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Hands on: Apple's new Xserve -- now with dual-core Xeon goodness

By Yuval Kossovsky
October 25, 2006 12:00 PM ET
There's no heat sink on the RAM inside the Xserve  
There's no heat sink on the RAM inside the Xserve
(Click image to see larger view)

The processors are 64-bit with a 256-bit-wide bus and will use a four-channel data path to the FB-DIMMS. And RAM heat sinks -- which can cut down on heat and the constant use of cooling fans -- weren't used as they are in the Mac Pro, where acoustic performance is important. More important, the overall bandwidth of the processor system is up to a blistering 20.1GB/sec. or three times faster than the G5 Xserve.

In a nod to maximizing efficiency while balancing power consumption and heat management, the Xserve's seven fans are controlled individually by a microprocessor. If necessary, each one can spin at a different speed so that it cools only the area served by that fan.

Storage

With the new Xserve, Apple is the first vendor to offer both SAS and SATA drives in the same machine. Each technology has a particular benefit in server applications and by allowing for any combination to be used, Apple is offering its customers maximum flexibility. For example, SCSI drives are substantially faster than SATA, so for transactional applications that require quick disk access (like operating system and database operations) a SAS drive is ideal. To illustrate the difference: a SATA drive has a seek time of about 8ms, whereas the 15,000-rpm SAS drive has a seek time of only 3.5ms. The trade-off for that speed is price; SAS drives offer less storage and cost nearly twice as much SATA drives, so they should be used only as needed.

In my configuration, I used the 73GB SAS drive as my boot and Web service drive, and then had two 750GB perpendicular reading SATA drives for media serving. The high transactional nature of the OS and Web server made sense for the SAS drive, and for storing huge media files that the Web app would serve up, I used the SATA drives.

The SAS drive spins at 15,000 rpm  
The SAS drive spins at 15,000 rpm
(Click image to see larger view)
Each SATA drive holds 750GB of data  
Each SATA drive holds 750GB of data
(Click image to see larger view)

Another item of note: Drives are user-installable, so as larger capacities become available, newer drives can be swapped in without needing to replace the drive bays.

Moving to the back of the machine, the Xserve comes standard with two FireWire 800 ports, two USB 2.0 ports, dual Gigabit Ethernet ports, and a DB9 serial port for console access. Inside, the built-in ATI Radeon X1300 PCI Express graphics (with 64MB of GDDR3 SDRAM) sits on a daughter card of the PCI bus, meaning a slot does not have to be given up for video. A mini video adaptor is included so you can attach a display.



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