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Dell's $274 server

Over the past week, I have built a new file server for a local company based
on the Dell PowerEdge 400SC box.  This is the one currently offered at $274
(after $100 rebate, with free shipping) at  I had my doubts about
basing a mission-critical business on a sub-$300 box, but the system's now up
and running.

Here's what I got from Dell:

- Chassis w/250W power supply (a mid-tower with room for 4 3.5" drives and 2
5.25" drives, rail-mounted rather than screw-mounted i.e. a real server
- 2GHz Celeron
- 40Gb drive
- *No* O/S (i.e. no royalty to Microsoft)

Here's what I added to it for about $500 (from Microcenter or equivalent):

- Second 40Gb drive and two 160Gb drives
- 1Gb RAM

It came with a CDROM but I disconnected that after running the installation,
to make room for a RAID1 array of 40G+160G on the system's IDE bus.  (Purists
can take advantage of a 4-channel RAID controller deal that Dell's offering,
but I didn't see the need for it in this case.)

I downloaded Redhat 9 as 3 ISO images, made CDs and had the system up and
running in 2 hours from the time I unpacked it.

At installation, I found it easy to configure LVM-over-RAID (as compared to
SuSE 8.2, which didn't seem to be quite so simple at the time--but that was
before I had the experience with RAID that I now do).  One note about Redhat,
though:  its installation script only supports ext3 filesystems, and you can't
interrupt it to create them by hand.  I wanted reiserfs, so I wound up using
that only for the user partitions but not for the root filesystem.

I'm used to getting truly cheap junk in the sub-$400 category; opening up a
typical Powerspec or Compaq econobox reveals a lot of corners cut in terms of
power, cooling, upgradeability.  But this one has four DIMM slots, a well-made
easy-open hinged chassis, a medium-grade power supply (not the 350W I'd prefer
but better than the 180W in my most recent Powerspec), and 1-year onsite
warranty service.

For the price of a new motherboard/processor and hard drive, you get a
chassis/keyboard/mouse/CDROM for free.  If you're looking to upgrade your
tired-but-trusty 600MHz Pentium III, or buy someone a quality Xmas gift on the
cheap, maybe now's the time to surf over to Dell.  (No I don't hold any stock
there, just know a good deal when I see one...;-)  Just don't get sucked in by
the convenience of their configurator aka profit generator--buy the upgrades
like memory and disk storage from your friendly local store.


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