Dell EMC PowerEdge T550 review: Power to the people
A Xeon Scalable tower of power with great expansion potential and superb remote management features
Dell EMC’s PowerEdge servers are now in their 15th generation – and the choice is bigger than ever, with 17 new and refreshed systems in the latest lineup. Tower servers in particular have been revamped, with the PowerEdge T550 stepping up to replace the trusty T640.
As you’d expect, the T550 is built on Intel’s third-generation Ice Lake platform. Our system came with a 12-core 2.1GHz Xeon Silver 4310 CPU, but the motherboard can take two processors with TDPs of up to 220W TDP, meaning you can go all the way up to 32-core CPUs.
Decked out in slinky silver, the T550 chassis is slightly smaller and quieter than the old T640 enclosure. This does mean that storage capacity is slightly reduced: where the T640 had space inside for up to 32 SFF hard disks, the T550 supports a maximum of 24 SFF or eight LFF drives, with an option to add up to eight NVMe SSDs, plus a 5.25in bay.
Another change is that the PERC RAID controllers have been moved off the motherboard and into dedicated slots on the drive backplane. Our system came with a Gen10 PCI-E 3 PERC H745 SAS3/SATA model, but other configurations include PCI-E 4 Gen11 PERC H755 adapters, which provide the higher bandwidth needed to take full advantage of hardware NVMe RAID arrays.
The BOSS (“boot-optimised storage solution”) card – which lets you run the OS from mirrored M.2 SATA SSDs – moves too. The new S2 model presents itself at the front of the case, where the SSDs are fitted in removable hot-swap carriers.
What hasn’t changed is build quality. The chassis is exceptionally well put together, not to mention heavy – the removable steel side panel alone tips the scales at nearly 3.5kg. Inside, the design affords easy access for upgrades and maintenance. The Silver CPU in our system is fitted with a solid passive heatsink, and a heavy plastic air shroud covering the entire motherboard has allowed Dell EMC to get rid of the two rear fans of the T640. In their place, regular T550 systems have a vertical bank of four hot-plug fans behind the drive backplane, which can be supplemented with four more in higher-performance systems.
As for memory, the twin CPU sockets are flanked by eight DIMM slots. The price we’ve shown includes 64GB of 3,200MHz DDR4 memory, but you can take the T550 up to a maximum of 1TB. Networking is handled by dual embedded Gigabit Ethernet ports, but if you want to step up to 10GbE there’s plenty of room for expansion cards, as the T550 offers a whopping five PCI-E 4 x16 slots. Even better, the server also has an OCP 3 mezzanine edge slot, which allows open-standard network cards to slot in at the back without the need to remove the side panel.
Remote management has long been a strength of Dell EMC’s servers, and here the embedded iDRAC9 presents a wealth of operational data via a slick web interface. Platform security is tight, as firmware packages must be cryptographically signed, and in the price above we’ve included the Enterprise upgrade, which enables remote control and virtual media services.
You can also use the Quick Sync 2 module to manage the server from an iOS or Android device, using the OpenManage Mobile app to connect over Bluetooth. We had no problems connecting to the T550 from an iPad, and using the app to monitor the server and receive alert notifications on health issues.
The PowerEdge T550 is a superbly designed tower server that’s ideally suited to businesses with demanding workloads. You can configure it to deliver as much power as you’re likely to need, and it comes with great management tools at a very tempting price.
Dell EMC PowerEdge T550 specifications
2.1GHz Intel Xeon Scalable Silver 4310 (max 2)
64GB 3,200MHz DDR4 ECC (max 1TB)
8 x SAS/SATA SFF hot-swap bays (max 24)
4 x 1.2TB SAS SFF hard disks, BOSS S2 with 2 x 240GB SATA M.2 SSDs
2 x 600W hot-plug PSUs
Dell PERC H745 Front RAID adapter
2 x Gigabit Ethernet
OCP 3 slot
1yr basic on-site NBD warranty
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