XXBAD6 full review

Apple‘s new Xserve G5 finally debuts with 64-bit CPU technology developed by IBM – and blows G4s out of the rack enclosures. It’s been two years since Apple unleashed the Xserve G4. The hardware was impressive – a 1U rack-mounted server – but the operating system, Mac OS X Server 10.1.x, was still a work in progress. And without a journaled file system at this time, Apple was quite far from challenging the likes of IBM, SGI, Sun Microsystems and the like. In the unlikely case of a crash, causing a reboot, you would have had to repair the file system, which could take several hours – or even more if you were trying to handle terabytes of data. This is mainly because HFS+ (Apple’s Hierarchical File System Extended) was not developed with such huge amounts of data in mind.

The step from HFS to HFS Extended was completed back in the early times of Mac OS 8.1, and it was more a patch than a major rewrite. Apple addressed file-system vulnerability issues quietly with the introduction of the completely rewritten HFS Extended Journaled file system in Mac OS X Server (and client) 10.2.2. Thanks to journaling, a crash no longer equals a major file-system repair.

The long-awaited Xserve G5 already features the brand-new PowerPC 970FX, manufactured with state-of-the-art 90-nanometer technology. Xserve G5 is noticeably quieter than its predecessor, and delivers a tremendous performance for the money.

The machine is available in three configurations: single processor (£2,399), dual processor (£3,199) and a node version (£2,399).

The standard configurations are designed to start with the lowest price possible, so they aren’t really made for real-world scenarios. In order to unleash its full performance, an Xserve should have at least 1GB of RAM per CPU (so two processors require at least 2GB). Adding at least 512MB to the single-CPU Xserve and 1GB to the dual-processor Xserve G5 right at the start will be a wise decision. You can boost the RAM at a later time to as much as 8GB, but remember to stick to the original specification (which is DDR 400 ECC SDRAM), and always populate the memory slots symmetrically from inside out using pairs of identical chips.

Xserve G5 is designed as a 2D and 3D power-house, not as a desktop graphic workstation. The built-in ATI Radeon 7000 with 64MB video RAM isn’t particularly impressive – but it’s good enough, and a quite reasonable choice for a server. It proves useful to keep in mind that the Xserve G5 node comes with no graphics card at all, only a limited Mac OS X Server licence, and no optical drive. The machine isn’t intended as a stand-alone server, but as a computing node to another Xserve.

Configurations

There are eight built-to-order Serial ATA storage configurations available ranging from 80GB up to 750GB. If your needs go beyond this, the Xserve RAID, Apple‘s admin-friendly storage heavyweight, might suit you well. The RAID system is available in three standard sizes: 1TB (4x 250GB), 1.75TB (7x 250GB) and 3.5TB (14x 250 GB). It features two independent Fibre Channel controllers to avoid performance bottlenecks.

There are also other RAID systems on the market providing smaller capacities and often no redundancy. But if you’re serious about deploying an Xserve in a professional environment, for example to acquire, edit and output video in HD quality, trade-offs in terms of RAM and storage won‘t pay in the long run.

The Xserve technology is earth-shaking – especially if you take into consideration the price. It is the first time that an Xserve user can claim to have a better price per giga- or teraflop than a comparative Dell PowerEdge or IBM eServer user.

And if you do the maths and compare an Xserve RAID with a storage solution from Dell, HP, IBM or Sun you‘ll notice that you are expected to pay at least three times more per gigabyte compared for a Dell EMC CX200 or HP StorageWorks 1000 – and up to over ten times more for a Sun StorEdge 6120, selling at about £50,000 for just about 2TB.

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