that I/O was not a bottleneck—I/O queue lengths for the logical disk volumes participating in the test were uniformly less than 0.1. Distinct differences between the three systems occurred in the arena of systems management tools.


Compaq ProLiant ML530
The Compaq ProLiant ML530 is the newest member of Compaq's ProLiant 3000 server family. The system's ServerWorks' ServerSet III LE chipset supports the system board's 133MHz front-side bus, the 64-bit 66MHz PCI bus with eight PCI slots, and the embedded Ultra 2 SCSI controllers. The ProLiant ML530 can process memory and I/O requests in parallel for improved system throughput.

A Tour Through the System
In its pedestal cabinet, the ProLiant ML530 stands 20" tall, 13" wide, and 27.5" deep. A 7U (12.25") rack-mount model is also available. A lockable door, which swings open to the right, covers the entire front of the server. Two drive cages—each holding six hot-swappable 3.5" disk drives—nearly fill the front right side, leaving just enough space for the CD-ROM drive. A 3.5" floppy-disk drive is at the top left, and two removable 5.25" media bays occupy the bottom left side. The power switch and four system-status LEDs are near the middle, and two cooling fans are visible on the left. Three thumbscrews fasten the left-side panel, which slides toward the back for removal. Four hot-swappable fans are accessible through the left panel. Two of the fans direct air through a cooling shroud over the two CPUs, and the other two fans direct air across the system board, cooling the area that contains the I/O slots and memory modules.

A green release lever lets you remove two non-hot-swappable drive trays, which have caddies for 3.5" devices and rails for 5.25" devices. The two CPUs occupy the top of the system. Eight DIMM memory module slots reside below the CPUs. Each of the eight slots can accommodate modules as large as 512MB, for a total maximum system memory of 4GB. You'll find the eight PCI slots at the bottom of the system. The lowest slot, number 1, is a 32-bit 33MHz slot. Slots 2 through 6 are 64-bit 33MHz 5-volt PCI slots. At the top, slots 7 and 8 are 64-bit 66MHz 3.3-volt slots. A PCI retainer clip releases with the touch of a button and rotates into position.

If you remove the left-side panel, you can access a release handle on the back of the server that lets you slide the entire system-board tray assembly about 5" out the back of the server. This mechanism exposes the system power board's connectors and gives you access to three additional hot-swappable fans. Unfortunately, power cables to the system board prevent the tray from sliding out far enough to let you add or remove PCI cards.

Connectors for the two embedded Ultra2 SCSI channels are located on the system board's edge. In the system I reviewed, neither SCSI channel was in use. However, one channel was cabled so that I could attach external devices to an external Very High Density Cable Interconnect (VHDCI) connector; a second rear-panel punch-out was available so that I could connect an external device to the second SCSI channel. Compaq provides a cable to connect devices in the two non-hot-swappable drive bays to one of these SCSI controllers. These non-hot-swappable bays are for removable media devices; according to Compaq, the airflow in the non-hot-swappable bays is insufficient to cool hard disk drives. A second panel covers the cabinet's top and right side but doesn't expose any user-serviceable parts.

At the system's rear left are three easily removable, hot-swappable, redundant power supplies, each with its own power cord. The standard set of connectors for integrated components—keyboard, mouse, dual DB9 serial connectors, printer port, and a VGA connector—are in a typical ATX-motherboard configuration.

Two information labels on the inside of the left panel describe the system board's layout and include instructions for adding and removing system components. One label includes a list of part numbers for system-upgrade options.

Overall, the system is easy to work on. Everything you typically need to access is behind the left-side panel.

Systems Management
Three systems management components contribute to the ProLiant ML530's excellent systems management capabilities. First, the ProLiant ML530 offers Advanced Configuration and Power Interface (ACPI) and Desktop Management Interface (DMI) support for remote monitoring and management of server hardware components. The ProLiant ML530 also supports Automatic Server Recovery-2 (ASR-2). Firmware-based ASR support periodically communicates with OS drivers. If the system hangs and doesn't communicate with the ASR firmware, ASR can reboot the system to attempt recovery. Second, Compaq liberally uses status LEDs on the front of the system and on each hot-swappable fan and power supply. Third, Compaq's systems management software, Compaq Insight Manager, is standard on each server. Insight Manager provides an excellent window into the server's configuration and hardware components' operating status. Color-coded status icons warn of failing components and let you drill down from the network view through server views to discover which component is failing.

Insight Manager, which manages the server's hardware and firmware components (but not the OS components), comes in two versions: the original Windows GUI version and Insight Manager XE, which is the Web-Based Enterprise Management (WBEM) version. Although you can install Insight Manager on any Win2K- or NT-based management console, Insight Manager can manage only Compaq computers. Insight Manager relies on Compaq Management Agents, which reside on the managed systems, to provide information. These agents work only on Compaq systems.

Before Insight Manager can manage a server, you must install the SNMP agents and Compaq Management Agents. I installed the SNMP service with a standard community name of Public for read and create access, then reinstalled NT 4.0 Service Pack 5 (SP5) and rebooted the server. To ensure that all the necessary drivers were loaded when I installed NT, I ran the Compaq Server Support (SSD) utility and selected the Express installation. SSD causes Insight Manager to scan the server hardware and install all appropriate device drivers.

Next, from the Compaq Management CD-ROM, I ran the Autorun command and chose Install Compaq Management Agents for Servers from the resulting menu. I had the option to install seven separate agents: Event Notifier, Foundation Agents, NIC Agents, NT Management, Server Agents, Storage Agents, and Web Agent. Foundation Agents collect general system information. Server Agents collect server and Compaq Remote Insight board information. Storage Agents collect information related to any installed storage subsystem. (All three agents can also generate SNMP traps.) NIC Agents collect information about NICs. Although the documentation didn't include information about the Event Notifier, NT Management, or the Web Agent, it also didn't list them as agents that generate traps. By default, the installation wizard installs all the agents; I permitted the default installation.

Next, the installation process alerted me that it would install a BMC PATROL agent for Insight Manager. (Insight Manager incorporates technology from BMC Software.) The installation wizard created a user account that the NT management features would use to monitor NT; I specified a name, domain, and password for the account. After I performed the required server reboot, the Compaq Event Notifier Configuration Wizard let me specify an SMTP mail server and a list of administrators who should receive email alert notifications.

The Insight Manager installation wizard began by installing the Borland Database Engine. I chose the default installation options, which didn't include Microsoft Systems Management Server (SMS) Launch Support but did include the option to include IPX discovery support in the installed product. The installation process took only a few moments and didn't require a system reboot.

Using Insight Manager
From the new Start menu item, I started Insight Manager, which displayed a startup checklist that summarized the necessary tasks for installing and testing Insight Manager's server management components. This list included many tasks that I had already completed, such as installing SMNP and the Compaq Management Agents. My next task was to instruct Insight Manager to initiate the discovery of network nodes. I found this option under the Discover IP Devices menu item, which is part of Insight Manager's Setup menu. The software prompted me to enter network address ranges for the discovery process. I specified five network segments—four local to the server and one available through a router. Insight Manager discovered 113 IP devices. When I tried to add the discovered systems to Insight Manager's database, Insight Manager noted name conflicts for computers with multiple network adapters and let me save only one IP address per name in its database. (Insight Manager needs only one address to access a system and would need to use a second address only if the first address failed.) At this point, I discovered an Insight Manager bug: The typical Windows screen-maximize button isn't functional, so I had to resize windows by manually stretching each side.

Of all the IP systems that Insight Manager discovered, only the ProLiant ML530 system had the Compaq Management Agents installed and was therefore the only discovered system that Insight Manager classified as OK. Another Compaq system, with an older version of Compaq Management Agents installed, reported a Degraded status. All other systems, including the Dell and HP servers, reported an Inaccessible status.

To test Insight Manager's capabilities, I set up a device filter that displayed only manageable devices. Only the ProLiant ML530 and the older ProLiant system on my network passed the filter. Double-clicking the icon representing the ProLiant ML530 device brought up the Device - ML530 window, which Figure 1 shows. Each of the window's seven buttons displayed a different class of system information: Configuration, Mass Storage, NIC, Recovery, System Board, Utilization, and Expansion Bds.

I clicked the Configuration button to open the ML530 Configuration window, from which I could display five classes of information. The default display was for System Information, which lists Operating System, Processors, Expansion Bus, System Memory, System ROM and Microcode levels, System I/O devices, and Memory DIMM Socket utilization.

The next Configuration screen, Mass Storage, displayed logical disk volume information (format and size), summary information for each disk and RAID controller, and a summary of each logical volume in the RAID array. The logical volume summary data provided a good description of the Compaq RAID controller, including firmware revision level, the RAID cache's size and its allocation between read and write, the drive capacity, and each volume's RAID level.

The Security screen displayed a summary of in-use BIOS-level passwords. (None were in use, so all reported a Disabled status.) The Recovery button displayed temperature readings, fan and power supply sensors, Automatic Recovery settings, and the system hardware log. Clicking the next button, Exp. Boards, displayed PCI device and system resource status, including IRQ usage, I/O port and memory allocation, and each slot's bus assignment. The final Configuration screen, All Information, displayed all the data available through the other buttons. Print and Copy buttons on each screen let you easily print or save the information.

I returned to the Device - ML530 window and clicked the Mass Storage button. This button displayed a treeview of information about the installed storage subsystems, including information about each logical volume (e.g., drive letter, space statistics). I found information about the CD-ROM drive under the Embedded IDE controller. Under the RAID Controller 4200 entry, I found Controller firmware and redundancy information, followed by tree structures showing physical and logical views of attached storage.

Clicking the NIC button in the Device - ML530 window yielded a summary of each of the system's Ethernet ports, including media access control (MAC) address and packet counts. Clicking the System Board button displayed the number and type of each CPU installed, as well as information about system memory and I/O devices. Clicking the Utilization button displayed, for each CPU, a bar graph with buttons that display average CPU utilization for the past 1 minute, 5 minutes, 30 minutes, and 1 hour.

Clicking the Expansion Bds button brought up a summary of slot usage, as Figure 2 shows. When one PCI card includes multiple devices, the list displays multiple entries. For example, my dual-port NICs each displayed as three devices: one device for each Ethernet port and one device for a PCI-to-PCI bridge that connected the ports. Embedded PCI devices appeared grouped together. The System Resources button displayed Direct Memory Access (DMA), IRQ, and I/O port utilization. I could also view a more detailed description of each slot's bus assignment and resource utilization, similar to the information that the Expansion Boards window under the Configuration window contains.

After I closed the ML530-specific screens, I explored other program options. Insight Manager has several predefined filters that let you limit the display of discovered devices. From the File menu, I could create a custom list of network nodes. In addition to the device list, Insight Manager displays an Alarm Log at startup. By default, alarms consist of an audible beep and a pop-up window on the management console. You can also configure alarms to notify several people by pager or email. Alarms occur when problems arise and, optionally, when the exception condition returns to normal.

Of the products I reviewed, Insight Manager boasts the most user-friendly display of system-configuration information. I was disappointed, however, that Insight Manager works only with Compaq-branded systems. In addition, Insight Manager generates alerts when monitored components pass predefined threshold values but can take only one action in response to an alert: notification. The Remote Insight board is a particularly nice feature. I was impressed by its ability to pass system keyboard/ video/mouse (KVM) signals to a remote user over the Web without requiring Symantec's pcAnywhere on the server (as HP requires). This capability also makes the KVM passthrough OS-independent. When a system reports a Degraded status, Insight Manager lets you easily drill down through the color-coded displays until you find the root failure. Insight Manager takes care of the fundamentals, but for a more extensive set of tools, you'll want to use it with Tivoli Enterprise Console, Computer Associates' (CA's) Unicenter, or HP OpenView.

Remote Insight Lights-Out Edition
The system I tested included the optional Compaq Remote Insight Lights-Out Edition board. The Remote Insight Lights-Out Edition board is like a separate computer inside the server (i.e., separate power, separate network attachment) that communicates with the server's firmware to monitor the status of server components (e.g., CPU, fans, voltages). A Web server programmed into the Remote Insight Lights-Out Edition card lets you obtain status information from the card (even when the server is powered off or broken), remotely soft-power on the server, reboot, update server firmware, and perform similar administrative tasks when the server is healthy.

You can power the Remote Insight Lights-Out Edition board with an external supply to permit operation when system power is off. When the Remote Insight Lights-Out Edition board's external power supply isn't in use, the board reports a Degraded status. When I saw a yellow server icon instead of a green one, I quickly drilled down to find that the Degraded status was due to a disconnected external power supply, as Figure 3 shows.

The Remote Insight Lights-Out Edition board supports out-of-band server management independent of the server's operational state (i.e., standby, boot, operating). The board can operate from a separate external power supply or on battery power. The board includes an Ethernet NIC with automatic DHCP configuration and a VGA adapter with keyboard and mouse passthrough that lets you remotely control the server without installing an OS remote control program.

Although the system board includes an integrated VGA port, the system I tested used the VGA port on the Remote Insight Lights-Out Edition board in the 32-bit PCI slot (to support remote control). The Remote Insight Lights-Out Edition card also contains an Intel i960 processor, an external power connector, an Ethernet 10/100Mbps LAN connector, and a PS/2-style connector for a keyboard and mouse.

Performance Testing
The ML530 I tested had 2GB of 133MHz ECC SDRAM and a Compaq Smart Array 4200 Controller (i.e., a quad-channel Ultra 2 RAID controller) with twelve 18GB 10,000rpm disk drives split between two SCSI channels on the RAID controller. RAID controller performance characteristics can vary, so I accepted Compaq's suggestions for drive array configuration and placement of data sets on the various logical drives. The boot disk was divided into four logical volumes: a 2GB FAT C drive for the NT system volume and for software installation, a 4GB NTFS D drive for a paging file, a 6GB E drive, and a 6GB F drive for the Exchange Server Directory Store. The G drive, a single physical drive, didn't participate in the test. The H drive, a two-drive mirror set (i.e., RAID 1) hosted Exchange Server's Information Store (IS) log files. The I drive, also a two-drive mirror set, hosted the SQL Server log file for the Doculabs @Bench database. The J drive, a six-drive RAID 5 array, hosted the Doculabs @Bench SQL Server database data file and the IS files.

In the Doculabs @Bench test, the Compaq's maximum number of transactions per second (tps) was 11.8, achieved at a 16-user load. At the point of peak throughput, overall CPU utilization was just over 91 percent, with IIS using 48 percent and the SQL Server process using just over 29 percent. CPU utilization increased as the number of load-generating users increased beyond the point of peak throughput. System I/O capacity wasn't a factor in the testing; I/O queue lengths were less than 0.1 on each of the volumes. These results are virtually identical to those of the HP NetServer LH 3000, a system based on the Pentium III 800MHz (non-Xeon) processor. Overall, although the Compaq performed better than the Dell PowerEdge 4400 and the HP NetServer LH 3000, the difference is insignificant.

Documentation
With the ML530, Compaq provides both printed and CD-ROM-based information. A Hardware Installation and Configuration poster provides an overview of basic system setup tasks and duplicates much of the information you'll find on the inside of the system's left panel. A Quick Installation Guide provides detailed descriptions of the physical installation procedures for both pedestal and rack-mounted versions. This guide also describes how to use the Compaq SmartStart CD-ROM and how to run the System Configuration Utility from the utility partition on the boot drive. Both the overview poster and the guide provide useful information.

The CD-ROM contains Portable Document Format (PDF) versions of the ProLiant ML530 Setup and Installation Guide, which is an expanded version of the printed Quick Installation Guide; the Servers Troubleshooting Guide, which contains generic server-hardware troubleshooting procedures; the ML530 Troubleshooting Guide, which includes ML530-
specific information such as the definition of LED and POST codes; and the Integrated Remote Console Users Guide, which describes the use of a serial port or internal modem PCI card to remotely manage the server. Printed versions of these manuals and additional copies of the documentation CD-ROM are also available from Compaq for a nominal shipping charge. All the documentation is clear and useful.

Value
Compaq has produced a solid system with lots of expansion capacity. With a 133MHz front-side bus, 133MHz of system memory, and 64-bit 66MHz PCI slots, the ProLiant ML530 delivers top performance. The server offers impressive systems management features with multiple remote support options and the ability to work with systems management consoles from Tivoli, CA, and HP. In pedestal or rack-mounted configurations, this system serves the needs of departmental users in small and large organizations.

Compaq ProLiant ML530
Contact: Compaq * 800-345-1518
Web: http://www.compaq.com/
Price: Starts at $4205; as tested, $25,726
Decision Summary:
Pros: Large expansion capacity; pedestal configuration provides easy access; state-of-the-art features and top performance; impressive systems management features; multiple remote-support options
Cons: Insight Manager works only with Compaq computers; no integrated RAID controller

Dell PowerEdge 4400
If you're responsible for buying business computers, you're well aware of Dell's successful approach to meeting business computing needs. The PowerEdge 4400 is Dell's latest dual-processor-capable departmental server.

A Tour Through the System
The PowerEdge 4400's specifications read like a wish list. Features include four PCI buses, as much as 4GB of 133MHz ECC SDRAM, and a 133MHz front-side bus, all supported by the ServerSet III LE chipset. Other features include an embedded Intel Pro/100+ NIC and an embedded Ultra 160 dual-SCSI-channel hardware RAID controller. You can configure the system with one or two Pentium III Xeon processors. Currently, Dell can supply processor speeds of 600MHz, 667MHz, 733MHz, and 800MHz, all with 256KB of Level 2 cache.

You can use the integrated hardware RAID controller (an optional feature) when you purchase Dell's PERC 3/Di RAID Enabler Kit. This kit consists of a hardware key that enables the RAID controller, a 64MB or 128MB DIMM cache memory module, and a backup battery for RAID cache. The server offers DMI support for remote monitoring and management of server hardware components.

I reviewed the floor-standing model, but the server is also available in a rack-mount version. At the bottom of the server are eight low-profile hot-swappable disk drive bays. In the server I tested, eight 9GB 10,000rpm disk drives filled these bays.

Removable media drive bays reside in the upper left of the unit behind a removable door. A 3.5" floppy-disk drive and CD-ROM drive are standard. In the system I tested, two more 9GB disk drives (attached to SCSI channel B of the embedded hardware RAID controller) occupied two additional non-hot-swappable drive bays. In the system I tested, Dell configured these two drives as a RAID 1 array, part of which the system used as the boot volume.

On the cabinet's right side, a door swings open to give you access to the PCI card slots. Dell's engineers have designed a simple card-retainer lever, which I found easier to use than Compaq's card-retainer design. Slots 1 and 2 are 64-bit, 66MHz, 3.3-volt slots on PCI bus number 1. Slots 3 through 6 are 64-bit, 33MHz, 5-volt slots on PCI bus number 2. Slot 7 is a 32-bit, 33MHz slot on PCI bus number 3. All slots also support 32-bit cards. You must install the Dell OpenManage Remote Assistant card in slot 7.

A plastic shield covers non-hot-swappable slots 5 through 7. Slots 1 through 4, which include a pair of status LEDs and a power switch, are hot-swappable. On the back of the access door, you'll find instructions for removing and replacing PCI hot-plug expansion cards on servers with ACPI-compliant OSs. The instructions inform you, for example, that if you place a 33MHz card in either of the two 66MHz card slots, you must power-cycle the system so that both slots operate at 33MHZ.

The right-side panel covers the CPU and memory slots, as well as the PCI card slots. To release the panel, simply twist the knob (which includes an integrated key lock) on the back of the server. (Removing this panel also makes the reference information on the back of the PCI-slot access door easier to read.)

A pair of hot-swappable cooling fans direct air across the two Xeon CPUs and memory DIMMs in the system-board compartment, which a second steel panel covers. To remove this panel, you twist two retainer clips. The system board has eight DIMM memory slots. Memory is interleaved for better performance, so you must install DIMMs in pairs. The system board, which incorporates an integrated hardware RAID controller, also offers one DIMM socket for RAID cache. The system I tested included 128MB of battery-backed RAID cache.

The entire system-board module, complete with CPUs and PCI cards, is removable. After I powered down the system and slid the system-board module about a third of the way out, I could disconnect cables for module removal. (In this way, I could also reach connectors on the back of devices in the upper drive trays.) Replacing the metal panel over the CPU and memory compartment is more challenging than removing it because the panel has five tabs and slots that don't line up easily. I settled for aligning four before twisting the retainer clips back in place.

Toward the front of the server, a SCSI backplane board sits behind a section of the system-board module. Cables connect the SCSI backplane to the system board and to the hot-swappable drive cage. In the system I reviewed, SCSI channel A was cabled to the hot-swappable drive cage, and SCSI channel B was cabled to the upper two-disk drive tray that contained the boot device.

The back of the PowerEdge 4400 has a standard array of connectors: a pair of USB ports; an RJ45 connector for the embedded Intel Pro/100+ Ethernet NIC; and the standard keyboard, mouse, VGA, parallel, and DB9 serial connectors. This system was the only one I reviewed that supports USB ports. Three hot-swappable power supplies line the right side on the back of the server, and I easily removed and replaced one of the supplies without interrupting the server's operation. For the power supplies, Dell includes one power cord with three connectors, letting you use only one UPS electrical outlet for the server. I could access all user-serviceable parts from the right panel. The left panel isn't removable because it covers no user-serviceable parts.

Systems Management
The PowerEdge 4400 includes several systems management components. You install the system's management applications on the computer you'll use as the management console, and you install the managed-node components on each server you want to manage. To manage computers that support the DMI, Common Information Model (CIM), or SNMP management protocol, you use the Dell OpenManage IT Assistant management console.

I used the Dell OpenManage Applications CD-ROM to install the management applications (i.e., first to the Dell system, then to an NT-based IBM system): OpenManage Server Console, IT Assistant, OpenManage Client, Array Manager (including Adaptec CIO Management), the Power-Edge Expandable RAID Controller (PERC) tools, and QLogic Management. With PERC, Dell includes Flexible Array Storage Tool (FAST), a GUI-based RAID array configuration tool. Start FAST to display a Container view, which depicts the RAID arrays (with the logical volumes defined on, and the ID assigned to, each array) and lists the disk drives by their SCSI controller. PERC controllers let you create arrays with RAID levels 0, 1, 5, and 10 (i.e., 0+1). FAST lets you create large-volume sets by concatenating multiple mirror sets, stripe sets, or RAID 5 sets.

I used the Dell OpenManage Server Assistant CD-ROM to install managed-node applications, including Array Service Manager, Adaptec CI/O Manager, and Resolution Assistant, on the PowerEdge 4400. Resolution Assistant collects system information to help you diagnose problems. You can choose to automatically send that information to Dell's customer support, which can then have direct access to the server for problem determination.

Dell's OpenManage Connections products let you manage Dell servers through Tivoli Enterprise Console, CA Unicenter, and HP OpenView. With the Version Assistant tool, you can manage server BIOS and drivers. The Dell Remote Assistant Card 2 (DRAC2) permits remote connection to the server (through 10Base-T or modem connections) for system power on/off/reset and console redirection and supports ASR2, automatically rebooting the server if it fails.

The OpenManage Server Console
With the OpenManage Server Console, you can view the status of the server's built-in hardware-monitoring sensors. You can also configure the actions the server will take when it detects a component failure or when a component passes a predefined threshold (e.g., when the temperature gets too high or a fan drops below a specified number of revolutions per minute). Because the OpenManage Server Console is an SNMP application, it can receive events from any SNMP agent on the network.

When I first started the OpenManage Server Console, it prompted me for the name of the server I wanted to manage. Next, the console presented a typical Windows Explorer-like view of the system hardware probes, listing the probes on the left and the current status and predefined warning and failure thresholds on the right.

The Configure Actions tab, which Figure 4 shows, let me choose from several active notification options for when a monitored component issues a warning or crosses a failure threshold. These options include Execute application, Display an alert message on the server, Beep the speaker on the server, and Broadcast a message. Although anyone can run the OpenManage Server Console, only a logged-on user can configure actions. The Security tab lists currently defined users and lets you add and delete users and change passwords.

I clicked the OpenManage Server Console's Browser tab to view Management Information Format (MIF) records, which DMI uses to report system-configuration information. The Browser tab lists DMI-manageable components, such as NT and adapter cards with DMI support. The Event Log tab shows a log of past system-hardware events (e.g., component failures, records of Hardware Chassis Intrusion). The POST Log tab displays the results of the most recent power-on self test (POST)—on my server, the tests ran with no noted exceptions. From the Actions menu, I could remotely shut down NT and power off or reset the PowerEdge 4400.

OpenManage IT Assistant
OpenManage IT Assistant is Dell's remote systems management console program. As with the Compaq and HP consoles, you must configure network discovery to create a list of computer systems that you'll use IT Assistant to manage. The console detects systems by IP address but can retrieve information only from other properly instrumented systems (e.g., Dell servers containing the Managed Node software). To clean up the management console, I deleted entries for systems that IT Assistant couldn't manage.

When I double-clicked the PowerEdge 4400 entry, IT Assistant displayed the status of each DMI-monitored component. This status display included such information as the component's voltage, current, and temperature. Interestingly, the display showed the maximum speed of the Xeon processors as 867MHz, with an operating speed of 800MHz. (Apparently, Dell satisfied my request for an 800MHz system by dialing back an 867MHz processor's clock speed.)

IT Assistant also retrieved temperature, voltage, and processor status information from the HP LH 3000 system and reported that the LH 3000 had 800MHz processors. IT Assistant couldn't retrieve any information from the Compaq ProLiant ML530 system.

IT Assistant also didn't display any information about the Dell server's storage systems—no lists of logical or physical disk drives and no information about the RAID subsystem. This lack of essential information surprised me. Dell provides another program, Array Manager, that you can use locally or remotely to view storage attached to Dell's PERC and to configure RAID arrays (but not other SCSI- or IDE-based devices). Figure 5 shows the Dell OpenManage Array Manager console with the array configuration panel open. (FAST, the previously mentioned PERC tool, allows only local-system access.)

To view and manage alerts that monitored systems send to the IT Assistant console, you select Alerts from the toolbar, which Figure 6 shows. From the Server Alert Actions screen, you can configure actions to take when the console receives an alert, just as you can from the OpenManage Server Console.

IT Assistant's easy-to-use Web interface supports Custom Groups, which let you configure and view different subsets of all your systems. IT Assistant's color-coded display quickly conveys the health of your system and lets you display nicely formatted configuration information about individual servers. Although IT Assistant can accept alerts from and display some information about DMI-, CIM-, and SNMP-instrumented servers, IT Assistant reserves its full functionality for Dell systems. Both IT Assistant and the OpenManage Server Console adequately display server-hardware instrumentation and alert thresholds, as well as current temperature and voltage measurements. However, neither supplies any information about disk storage subsystems—a major oversight. IT Assistant includes all the OpenManage Server Console's functionality, so you can fully view the status of server hardware from remote locations.

Performance Testing
The PowerEdge 4400 I tested had 2GB of 133MHz ECC SDRAM, an integrated PERC 3/Di RAID controller with dual Ultra 160 SCSI channels, and 128MB of battery-backed cache. In addition to the integrated 10/100Mbps NIC, my test server had two dual-port Intel Pro/100+ NICs. The boot drive, a two-disk mirror set (RAID 1) attached to SCSI channel A, was divided into two logical NTFS volumes: a 4GB C drive and a 4GB D drive. The C drive was the NT system volume and the target for software installation (including the Doculabs @Bench application Web site). The D drive was dedicated to a paging file. The other eight disks were attached to SCSI channel B and configured as a RAID 10 array (configured as four spanned mirror sets). The system allocated this large array, which held SQL Server data and log files and Exchange Server data and log files, to NT as the E drive.

At 11.18tps, the Doculabs @Bench test results for the PowerEdge 4400 were slightly lower than the other servers' measurements. However, average CPU utilization at peak throughput was about 10 percent lower than that of the others: 81.2 percent for the Dell versus 91.2 percent for the others. The I/O queue length at peak throughput was less than 0.1, indicating no I/O bottleneck.

Documentation
The Dell Online Documentation CD-ROM offers a thorough set of HTML-formatted documentation, including hardware-installation information and user guides for each PowerEdge server model. The CD-ROM includes OpenManage software documentation and a set of quick-installation guides for Dell RAID controllers and NT and Novell NetWare installation. The PowerEdge 4400 also comes with several hard-copy manuals. The Installation and Troubleshooting Guide covers server-hardware installation and configuration, as well as diagnostic programs. The PowerEdge 4400 User's Guide discusses the contents of the Server Assistant CD-ROM, various system-utility programs, and the installation of video and SCSI device drivers. The Flexible Array Storage Tool User's Guide discusses the GUI-based utility you use to configure RAID arrays on Dell PERCs.

Value
Dell's configuration had, by far, the lowest price of the three systems tested, even after I adjusted the other systems' prices to account for their additional disk drives and components. You can attribute some of this price difference to Dell's standard warranty—1 year of onsite service followed by 2 years of overnight parts-delivery service—compared to the 3 years of onsite service that Compaq and HP offer. Upgrading the Dell warranty to 3 years of onsite service costs only $199, making the PowerEdge 4400 the best overall value of the three systems.

Not surprisingly, Dell continues to command a respectable market share by selling systems with the features, price, and performance of the PowerEdge 4400. With the latest 133MHz bus and memory technology, overall good systems management features despite the missing storage-management component, and performance on a par with more expensive systems, the PowerEdge 4400 warrants your attention.

Dell PowerEdge 4400
Contact: Dell * 800-388-8542
Web: http://www.dell.com/
Price: As tested, $15,313
Decision Summary:
Pros: Ultra 3 (Ultra 160) integrated RAID; Dell OpenManage IT Assistant provides good systems management and remote support
Cons: Enabling the Ultra 3 integrated RAID is an extra-cost option; fewer hot-swappable drive bays (8) than in the other systems reviewed (12); IT Assistant doesn't display information about storage systems

HP NetServer LH 3000
The NetServer LH 3000 continues HP's LH3 line of dual-processor servers. In the past, HP's attention to engineering detail has impressed me. The LH 3000 continues HP's tradition of quality.

A Tour Through the System
I reviewed the HP NetServer LH 3000 dual-processor server in the pedestal cabinet, which stands 19.5" tall by 13.75" wide by 28.5" deep. An 8U (14") rack-mount model is also available. The LH 3000 uses the ServerSet III LE chipset. This chipset supports the system board's 133MHz front-side bus, the hot-pluggable 64-bit PCI slots, and the embedded Ultra 2 80MBps hardware RAID controller. I was surprised that HP's system didn't include any 66MHz PCI slots—the Compaq and Dell servers both include a pair of these faster slots.

On the front of the system, an LCD status display offers more information than you'd expect. You can display the system hardware event log and system firmware revision-level information. You can also display CPU speed, CPU Level 2 cache size, and memory-slot utilization. A Component Info menu option lets you see system-cabinet part numbers and serial numbers. A Service menu option lets you dump network operating system (NOS) memory contents to a file. Also on the front of the system are 12 hot-swappable 1" hard disk drive storage bays in two drive cages of 6 bays each. Two available 5.25" half-height non-hot-swappable drive bays are located above the left disk drive bay cage and below the standard floppy-disk and CD-ROM drives.

Access to the system is straightforward. I simply pressed a release button to remove the front panel. To remove the left, top, and right cabinet covers, I loosened one thumbscrew on each. Each panel pulls toward the front of the cabinet about 2" before lifting off. (I prefer covers that remove toward the front and let me avoid the cables that always crowd the space behind pedestal-cabinet servers.) Eight 64-bit 33MHz PCI slots reside under the left panel, along with two hot-swappable cooling fans and the RAID controller cache battery. This system has no 66MHz PCI slots but has three PCI bus segments. Segment 0 has slots 7 and 8 (the 3.3-volt slots) and all embedded devices (e.g., NIC, VGA) except for the SCSI and RAID controllers. Segment 1 has slots 4, 5, and 6 and the RAID controller's i960 coprocessor. Segment 2 has slots 1, 2, and 3, as well as the SCSI controllers.

A sleeve inside the left panel holds a concise technical-reference card. This useful card shows you how to locate and remove system components and summarizes the purposes of the front panel's three Server Status LEDs. The card also describes how to install memory DIMMs, how to connect SCSI devices, and how to use PCI slots. I found the reference card more convenient than the other servers' diagram labels, and you can print new copies of the card from the NetServer Documentation CD-ROM. However, the technical-reference card lacks a description of the PCI bus structure (specifically, which slots and devices connect to which PCI bus segment)

.

The top panel is the doorway to the system board assembly, which contains CPUs and memory. You can remove the system board for maintenance without removing the cables connected to integrated devices. Each of the four DIMM memory slots can accommodate 1GB memory modules, for total system memory of as much as 4GB. Adjacent to the PCI storage slots, HP has placed two hot-swappable fans that cool the two non-hot-swappable drive bays at the front of the system. Three SCSI connectors reside along the edges of the system I/O board: Two are connected to the embedded RAID controller, and the third, a single-ended controller, is for devices in the non-hot-swappable drive bays.

For systems that have an unused RAID-attached SCSI connector, HP provides a cable with an external connector that lets you connect an external SCSI drive cabinet to the integrated RAID controller. In the system I reviewed, one non-hot-swappable drive bay held the system boot device, a 9.1GB 10,000rpm HP-labeled disk drive.

Under the right panel are two rear-mounted hot-swappable cooling fans next to the system-board assembly. The rear of the server features a standard set of connectors for embedded devices: two DB9 serial connectors; a parallel port; and keyboard, mouse, VGA, and two USB connectors. HP doesn't document the USB ports in its technical specifications because not all OSs support USB ports.

Bays for four hot-swappable power supplies line the bottom of the server. The system I reviewed had three power supplies and one unused bay. HP's attention to engineering detail is evident in the power-cord design: Only two power cords are necessary, and I didn't need to unplug them while swapping power supplies.

HP has designed an easy-to-use retainer clip for PCI cards. One tab folds down on the card bracket, and a second tab rotates to hold the first tab in place. I like this card-retainer design more than Compaq's or Dell's. It's simple, secure, and looks like it would hold up through many years of normal use.

Systems Management
Local TopTools for Servers is a browser-based server-management program that you can use from the server or from a remote location using pcAnywhere. Local TopTools gives you four main system-information tabs: Identity, Status, Configuration, and Report. Two more tabs, Tools and Support, inform you about HP's management-software components and support-service offerings, respectively. The first tab, Identity, displays the server's name, NT version, and network addresses. From the Status tab, you can display overall system configuration, the hardware event log, a summary of logical-volume utilization, the status of disk devices, and the health of system memory. (Figure 7, page 126, shows the Status tab's Storage Capacity screen.) The Configuration tab lets you display information about each hardware component, and the Report tab displays a more detailed printable summary of all the hardware components.

The Remote Assistant is a remote-management option for the LH 3000. You can configure one of the server's two serial ports as a Management Port, then remotely manage the server through a direct serial connection or an external modem. If you use pcAnywhere or another terminal-emulation program from a remote client computer (e.g., when connecting through a modem), the Remote Assistant first displays a character-based menu. You can use the character-based access to reset and power the server, view and configure a response to hardware events, configure pager notification to hardware events, and reboot to the Utility Partition to access Utility Partition programs. If you've installed pcAnywhere on the LH 3000 server (running NT) and on a remote system, you can enter Console Redirection mode and remotely control NT through the Management Port. The NetServer Navigator CD-ROM includes pcAnywhere.

The HP OpenView ManageX Event Manager is a policy-based system-event manager that acts on events from many sources, including NT event logs, NetWare, HP TopTools, Dell OpenManage, and Insight Manager. ManageX supports a long list of actions: ActiveX Scripts, Command Execute Actions, Generate WBEM Event, Send Console Message, Send Electronic Mail, Send Event as Console Message, Send SNMP Trap, Write to File, Write to NT Event Log, and Write to ODBC. ManageX includes a report generator with several predefined reports and a WBEM browser, which is useful for systems with WBEM instrumentation (e.g., Windows Management Interface—WMI—support). Because ManageX is OS-event oriented (rather than hardware-event oriented), it provides more capabilities than Insight Manager, IT Assistant, or HP TopTools. ManageX lets you code actions in response to policy conditions so that you can create custom event-reporting systems. You have lots of flexibility to configure automated responses to events.

ManageX's Smart Broker lets you package a specific set of ManageX policies for easy installation on multiple machines. A policy is a set of conditions that ManageX looks for, combined with one or more user-defined actions that ManageX takes if it finds the conditions. ManageX comes with several predefined policies that you can deploy to your network's HP and non-HP systems. When you deploy policies, ManageX installs the necessary monitoring services on the system you want to monitor. Unfortunately, the version of ManageX included with the system doesn't let you define additional policies; however, you'll find the included policies useful. Users who upgrade to the full version of ManageX can create additional policies.

The system I reviewed didn't include the optional HP TopTools remote control card, but it deserves mention. The remote control card includes a 10Base-T Ethernet port and a serial port and supports network-based or modem-based remote access. When you have pcAnywhere installed on the LH 3000, the card gives you full GUI access to the NT console over the same connection you use to power-cycle and configure the hardware. When you use the card with the external power adapter, the card works independently of the server's system power. You can also use the card to remotely power up the server.

Installation
On the HP NetServer Navigator CD-ROM, you'll find tools to assist you with the LH 3000's installation, configuration, and management. Installation Assistant automates your NT installation. The installation process creates a server utility partition and installs several utility programs. The utility partition is a boot-time option that lets you update system BIOS and firmware, view and configure the RAID controller, display the hardware event log, and configure and manage the server-management port and the optional Remote Assistant hardware.

HP provides the remote-management console program HP TopTools 4.5. The HP TopTools installation process also installs Local TopTools for Servers because HP TopTools requires its components. The installation wizard first asked which LAN interface (of the four installed on the system) I wanted to use. Although I chose to install the NetServer option, HP TopTools has other components for hubs and switches, desktop PCs, Windows-based terminals, and printers; it also includes a 30-day evaluation copy of Value Pack, a performance-tuning toolkit.

Installation requires that you install the SNMP service, reinstall the server's service pack (HP installed SP6a on the NetServer LH 3000), and reboot. The HP TopTools installation procedure next installed the WBEM core components, then required another reboot. After the reboot, HP TopTools' device-manager setup created a new user in the TopTools User domain. On the next screen, I selected the types and frequency of discovery that I wanted HP TopTools to perform (IP Ping and WebServer discovery, and Not Scheduled). After I made these selections, I rebooted, and HP TopTools was ready to use.

Using HP TopTools
After I installed HP TopTools on the LH 3000, I started the program from the Main Page item in the HP TopTools menu. The Main Page item brought up Microsoft Internet Explorer (IE) and required that I log on to the system. HP TopTools uses standard NT security, and I used an account with local systems administration authority. A toolbar on the home page's left side lets you navigate between the other HP TopTools components if you've installed them. HP Top-Tools, which is roughly comparable to Insight Manager and IT Assistant, gives you remote access to all of Local TopTools' information and works with non-HP servers (in contrast to Insight Manager, which requires Compaq hardware).

When I installed HP TopTools' NetServer component, I chose not to enable a regularly scheduled device discovery, so I first needed to manually initiate device discovery. I found this feature under Settings, Discovery. I clicked Start Discovery and browsed through the other tabs while waiting for HP TopTools to complete the initial discovery.

The Networks tab displays a list of networks that you want HP TopTools to discover. (You create this list during installation.) The Additional Devices tab lets you enter the name or address of another network device, along with its SNMP community name, to add it to the list of HP TopTools-managed devices. The Configuration tab lets you select the discovery methods that HP TopTools uses—these methods include Ping, Web server, and WBEM or WMI discovery for IP­based systems. You can also choose the Segment and Hub Topology or IPX discovery option. Another check box lets you automatically delete previously discovered devices that the system no longer detects after subsequent discovery cycles.

HP TopTools completed discovery of my five network segments in just over 6 minutes and identified 88 devices. I clicked the Devices tab, and HP TopTools opened an IE window in which I could display discovered devices by device type, topology, or custom group. I could also search for specific devices by name or device type. HP TopTools categorized discovered devices as Personal Computers, Servers, Printers, Networking Devices, or Other.

Right-clicking a discovered device brought up a context-sensitive menu that let me view alerts associated with the device, check connectivity to the device with Ping, set a more friendly name, update discovery information, add to a custom group, display properties, locate the device in a topology view, power on, set SNMP password security, or delete the device from HP TopTools. This context-sensitive menu is convenient but contains an annoying trait: After you select the menu item, you must switch to the primary HP TopTools IE screen to view the requested information or to complete the selected function.

HP TopTools detects the presence of a Web site on discovered systems. Double-clicking a Web server system causes HP TopTools to display the Web site home page.

For discovered devices on which you've configured either the SNMP or DMI systems management protocol, selecting Properties from the context-sensitive menu displays information about the selected server. For example, when I selected a discovered NetWare 5.0 server's network address, HP TopTools displayed the server's name, description, MAC address, and uptime. Clicking the Status tab brought up a Network Interfaces view, which displayed each NIC in the system with its MAC address and a speedometer-like packet-per-second counter, and an Interface Statistics view, which displayed a graph of recent segment utilization and error rates for the server's primary NIC.

HP TopTools also recognized that the PowerEdge 4400 supports DMI 2.0 and graphically displayed hardware-sensor readings from the server, as Figure 8 shows. To display information about the LH 3000, HP TopTools presented the same tabs of information as the Local TopTools program.

At the HP TopTools Devices tab, I clicked the Topology tab to display devices according to network segment, with the same set of options available from each device's context-sensitive menu. Network managers will likely frequent the Custom Groups tab, which lets you create a set of device groups, thereby producing a less cluttered display that includes only the systems and network devices that interest you. I quickly created a group to display the three servers in this comparative review.

I returned to the HP TopTools main window and clicked Alerts. (Figure 9 shows the Alerts screen.) In HP TopTools, an alert is an SNMP trap or DMI alert directed to the HP TopTools management console. To generate an alert, I configured a server's SNMP service to send its traps to the LH 3000, then restarted the SNMP service. The server promptly notified the LH 3000 of the event. HP TopTools doesn't periodically refresh its Alerts screen, so you must refresh it manually. However, HP TopTools can automatically perform actions if you configure it to send an email message or run a program when it receives an alert. You can specify actions by Alert Type and by Alert Severity Level.

Clicking the Inventory button in the HP TopTools main screen displays hardware-inventory information. Using the Inventory submenu, you can choose to display only discovered Hubs, Printers, or UNIX Workstations. TopTools obviously uses SNMP MIB information when looking for devices to list. On my network, TopTools discovered a 3Com Ethernet switch configured with inventory-related information; for all other device classes, TopTools reported that No devices with SNMP have been discovered.

The Settings button brings up a submenu through which you can configure options that control aspects of HP TopTools operation. For example, you can set the polling intervals for retrieving device status and inventory information, and you can configure email alert forwarding. You can also display the health of HP TopTools services

Performance Testing
The LH 3000 I tested had 2GB of 133MHz ECC SDRAM. The system also had an embedded dual Ultra 2 SCSI-channel RAID controller with a 100MHZ i960 coprocessor and a separate exclusive OR (XOR) chip for RAID parity calculation. Twelve 9GB 10,000rpm disk drives occupied two SCSI channels on the RAID controller and another 9GB disk drive (the boot device) on the single-ended SCSI channel. In addition to the integrated 10/100Mbps Ethernet NIC, my test server had three 10/100TX HP NetServer NICs. The boot drive was divided into three logical volumes: a 2GB NTFS C drive (the NT system volume and the target for software installation), a 3GB NTFS D drive for the paging file, and a 4GB I drive that didn't participate in the testing. The E drive was a two-drive mirror set (i.e., RAID 1) that held Exchange Server log files. The F drive was also a two-drive mirror set that hosted the SQL Server log file for the Doculabs @Bench database. The G drive was an eight-drive RAID 10 array (i.e., four spanned mirror sets) that hosted the Doculabs @Bench SQL Server database's data file and Exchange Server's IS.

I found no significant performance difference between the LH 3000 and the other two servers I reviewed. In the Doculabs @Bench test, the LH 3000 achieved a maximum throughput of 11.73tps at a load of 16 users. At the point of peak throughput, overall CPU utilization was just over 91 percent, with IIS using 48 percent and the SQL Server process using just over 29 percent. CPU utilization increased as the number of load-generating users rose beyond the point of peak throughput. System I/O capacity wasn't a factor in my testing; I/O queue lengths were less than 0.1 on each volume.

Documentation
HP sent voluminous hard-copy documentation with the LH 3000. The company also provided the HP NetServer Documentation CD-ROM, which includes PDF versions of the printed documentation.

The hardcopy Installation Guide thoroughly describes the server hardware and details the HP NetServer Navigator CD-ROM. The NetRAID Controller Configuration Guide includes the best descriptions of RAID levels, their pros and cons, and the meaning of volume-configuration parameters that I've seen in server documentation. The other hardware-related manuals describe LH 3000 options. I also received the HP TopTools for Servers Administrator Guide and the HP TopTools 4.5 User's Guide, which describe how to use HP TopTools server-management software. The HP NetServer Remote Administrator Guide describes how to configure and use the Integrated Remote Assistant.

The HP NetServer Documentation CD-ROM's autorun program gave me the option to install and run the HP NetServer Information Assistant. The CD-ROM contained server information for E-series and L-series servers and accessories and documentation for systems management components. The CD-ROM includes many manuals as PDF documents. Of the eight manuals that the CD-ROM lists for the LH 3000 server, the 182-page Installation Guide and the 2-page Technical Reference Card (which fits inside the server's left panel) came in most handy. In addition to the PDF manuals, the HP NetServer Information Assistant provides installation, configuration, and troubleshooting information in a well-organized and easy-to-use information hierarchy.

Value
Of the three systems reviewed, HP's has the most impressive collection of systems management software, thanks largely to the ManageX Event Manager. HP TopTools displays the most complete and easy-to-understand information about the server's hardware configuration and current operating state. In the configuration I tested, HP's system is expensive than Dell's, largely because of the cost of system memory. The HP system, with only four DIMM slots to its competitors' eight DIMM slots, uses more expensive 512MB DIMMs to configure 2GB of total system memory. Users with lower system-memory requirements will find the price difference less pronounced.



Hewlett-Packard
NetServer LH 3000
Contact: Hewlett-Packard * 800-752-0900
Web: http://www.hp.com/netserver/
Price: Starts at $3527 for entry-level 600MHz base; $4157 for 800MHz base; as tested, $21,758; 9GB 10,000rpm disk drives $503 each
Decision Summary:
Pros: Excellent systems management and remote-support features, including HP TopTools and HP ManageX; excellent expansion capacity
Cons: Only four memory DIMM slots; no 66MHz slots

Comparing the Compaq, Dell, and HP Servers
Each of the dual-processor servers I tested has fine systems management capabilities that include ACPI and DMI compliance, and the Dell server supports CIM. Each system ships with systems management software. The software that HP ships is the easiest to use and works well with non-HP systems.

HP TopTools lets you configure both a programmed response and email notification for specific alerts. HP ManageX Event Manager, a limited version of the full ManageX product, can monitor alerts from many sources (e.g., the NT event log) and supports the widest range of programmed responses to specific alerts. Compaq's Insight Manager is also easy to work with and boasts easy-to-understand information displays. However, Insight Manager works with only Compaq systems. Dell's IT Assistant provides an impressive set of capabilities but lacks information about server storage subsystems.

Each server is available with optional externally powered remote-management cards that let you perform out-of-band server management, including turning power on and off and resetting the system. Each system's remote-management card also supports remote console operation. Compaq's remote-management card is the slickest, incorporating a VGA card and keyboard and mouse passthrough. Compaq's embedded Web server lets you operate the server from any Web browser without needing to install remote control software on the server. Each vendor's remote control card can monitor hardware event logs and generate SNMP traps to a centralized management console, thereby letting you closely monitor basic server operations, even in the event of server hardware failures.

As I mentioned earlier, I found little performance difference between the servers. However, the HP LH 3000 runs with a standard Pentium III processor, whereas the Compaq ProLiant ML530 and the Dell PowerEdge 4400 use Pentium III Xeon processors. Both the Xeon and non-Xeon processors, built on Intel's 0.18-micron Coppermine technology, offer 256KB of Level 2 cache that operates at the full processor clock speed. Xeon processors boast several non-performance-related features that non-Xeon processors lack. A systems management bus provides a separate communications path between the processor and the system. Additional thermal sensors add a level of protection to the processor. In addition, these processors have voltage regulators in the CPU cartridge, enhancing processor stability.

The most significant difference between the systems is price. Even considering that the Dell system wasn't configured as fully as the Compaq or HP system, the Dell boasts the greatest value—if you don't need the additional expansion capacity the other two systems offer. Certainly, Dell's less-comprehensive warranty contributes to the price difference. Also, the Compaq and the HP both have four more hot-swappable drive bays and one more PCI slot than the Dell system. Another possible reason Dell's configuration cost less than HP's is Dell's use of less-expensive lower-density 256MB SDRAM DIMMs. The HP LH 3000 has only four SDRAM DIMM slots, requiring more expensive higher-density 512MB SDRAM DIMMs in a 2GB system. One reason for the Compaq's higher price (for the as-tested hardware configuration) is the Remote Insight Lights-Out Edition card; Compaq was the only vendor to supply a remote-management card—a $499 item.

Each one of these systems is excellent. Determining which one is right for you will depend on the specific configuration you require. Dive in and take a look!