Apple’s Nehalem-Based Xserve: Cheap And Feature-Packed


It is feature-rich and easy to use – but does Apple’s Xserve get the full benefit out of its Nehalem processor?

Apple is among the first manufacturers to get Intel’s latest quad-core Xeon “Nehalem” processors into its servers, in a major new upgrade to its Xserve rack-mounted machines. There are many features in the bundled OS X, but this may mean it is not the best system to get full benefit from Nehalem’s strengths.

The bundled Apple OS is best suited to departments where users work on Apple Mac clients – and organisations that want to take full advantage of Intel’s new 5500 family of Xeon processors, particularly the extensive virtualisation features, should consider using hardware platforms that don’t mate the hardware and operating system.

A well-priced package

That said, the Xserve is competitively priced. The system I tested was configured with two 2.26GHz quad-core Intel Xeon processors, 12GB of RAM, two 1TB SATA (Serial ATA) 7,200-rpm drives and dual 750W power supplies. The server, which also came with a rack-mounting kit, is priced at $5,278 (about £3,300) at Apple’s online store.

This compares favorably with a similarly equipped $6,109 (about £3800) Dell PowerEdge R410 that includes more drive space but lacks an SSD (solid-state drive). I priced out the Dell PowerEdge R410 without an operating system because it can run a variety of Windows and Linux OSes and pricing will vary widely.

For organisations that can use the Xserve platform, the unlimited client access version of the OS X Server operating system will likely result in cost savings as IT managers can skip buying CALs (client access licenses) to keep users legal.

Even with the latest computing capabilities provided by the Nehalem processors and its very favourable pricing, the Apple Xserve may represent the best of the previous generation of computing platforms.

Without a type-one hypervisor (virtualisation running on bare metal instead of on top of an operating system) to take advantage of the hardware optimisations provided by the new Intel Xeon processor family, the Xserve starts the race from several paces behind competing hardware. Changes in 2008 that allow OS X Server Version 10.5 to run in a virtual machine in an OS X Server environment help in this regard, but cannot make up the virtualisation deficit entirely.