Dell designed its inexpensive PowerEdge SC430 server to help cost-conscious small businesses keep extra close eyes on their bottom line. The PowerEdge SC430 sports an especially low price yet doesn't skimp on components: it offers the usual SOHO server standards, including Pentium 4 processors and SATA or SCSI hard drives, along with new technologies such as the dual-core Intel Pentium D processor. However, the PowerEdge SC430 omits the remote manageability software that ships with more expensive servers, such as the IBM eServer xSeries 226, making the SC430 ill-suited for companies with more than a handful of employees.
Servers are like PCs on steroids, with the former offering more powerful and complex versions of the latter's components, so it makes sense that servers are far more difficult to set up than standard computers. For the undaunted folks who still choose to tackle the process themselves, Dell offers some guidance through its OpenManage Server Assistant program. After booting up the machine and installing the Server Assistant CD, the program presents you with a series of questions pertaining to your office network, chosen operating system, and other important factors that will contribute to the way you use the server. Clicking over to another screen allows you to manipulate more advanced settings, such as the levels of RAID support you'd like to apply. The only thing we'd like Dell to do differently with this overall satisfying program is to offer a more complete user guide for it.
One conspicuous software absence in the PowerEdge SC430 is a remote manageability program. These programs allow you to monitor and update all of the computers on your network from a central location--the server itself. This capability is essential for companies with dozens of computers on their networks; otherwise, their IT managers spend countless hours visiting each system in person to assess its health and to perform updates. Because Dell intended the low-cost PowerEdge SC430 to accommodate only a few computers, remote manageability isn't a critical feature, but anyone responsible for handling several systems will want to consider a server that offers the software.
For a server, the PowerEdge SC430 has a relatively petite, tower-style case that won't consume much room in limited small-office environments. The case includes one of the best modes of tool-less entry we've seen: just pull on the lever located on top of the system, and its right side pops open. A look inside the case discloses the secret behind the server's small size: it carries a limited supply of some expansion slots and bays. The PowerEdge SC430 provides enough space for just four DIMM memory slots and two bays for SATA or SCSI hard drives. In comparison, the IBM eServer xSeries 226 has six DIMM slots and four SATA or six hot-swappable SCSI bays. Despite these limitations, the PowerEdge SC430 offers an average five I/O slots, three of which are based on the new PCI Express standard; the remaining two are older 32-bit PCI slots. It also incorporates a standard 3.5-inch floppy-drive bay and two 5.25-inch bays for optical-storage drives.
The PowerEdge SC430's spec list doesn't contain every high-end part on the server market--such as Intel Xeon processors, 15,000rpm SCSI hard drives, and dedicated RAID controllers--but its conservative component collection is suitable for the machine's small-business target audience. Available components include Intel Celeron, Pentium 4, and new dual-core Pentium D processors rated between 2.53GHz and 3.2GHz; ECC DDR2 memory from 256MB to 4GB; 7,200rpm SATA hard drives measuring 40GB to 250GB; 10,000rpm SCSI hard drives between 73GB to 300GB; CD-ROM, DVD-ROM, and DVD-ROM/CD-RW drives; an Intel E7230 chipset; Gigabit Ethernet; and most of the major server operating systems, such as Microsoft Small Business Server 2003, as well as SuSE and Red Hat Linux. Be sure to consult CNET's server buying guide for extra help with picking the right parts.
Our PowerEdge SC430 evaluation system costs a very reasonable $1,945 (as of August 2005), considering its healthy spec selection: a 3GHz Pentium D processor, 1GB of memory, two 80GB SATA hard drives, a DVD-ROM/CD-RW drive, and Windows Small Business Server 2003. These components are perfectly capable of handling the traffic on a network that contains around a half-dozen employees. If you plan to add a few new workers to your crew down the road, configure your machine with the faster 3.2GHz Pentium D and a SCSI hard drive. And if your business plan includes exponential growth, go with a more full-featured server line altogether.
Dell offers a basic one-year warranty with the PowerEdge SC430 that includes convenient, next-business-day, onsite service. Toll-free telephone support is available Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. in the server's local time zone--which won't help the many hardworking small-business types who put in plenty of weekend time at the office. You can increase both the tech-support hours and the warranty period with one of Dell's extended plans that last up to three years.