Dual Pentium IIs Pack Power into Servers

Testing by Andreas Uiterwijk And Chip Pettirossi

If you are looking for a PC server with plenty of horsepower and storage space, a 450 MHz Intel Corp. Pentium II dual-processor system may be the answer.

This class of workgroup servers is designed for file storage and data safety. However, the dual processors offer good investment protection because they let you add storage or run applications from the server, which frees up desktop space. And these servers are affordable, priced at about $10,000 or less.

The newest PC servers on the market are powered by Intel's Xeon processors. However, most servers with Xeon processors are being offered only in four-processor configurations, which places them in the enterprise server category. For a workgroup file server roundup, the dual 450 MHz Pentium II processor configuration is more appropriate, which is why our test center chose to test the Pentium IIs instead of the Xeons.

We tested offerings from four vendors: Compaq Computer Corp., DTK Computer Inc., Gateway Inc. and Micron Electronics Inc. We also requested servers from Dell Computer Corp., Hewlett-Packard Co. and Intergraph Corp., but these companies declined to participate in this review. (Dell told us its product was at the end of its life cycle, HP said the company was between product cycles, and Intergraph said its product was in transition.)

All the servers in this comparison feature Intel's 440BX chipset with a 100 MHz frontside bus, 256M of SDRAM and up to 32M of Redundant Array of Independent Disks cache. We asked for a RAID 5 disk configuration, which offers faster performance than other RAID configurations and protects data by striping it across all five hard disks. Therefore, the 40G to 45G of total storage space we specified was reduced to 30G to 35G of usable storage space.

To measure server performance, we ran Bluecurve Inc.'s Dynameasure/File Professional Edition 2.0, a benchmark that simulates users working on networked clients and servers. We reported the results using two measurements of hard disk performance: throughput and average response time. Throughput represents the input/output rate for file workloads, measured in kilobytes per second. Average response time is the average amount of time, in seconds, that each client request to the server was acknowledged.

In all four servers, the performance bottleneck was the disk subsystem. In other words, I/O to the disks was where performance suffered when the machines were stressed.

The test center also observed that server management capabilities have increased. Features such as intrusion detection and system utilization monitoring can head off trouble, and the latest management software enables you to check factors ranging from fan speeds to memory status to system and CPU temperature.

Compaq's ProLiant 1600 earned our Best Buy Award, with a final score of 8.23 on our scale of 1 to 10. It turned in the best average response time and the second-best throughput, and we loved the completely tool-free, modular chassis. Micron's NetFrame 3100 followed with a score of 7.14. It ranked ahead of the Gateway ALR 8200 NTS because of its higher throughput and slightly better system management. The Gateway came in third with a score of 6.96 and the benefit of excellent expandability.

DTK's APRI-81S/P450 was hurt by poor management, documentation and technical support, giving the product a score of 6.12. However, the DTK unit was by far the least expensive system in the roundup. At $5,480, it was $3,000 less than the least expensive of the other three.

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