Dell EMC PowerEdge R640 review

A versatile, low-profile Xeon Scalable rack server with a big heart

Editor's Choice
Price
£9,418
  • Impressive processing density, Excellent hardware specification, iDRAC9 management, Plenty of storage choices, Clever NVMe implementation
  • OpenManage Enterprise not out until mid-2018

Dell's PowerEdge R640 aims to deliver a balanced combination of storage, processing power and rack density, and in this exclusive review, we bring you a first look at its new 14th-gen 1U rack server. Naturally, Intel's Xeon Scalable family is at the top of Dell's agenda and a new internal cooling design allows the R640 to support every CPU model right up to the 205W 28-core Platinum 8180.

Storage options are equally impressive, as the chassis is available with four LFF, eight SFF or ten SFF drives. There's room for two more SFF drives at the rear in an optional hot-swap cage and the server can support up to eight PCIe NVMe SSDs out of the box.

Hard disks are all handled by Dell's 10th-gen PERC controllers which have 8GB of flash-backed NV cache memory - a quadrupling over the previous generation. The new H740P and H840P adapters are SAS3 ready and their Harpoon-based RoC (RAID on chip) provides a performance boost for handling high-IOPS SSDs.

All 14th -gen PowerEdge servers showcase Dell's new iDRAC9 remote management controller, which delivers a completely revamped web interface and a wealth of new features. Platform security is tight as well and includes cryptographically-signed firmware packages plus a lockdown mode to stop unauthorized system configuration changes.

Storage options

Dell offers a lot of storage options so ensure you make the right choices to avoid future upgrades. All three Smart Flexi Value models are offered with eight or ten SFF drive bays with only the standard model supporting four LFF bays.

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The SFF models offer two backplanes with the 8-bay version supporting SAS3, NL-SAS and SATA hard disks. We review the 10-bay version - which you'll need if you want to use PCIe NVMe SSDs as well as SAS3 hard disks.

The Xeon Scalable CPUs increase the number of PCIe lanes from 40 to 48 and Dell's NVMe implementation takes advantage of this. The 10-bay backplane is plugged into a SAS expander board behind it, but also has onboard NVMe connectors cabled directly to the motherboard.

These use the eight extra PCIe lanes allowing you to direct-attach up to eight NVMe drives in the front bays without requiring extra adapter cards. Mind you, they aren't cheap; Dell's 3.2TB mixed-use NVMe drives cost over six grand apiece.

Dell's BOSS (boot optimized storage solution) card does away with the need to put the OS on a hard disk. Included in our review system, the BOSS is a PCIe adapter card with dual M.2 SATA SSD slots which supports mirroring.

Internal design

There's a lot going on inside the R640's busy interior but all cabling is neatly tucked out of the way for easy access to key components. Eight hot-plug fan modules reside in front of the motherboard and for NMVe drives and higher-end CPUs, you'll need to specify high-performance models.

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The price includes the PERC H740P Mini snap-in RAID module. This supports all the usual RAID suspects including RAID6 and 60 and has 8GB of NVRAM cache with a battery backup pack tucked away neatly on top.

Our system came with 192GB of 2,667MHz DDR4 memory which can be boosted to 768GB using RDIMMs or 1.5TB with LRDIMMs. The R640 also supports up to twelve Persistent Memory NVDIMM-N modules which combine 16GB of high-performance DRAM with integral Flash backup and use a dedicated battery backup module which fits on top of the SAS expander board.

Up to three PCIe expansion slots are available and underneath their cage is a dedicated slot for Dell's network daughtercards. We were supplied with the dual Gigabit/10GBase-T model and other options include quad Gigabit, quad 10GbE SFP+ or dual 25GbE.

Server management and security

Dell's new iDRAC9 is a winner for remote management as its smart HTML5-based web interface delivers a veritable wealth of information on server operations. The Dashboard screen provides a quick view on overall system health plus quick access to logs and a virtual remote control console.

The System tab reveals everything you need to know about power consumption or cooling and provides performance graphs for CPUs, memory and I/O usage. Activating the System Lockdown mode blocks any further configuration changes and you can use the System Erase feature to safely destroy data on decommissioned drives.

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Dell scores over HPE's iLO5 with its Quick Sync 2 feature which we used to link our iPad to the server over Bluetooth. The OpenManage Mobile (OMM) iOS app allowed us to view all server information, receive alerts, reboot it and control it using the free VNC Viewer app.

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Dell's OpenManage Enterprise isn't due for release until mid-2018 but while you're waiting, you can use its free OpenManage Essentials software. We employed it to manage all our Dell network devices, perform inventories and activate its advanced alerting system.

Verdict

The PowerEdge R640 packs a lot into its compact 1U chassis and delivers some innovative storage features as well. Support for the entire family of Xeon Scalable CPUs means it can easily be customised to suit a wide range of workloads and budgets while the new iDRAC9 controller sets new standards for server management.

Verdict

The powerful PowerEdge R640 squeezes a remarkable range of features into its 1U chassis making it the ideal choice for enterprises that want the best rack density in their data centre

Chassis: 1U rack CPU: 2 x 2.1GHz Intel Xeon Gold 6130 Memory: 192GB ECC DDR4 2,667MHz (max 1.5TB with LRDIMMs) Storage bays: 10 SFF front hot-swap (supports 8 x NVMe SSDs) RAID: Dell PERC H730P Mini SAS3/8GB NVRAM cache/BBU Storage included: 5 x 300GB 15K SAS3 SFF hard disks Array support: RAID0, 1, 10, 5, 6, 50, 60 Network: 2 x Gigabit/2 x 10GBase-T daughtercard Expansion: 3 x PCI-e 3.0 slots Other: BOSS card with 2 x 240GB M.2 SATA SSDs Cooling: 8 x hot-plug performance fans Power: 2 x 1600W Platinum hot-swap PSUs Management: Dell iDRAC9 Enterprise Warranty 3yrs standard on-site NBD

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