IBM System x3550 M2 review

IBM is late with support for Intel’s Series 5500 Xeons but does this 1U rack server has the measure of Dell’s and HP’s new systems?



Despite Intel launching its latest Xeon 5500 processors back in March it's taken until now for us to get our hands on one of IBM's new System x servers that support these. Dell was one of the first to market with its slick PowerEdge R610, which set a very high standard in terms of new features - and in this exclusive review we see how well IBM's latest System x3550 M2 stacks up against it.

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Build quality of this 1U chassis is good and IBM has upped the storage stakes as the x3550 has room at the front for six 2.5in SFF SAS or SATA hard disk in hot-swap carriers. This puts it on a par with the PowerEdge R610 but it's beaten by HP's new sixth generation DL360, which has room for eight SFF drives you can see our exclusive review of the DL360 G6 in our sister title PC Pro.

IBM offers a good range of RAID options and you can start with no controller and upgrade to the ServeRAID-BR10i PCI-e card, which delivers support for stripes and mirrors. Next up is the ServeRAID-MR10i in the review system, which brings in support for RAID-5 and dual-redundant RAID-6 arrays plus an optional battery backup pack.

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We found the lid on the review unit very difficult to remove but once inside we could see that IBM has worked on design as the x3550 presents a tidy interior. Cooling is handled by a bank of six dual-rotor hot-swap fan modules arranged across the front of the motherboard and after power up, the x3550 settles down to a quiet hum - this server certainly won't be noticed in a typical office environment.

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Virtualisation is in the spotlight this year with both Dell and HP adding SD memory cards slots to their rack servers to enable them to boot embedded hypervisors. IBM hasn't gone quite as far as the x3550 only offers a dedicated internal USB interface located on the side of the RAID card riser but this can be used to boot the server with VMware ESXi 3.5.

Whereas Dell has embedded four Gigabit ports in the R610, IBM has stuck with two although this can be increased by adding a separate dual-port Gigabit daughtercard. Further expansion looks good as the server has a pair of riser cards each with a 16X PCI-Express slot. There's room for one half-length, full-height and one low profile card and you can opt for PCI-X risers instead.

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