While prices for low-end tower servers continue to drop, it doesn't mean you can't get a fully capable machine for a small amount of cash. This month we'll take a look at a pair of systems from Dell and Lenovo that fit in the budget server category.
The Dell PowerEdge T20's starting price is $299, which includes an Intel Pentium G3220 CPU and 4 GB of memory. Add $50 and you get a 500 GB hard disk, for a complete base system price of $349. Lenovo's ThinkServer TS140 has similar pricing and features, with a starting price of $379 for a system equipped with an Intel Core i3-4130 processor and 4 GB of memory.
So what can you do with a low-end budget server? It depends on what you need to do, and in many cases the answer is quite a lot. Both of these machines have the power and flexibility to provide basic services to a small office or workgroup.
You could even use the system for a typical desktop, although that's probably not a good idea if multiple users will be utilizing it for file and print services. If you choose to go with Windows Server Essentials, you'll have additional features like remote access and a central web server. Either of these systems can handle those tasks and more.
Both of these machines show signs of solid engineering, even for low-budget systems. When you remove the side panel you'll see diagrams on the back side showing component locations, memory installation order and other information you'd expect to see when you open up a server.
Both machines provide an abundance of USB ports of the 2.0 (four on each) and 3.0 (four on the Dell and six on the Lenovo) variety. Both also feature a serial port and a VGA connector plus a single Gb Ethernet port.
The Dell unit adds legacy PS/2 keyboard and mouse connectors in case you have any of those still lying around. Both servers include two DisplayPort adapters on the rear in case you want to use dual displays and turn the server into desktop.
When you take a closer look at the Dell PowerEdge T20, you see details you'd expect inside a Dell machine. Our review unit came equipped with an Intel Xeon E3-1225 V3 CPU and 8 GB of memory plus a 1 TB 7.2k SATA disk drive. The retail price for this box without an operating system is $754.98.
One thing you quickly notice about the PowerEdge T20 is the abundance of USB ports. The four memory slots will accommodate up to 32 GB of memory, and there's room in the case to expand to up to 13 TB of disk storage spread across four 3.5-inch and two 2.5-inch drives.
The Lenovo TS140 comes with many features similar to the Dell PowerEdge T20. Our review unit came with the same Intel Xeon E3-1225 V3 CPU and 8 GB of memory as the Dell unit, plus two Western Digital WD5003ABYX disk drives in a RAID 1 configuration.
It also includes a total of four memory slots for a max of 32 GB. Two additional SATA ports could accommodate additional disks if needed. The last difference between the two systems was a SATA optical drive on the Lenovo TS140. The retail price for this TS140 server as tested is $1,179, although you can find it online for much cheaper.
Both the Dell PowerEdge T20 and the Lenovo TS140 offer different versions of the Windows Server 2012 operating system. Our units came with Windows Server 2012 R2 Standard on the Dell T20 and Windows Server 2012 Essentials on the Lenovo T140.
Windows Server Essentials provides a number of additional pre-installed capabilities that would be useful to a small workgroup, including Active Directory for authenticating users to the network. A remote access capability called Direct Access is also available, which works much like a VPN but is easier to configure.
Windows Server Essentials has the ability to connect to Microsoft Azure for backup and to Office 365 for productivity apps along with a Dashboard app and wizards to help with basic configuration and management tasks. While Windows Server Standard can do most of the things you can do with Windows Server Essentials, it does take quite a bit of manual configuration to set up.
Windows Server Standard also includes the ability to host up to two virtual machine instances on the same physical host machine, while Windows Server Essentials will only support one additional virtual machine.
Both of these machines provide everything you would need in a basic small office server. The construction is solid with room to expand. You won't go wrong choosing either of these systems.
Paul Ferrill, based in Chelsea, Alabama, has been writing about computers and software for almost 20 years. He has programmed in more languages than he cares to count, but now leans toward Visual Basic and C#.