A Xeon-based server with gobs of storage space (240GB in our test system), the MPC NetFrame 600 is aimed not at the novice server buyer but rather at the more experienced customer looking for an expandable machine. MPC gives you the room inside your server that you need for future additions and backs the system with strong service and support. The NetFrame will take up lots of space on floor or shelf, its multiple fans produce a lot of noise, and its file-transfer speeds are among the slowest we've tested. But this is still a serious product aimed at small but growing businesses. Large and somewhat cumbersome, the NetFrame 600 is clearly designed with experienced server buyers in mind: you can't even snap together the front panel until you've taken the unit out of the box and installed any swappable devices into their appropriate locations. There's certainly nothing difficult about the assembly, but it may be off-putting if this is the first server you've set up.
The larger size provides an immediate benefit once you look inside. After removing the side panel (with the easily loosened setscrews), you find an enormous interior, with all components highly accessible despite the inclusion of a fairly large foam muffler placed over one of the system fans. You can lock the door covering the front panel, preventing access to all drives and the power and reset buttons--good for security.
In our tests, the built-in dual Ethernet controllers allowed us to set up the server quickly as an Internet gateway for the entire network by running the DSL modem directly into the 10/100 port, then connecting the server and all the client PCs to an eight-port switch. The result was a domain fully controlled by Windows 2003 Server, including that OS's firewall, with the potential later to place a hardware firewall before the server and screen out intrusions even more thoroughly.
Unfortunately, the MPC is extremely loud--so much so that it might disturb some users, particularly in a small office. Purchasers should plan accordingly. Our NetFrame 600 shipped with a 2.4GHz Xeon processor, which is standard for this model. (It supports up to two processors.) Whether you need a Xeon is up to you, but it would allow for greater future expansion of your network and won't add significantly to the bundled price. It also comes with two Ethernet controllers: Fast Ethernet and Gigabit Ethernet.
An 8MB ATI Rage XL graphics system comes integrated on the motherboard, but you can upgrade your graphics card if you wish by using the 8X AGP slot. In fact, when you open the side panel, you'll see numerous slots waiting for peripherals. In addition to the AGP slot, you get two standard PCI slots, one 64-bit PCI slot, and five PCI-X slots. You needn't worry about expandability.
The system allows up to 730GB of disk storage if you choose the optional Ultra320 SCSI controller, but you'll find 800GB of capacity using the built-in Serial ATA controller with RAID-1 support. Our unit shipped with two 120GB drives in a RAID-1 configuration--plenty of storage and backup potential, especially given the system's overall price.
Finally, our NetFrame included a whopping 460-watt power supply (also standard). While the system we looked at didn't have a hot-swappable power supply, that's an option. With or without, the size of the power supply is clear evidence that MPC intends you to add to this server as your business grows. The MPC was noticeably slow at transferring large files, with our 1.5GB folder taking exactly 8 minutes to transfer from a single client to the server, a few seconds longer to transfer the file simultaneously from three clients, and a few seconds more to transfer it from five clients during a simultaneous Internet download. Downloading from client to server (instead of the other way around) increased this time by the usual 10 percent or so, with multiple simultaneous downloads making little difference.
In all other respects, including first-time and subsequent logons, the MPC did just fine. The first logon for each client was slow, but that's a Windows issue, not a server issue. Subsequent logons took about 10 seconds, which is typical, and connections to the Outlook 2003 Web client took roughly 20 seconds. By all measures, the NetFrame 600 shines in the service and support category. Your purchase gets you three full years of 24/7 parts and technical support and next-business-day onsite service (from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. local time). In addition, the company will help you solve three separate problems with the Network Operating System (NOS) you're running on the system, making this closer to the one-call-solves-all service that first-time users need.
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