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Lenovo ThinkSystem SR250 Review

Since launching its extensive ThinkSystem range, Lenovo has become a real force to be reckoned with in the server and network storage markets. The SR250 is the latest to join this burgeoning family and targets SMEs that want a flexible 1U mono-socket rack server that has the power to handle apps such as virtualization, web services, basic cloud and data analytics.

It has a sharp focus on storage-centric apps as it can squeeze in up 10 SFF drive bays across its front panel and allow hard disks to be mixed and matched with high-performance NVMe SSDs. Space poor businesses will also approve of its modest chassis depth of only 500mm which allows it to fit in short-depth floor standing or wall-mounted data cabinets.

Naturally, support for the entire Xeon E-2100 CPU family is on Lenovo’s menu but you can also choose from a wide range of cheaper alternatives including Core i3, Pentium and Celeron models. The SR250 currently supports up to 64GB of TruDDR4 memory and Lenovo has yet to announce when it will make a BIOS upgrade available to increase this to 128GB.

SR250 Has a Great design

The SR250 exhibits the classic build quality we’ve come to expect from Lenovo and presents a very tidy interior with easy access to all components for upgrades and general maintenance. The CPU and four memory sockets sit to one side of the chassis, are covered with a small air shroud and serviced by two cold-swap cooling fans.

Our system came equipped with an entry-level 3.3GHz 4-core Xeon E-2124 teamed up with one 8GB stick of Lenovo’s TruDDR4 memory. Don’t try and use any other type of memory as each TruDDR4 module has a unique signature that the server will verify to ensure your warranty and support contract stays valid.

Two more cooling fans look after the three PCI-E expansion slots and we found overall noise levels to be low. The SPLnFFT app on our iPad recorded 42dB at one metre making the SR250 a good choice for a small office.

The review system came with a single fixed 300W PSU but for a modest fee of $44, you can upgrade this to a 450W hot-plug model with room for a second redundant PSU alongside. The SR250 is also easy on the power as we measured our system drawing 29W with the operating system in idle and peaking at only 76W with the CPU under maximum load from the SiSoft Sandra bench marking app.

Versatile storage features

The XCC provides an at-a-glance status screen for all critical components

Storage options are quite remarkable as the motherboard has four individual SATA ports and a 4-port mini-SAS connector cabled directly to the drive backplane to support a total of eight SATA drives. The embedded C246 chipset and integral Intel RSTe (rapid storage technology enterprise) controller support stripes, mirrors and RAID5 arrays but only simple-swap (cold-swap) drives.

This is easily remedied as the lowest PCI-E expansion slot is specifically for a RAID card with Lenovo offering 8 and 16-port SATA/SAS3 models all supporting hot-swap drives with some including embedded Flash cache memory. Two chassis options are available for SFF drives as you can choose a standard 8-bay backplane or the 10-bay Anybay version and in both cases, there’s enough room at the front for a panel with VGA and USB ports plus a group of status LEDs.

The Anybay backplane allows you to use standard SFF drives in the first eight bays and partner them with two high-performance NVMe SSDs in bays 8 and 9. To achieve this you will need to add in Lenovo’s 1610-4P 4-port NVMe switch adapter card which costs an extra $418.

Virtualization fans can also use the motherboard’s single 2242/2280 M.2 SATA SSD slot to run an embedded hypervisor. We would prefer to see two M.2 slots allowing cards to be mirrored for essential redundancy.

Excellent server management

Lenovo’s XClarity Controller (XCC) provides superb levels of detail about server operations

Lenovo’s XClarity Controller (XCC) is a game changer as it puts the SR250 up there alongside HPE’s iLO5 and Dell’s iDRAC9 for remote management features. The XCC web interface is superbly designed and provides a wealth of information about system health and critical components along with colored graphs showing utilization and system wide power usage.

Value looks even better as the price includes a licensed upgrade from the Standard XCC to the Advanced version which enables the power management graphs, remote control, virtual media services plus OS provisioning. Other valuable features of the XCC include automated firmware update tools and options to set access security.

You can use the XClarity Administrator to keep an eye on the SR250 and any other Lenovo kit on your network

We run Lenovo’s XClarity Administrator 2.3 in our lab as a Hyper-V host and after adding the SR250 to its console, we could remotely monitor it, use email alerting services and employ the image library for firmware updates and OS deployments. There’s more as we used Lenovo’s free XClarity Mobile iOS app on our iPad to remotely access the Administrator host and monitor our server on the move.

You can load up the server’s XClarity Provisioning Manager during boot up and use it to guide you through storage setup and installing an OS. We employed it to configure a mirrored array with the pair of 1TB SATA LFF drives included in the price and install Windows Server 2019 from a remote ISO image presented to the server using the XCC’s virtual media service.

Conclusion

SMEs that want a 1U rack server with a highly flexible range of storage choices will find Lenovo’s ThinkSystem SR250 a worthy candidate. It’s very well-built and its short depth chassis will appeal to space-constrained offices.

Support for Xeon E-2100 CPUs means there’s plenty of power to handle a diverse range of business applications and its flexible design allows you to start small and easily expand to cope with increased workloads. Add in the superb range of remote server management features and extreme value and you have highly recommended choice for SMEs.


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8.9 Total Score
Highly Flexible Storage Choices

SMEs that want a 1U rack server with a highly flexible range of storage choices will find Lenovo’s ThinkSystem SR250 a worthy candidate. It’s very well-built and its short depth chassis will appeal to space-constrained offices.

Performance
9
Features
9
Build quality
8.5
Usability
9
Value
9
PROS
  • Great build quality
  • Short-depth chassis
  • Highly flexible storage features
  • Classy remote management services
  • Top value
CONS
  • Only one M.2 SSD slot
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