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New Xserve Goes Eight-Core Too

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Hot on the heels of Apple's pre-Macworld announcement of the new Mac Pro comes the release of a long-awaited update to the Xserve, the company's 1U rackmount server. Given that the Xserve typically finds itself racked in supercomputing and enterprise data centers, hardware updates seldom warrant mention during the Macworld Expo keynote anyway. This makes it unsurprising that Apple is releasing specifications and taking orders now to avoid the Xserve upgrade stealing any keynote thunder.

Like the new Mac Pro, the Xserve's top-end models feature eight-core processing, with a pair of 2.8 GHz or 3.0 GHz Quad-Core Xeon processors. There's also a base model sporting just a single 2.8 GHz Quad-Core Xeon processor. All models include 12 MB of L2 cache per processor, a high-bandwidth hardware architecture, dual-independent 1600 MHz front side buses, and support for up to 32 GB (across 8 slots) of 800 MHz DDR2 ECC FB-DIMM memory.

In terms of expansion, the Xserve provides three drive bays that support either SATA or SAS drives, a pair of PCI Express 2.0 expansion slots that can accept multi-channel 4-gigabit Fibre Channel, and 10-gigabit Ethernet cards.

Standard features include internal graphics support that can drive anything up to a 23-inch Apple Cinema Display, dual gigabit Ethernet jacks, two FireWire 800 ports (but no FireWire 400 ports), three USB 2.0 ports, and, of course, an unlimited client license for Mac OS X Server 10.5 Leopard. The base Xserve configuration, shipping immediately, includes a single 2.8 GHz Quad-Core Xeon processor, 2 GB of RAM, and a single 80 GB SATA Apple Drive Module for $2,999.

Apple boasts that the new 45-nanometer Intel Quad-Core Xeon processors improve on energy efficiency, with the processors drawing a maximum of 80 watts and dropping as low as 4 watts when idle.

As with the Mac Pro, the industrial design of the Xserve remains largely unchanged, which will cause disappointment in some quarters. We've heard complaints from data center operators that the Xserve's 30-inch (76.2-cm) depth makes for awkward spacing in standard racks. (The original Xserve was 28 inches (71.1 cm) deep.) Also, Apple's policy of selling the Xserve's drive sleds only with drives makes it expensive to upgrade storage with drives from vendors other than Apple; that appears to be unchanged.

In a mixed blessing, Apple removed the FireWire 400 port from the front panel and replaced it with a USB 2.0 port. That's a good step, since it makes it easier to attach a keyboard and mouse for troubleshooting, but doesn't go far enough, since rack-mounted servers also usually need a monitor attached for troubleshooting, and the video port remains at the back of the Xserve.

Chuck Goolsbee, Vice President of Technical Operations for hosting company digital.forest, suggests that "user-related" ports, such as USB, video, and FireWire be accessible from the front panel, whereas "system-related" ports like Ethernet, Fibre Channel, and power be relegated to the back. (USB and FireWire should exist in both places, of course.) The reason is that ideal data center design calls for hot aisles and cold aisles, with the hot backs of servers facing each other and the cold fronts facing each other. That way, the hot aisles can be enclosed and cooled more effectively. But that's not feasible if the staff needs regular access to the backs of servers for troubleshooting, as the Xserve requires due to the placement of its video port on the back.

All that said, we've been needing new server hardware for some time and this looks like the unit we've been waiting to order!


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