Apple Xserve review

Apple’s Xserve gets an early makeover with Intel’s new 5500 Xeons, but is it still the classiest rack server on the planet?

Removing the solid lid reveals a very tidy interior with cooling handled by a removable cage with seven dual-rotor fans in it. Each processor socket is accompanied by a dedicated bank of six DIMM sockets and the price includes a decent 12GB of 1,066MHz UDIMM DDR3 memory. Note that Mac OS X Server only currently supports a maximum of 32GB of memory

Operational noise levels are commendably low, although power consumption is surprisingly high. With both 750W hot-plug supplies linked to our in-line meter we recorded the server drawing 20W in standby and an uncomfortable 225W with the OS running in idle. With the CPUTest utility lighting up all the processor activity LEDs we measured a hefty draw of 372W. Dell's PowerEdge R610 pulled 15W, 144W and 260W for the same tests and yet the review system had an almost identical specification.

A valuable feature of the Xserve is that it comes preinstalled with the latest Mac OS X Leopard Server and this includes an unlimited user license. Apple has made good on its promises with this OS as installation is a very pleasant affair. The process starts with a server setup screen where you can choose from standard, workgroup and advanced configurations.

The standard choice loads file sharing, mail, web and IM services plus backup and remote access tools and the third option augments these with directory services and clustering plus disk imaging and server management utilities. Next, you run through registering user details, setting up the network and lights-out management ports and securing remote management access.

As the motherboard sports an IPMI 2.0 controller you can manage the server remotely using the bundled Server Monitor software, which only supports Mac OS X. It enables you to manage multiple Xserve servers and provides a tidy interface from where you can keep an eye on critical components.

It gathers information from the motherboard sensors and the IPMI controller and presents them as a summary of colour coded icons, which provide at-a-glance fault identification. Tabbed folders below the graphical display provide a system summary and quick access to details on disk drives, memory, CPU utilisation, power, memory and a range of system temperatures. One hardware feature we'd like to see is a KVM-over-IP option which would enable the server to be remotely managed from a web browser on any client system everyone else does it, so why not Apple?

The Xserve has been criticised in the past for being one of the most expensive 1U rack servers around. This is no longer true as the price for the review system puts in well into the same ball park as much of the competition in the rack server market.

On the downside, power consumption is uncomfortably high and server management tools aren't as good as those offered by the blue chips. Nevertheless, the Xserve is a superbly built system that's designed with longevity in mind and the unlimited client licence for Leopard adds a lot of value.

Verdict

The Xserve gets all the benefits of Apple’s unique design and build quality so you know this server is going to last the course. It looks a lot better value than previous Xserve models and this is made all the better by the unlimited client license for the Leopard OS. However, its hunger for power is a concern and server management features could be better.

Chassis: 1U rack

CPU: 2 x 2.26GHz Xeon E5520

Memory: 12GB 1066MHz DDR3 UDIMM expandable to 32GB

Storage: 3 x 1TB WD RE3 SATA hard disks in hot-swap carriers

RAID: Xserve RAID with 512MB cache and BBU

Array support: RAID0, 1, 10, 5, and JBODs;

Expansion: 2 x PCI-e 16X

Network: 2 x Gigabit Ethernet;

Power: 2 x 750W hot-plug power supplies

Management: embedded ILOM

OS: Apple MAC OS X Leopard Server 10.5 with unlimited user license.

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