Sunday, November 27, 2016

Dell PowerEdge R830 review: Four into two does go

Dell PowerEdge R830 review

Dell PowerEdge R830 review




PROS
  • 4-way server in compact 2U format
  • Broadwell-based Intel Xeon E5-4600 v4 processors
  • Wide processor choice, up to 22 cores (44 threads) per socket
  • 16 internal storage bays
  • Optional NVMe add-in cards
  • iDRAC8
  • DDR4 RAM
Price
£35,942 (ex. VAT)

The 2U PowerEdge R830 is the latest addition to Dell's 13G range of PowerEdge servers, propelled to this position courtesy of Intel's 14nm Broadwell processors. On the face of it, this would seem unremarkable as there are lots of servers built around Broadwell, except that the R830 can take four of the latest Xeon E5-4600 v4 processors based on this technology, with up to 22 cores (44 threads) per socket and more cache than previous-generation Xeons. Team these together with faster DDR4 RAM and the end result is a server that can be significantly quicker and more capable than its predecessor (the 12G PowerEdge R820) and ideally suited to compute-intensive applications such as heavy-duty database hosting, Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI) and other large-scale virtualisation and server consolidation projects.


The Dell PowerEdge R830.
Image: Alan Stevens/Tech Pro Research


The same, but different

At first glance the R830 appears to have changed little compared to the R820 it replaces. There's a new badge up front of course, but with the same 16 drive bays alongside that can take 2.5-inch drives -- either SSD or magnetic disks. Dell offers SATA, SAS or nearline SAS implementations as required.

The same solid and superbly engineered chassis is also employed as before, with a completely removable lid for ready access to clearly marked hot- and cold-swap components inside. You also get redundant power as standard, now with beefier 1,600W supplies, if needed, to cope with the demands of the new silicon.


Redundant power supplies now come in 750W and 1,600W formats.
Image: Alan Stevens/Tech Pro Research



Fully configured, the R830 chassis is a heavy old beast, requiring two people to slide it into the rack, and when you take the lid off there's not much empty space inside. That's mainly because squeezing four large Xeon processors plus heatsinks and 48 memory modules into a 2U chassis is a real challenge. Dell has opted to solve this by splitting the load between the motherboard and a Processor Expansion Module (PEM) -- effectively, a mezzanine card that plugs in on top. There are two processor sockets and 24 DIMM slots on the motherboard, and a similar arrangement on the PEM.


The R830 motherboard has two processor slots and 24 DIMM sockets.
Image: Alan Stevens/Tech Pro Research



First used on the R820, it's worth noting that the PEM is entirely optional but, with plenty of more affordable dedicated 2-way server alternatives to choose from, we doubt many customers would leave it out and start with just two sockets.


The other two processors and 24 DIMMs are accommodated on a Processor Expansion Module (PEM) that plugs into special sockets on top of the main R830 motherboard.
Image: Alan Stevens/Tech Pro Research



Our review system shipped with this option fitted and, as such, came fully populated with Xeon E5-4650 v4 processors (14 cores/28 threads) clocked at 2.2GHz with a 105W TDP (Thermal Design Power). However, there's a lot of choice here, from eight up to 22 cores per processor and varying TDP ratings of up to 135W for the 22-core E5-4669 v4.

Support for DDR4 RAM is available across all members of the E5-4600 v4 family, although the headline speed of 2.4GHz is only available on the high-end processors, starting with the E5-4640 v4. In theory up to 6TB of memory can be handled in total, but until 128GB DIMMs become available the R830 is limited to just half that (3TB), just as on the R820. Our review unit came with a more modest 512GB of RAM using 32GB ECC modules.
Power and cooling

On the cooling front, the R830 keeps the same bank of six hot-swap fans as its predecessor. These are located in a pull-out module sat between the storage at the front and the electronics at the rear of the server. Although noisy, they proved no louder than most. Similarly, power consumption is average for a four-socket server, determined both by what processors you go for and how hard they're worked.


Six hot-swap fans keep the server cool.
Image: Alan Stevens/Tech Pro Research


Storage to go

With just 16 hot-swap drive bays to play with, the R830 isn't the ideal platform for those seeking the ultimate in storage capacity. That said, it's not bad and you can always add external drives or hook the server up to a SAN to overcome this limitation.

Our review system came with a couple of 400GB SSDs to handle the host software together with six 1.2TB magnetic SAS drives for data. These were all cabled to a Dell PERC H730P controller and configured as a RAID 5 array. Other controllers from the PERC range can be specified if preferred, while customers looking for the ultimate in storage performance are directed towards Dell's NVMe add-in cards.


The R830's 16 internal drive bays can accommodate a mix of SSD and magnetic storage.
Image: Alan Stevens/Tech Pro Research


Connectivity, management and more

Network attachment is handled by an on-board controller and daughter card combination, with choices including dedicated quad-port Gigabit and dual 10GbE setups. Our review system had a mix: two 10GbE ports, with two Gigabit ports alongside. Support for TOE and iSCSI offload is also available on some of the configurations.


The network daughter card on the review server equipped it with two 10bE and two Gigabit ports. The iDRAC management controller has its own, dedicated, Gigabit interface.
Image: Alan Stevens/Tech Pro Research



A separate Gigabit port, meanwhile, provides connectivity to the Dell management controller which, on the R830, is upgraded to iDRAC8 to work with the latest Dell OpenManage platform.


The R830 benefits from the latest Dell iDRAC 8 remote access controller.
Image: Alan Stevens/Tech Pro Research



Other options include Dell's embedded hypervisor option with redundant SD Card modules and seven PCIe 3.0 slots for expansion. One of these was occupied by the RAID adapter on the review system, with a QLogic-based Fibre Channel card in another.

A workhorse of a server that can host a range of workloads, the Xeon E5-4600 v4 processors and DDR4 RAM in Dell's PowerEdge R830 deliver a significant performance boost compared to the previous-generation R820. Furthermore, it's possible to do this without, necessarily, adding to the core count and the associated licensing costs -- which can be considerable on this kind of platform. Of course, other vendors have similar offerings, but there's plenty in the R830 to commend Dell's solution, which is worth investigating by anyone seeking a powerful 4-socket server in a compact and incredibly well-engineered 2U format.

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