Dell PowerEdge R330 review: Making more of less

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Dell manages to pack a lot into its 1U PowerEdge R330 server, including a surprising amount of storage. But it's still single socket and, with a bewildering range of storage options, could be tricky to get right.

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PROS

  • Compact 1U chassis
  • Quad-core Xeon E3-1200 v5 processor
  • DDR4 RAM
  • 12Gbps SAS plus hardware RAID
  • Integrated iDRAC remote management

CONS

  • Single socket
  • 64GB memory limit
  • Too many storage options can be confusing

PRICE
£2,064 (ex. VAT) as reviewed


Long considered the poor relation of the rack-mount family, 1U servers may be short on space but are becoming ever more capable as vendors cram them full of the latest multi-core processors, fast memory and compact storage technologies. Dell's new PowerEdge R330, part of its 13th-Generation PowerEdge family, is a good example: as well as an Intel Xeon E3-1200 v5 (Skylake) processor and fast DDR4 RAM, the R330 can be configured with a lot more internal storage than might be expected given the restrictive 1U format.

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The Dell PowerEdge R330 1U rack server.
Image: Dell

All the right bits

At the heart of the R330 is a compact and highly integrated Dell motherboard featuring just the one socket to take a quad-core Xeon E3-1200 v5 processor. There are plenty of these to choose from, our review system shipping with a mid-range 3GHz (3.5GHz with Turbo Boost) Xeon E3-1220 v5, sporting four cores, 4-way multithreading and a TDP of 80 Watts. Buyers seeking greater energy efficiency, meanwhile, can opt for slightly less powerful 45W or even 25W alternatives, while for maximum performance there's the E3-1280 v5 -- another 80W processor, but this time clocked at 3.7-4GHz and with 4 cores and 8 threads on offer.

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The R330 has a socket for the Skylake Xeon processor plus four DDR4 slots.
Image: Alan Stevens/TechProResearch

Whatever processor you choose, they can all be accompanied by up to 64GB of RAM located alongside in four DIMM slots. That's not as many as on some other 1U models, but the DIMMs do support the latest 2133MT/s DDR4 modules. Base models come with 4GB, but most buyers will want a lot more than that: ours had 32GB on two modules, but you'll probably need the maximum of 64GB for demanding applications or a large number of concurrent users.

Entry level it isn't

In terms of performance the new Skylake silicon delivers a big step up compared to previous versions of the Xeon E3-1200, making the R330 a far from an 'entry level' solution. Moreover, although prices start at just £762 (ex. VAT), by the time you configure up the various options (storage especially) you're looking at well over £2,000 -- a lot more than buyers of entry-level servers expect to pay.

For that figure, however, and despite the restrictive 1U format, you do get quite a lot of server, built to the usual high standards expected of Dell. The internal space is clearly divided into two areas, with storage at the front and the electronics, including the motherboard, at the rear. The power supplies are also at the back: there's room for two 350W units, the redundant second PSU adding £102 (ex. VAT) to the price.

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Hot-swap redundant power is an option on the R330.
Image: Alan Stevens/TechProResearch

Tiny fans are built into each of the power supplies, but the main cooling is handled by a bank of three slightly bigger units located across the middle of the chassis, with room for a fourth for storage-heavy configurations.

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Three fans keep the innards cool, but can get quite noisy and four are needed with more disks.
Image: Alan Stevens/TechProResearch

The fans can get quite noisy, which isn't an issue in a server room but is worth bearing in mind if you're planning to install the R330 in an office. Neither can they be hot swapped: if you want that kind of capability you'll need to look at a different server.

Storage to go

When it comes to storage, the R330 can be surprisingly well equipped -- although careful planning is required to make sure you get what you actually need. That's partly because there are three chassis options to choose from, starting with one that accepts four 3.5-inch magnetic disks together with two 1.8-inch SSDs in the slot otherwise reserved for a slimline optical drive

With a limit of 800MB, the 1.8in SSDs are clearly intended to provide a boost to performance by delivering faster access to operating system files. The two SSDs can also be mirrored for redundancy, with more general data directed to magnetic storage or SSDs in the main bays. This setup, however, is limited to basic software-based RAID via the on-board PERC S130 controller and does not support hot-swapping. To get that, plus more storage and RAID options, you need a different chassis with a hot-swap backplane available in one of two formats.

The configuration we were sent had metalwork for four disks (3.5-inch with adapters to take 2.5-inch drives, if needed) while, for those looking to build larger arrays, an 8-bay 2.5-inch-only setup is also available.

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An 8-bay chassis is available as an option to take 2.5-inch magnetic disks or SSDs.
Image: Dell

A bewildering choice of disks adds further to the confusion, with drives available in SATA and SAS formats with up to 8TB per disk available in the 3.5-inch format and 2TB for 2.5-inch disks. This clearly allows you to get more capacity on a 4-disk server than with the 8-drive chassis, but simple capacity isn't the only consideration, as larger arrays can be both faster and offer greater redundancy depending on how they're configured. Dell also sells a range of SSDs to go in the R330, further muddying the storage waters.

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Our review system shipped with a pair of 2TB 2.5-inch SAS disks, with a wide variety of magnetic and SSD alternatives, up to 8TB, available.
Image: Alan Stevens/TechProResearch

Price will always be a consideration when buying a server and storage is likely to be the biggest outlay on this particular model. The review system, for example, came with a pair of Dell's 2.5-inch 2TB NearLine SAS disks (7.2K rpm) adding just over £525 (ex. VAT) each to the price. The 8TB 3.5-inch disks, by comparison, are better value at £678 (ex. VAT), but are only available with a SATA interface. Customers are also faced with a bewildering variety of faster spinning disks and SSD alternatives in varying capacities, making for some difficult decisions balancing capacity against performance, redundancy and price considerations.

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Hardware-based RAID is delivered via a Dell PERC adapter fitted in the expansion slot provided for just this purpose.
Image: Alan Stevens/TechProResearch

And there are yet more choices when it comes to storage controllers with RAID support on the hot-swap servers delivered courtesy of a Dell PERC adapter plugging into a dedicated expansion slot on the motherboard. On the review system that proved to be a PERC H330, providing connectivity via a 12Gbps SAS interface with up to RAID 5/50 redundancy depending on disk configuration. However, a PERC H730 is also available for buyers with larger arrays and those wanting the dual disk failure protection afforded by RAID 6. This adapter also comes with on-board cache memory.

And the rest

Storage aside, life for the buyer gets a lot easier with just one additional expansion slot to, for example, add a SAN interface or more network interfaces beyond the dual Gigabit ports provided as standard. You also get four external USB ports and one inside on the motherboard plus an integrated iDRAC8 remote management controller. Ours was the Express version designed to share the built-in network interfaces, with a dedicated network interface and the full enterprise management package available at extra cost, if required.

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An iDRAC management controller comes as standard with 2 Gigabit ports and a pair of USB ports round the back plus two more USB connectors at the front.
Image: Alan Stevens/TechProResearch

The usual add-ons to boot to a hypervisor are yet another option, completing a comprehensive 1U server package capable of handling a variety of workloads. Dell markets it as suitable both as a platform for general SME applications and also remote office deployment for which it appears eminently suitable. The R330 is, however, still limited by its single processor and although it can be equipped with a lot of storage for its size, customers going down that path may find a step up to 2U gives them more options, as well as a lot more room to play with.

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