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IBM xSeries 206m review: IBM xSeries 206m

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MSRP: $629.00

The Good For a low-cost server, the IBM xSeries 206m offers lots of enterprise-level tools and options, a wide range of hardware choices, and plenty of room for expansion.

The Bad The IBM xSeries 206m lacks setup guides for network services such as shared printers or directories.

The Bottom Line The versatile IBM xSeries 206m comes configured as a low-cost all-in-one server with plenty of room for expansion, or as a moderately priced powerhouse for resource-intensive services.

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7.7 Overall

IBM's xSeries 206m is the midrange model of the three new servers that mark Big Blue's foray into the low end of the SMB (small and midsize business) server market. Ideal for smaller and budget-conscious businesses, the xSeries 206m combines enterprise-level functionality with a single-processor x86 platform, but at an entry-level price. Based on the second generation of IBM's Xtended Design Architecture, the xSeries 206m offers a choice of Intel's single- and dual-core processors, up to 8GB of RAM, serial-attached SCSI or SATA drives in hot-swap and redundant configurations (including RAID 0 and RAID 1 mirrors via the included ServeRAID-8e technology), and a range of optional network-monitoring tools. Its expandability and low base price make it a prudent option for small companies that want room to grow, especially for businesses with a little in-house IT know-how to help configure the server for their specific needs. If your business lacks a techie, you may want to consider a less complex server appliance, such as the LaCie Ethernet Disk or the EmergeCore IT-100.

You can order the x206m with no OS or with Microsoft Small Business Server, Microsoft Server 2003, or Red Hat or Novell SuSE Linux. The ease of setup, therefore, will depend on your choice of OS and your experience configuring services and devices. IBM's ServerGuide does a good job helping with pre-OS-installation setup. It detects devices, updates their drivers, and provides utilities for detecting and configuring RAID. The 90-page user manual contains detailed information on running the ServerGuide program and other utilities; it also has step-by-step instructions and diagrams for installing additional hardware. Once you've finished the configuration, you're on your own using the OS or third-party applications to set up any network services, such as shared printers or directories.

Like other servers in its class, the xSeries 206m resembles a beefy desktop tower with a corporate-looking black case (optional mounting kits are available for use with server racks). A locking access door on the left side offers quick, easy access to expansion slots and interior components. The jumbo case allows ample room for expansion, with four SATA or SCSI drive bays (drive options include fixed, simple-swap, and hot-swap configurations; up to 1.2 terabytes of data storage; 7,200rpm SATA hard drives with capacities between 80GB and 250GB; and 10,000rpm or 15,000rpm SCSI hard drives with 36GB to 300GB of storage), four DIMM slots (supporting up to 8GB of 533MHz PC2-4200 ECC DDR2 RAM), and a generous array of six PCI slots (two each of 64-bit PCI-X, 64-bit PCI Express, and 32-bit PCI). There are also two removable media-drive bays (for optical and tape) and a floppy-drive bay. IBM offers the xSeries 206m with a range of fast Intel Pentium processors: Pentium 4 CPUs from 3GHz to 3.4GHz and the newer dual-core Pentium D from 2.8GHz to 3GHz.

In addition to the many core hardware configuration options, the xSeries 206m supplies a number of enterprise-level features that aren't common on entry-level servers. Businesses without 24/7 colocation server facilities will appreciate high-availability technologies such as optional redundant power supplies and IBM's integrated ServeRAID-8e, which enables data redundancy in RAID 0 disk-striping and RAID 1 disk-mirroring configurations. The mini-Baseboard Management Controller (mBMC), which is IPMI (Intelligent Platform Management Interface) 1.5-compliant, monitors the environment inside the case, including temperatures, fan speeds, and power-supply output. It also ties in to the included IBM Director application, which bundles a slew of monitoring tools in a central console, allowing you to manage and monitor multiple servers on your network. Wake-on-LAN support and PXE support enable preboot remote management, such as remote start-up. For those looking for more advanced remote control, the optional IBM Remote Deployment Manager can handle disk formatting, firmware updates, and OS installations.

Our evaluation unit came configured at a street price of $699 and included a 3GHz Intel Pentium 4 531 processor with Hyper-Threading, 256MB of RAM, a CD-ROM drive, and Windows 2003 Server Standard (an 80GB SATA hard drive, not included, costs an additional $165). That is the base configuration for this model (its lower-cost sibling, the x100, starts at $445), which provides adequate horsepower for sharing basic resources, such as file and print services and performing data backups to tape (tape drives are optional). However, the xSeries 206m's configurability and expandability allow you to deploy it with more RAM, a more powerful processor, and a faster disk configuration, making it a good entry-level system for a growing small business.

IBM extends the enterprise-level service to the support contract as well. It covers the xSeries 206m with a standard one-year warranty but provides convenient onsite services that you'd normally find on more expensive server lines. Toll-free technical support is available 24/7 throughout the warranty period. Extended-warranty service is available for up to three years with 24/7 onsite service and a two-hour response time.

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