Dell PowerEdge SC1435 review

18 Jan 2007

Dell's first AMD server sports a solid but uninspiring specification with minimal management features

Price when reviewed: 
1,610(exc. VAT)
4

Dell has, without doubt, been Intel's staunchest supporter. Its PowerEdge range of servers has focused solely on Intel processors for longer than anyone else. However, there's been enormous pressure on it to diversify, and in this exclusive review we take a closer look at Dell's first AMD server.

Realistically, it makes no sense for a server vendor to offer only one manufacturer's processors. HP has for some time provided both Xeon and Opteron options for its ProLiant servers and, although with an extensive choice, IBM has supported Opteron for some time as well. Admittedly, the new PowerEdge SC1435 doesn't signal a stampede in AMD's direction, but it's a start. Dell will also be offering the quad Opteron socket PowerEdge 6950, and we'll be bringing an exclusive review of this in next month's issue.

The SC1435 is aimed primarily at high-performance computing and web-serving duties. It employs the same 1U chassis as its Xeon stablemate, the PowerEdge 1950 (see issue 144, p138). Build quality is good, with it exhibiting little flexing when not mounted in a rack. However, storage options are limited, as it doesn't have the four 2.5in SAS or dual SAS/SATA hot-swap drive bays of the 1950. Instead, you get a pair of fixed 3.5in drives inside the chassis, and Dell offers SAS and SATA interfaces.

The review system came equipped with a pair of 73GB Maxtor SAS drives fitted in quick-release, cold-swap carriers. The price also included Dell's SAS/5i RAID card, which is a required component for SAS drives to be supported. The motherboard does sport a couple of embedded SATA ports, but the associated controller doesn't offer any RAID functions.

An internal examination shows everything is neat, with all cables routed out of harm's way. The two hard disks are located at the front and are easily accessible, and the DVD-ROM drive can be unclipped and slid out the front. The motherboard offers a pair of processor sockets, with the review system sporting a single 2212 module mounted in the front socket. Two of the four dedicated DIMM sockets alongside are filled with 512MB 667MHz SDRAM modules.

The fact that the Opteron processors require dedicated memory banks has created a conundrum in the design department for the SC1435. Multiple Xeon sockets are generally placed side-by-side across a rack chassis, where they can share the same cooling fans and all memory sockets can be tucked up to the one side. The end result is that a large chunk of real-estate behind the processors can be made available for extra expansion cards by using a butterfly riser card. For the SC1435, one Opteron socket has had to be positioned at the front of the motherboard with its four DIMM sockets alongside, while the second processor and associated DIMM sockets are located at the rear.

Cooling is handled by a bank of four dual-rotor fans positioned in front of the motherboard, and Dell has done a good job of keeping noise levels down to a minimum. A single riser card on the left side of the motherboard provides a PCI Express 8x slot, but this is occupied by the RAID controller card, so there's no room to grow. Power options are also more limited, since you only get a single fixed 600W supply.

As with all SC designated models, the SC1435 doesn't have Dell's OpenManage suite, so remote management is limited. The motherboard does have an embedded IPMI 2 controller chip, which allows it to be remotely accessed regardless of its condition. However, the method of access is basic, as Dell provides a Command Prompt utility that only allows you to gather basic system information, power the server on and off, cycle the power and flash the server's identification LED.