Intel Server Buyers Guide

by Drew Robb

Sure, Intel is inside the box, but did you know sometimes Intel is the box? Here are five servers that the company best known for its chips sells to OEMs and other resellers. Is one of these right for you?

Intel the server vendor? In some ways, yes; in other ways, no. The company offers four server building blocks on its web site. However, these are sold in bulk only to other OEMs and resellers that sometimes rebrand these boxes as their own.

First, let's take a look at the five servers: the Intel Server System SR1690WB, Intel Server System SR1680MV, Intel Server Systems SR1630GP and SR1630HGP, and the Intel Server System SR2612UR.

  • The Intel SR1690WB is a high performance 1U rack system that uses the Intel Xeon 5500 Series Nehalem processor. It comes with four hot swap SAS/SATA drive bays supporting either 3.5" or 2.5" hard drives, and up to 8 DDR3 DIMM sockets.
  • The Intel Server System SR1680MV is another rack server that can house up to 18 DIMM nodes in a 1U half-width chassis, while supporting up to four Intel Xeon 5500 series processors, two PCI Express 2.0 riser cards, two Intel I/O Expansion Modules and up to four 2.5" hot-swap SATA hard drives.
  • Intel SR1630GP and SR1630HGP is a family of server modules, with the latter having room for an extra hard drive. These 1U rack-optimized servers support up to two fixed 3.5" SATA drives or three hot-swap 3.5" SATA drives, respectively. They have room for six DDR3 DIMM sockets. Both use Xeon 3400 series processors.
  • The last model is the Intel Server System SR2612UR. It uses one or two Xeon 5500 series processors. The SR2612UR comes with up to 12 DDR3 DIMM sockets, 12 SAS/SATA hot-swap drive bays, hot swap redundant power supplies and I/O module support within a 2U rack. While having a broad range of uses, Intel targets it at server applications with large storage needs.
Processor Da Vinci Code

Don't expect these servers to remain as they are for much longer. Although Intel isn't saying anything specific about new models, it is talking up its processor road map and lining up a number of processor releases for 2010. You can expect, at the very least, the processors in these building blocks to change in the very near future.

Deciphering the code names of these Intel chips, however, is more like a job for Robert Langdon of Da Vinci Code fame. According to Stephen Smith, vice president and director of operations at the Intel Architecture Group, the Xeon 5500 of the Nahalem chip family — which is only 45nm (nanometers) — is going to be replaced this year by the Westmere-EP processor, which comes in at a minuscule 32nm.

Smith said the Westmere-EP includes Intel Turbo Boost Technology, Intel Hyper-treading technology (2 cores, 4 threads), integrated graphics, discrete/switchable graphics support, and an integrated memory controller (IMC). On top of that, it is supposed to reduce the frequency of power loss, too.

But that's not the end of it. The 45nm 6-core Dunnington — also known as the Caneland platform or the Intel Xeon 7400 series — will be replaced by the Nehalem-EX in the first half of 2010. The Nehalem-EX 4-socket platform comes with 8 cores per processor, 64 threads and up to 1 TB memory support.

Compared to its predecessor, the Nehalem-EX has up to nine times more memory bandwidth, up to three times more database performance, 1.7 times integer throughput, and 2.2 times floating point throughput. The Nehalem-EX will then be replaced by the 32nm Westmere-EX processor.

Another Westmere model — the Westmere EP — is destined to take over from the Xeon 5500 some time in 2010. This chip will bring a significant boost in compute performance without a rise in power consumption, as well as enhanced security in the form of hardened virtualization and better encryption.

Meanwhile, the Intel Itanium 9100 series processor, which is typically used in heavy duty server applications, is being succeeded by the "Tukwila" processor.

Hopefully, server users will be spared all these code names and will have to deal only with Xeon X and Itanium Y. Otherwise, it all gets a little confusing. The simplicity is that server processors will continue to get thinner, more powerful and more energy efficient.

Intel's Server Line Up

ServerSizeDIMM Slots/Hard Drive BaysNo. of Processor
Intel Server System SR2612UR2UUp to 12 DDR3 DIMM Sockets/Up to 12 hot swap 3.5" SAS/SATA drives and up to 2 x 2.5" fixed SAS/SATA drivesOne or two Intel Xeon processor 5500 series
Intel Server System SR1630GP and SR1630HGP1UUp to 6 DDR3 DIMM Sockets/Up to 2 fixed 3.5" SATA hard drives and up to 3 hot-swap 3.5" SATA/SAS hard drives respectivelyIntel Xeon 3400 Series Processor
Intel Server System SR1680MV1UUp to 36 DDR3 DIMM sockets/ Up to 4 2.5" hot-swap SATA hard drivesUp to four Intel Xeon processor 5500 series
Intel Server System SR1690WB1UUp to 8 DDR3 DIMM sockets/4 hot swap SAS/SATA drive bays supporting either 3.5" or 2.5" HDD in the same drive carrierIntel Xeon processor 5500 series

Drew Robb is a freelance writer specializing in technology and engineering. Currently living in California, he is originally from Scotland, where he received a degree in geology and geography from the University of Strathclyde. He is the author of Server Disk Management in a Windows Environment (CRC Press).

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This article was originally published on Thursday Feb 4th 2010
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