Lenovo System x3850 X6 review

Lenovo's innovative System x3850 X6 server books a place in your data centre

IT Pro Verdict

The System x3850 X6 is a powerful mission-critical server with a difference, as its unique architecture lets you upgrade rather than replace


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    Clever 'book' design; Xeon E7-4800/8800 v4 CPUs; Big memory capacity and expansion potential; Easily field upgraded


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    The IMM2 won't beat HPE's iLO4 for features

Lenovo's System x3850 X6 lasts longer than other mission-critical servers thanks to its unique modular design. Targeting enterprise-level applications, virtualised environments and more, its innovative compute, storage and I/O 'books' allow it to be easily upgraded to keep up with demand.

Supporting Intel's E7-4800 and E7-8800 v4 Xeons, the x3850 X6 employs up to four compute books each with their own CPU socket and DIMM slots. You can start easy with two and upgrade as the workload increases simply by slotting more books in.

The server can also be performance-upgraded in situ by swapping the compute books out for new ones. Existing systems with older v2 or v3 variants of these CPUs can be boosted to the latest v4 models in minutes.

This design does away with the maintenance blues as the entire chassis stays put in the rack. Everything can be accessed from the front or the rear so there's no need to pull the system out.

Lenovo's compute books hold one E7 Xeon CPU and 24 DIMM slots and can be field upgraded

Lenovo's library

Our review system had four compute books each with a 2.2GHz E7-8860 v4 Xeon and four 32GB TruDDR4 memory modules. Each book offers 24 DIMM slots so memory can be boosted to an impressive 6TB using 64GB LRDIMMs.

Each compute book has dual dedicated fan modules in front and once they are unclipped, a lever can be flipped down and used to remove the book. The CPU nestles at the rear complete with a full height heat-sink and the 24 DIMM slots are evenly distributed on each side of the daughterboard.

The books have inspection panels on each side and pressing their light path button shows which component has failed, making problem diagnostics a cinch. In fact, the server uses light paths throughout so you can see at a glance whether other components such as CPUs, hard disks, fans or PSUs have failed.

Storage surprises

The x3850 X6 may only have a single storage book but it is very versatile. Our system had eight hot-swap SFF drive bays, but you can start with four and add a second cage later. Storage books are available for eight or 16 1.8in SSDs and you can mix them with standard SFF drives.

There's more, as the storage book supports up to four PCIe NVMe SSDs and dropping to two of these leaves enough space for eight 1.8in. SSDs or four SFF drives as well. The storage book is easily removed and we were impressed with its innards - it offers two PCI-e slots supporting a choice selection of RAID controllers.

Our system had a Lenovo ServeRAID M5210 SAS3 card which had the RAID5 upgrade along with 2GB of battery protected cache. Adding a second RAID controller allows you to split the storage bay between both cards and there's a spare clip in the base for another cache protection module.

You can manage and monitor your entire Lenovo infrastructure with xClarity Administrator

I/O galore

Expansion is massive as the chassis supports up to three I/O books and a wide variety of slot configurations. Base systems start with a primary I/O book, which provides three PCI-e slots plus Lenovo's mezzanine LOM (LAN on motherboard) slot.

This book has two hot-plug cooling fan modules that look after the storage book in front. Beneath these are USB, serial and VGA ports plus a Gigabit port for the on-board IMM2 module.

The other two bays accommodate optional I/O books, each with three PCI-e slots. Go for the full-length I/O books if you want GPU or accelerator cards, as these provide auxiliary power sockets that allow them to support 300W double-wide adapter cards.

Power is plentiful as below the I/O books are four PSU bays. The price for our system includes a quartet of 900W hot-plug PSUs and Lenovo also offers 750W or 1400W modules, with the latter required for SAP HANA configurations.

xClarity Administrator can be used to simultaneously deploy an OS to multiple servers

IMM2 and xClarity

The IMM2 module provides remote management and is the only area we can criticise the server on. The web interface offers basic levels of information about server operations, but stacking it up against HPE's slick iLO4 shows how unsophisticated it is.

We recommend Lenovo's xClarity Administrator as this links up with the IMM2 and delivers a wealth of agentless monitoring and management features for all Lenovo business systems. We tested the Hyper-V version and used it to inventory the server, view critical components, monitor power consumption and fire up remote control sessions.

It also provides an image library for centralised OS deployment while patterns can be used to set up or repurpose multiple servers. We also tested the iOS app on our iPad and were able to remotely monitor the server's vitals.

The IMM2 management module provides a comparatively basic web interface


Mission-critical servers represent a significant spend and the unique design of the System x3850 X6 means it can stay the course and protect your investment. The compute, storage and I/O books allow you to upgrade performance and capacity on-demand, making it much more affordable in the long term.

Build quality is superb here, with the system offering a huge expansion potential plus extensive storage options. If you're using E7-8800 CPUs and want to migrate to eight-way processing, Lenovo's RPQ (request price quotation) process offers an on-site upgrade to a System x3950 X6 8U chassis, where all your books will be transferred across by a field engineer.

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The System x3850 X6 is a powerful mission-critical server with a difference, as its unique architecture lets you upgrade rather than replace

Chassis: 4U rack

CPU: 4 x 2.2GHz E7-8860 v4 Xeons

Memory: 512GB 1,866MHz TruDDR4 (max 6TB with 64GB LRDIMMs)

Drive bays: 8 x SAS/SATA SFF

Storage: 2 x 400GB Intel S3710 SATA SSD, 6 x 1.2TB 10K SAS3 SFF

RAID: Lenovo ServeRAID M5210 12Gbps SAS3/2GB cache/BBU

Array support: RAID0, 1, 10, 5, 6

Network: 4 x Gigabit LOM

Expansion: 5 x PCI-e Gen3, 1 x Mezzanine LOM (11 PCI-e with 3 I/O books)

Power: 4 x 900W Platinum hot-plug PSUs

Management: IMM2 Advanced

Warranty: 3 years on-site NBD

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.