Reining in four AMD horses on a budget

Most applications for four-processor servers are heavy. Big databases and high-performance computing (HPC) implementations can make the most of the horsepower provided by the bigger iron, whereas lighter-weight tasks, such as Web serving, file serving and application servers, are best suited to dual-processor systems. Appro International Inc.’s 4148HS-82 borrows from both worlds.

As with anything that promises more for less, the 4148HS-82 has some drawbacks, particularly when it comes to disk I/O. The mainboard is a standard Tyan S4880 with integrated parallel ATA controllers, a Silicon Image 3114 SATA controller, and an LSI Logic SCSI controller.

The server shipped by Appro came with 8GB of DDR400 RAM, four 2.2GHz Opteron 848 processors, and two 72GB 10K RPM SCSI drives. Although only two drives were included, the 4148HS-82 can house eight hot-swap SCSI drives, while its sister, the 4148HI-82, swaps the SCSI subsystem for SATA. For those looking to run Linux on the 4148HS-82, factor in the cost of a SATA RAID controller or purchase the Ultra320 SCSI version of the 4148HS-82 to ensure compatibility. In the lab, I put the 4148HS-82 through its paces under Windows Server 2003 and Red Hat Enterprise Linux 3.0.

I tested Windows performance running SiSoftware’s Sandra 2005, nbench SMB file-sharing benchmarks and the MySQL benchmark suite. The Linux tests included RSA key generation times, MySQL benchmark testing and nbench testing. Under both operating systems, the results were on a par with other quad-processor Opteron servers, with the disk I/O subsystem showing relatively poor performance owing to the low-end LSI Logic controller hardware.

Compute performance was impressive, however. For example, I pitted the 4148HS-82 against a dual-Opteron 248 system with the task of encoding a 30-minute DVD Video Object (VOB) file into an Audio Video Interleaved (AVI) file using transcode on Linux. The 4148HS-82 finished approximately five minutes ahead of the dual CPU system, for a 12 per cent edge in performance.

When later tasked with many simultaneous encoding jobs, the 4148HS-82 really demonstrated its torque. In short, if the goal is to cull through mountains of data on a continuous basis, the 4148HS-82 will fit right in. The rear panel provides access to two 64-bit 100MHz PCI-X slots, two 64-bit 66MHz PCI-X slots and a single 32-bit 33MHz PCI slot. Nearby, an airflow panel can be removed to access the processors. The CPUs have active heat sinks covered by a duct and cooled by three hot-swappable fans.

The 4148HS-82 exhibited no heat problems during testing, but it is power hungry. The server requires at least two of its 500-watt hot-swappable power supplies.

For specialized applications requiring significant number-crunching performance, the 4148HS-82 would be a good choice to stretch the budget. But it lacks enterprise-class I/O components. As configured, it would shine as a SAN-connected database server or an HPC node.

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