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Dell's R810: EX in the flesh
The Dell R810 server we have here for review is a very nice example of this new class of affordable-ish Nehalem-EX-based systems. Dell employs a whole host of Transformers-inspired space-saving tricks in order to fit four CPU sockets, 32 DIMM slots, and a gaggle of expansion slots into a sleek box only two rack units high. I'll confess upfront that I don't have a tremendous amount of experience with servers engineered to the hilt like this one; in my sysadmin days, my preference was for white-box 1U systems, cheap and easily replaceable. The R810 is neither of those things, but it is very slickly produced, with better integration than a diversity-training workshop at Harvard.

Up front, the R810 sports six hot-swappable 2.5" drive bays and a DVD-ROM drive for OS installations. Our review unit came equipped with five Seagate Savvio 15K.2 SATA 6Gbps hard drives, each of them 146GB.

Above the DVD drive is a pair of USB ports, a VGA output for console use, and a small LCD screen that displays hardware-level status and error messages.

Slide back the lid on the R810 to expose its guts, including a large, black, plastic cooling shroud stretching between the front drive bays and the CPU heatsinks. To the left of the 2.5" drive bays is an interesting detail. Let's zoom in.

Yep, that's a pair of SD card slots. One may install a hypervisor and simply boot from an SD card, with no need for additional local storage. Networked storage can do the real heavy lifting from there. That second SD card provides a measure of redundancy, so the loss of a tiny SD card won't bring the whole server to its knees.

The niftiest trick in the R810's quiver is undoubtedly the sliding storage shelf, which moves forward in order to expose the DIMMs beneath. This arrangement makes an in-rack DIMM replacement a relatively simple matter and makes this 2U enclosure feel decidedly less cramped.

And what a lot of DIMMs there are. 32 in all, arranged in eight banks of four. If you look closely, you may count eight black heatsinks distributed around the DIMM slots. Beneath those are the memory buffer chips, eight in all, that provide the glue for the EX's memory subsystem. You're looking at 128GB of DRAM in the pictures above, but that's just the tip of the iceberg. With 16GB DIMMs, the R810 can support up to half a terabyte of RAM in those slots.

Yes, you read that right.