PIII Entry-Level Servers: Great Performance at Great Prices

Testing by Andreas Uiterwijk and Pat McClung

For our latest server roundup, the Test Center took a look at 500 MHz Intel Corp. Pentium III entry-level workgroup servers. These file-and-print servers are not meant for department-level use or critical data storage. Rather, they are basic workhorses good for printing, e-mail and standard file storage for small workgroups. They are perfect for use in conjunction with a primary server-especially since they don't cost much.

Six vendors participated in this review: Compaq Computer Corp., Gateway Inc., Hewlett-Packard Co., IBM Corp., NEC Computer Systems Division and Toshiba America Information Systems Inc. Dell Computer Corp. and SMAC Data Systems declined to participate.

Without exception, these systems performed well, and they are well worth the money. Nevertheless, if you buy one of these servers, we recommend that you take a couple of steps to make them safer. First, buy two equal-size hard drives so that you can mirror all the data. Then, in the event of a hard drive failure, you won't lose everything.

Next, you should order the server with a tape backup drive large enough to cover all the data on the system. Accordingly, we included tape backups in our list of specifications when we ordered these systems.

If performance is a priority, there are a couple of things you should look for. First, be aware that the rotational speed of the hard drive, measured in revolutions per minute (rpm), makes a difference in overall performance. A 10,000 rpm hard drive reads data roughly 25 percent faster than a 7,200 rpm hard drive. In this review, the Compaq and IBM systems featured 10,000 rpm hard drives, and it is no coincidence that they turned in the top throughput scores. The Gateway, HP, NEC and Toshiba servers came with 7,200 rpm hard drives. You can order the HP NetServer E 60 with a 10,000 rpm hard drive, but it will cost more.

You also will see increased performance in systems that contain two hard drives, as long as the data on the drives is striped rather than mirrored. The reason for this performance increase is that with two hard drives, the system can read and write to more disk platters (the disks inside hard drives on which data is stored) simultaneously.

One system in this review, the Compaq, shipped with two 4.3G hard drives instead of one 9G drive, a configuration that helped it earn some of the best performance scores.

All of the servers in this comparison feature a 100 MHz bus, 128M of RAM and a 10/100 Ethernet controller. The units are priced to include a 15-inch monitor (except for the IBM, which shipped with a 16.1-inch flat-panel display). The systems also are dual-processor capable, although we don't think you'd need that kind of processing power for these basic servers. You'd be better off simply buying a higher-end server if you want that much processing power. The two exceptions in this comparison might be the NEC and Toshiba systems, which are a few steps above entry level because they contain enough drive bays for a Redundant Array of Independent Disks. If you install a RAID, you may want another processor-but again, from a cost standpoint, it may make more sense to simply buy a higher-end server in the first place.

The same holds true for data storage. The NEC and Toshiba systems might be worth considering if you plan to expand in the future or move to critical data storage, but we think it would be more cost-effective to start off with a higher-end system.

If you need a basic workgroup server but your budget is limited, you're in luck. This year's crop offers good-quality systems at low prices. But watch out for systems that include more than you need-or want to pay for-such as RAID configuration capability. Also, specify the operating system you want, as most vendors leave it up to the resellers. Some of these servers, but not all, are now Linux-compatible, so check before you buy.

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