Dell PowerEdge T420 review
A versatile dual-socket E5-2400 server that’s ideal for SMBs with big expansion plans
Review Date: 1 May 2013
Reviewed By: Dave Mitchell
Price when reviewed: £3,742 (£4,490 inc VAT)
Features & Design
Value for Money
Dell is promoting its new PowerEdge T420 as the highly versatile Swiss Army knife of servers. For SMBs, it can handle a wide range of duties: it can cope with Exchange, database and file-sharing services; it has the horsepower to consolidate older servers onto one platform; and it has a few tricks up its sleeve when it comes to virtualisation.
The T420 is powered by E5-2400 Xeons, which Intel offers as a lower-cost alternative to its E5-2600s. The E5-2400s themselves aren’t much cheaper, but the motherboards cost less to manufacture, since their Socket B2 (LGA 1356) package has only one inter-socket QPI link and supports 12 DIMM sockets, rather than 24.
The price for the review system includes a pair of 2.2GHz Xeon E5-2430 CPUs, each with six cores, a 15MB L3 cache, a 7.2GT/sec QPI and support for 1,333MHz memory. It also has an eight-bay SAS/SATA hot-swap drive cage, but it’s possible to order a 16-bay SFF cage instead; to reduce costs further, you can go for the base system with four cold-swap drive bays, where the backplane is cabled directly to the motherboard’s 3GB/sec SATA port.
Consider your expansion demands carefully, however, as choosing the cold-swap drive bay means it won’t be possible to upgrade to a larger hot-swap cage later. Other RAID options include the PERC H710 PCI Express card with 512MB of cache, which supports RAID6. For LSI’s CacheCade SSD caching, the H710P model, which has double the memory, is required.
The review system also includes dual 750W load-balanced power supplies, but for lighter duties you can specify a 495W module. For applications such as desktop virtualisation and medical imaging, dual Nvidia GPU cards can be fitted, but these will require more power and an upgrade to 1,100W power supplies. With the 750W supplies in place, our power tests measured a modest 87W draw with Windows Server 2012 idling. With the SiSoft Sandra benchmarking app saturating all 24 logical cores, it peaked at only 230W.
The T420 is a good choice for small offices, since it’s extremely quiet and compact enough to sit on a desk. A single 12cm-diameter fan deals with all chassis cooling, and we had to turn everything else in the lab off to hear it. Even if things become a little toasty in the office, you’re covered by Dell’s Fresh Air initiative. The T420 is certified to run safely in 40°C environments for 900 hours a year, and 45°C environments for 90 hours.
How will you know if these thresholds are being reached? Check out the temperature-monitoring page in the iDRAC7 remote console: it has bar graphs showing time spent above the warning and critical thresholds.
Dell has simplified iDRAC7 upgrades, since the system no longer needs additional hardware. Simply add a licence key and it will activate the dedicated management port and vFlash slot, along with remote control and virtual media services.
The T420 is a good fit for virtualisation, too, since Dell is still the only manufacturer offering hypervisor redundancy. Its dual SD card controller snaps into a slot at the top of the motherboard and mirrors the primary boot SD media in case it fails.
Dell’s Lifecycle Controller makes OS installation a breeze, and version 2 adds even more features. You can directly access the Lifecycle log to view, export and annotate it; gather hardware inventory at every reboot; and back up the server’s hardware configuration.
Agentless monitoring means you can keep a check on the server irrespective of whether the OS is running. From the iDRAC7 console, you can also ask for email alerts to be issued when faults are detected, and these contain a link to the web console.
The T420 has little competition from the other blue chips; IBM doesn’t have an E5-2400 pedestal server and Fujitsu’s Primergy TX150 S8 is a single-socket system. Only HP’s ProLiant ML350e Gen8 stands in Dell’s way, but some SMBs will find that 74cm-deep server simply too big for their requirements.
All in all, the PowerEdge T420 is well built, and packs plenty of hardware into a small chassis. Excellent design means that it can handle just about any task you throw at it, making it a good choice for SMBs requiring plenty of Xeon E5 power on tap and room to grow.
Author: Dave Mitchell
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