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Your Serve

A network server shopping guide.

The mind-numbing array of choices available in the server market is enough to leave anyone with a headache. How does someone who is responsible for information technology at a small-to-midsize company go about picking the right server?

There are thousands of different servers available, with prices starting in the mid-hundreds and topping out in the tens of thousands. There are tower servers, rack servers and blade servers, with single processing to multi-processing capabilities.

To alleviate potential headaches, ComputerUser picked out a cross-section of what’s available on the lower-end of the server market as a way to help you get started. Here’s a list with a description of what makes each server worthwhile or distinctive:

Dell PowerEdge SC420

Starting at $349

This Dell tower server has a single Intel Pentium 4 processor and is designed for the first-time server buyer “who have little or no IT support,” according to Dell. It networks from one to ten users and helps with file, print and e-mail communication. The server comes installed with the Microsoft Windows Server 2003, Microsoft Windows Small Business Server 2003 or Red Hat Enterprise Linux Enterprise Server v3, operating system.

IBM xSeries206

Starting at $445

This IBM tower server also has a single Intel Pentium 4 processor. The starting prices for IBM severs, however, often do not include the hard drive or operating system. This gives the user more control over the configurations. But it is probably for more experienced IT professionals that know the ins and outs of installing hardware and operating systems.

Dell PowerEdge SC1420

Starting at $599

Dell adds to performance, while keeping the price low, with this dual-processor tower server. It includes support for two Intel Xeon processors and up to four hard drives. It is designed for a business that needs a combination of speed and configuration flexibility. The server comes installed with various Microsoft Windows or Linux operating systems.

HP ProLiant ML110 G3

Starting at $788

The HP tower server comes with either the Intel Celeron or Pentium 4 processors. HP says that this server is ideal for file and print applications, Web messaging, general purpose computing, small vertical applications or databases and shared Internet access and LAN infrastructure applications. It also comes with a new look and smaller chassis.

Gateway 9315

Starting at $1,099

This is a high-speed rack server that Gateway says is ideal for “businesses, agencies and schools that demand high-performance in a limited space.” It uses dual Intel Xeon processors. No operating system is included. Therefore, like with the IBM server, it provides more flexibility, but it is probably best for experienced IT professionals.

Dell PowerEdge 1850

Starting at $1,199

This high-speed rack server is a space saver that performs a variety of functions from file

rint sharing to running database applications. It uses up to two Intel Xeon processors. It also allows the user to configure and add on software and peripherals. Factory installed operating systems include Microsoft Windows Server 2003, Enterprise Edition or Red Hat Enterprise Linux Enterprise Server v3, among others choices.

Gateway 9510

Starting at $1,199

The Gateway 9510 is a tower workgroup server. Gateway says it is an “exceptionally flexible workgroup server” that provides “unparalleled performance, expansion, reliability and manageability.” It comes with an Intel Xeon dual processor that is upgrade-able. But, like the other Gateway server, no operating system is included.

IBM xSeries 226

Starting at $1,229

This IBM two-way tower has rack capability with the optional rack-mount kit. It comes with up to two Intel Xeon Processors up to 3.40GHz with 800MHx front-side bus speed. Like with the earlier IMB server, prices may not include the hard drive, operating system or other features. Therefore, it is recommended for those with IT knowledge.

HP ProLiant DL140 G2

Starting at $1,289

This HP rack server is a dual Intel processor capable server. HP says that the server “is ideal for general purpose and high-performance computing.” HP also says that the “affordable prices meet small-and-medium-business budget needs.” The two processors and 16GB of DDR2 memory options allow for fast throughput on most applications.

Dell PowerEdge 1855

Starting at $1,499

This Dell blade server comes with a choice of up to two Intel Xeon processors. Plus, it comes installed with Microsoft Windows Server 2003 or Enterprise Edition or Red Hat Enterprise Linux Enterprise Server v3 operating system, along with a handful of other choices. Up to 60 blade servers can fit into one rack, cutting down on the floor space they require.

IBM xSeries 255

Starting at $3,699

IBM says that this high-capacity, four-way Intel-based server “provides outstanding internal scalability for businesses with multiple locations or data centers.” It is available as a rack or tower and up to four Intel Xeon Processors power it. But as with other higher-priced servers, the price may not include hard drive and operating system, which provides for more flexibility, but may be harder to install and cost more than listed.

Brian R. Hook ( is a freelance business and technology journalist based in St. Louis.

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