Dell has pulled off a delicate balancing act with the PowerEdge R410, cramming enough into the compact chassis to make a powerful HPC server while leaving out many of the non-essential enterprise frills to keep prices down. Expansion is limited, and hot-swap disks are extra, but it's still good value and bound to be a success.
Small chassis; choice of dual Xeon 5500 processors; up to 64GB RAM; Dell Lifecycle Controller included.
Limited expansion; hot swap disks require different chassis.
£ 2248 (as reviewed)
Dell's new rack-mount PowerEdge R410 server can take two of Intel's powerful quad-core Xeon 5500 (45nm Nehalem) processors, like the R610 and R710 models before it, but there the resemblance ends. While the R610/710 are general purpose servers, the R410 is aimed squarely at the high-performance computing (HPC) market.
HPC customers tend to focus on getting the maximum performance for the minimum cost, so many of the frills you might expect in an enterprise server are missing from the R410.
That said, we were pleased to find Dell's embedded Lifecycle Controller is included, which does away with the need for a setup CD-ROM. We used it to configure the optional Raid controller fitted on the review server with graphical wizards built-in to help with this and other setup tasks including operating system installation.
Basic remote management is also built-in, with an upgrade to Dell's excellent lights-out management controller, the Integrated Dell Remote Access Controller 6 (iDRAC6), available if required. Plus, there's a socket for an embedded hypervisor to boot the server straight into VMware or another virtualisation environment.
A lot has been stripped out, however, enabling Dell to make the R410 a lot cheaper and smaller than would otherwise be the case. It's a 1U server designed to fit a standard rack, for example, but some three inches have been trimmed from the usual depth, which could be a real selling point in high-density HPC datacentres where every square inch costs money.
The reduced length is mainly down to an all new chassis. This is solidly constructed, with quick-release catches for rack placement and an optional lockable bezel (£12+VAT) if required. Access to the inside is via an easily removable lift-off lid. With no hot-swap components inside, power to the server is automatically cut when you open it up.
Fortunately, that's not a big issue for the target HPC market, where it's common to replace whole servers rather than try and fix or upgrade in situ. Moreover, it hasn't stopped Dell's designers coming up with a very neat layout, with minimal cabling plus easy tool-free access to all of the key components. It took us just a few seconds to swap out the fans, for example, and with the latches on the replaceable parts clearly colour-coded in blue, we had no problem working out what we could change and how to do it.
The processor and memory slots are under a lift-off plastic cover. Our review unit had a pair of mid-range L5506 Xeons installed, accompanied by 6GB of DDR-3 RAM, but there are lots of options with a choice of 12 different quad-cores processors and room for up to 64GB of memory in eight Dimm slots.
Our relatively modest system still turned in some impressive results, coping with several virtual Windows and Linux machines. However, some care is needed when deciding on the specifications, as processor and memory combinations can have a big impact on performance, and it's not just a matter of going for the fastest clock speed. Memory access speed, for example, is dependent on the processor used. The L5506 Xeons in ours were limited to just 800MHz even though you can specify 1066MHz or even 1333MHz Dimms.
Likewise, some thought is needed when it comes to storage. Our server didn't have hot-swap drive bays and, although they can be specified, a different chassis is required, making it a far from easy upgrade if you change your mind after buying.
Space is also limited, with room for just four 3.5in drives (cabled or hot-swap) inside the chassis. Our test model had four 250GB Sata disks fitted but SAS alternatives can be specified if preferred, including so-called 'near-line' drives limited to just 7,200rpm but with a lot more capacity (up to 1TB) compared to standard SAS disks.
Smaller 2.5in drives can also be accommodated in special carriers with solid -state drives (SSDs) if you can afford them; a 50GB SSD adds a whopping £1,100+VAT to the price.
Expansion options are limited on this server. The entry-level Raid controller (Raid 0/1 only) on our review model was slotted into a proprietary connector leaving the single PCI Express slot free, but if you wanted a more functional Raid setup, the PCIe slot would have to be used instead.
On the plus side, twin Gigabit Ethernet interfaces are provided on the motherboard, but the fact that you've only one slot to play with is a consideration nonetheless.
Priced below the 1U R610, a single processor R410 can be had for under £700 (excluding the VAT), but most buyers will want dual processors, more memory and storage, ramping up the price considerably. However, we feel the R410 is still good value, delivering the performance HPC cusotmers want at a price that will have them reaching for their wallets.