Intel’s new Xeon E5-2600 (Sandy Bridge-EP) processors have been quickly adopted by all of the big server vendors to power a new generation of faster, more capable, products. As usual, Dell and HP are leading the charge but there are others, such as Fujitsu, who has used the new chips to upgrade a number of servers?not least the popular Primergy RX300, now in its seventh (S7) incarnation.

Double two

A 2U rack mount server capable of accommodating a pair of the new multi-core Xeon E5-2600 processors, the Primergy RX300 S7 is a workhorse 2U2P server that can be used to power a whole range of datacentre applications. Everything from basic Web farms, e-mail and database servers to highly available virtualisation servers and VDI platforms.

As with the previous S6 model, the all-metal chassis is well engineered. Ours shipped with a single 800W power supply although dual, redundant, supplies can be specified if wanted. Access is via a one-piece lift-off lid with minimal cabling and any hot-swap parts clearly marked (in green) for ease of maintenance.

The all-new motherboard fits snugly inside the chassis, just behind the storage and five hot-swap fans, with the processor sockets in the middle complete with large heatsinks and a one-piece cooling baffle, to direct airflow, on top.

The majority of buyers will populate both sockets as a matter of course with lots of choice when it comes to not just processor but memory and storage too. As such price will be dependent on specification, although there are a number of standard configurations to choose from including the review system, a relatively high-end solution selling for £5,699 (ex VAT).

Processor and memory

In theory you can opt for any member of the Xeon E5-2600 family from the 4-core 1.8GHz E5-2603 upwards. To get the full benefit of the new 32nm Sandy Bridge-EP architecture, however, more demanding buyers will go for an 8-core implementation, such as the 2.6GHz E5-2670s fitted on the server we tested.

With HyperThreading as standard these 8-core processors also benefit from an impressive 20MB of L3 cache per socket plus a full set of 8.0GT/s QPI links. Added to which there’s support for Intel’s new Turbo Boost 2.0 technology enabling individual cores to be temporarily speeded up to cope with peaks in processing demand.

Our server also came with 32GB of DDR3 memory?a good starting pointing for a lot of applications, but it is possible to fit as much as 768GB in total. Bear in mind, however, that as with other servers this doesn’t come cheap?especially if you need to specify large capacity DIMMs?and some care is needed not to over specify.

Storage and networking

Storage options are adequate for this class of server, if not quite up to what’s available on rival servers such as the Dell PowerEdge R720. Hot-swap drive bays are provided as standard, with room for just 6 if you go for 3.5-inch disks and up to 16 for those opting for the smaller 2.5-inch products.

The review system came with the 2.5-inch bays which can be filled with a variety of SATA, SAS and SSD disks, although only one was occupied on ours, by an enterprise class 300GB SAS drive with a 10,000rpm spin speed. This was then cabled to an LSI MegaRAID controller fitted into one of the PCIe expansion slots, dedicated to such use and positioned towards the front of the motherboard for ease of cabling.

Unfortunately, despite being a decent 6Gbps adapter, the LSI card supplied only offers basic disk mirroring (RAID 1). A reasonable choice for buyers looking for availability, those after the performance of RAID 5/6 will need to spend extra to get something more capable.

Budget buyers, meanwhile, can get away with using the 4-port SATA controller built onto the Fujitsu motherboard. However, this isn’t expected to be a popular option except with companies with storage networks, where the internal disks are used purely to load the OS or a hypervisor.

Speaking of which, it’s also possible to boot the Primergy RX300 S7 using an embedded hypervisor by plugging in a USB key, into either one of the external USB ports or a custom connector provided for this purpose inside. Alternatively, there’s a Fujitsu USB Flash module with its own socket which can be specified for this purpose.

Networking and more

Networking isn’t particularly well served with just two Gigabit ports to be found at the rear of the Primergy RX300 S7 chassis compared to four on similar servers from other vendors. Fortunately more can be added to using plug-in adapters with six PCIe expansion slots on the motherboard in addition to the one for the storage controller.

Thanks to the new Xeon E5 processors and associated Intel C600 these all support the latest PCIe 3.0 technology with a number of multiport Gigabit cards and 10GbE adapters on offer, along with plug-in host bus adapters for both internal and external storage expansion.

One of the network ports can be used for remote management if needed, with a third port dedicated to this role also available, both options giving access to the embedded iRMC S3 remote management controller over the LAN. Using this we were able to connect to the Web-based management console then use the tools provided to manage and monitor power settings along with a number of other hardware options. Added to which our configuration came with a license upgrade giving us KVM over IP including support for remote media mapping.

We liked the Primergy RX300 S7 and can see it being used to host a variety of applications in medium-sized to large datacentres. It does have a few limitations, but in the main these can be coped with using the various modules and options on offer. Moreover, in terms of performance it’s right up there with the leaders of the server pack, delivering a real speed boost compared to previous generation Xeon 5500/5600 platforms plus support for the extra memory and enhanced storage options needed to go with it.