Dell EMC PowerEdge R540 review

An expensive but classy rack server with faultless features

Price
£5,489
  • iDRAC9 management is excellent; Superb CPU options; Support fot LOM cards
  • Expensive; Unusual memory configuration

Dell EMC's PowerEdge R540 aims to offer growing businesses a fine blend of value and performance. This dual Xeon Scalable 2U rack server targets a wide range of apps including messaging, video surveillance, software defined storage or data backup and with support for the latest 12TB hard disks, has the storage capacity they demand.

The price of the review system may initially seem high but this includes a tasty pair of 2.1GHz Xeon Gold 6130 CPUs. Thermal limitations of the server's internal design restrict the R540 to 125W TDP CPUs but these 16-core brutes look capable of handling the most demanding apps.

The R540 comes with 8 or 12 LFF front drive bays which can be augmented with a two-bay carrier that slots in at the back. The server is geared up for storage space as although Dell EMC offers lower-capacity SFF drives and SSDs, these require an adapter to fit in an LFF carrier.

Base systems start with an embedded Dell PERC S140 chip supporting SATA devices and striped, mirrored or RAID5 arrays. The motherboard has a central riser for a RAID card and our system includes the H740P SAS3 model which adds RAID6 to the mix and comes with 4GB of battery protected cache memory (8GB will be enabled with a future firmware release).

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A single hot-swap backplane handles all front drive bays and is cabled directly to the H740P controller. The rear drive cage is cabled to the backplane so it can be serviced by the same RAID card but it will reduce available PCI-Express slots to one.

You won't need any for network upgrades though, as the server supports a LOM (LAN on motherboard) card. These fit in a proprietary slot at the back and you can choose from dual Gigabit or 10GbE copper or SFP+ models.

The spare slot can be used for a BOSS (boot optimized storage solution) card which negates the need to put your OS on a hard disk. This PCI-Express card has dual M.2 SATA SSD slots, supports mirroring and costs 499 with two 240GB sticks.

Six cooling fans sit behind the backplane but are only the cold-swap variety. The R540 presents a busy interior and the two central fans are tricky to remove as their power connectors are obscured by the RAID card mounting bracket.

The server has an unusual memory arrangement as the first CPU gets ten DIMM slots while the second activates its six attendant slots. The R540 can use RDIMM or LRDIMM memory and with dual CPUs in residence, supports up to 512GB.

Remote management is excellent with the new iDRAC9 delivering a smart HTML5-based web interface and a wealth of operational information. Inventory, power consumption, CPU performance graphs -- it's all there and it offers tough platform security where a System Lockdown mode blocks any further configuration changes.

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Data centre support staff will love the Quick Sync 2 module which is located in the server's left rack mount ear. We used it to link our iPad directly to the server over Bluetooth where the OpenManage Mobile (OMM) iOS app presented detailed views of server hardware plus options to reboot and remotely control it.

The OpenManage Essentials software provides general systems management but is now looking dated. Dell EMC's OpenManage Enterprise isn't due out yet but we fired up a Hyper-V VM of an early technical release and were impressed with the level of management features on offer.

The R540's internal design is a tad cluttered but it won't be faulted for features. The review system offers a mighty processing package, has a high storage potential and delivers classy server management tools.

Verdict

It's pricey but the R540 delivers a very powerful Xeon Scalable package with plenty of upgrade potential and a class management act

2U rack chassis; 2 x 2.1GHz Xeon Gold 6130 32GB 2,667MHz DDR4 (max 512GB) Intel C622 Dell PERC H740P SAS3/4GB NVRAM cache/BBU Supports RAID0, 1, 10, 5, 50, 6, 60 2 x 2TB Dell SATA LFF hot-swap drives (max 14) 3 x PCI-E 3.0 (max 6) 2 x Gigabit 1 x 1100W Platinum PSU (max 2) Dell iDRAC9 Enterprise 3 years on-site NBD Basic warranty Power 125W idle, 360W peak

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