We’ve just received a new System x3200, to serve as an infrastructure hub for our POS software at a Small Business customer. Unlike all other machines i’ve talked about before (HP DL320 G5, System x3650 vs. HP DL380 G5, System x3250, System x3650), this machine is a tower model. With IT moving more and more towards a professional service subset, tower machines are getting less and less common, but many small businesses do not see the return on investment a rack mounted server will give them. As such, IBM still produces a few decent System x servers in the tower form factor.
The x3200 brother is the rackmounted System x3250. Both of them are IBM’s low end entry systems. The x3200 we sold to our customer was one of more well endowed models, featuring redundant power supplies and hot plug SAS disks.
The disks come in a standard 3.5″ form factor, there are no 2.5″ models available (which makes sense, as towers are not really space constrained, which is clearly visible when looking at the x3200 bulky frame).
The exact configuration ordered:
- System x3250 Xeon 2.13Ghz DC, with 2×512MB Base Memory, 3.5″ HP SAS, redundant PSU
- 2x 72GB 10kRPM SAS
Unpacking and opening
The machine was shipped in a box where you’d have thought it contains a 5 year old desktop PC, meaning it was a bit bigger than the Lenovo ThinkCentre tower shipping boxes. As always, removing the machines from these boxes is not as fun when you’re alone, because the styropor sticks to the machine.
Another thing to note is that the machine shipping without any power cables, which is normally not the case. But this might’ve been a mixup at our distributor.
The machine itself is big and bulky (exactly as it looks on the photos), but the case is very well done, much better than the xSeries 226 had. Everything is tool less, and the opening mechanisms for the front and side cover work nicely, and fit like a glove when putting them back on.
Even though this is a budget machine, the interior is done rather well. The cables are packed together nicely, and the system has room for expansion. 4x 3.5″ HP SAS disk trays, 3 PCI slots, 2 PCI-E Slots (1x, 4x). The LSI Logic SAS RAID Controller is mounted directly on the mainboard, saving expansion slots. Again, this machine only accepts 4 DIMMs, which aren’t that accessible. But this isn’t a huge problem, as maintenance on tower models has always been awkward and finicky – that’s what rack servers are for.
The machine isn’t quiet, but it isn’t loud either. I wouldn’t mind having it in my office, the noise is not a high pitched scream like you usually get from a 1U rack server. There is no inline documentation like IBM usually provides with their rack mount servers, and there’s no LightPath diagnostics either. That’s perfectly normal for this price.
What isn’t usual for this price class is the fact that this machine has redundant power supplies. While this is the norm for more expensive servers, it isn’t for entry level servers. The redundant power supplies do not cost a lot more than the normal model, and it’s always nice to have redundant power (as UPSes account for a large number of power failures, at least here in Switzerland).
We only got a few disks with the machine, and installing them was a breeze. They are hid behind an easily openable lid, and come in a standard IBM hotplug mounting tray.
The machine we received had horrible outdated firmware, so the first step was to get everything up to speed. This worked fine with an USB floppy drive, as IBMs Update CD’s weren’t current (again). I still think there should be some method that does all this whole box-update thing via the internet. Not sure how this could be implemented without astronomic cost, but i still want it.
The Onboard LSI Logic RAID Controller supports mirroring and striping, and brings it’s own horrible management software – it’s not an IBM ServeRAID family controller. I didn’t even find a way to automatically send mails in case of a disk failure.
Booting the server
We’ve installed Windows Server 2003 R2 SP2 on this machine, not using the ServerGuide procedure. Again, the install went through without any problems after supplying the LSI Logic driver on an USB floppy. I’m still waiting for Windows Server 2008 which will make this a lot easier with it’s Windows PE 2.0 based installer.
As far as my first impressions went, the disk performance is very good. It’s quite noticeable if you use 10kRPM SAS disks against 7.2kRPM SATA disks.
Even though it’s a budget machine, the build quality and the features of the System x3200 are quite impressive (i really, really liked two PSUs in such a small machine). I still don’t like tower machines, but the System x3200 is worth it’s money if you don’t have a rack at a given location. The system is very well designed, and could even serve as a small business server for a very small business.
Also, the obligatory plug to DATALINE AG which sells this server and other IBM System x or System i servers.