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Whose 2U Server System For Xeon E5 Is Best?

Three Xeon E5 Server Systems From Intel, Tyan, And Supermicro
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Despite the fact that we're looking at a trio of 2U server barebones systems capable of taking two LGA 2011-based processors, Intel, Supermicro, and Tyan all take very different approaches in getting there.

Tyan offers a 3.5" storage-oriented chassis (with 2.5" adapters) and a very standard motherboard design. Supermicro's system is more customized, including a PCIe riser, 80 PLUS Platinum PSUs, and the highest number of hot-swap bays of any enclosure in our round-up. Intel sells an even more customized riser design, similarly high-efficiency PSUs, configurable storage, and the largest price tag.

Each solution can be improved upon, we think. Tyan could benefit from more efficient power supplies to match Supermicro and Intel. Moreover, its adoption of a standards-compliant motherboard limits it to low-profile expansion cards. That's good if you want to upgrade the motherboard down the road, but that's a fairly rare occurrence in the server world, and it limits what you can plug in today. Supermicro offers fewer full-length slots than Intel, and Intel takes the advantage for custom expansion that takes networking, storage, and management cards without plugging up the PCIe slots. Unfortunately, Intel also requires that you buy a daughter card for dedicated IPMI 2.0/KVM-over-IP support, and it didn't give us a BMC reset through the MegaRAC GUI. Limited to eight 2.5" drives in the trim we received it, it also costs the most.

With those few critiques mentioned, each product has its strong points as well. Naturally, Tyan's solution is the easiest to upgrade in the future, given its standardized form factor. We also like the hot-swap bays with 2.5" adapters, able to accept either drive size, and the fact that Tyan also includes an on-board LSI-based SAS controller. For that, Tyan's system drops into the middle spot for pricing. Intel uses an absolutely massive motherboard to provide a very well-integrated solution with arguably the most expandability. The company's customization of the IPMI 2.0 WebGUI is attractive and easy to navigate. Meanwhile, Supermicro differentiates its solution with value pricing, a lot of room to add additional components, and high-capacity, efficient power supplies. In addition, Supermicro includes the largest number of hot-swap storage bays, on top of a nicely customized MegaRAC interface.

After extensive time spent testing and replacing components in each of these 2U servers deployed to a rack, the picture above sums up the order in which I'd rank them. The Supermicro chassis blends expandability and a feature-complete specification sheet into a package that compares well to the competition at a much lower price point (and with additional on-board options available.) Intel's submission actually came in above our round-up's price range. However, the inclusion of storage and networking expansion modules also gives the R2208GZ4GC a notable advantage in configurability, while preserving all six PCIe slots. Tyan's solution is very conservative, which pays off if you're a builder who plans to re-use the chassis for another motherboard in the future. We think it has the best redundant cooling implementation of the three contenders, too. The only reason it finishes behind Supermicro and Intel is because the other two vendors give you more room for memory, add-in expansion, and higher-efficiency power supplies.

With all of that said, even though these server systems are similar in many ways, there is clearly a niche for each. Realistically, an SMB buying from a VAR is going to end up with whichever vendor that reseller is using, and the configuration that makes the most sense for a given application or usage model.

Of course, we welcome any of your thoughts or feedback as look to continue our coverage of more enterprise-class products and technologies.

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