Reviews

Lenovo System x3650 M5 review

Lenovo does its IBM heritage proud with this System x server

Price
£4,716
  • Impressive storage features; Fast processors; Top build quality; xClarity management platform; Good value
  • Basic IMM2 interface

The 2U rack server is the undisputed workhorse for most businesses. Lenovo claims its System x3650 M5 is its most flexible yet with a wide range of new features including improved performance, greater energy efficiency and even more storage options.

SMBs who want a server that can grow with their needs will like the x3650 M5 as it provides a highly flexible upgrade path. It supports the latest E5-2600 v4 Xeon processors plus 1.5TB of TruDDR4 memory while storage can be increased easily.

Lenovo has also improved its infrastructure management tools in the form of the new xClarity software portfolio. In this exclusive review, we put the xClarity Administrator through its paces and see how it measures up.

Storage decisions

Lenovo offers an intense amount of storage options. Base systems start with eight SFF or eight LFF drive bays. The SFF models use a front panel with an 8+8+8 configuration so you can add blocks of eight drives as required. 

RAID choices are equally flexible. All three SFF backplanes can be linked together and managed by the ServeRAID M5210 controller or split up and handled separately by one or two additional cards.

Lenovo offers an intense amount of storage options

The eight-drive LFF models still have room for Lenovo's operator panel above them. Alternatively, you can dispense with this and cram twelve LFF bays into the front.

Along with support for eight NVMe PCIe SSDs and four GPUs, the server has space at the back for even more drives. Depending on your main configuration, you can add two dual-drive SFF cages, one dual-drive LFF cage or a mixture of both.

Tidy design

The server's internal design makes light work of upgrades and routine maintenance. There's tons of room to expand as the motherboard has two embedded PCI-Express slots and also accepts a pair of three-slot riser cards.

The server has plenty of room to expand, plus the ServeRAID card has its own dedicated slot

The ServeRAID M5210 card doesn't waste space either as it's fitted in a ninth horizontal PCI-Express slot behind the CPU and memory sockets. It supports 12Gbps SAS 3 drives and offers upgrade paths including RAID5/50, RAID6/60 and a choice of 1GB, 2GB or 4GB caches with flash backup.

Cooling is handled efficiently by a bank of six hot-swap fans and we found the server to be quiet with the SPLnFFT iOS app measuring only 49dB from one metre away. Lenovo's calibrated vectored cooling splits them into two zones allowing the server to operate in ambient temperatures up to 40 degrees Celsius.

The CPU and memory sockets are covered by a sturdy yet easily removable air shroud. The TruDDR4 memory has built-in signatures that the server will authenticate. Once this is done, Lenovo claims they'll run up to 12 percent faster than Intel's specifications when placed in two RDIMM per channel configurations.

xClarity brings network clarity 

A legacy from this server's IBM days is its embedded IMM 2 remote management controller. While its web console does provide plenty of information about critical components, it can't match Dell's iDRAC8 or HPE's iLO4 for features.

The embedded IMM2 controller only has a basic web interface

The new xClarity Administrator remedies this as it can manage your entire Lenovo infrastructure including System x and ThinkServer systems, switches, storage arrays and rack cabinets. Even better, it doesn't require agents and we had the Hyper-V version loaded and running inside 30 minutes.

A quick network discovery found our server, inventoried it and added it to the server pane in the dashboard. This provides an overview of managed systems neatly grouped into types and accompanied by coloured status icons.

Lenovo's classy xClarity Administrator shows how serious it's taking enterprise server management

We monitored critical hardware components, viewed power consumption for everything including the memory and processors and ran remote control sessions. xClarity also teams up an OS image library and firmware repository with automated provisioning tools.

The image library does away with the need to use Lenovo's ServerGuide DVD to deploy an OS. Enterprises will also approve of the xClarity server patterns as these define complete server configurations and are used to set up or repurpose multiple servers in one go.

From the xClarity console we viewed the server's vitals and fired up remote control sessions

Power and price 

Our review server came with a 750W Platinum PSU and there's room for a second. Lenovo offers a wide choice with 550W, 900W, 1300W and even 1500W versions available. Power efficiency is impressive as we measured the system drawing 80W in idle and peaking at only 167W under extreme load.

The system on review here was generously equipped with a pair of eight-core 2.1GHz E5-2620 v4 Xeons, a plentiful 128GB of TruDDR4 memory, the ServeRAID M5210 controller and two 120GB SATA SSDs. SMBs that want to start smaller will be tempted by the entry-level 8871KAU model, available through Lenovo's TopSeller program, which comes equipped with a 1.7GHz six-core E5-2603 v4 Xeon plus 16GB of TruDDR4 and costs only 1,400.

Server power consumption and thermal values can be viewed remotely from the xClarity console

Conclusions 

The System x3650 M5 shows Lenovo is getting very serious about its servers as it has an impressive specification for the price. It's also one of the most flexible servers we've yet seen and its multitude of storage upgrade paths make it a worthy long-term investment. 

Power efficiency is very high while build quality and design is near faultless. The icing on the cake is Lenovo's slick xClarity Administrator which provides an easy way of managing your entire network.

Verdict

A powerful, highly expandable 2U rack server made even better with Lenovo’s new server management software

Chassis: 2U rack

CPU: 2 x 2.1GHz Intel Xeon E5-2620 v4

Memory: 128GB 2,400MHz TruDDR4 (max 1.5TB with 64GB LRDIMMs)

Drive bays: 8 x SAS/SATA SFF (max 28)

Storage: 2 x 120GB SFF SSDs

RAID: Lenovo ServeRAID M5210 12Gbps SAS3

Array support: RAID0, 1, 10 (5, 6 optional)

Expansion: 9 x PCI-E Gen3 (with two risers)

Network: 4 x embedded Gigabit Ethernet

Power: 750W Platinum hot-plug PSU (max 2)

Management: IMM2 Advanced

Warranty: 3 years on-site NBD

Options: Lenovo xClarity Administrator - £141 ex VAT per managed server/year

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