Multicore technology pays off for IBM with its 326m server. Cramming as many dual-core Advanced Micro Devices Opteron processors into the smallest space possible, the eServer 326m provides enormous amounts of CPU muscle.
With its two AMD 285 64-bit CPUs, it has captured the flag for the fastest server we've tested in a 1U form factor. In addition, the server is quite serviceable, and the fastest twin (nonmulticore) system of any height or displacement we've come across.
One quick caveat: This eServer model requires quite a bit of tweaking if used for a graphics application. It took some time to find the right combination of drivers to make the 326m server do reasonable graphics for SUSE Linux Enterprise Server 10, Red Hat Enterprise 4.0 and Windows 2003 Enterprise Server, run individually or as members of a VMware installation.
The 32MB of dynamic RAM (DRAM) is a weakness -- we had to use the proprietary (non-GPL and non-open source) ATI drivers for X.org on Linux or suffer graphics problems. This was the only thing we could find anemic on an otherwise stellar system.
The server fit easily into our 19-inch rack space -- while there wasn't any especially charming or useful rail kits included with the 326m, slamming it into the rack was simple. Getting inside the machine wasn't as easy or fun as an HP-designed server, but the differences amounted to a few seconds.
The server included two dual-core AMD Opteron 285 processors clocking at 2.6GHz. The system included 2GB of DRAM (eight sticks of 512MB double data rate RAM), as well as an astonishingly small Seagate Barracuda 80GB 7200 RPM Serial Advanced Technology Attachment interface hard drive (larger sizes are available). The two PCIe 8x (PCI Express bus) connectors in our test unit begged for Fibre Channel storage-area network and/or InfiniBand connections for clustering. An alternate configuration is available with one PCIe 8x slot and one PCI-X 64-bit slot.
The unit includes three handy USB hubs, two on the front (USB 2.0) and two independent slots on the back for a keyboard, mouse or other device. Independent USB branches also let a bus with USB 1.1 devices run independently and not slow down the remaining bus connections, and are connected to the South Bridge of the motherboard, whereas the high-speed bus adapters are connected to the North Bridge. The eServer 326m worked well with our USB hardware. (See How we did it at www.nwdocfinder.com/5625.)
Two Broadcom chipset-based Gigabit Ethernet ports are included, and other than the previously mentioned graphics oddities, our test operating systems found all hardware correctly. IBM also supports Intelligent Platform Management Interface (IPMI) management, an API set that lets IBM-based and third-party applications send or receive information on hardware characteristics that are operating system-independent. Everything from CPU loads to internal temperature can be ready by IPMI-aware applications -- including open source management applications.