IBM System x3100 M4 review

IBM is a latecomer to the Xeon-E3 server party, but its new System x3100 M4 is aimed at small businesses ready to swap their PC for a real server. Dave Mitchell delves deeper to see if it’s a better bet than entry-level offerings from Dell and HP.

Build quality is up to the usual high standard we expect from IBM and the System x3100 M4's compact chassis is smaller than both the Dell PowerEdge T110 II's and HP ProLiant ML110 G7's. The system can also be mounted in a standard 19" rack if required, and IBM offers an optional kit with the necessary rails and spacers.

The System x3100 M4 has room at the front for two 5.25" devices and there's a four-drive hard disk bay behind the front panel. Power and SATA interfaces are wired directly to the back of the bay for easily replacement of drives, but this "simple-swap" system doesn't offer true hot-swap and the server must be powered down first.

IBM System x3100 M4

The motherboard has an embedded IBM ServeRAID C100 6-port SATA II controller that supports stripes and mirrors, and has an optional upgrade for RAID-5. IBM offers 3TB SATA III drives, but a ServeRAID M1015 or M5014 PCI-e card must be added to support their 6Gbit/s speeds.

Anyone looking for hot-swap storage and a bigger choice of disk interfaces will be better served by the HP ProLiant ML110 G7. The base ML110 supports four cold-swap drives but adding a Smart Array P212 or P410 RAID card also allows HP's optional SFF bay to be installed, and this supports eight hot-swap 6Gbit/s SAS, nearline SAS or SATA hard drives.

The System x3100 M4 comes as standard with dual Gigabit ports and expansion options are the match of HP and Dell. Four PCI-e slots sit below the air shroud, with speeds ranging from 1x to Gen 2 16x, and all support full-height, half-length cards. There's also an internal USB port, but this is specifically for a USB tape drive and can't be used to boot the server into VMware ESXi.

IBM System x3100 M4

IBM's BoMC utility makes very light work of server updates and device driver downloads.

IBM does supply a Bootable Media Creator (BoMC) utility via its ToolsCenter service portal. though. This presents a menu from which updates, drivers and diagnostic tools can be selected, and them transfers them to a bootable CD or USB flash drive.

Dave Mitchell

Dave is an IT consultant and freelance journalist specialising in hands-on reviews of computer networking products covering all market sectors from small businesses to enterprises. Founder of Binary Testing Ltd – the UK’s premier independent network testing laboratory - Dave has over 45 years of experience in the IT industry.

Dave has produced many thousands of in-depth business networking product reviews from his lab which have been reproduced globally. Writing for ITPro and its sister title, PC Pro, he covers all areas of business IT infrastructure, including servers, storage, network security, data protection, cloud, infrastructure and services.