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9/29/2005
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Review: IBM's PC Servers Hit The Sweet Spot For SMBs

The xSeries lineup combines aggressive pricing, advanced features, and a top-shelf hardware brand. It all adds up to a great deal for small businesses in the market for an entry-level server.

IBM rolled out its new line of small business servers this week. The lineup includes three models; the xSeries 100, xSeries 206m, and the xSeries 306m. But the big news for small businesses is the X100 model with a starting price of $599 and a set of features just right for environments of less than 50 users.

Buying a computer for under $600 is no great news, but there are several features that set this unit apart. The xSeries is built on a subset of IBM's xServer architecture and is targeted at being its first server specifically created for small businesses. Clearly IBM would like small businesses to have a positive experience with their servers so that as their requirements expand IBM becomes their first choice.


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In its base configuration, the xSeries 100 ships with a single 80GB SATA drive, 256MB of memory and a CD drive. The system is operating system agnostic but our test system came with Windows Server 2003 loaded. We were able to bring the system up within 5 minutes of taking it out of the box. And though we didn't run any comparative performance tests, response was speedy and consistent with our expectations of the high speed SATA drives and ECC memory.

The case can accept an additional SATA drive and a maximum of 4GB of ECC RAM. Other high performance features include the two PCI-X card slots and built-in Gigabit Ethernet connection. PCI-X slots can be useful if you want to add more than the maximum two SATA drives and get full performance from them.

The xSeries Servers are available only online and through IBM's business partners, and not through its direct sales channels. I built a sample configuration on IBM's web site that included the base xSeries 100 with a Celeron D processor at 2.53GHz, and added only the preload of Windows Small Business Server. The advantage to the preloaded OS is being able to put the server to immediate use. For many small businesses, especially those who are installing their first server, or for branch offices without local technical staff, the preloaded OS will make setup a snap. This configuration came in at $1,098, which puts it on par with offerings from other vendors that include server software.

I configured a slightly more robust system by adding 512 MB of RAM and an additional 80GB drive which brought the system price to $1,412. The second hard drive is not in a RAID configuration, but there is an option to add the SATA RAID adapter for an additional $379.

According to Dean Parker, product marketing manager for IBM, "The xServer 100 is a unique offering for IBM because we concentrated on making it 'competitive' rather than 'better'. We have focused completely on cost and feature competitiveness and want to convey the feeling that our customers can make a confident choice with IBM."

In an effort to provide a secure startup experience, IBM also includes a 90 day trial of Symantec AntiVirus to protect the server as it is put online. This is a new approach for IBM's server products.

The combination of aggressive pricing, solid advanced features, and quality brand recognition put IBM's xServer 100 in good position to meet the needs of the first-time server buyer. While pricing may not be significantly lower than competing units, the fact that IBM is being price competitive is good news for small business customers looking for big-name hardware.

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