With business PC and servers dominated by the likes of HP, Dell and IBM, it’s all too easy to overlook smaller vendors such as Gateway, which, despite a less comprehensive product set, still has a lot to offer. Far from being a small vendor, Gateway is now the business arm of PC giant Acer, with a comprehensive portfolio of laptops, desktops and servers designed to appeal to a broad base of buyers from small businesses through to large enterprise customers.

What is it and who is it for?

A recent addition to the Gateway server line-up, the GT350 F1 is a dual-socket server able to accommodate a range of processors from Intel’s Xeon 5500/5600 (Nehalem) family. That makes it a highly scalable platform with dual, quad and 6-core processors on offer, many with additional Intel Turbo Boost and Hyper-Threading capabilities. Moreover, the processors can be accompanied by up to 192GB of DDR3 RAM on this server plus a massive 16TB of internal storage, making for very flexible offering.

Further flexibility comes from the tower format—GT stands for Gateway Tower—with masses of space inside the GT350 casing for options and further expansion. Larger companies, of course, may prefer rack mount products, in which case a rack-mount kit is also available, the server taking up 4U of space when this is used.

In terms of where and how it might be deployed, one use for the GT350 would be as the main server in a small business, handling day to day file and print sharing as well as hosting in-house e-mail and Web servers. Alternatively, it might be deployed in a larger organisation as a specialist Web, e-mail or database server; as a departmental or branch office server or, when fully loaded, as a virtualisation platform in companies looking to consolidate older systems using more powerful modern technology.

Pricing & setup

Sold through specialist resellers, pricing is, naturally, dependent on specification. The review machine, however, is a good reference point with a single quad-core Xeon E5506 (2.13GHz, 4MB cache) plus 6GB of memory and a single 150GB hard disk. Configured this way, and with only one power supply rather than the two redundant supplies that can be supported, the price tag is £1,175 (ex. VAT).

An operating system isn’t included in that price so you’ll either need to install this yourself or have a reseller do it for you. An optical drive is included in the price, and the hardware is certified for use as both a Windows Server and Red Hat Enterprise Linux platform. A 3-year on-site hardware warranty is also included as standard, serviced by Acer and extendable up to 6 years, if required.

Does it do it well?

As you might expect from a company like Acer, build quality is good with plenty of fans to keep the server cool, including two which can be swapped from outside without opening the case. It’s not a particularly good looking product, but stylish enough and energy efficient with Energy-Star rated 720-Watt power supplies.

In terms of processors you’re spoilt for choice, both when it comes to performance features and power and cooling characteristics. Likewise there are lots of options when it comes to memory and internal disks with room for up to eight 3.5-inch hard disks, or 16 for customers choosing increasingly popular 2.5-inch drives.

The ability to hot swap the drives comes as standard along with basic RAID protection, although this is a little limited and for a large array you’ll need to specify a plug-in RAID adapter. Fortunately five PCI-Express slots available so there’s space to accommodate both internal and external host bus adapters and additional LAN cards, should the dual Gigabit ports built into the server prove insufficient.

Where does it disappoint?

A well-made server, the GT350 caused very few problems during our tests. Just a couple of niggles, like having to get out a screwdriver to remove the ‘tool-free’ cover. The sheer bulk of the chassis could be an issue too, with little point buying this model if you’re not going to fill it up. Indeed, where space is at a premium you’re better off looking at Gateway’s 1U/2U rackmount series.

Remote monitoring and management options are included in the price, but the offerings here are fairly basic with no lifecycle controller like that on the latest Dell systems, for example. Neither is there any option to boot from an embedded virtualisation hypervisor.

In terms of cost, the Gateway GT350 F1 is clearly designed to appeal to small business buyers on a budget. However, as soon as you start to change the spec or add extra options the price can ramp up very quickly. That said, it’s much the same with the other vendors, with Gateway (Acer) no worse in this respect than anyone else.

Would we recommend it?

Based on common industry-standard components and with the manufacturing clout of Acer behind it, there’s no reason why the Gateway GT350 F1 shouldn’t deliver the performance of similarly specified rivals—or be as reliable. It’s competitively priced too, and a good solution for small business buyers. The only caveat as far as we can see is finding a reseller.

Gateway vendors are a lot thinner on the ground compared to those selling HP, IBM and other hardware, and you’ll need to contact Gateway direct to find one in your area. It’s important, also, to use a reseller able to size the server to suit your needs with a lot of complex choices when it comes to matching processor and memory to the applications you want to run. Find the right reseller, however, and that should be taken care of leaving you to take full advantage of what the Gateway GT350 F1 has to offer. [7.5]