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March 31, 1997

6 processor ALR server

ALR Revolution 6x6 packs a punch

By Brooks Talley

ALR Revolution 6x6 is a pretty amazing machine. ALR has always had good server design, but in the past it was about even with Compaq's or HP's efforts. 6x6 puts the company ahead by offering more compelling features and upgradability while remaining in the same price range. This is the must-buy server for any IS department that wants a high degree of fault tolerance and scalability without paying top dollar for it. And what IS department wouldn't?

Like its predecessor, the Revolution Quad 6, the most prominent feature here is ALR's cool touch-sensitive LCD, dubbed InforManager. InforManager gives a visual and audible alert for out-of-bounds conditions in the power supplies, fans, and temperatures.

Of course, no one wants to hang out in the server closet watching an LCD, so InforManager's statistics are also available via software, both locally and remotely. InforManager's remote-management piece can handle as many as 1,024 servers -- a limitation ALR would happily address if you'd care to buy more than 1,024 of these things.

Because the guts of 6x6 revolve around two processor cards, each having as many as three processors, I looked at the 6x6 configured with three, four, and six processors. This let me look at a fully configured one-card system, a four-CPU system comparable to competitors' offerings, and a maxed-out system. I found very impressive scalability all the way around, a testament to the clever approach ALR took with the machine.

6x6 is based on the same 450GX chip set (previously known as Orion) as competitors' four-CPU offerings. The reason everyone else is shipping four-CPU systems is the chip set's 2-bit CPU addressing scheme -- allowing for four-CPU IDs. What ALR has done is implement two sets of three CPUs, where the missing fourth CPU in each set is actually a stand-in for the other entire group. The Pentium Pro's round-robin multitasking approach is preserved, and the four-CPU limit is broken.

While this same technology could theoretically scale to nine or even 12 CPUs, ALR believes that the 450GX's architecture would lead to such diminished returns that it wouldn't be worth it.

The machine I tested was configured with a whopping 1GB of RAM and 10 2GB ultra-SCSI drives in a RAID array. More modestly configured units start at $13,675 -- an excellent price for a single-processor server configured with 128MB of RAM and a 9GB SCSI drive, especially considering future upgradability all the way to six processors.

I tested 6x6 using a database benchmark, with 50 clients distributed across three 10Base-T segments. I saw a 31-percent performance improvement when I moved from three CPUs to four. When I moved from four CPUs to six, performance jumped another 34 percent. While that falls short of the ideal scalability, it's still an extra 34 percent at practically no cost.

6x6 may not offer bulletproof fault tolerance, but at least it offers a lot. First, the power supply has two AC plugs, which can be plugged into different circuits. Next, the power supply is actually comprised of four modules -- three are live and one is a hot spare.

Additional fault tolerance is provided by the ActiveCPR feature, which automatically shuts down an out-of-spec CPU, reconfigures the machine to not use that CPU, and then automatically reboots. While CPU failures are fairly rare, the fan or VRM (Voltage Regulator Module) could also contribute to a CPU's demise.

My only complaint with this splendid piece of hardware is that if you buy it with less than its full complement of processors, ALR's add-in processor prices are relatively astronomical -- about twice what you'd pay for the same chip at a local VAR.

On the whole, this is the best server I've ever seen for less than $50,000. If you want a super-high-end, multiprocessing, fault-tolerant, room-sized server, look to Tricord or NetFrame. Otherwise, buy this server -- now.

Brooks Talley is assistant technical manager at the InfoWorld Test Center. You can reach him at Additional testing by technology analyst Yun Wang (

What a monster

  • 6 200-MHz, 512KB cache Pentium Pro processors

  • 1GB of RAM

  • 7 PCI slots, 4 EISA slots 1 PCI/EISA slot

  • 10 2GB hot-swap ultra-SCSI drives

  • 3 Channel RAID controllers

  • 16x CD-ROM drive

  • 4 Cogent 10/100 Ethernet cards

  • 4 350-watt power supplies

    Revolution 6x6 scales the heights

    3 CPUs
    4 CPUs
    6 CPUs

    Time to complete database benchmark using 50 client machines across 3 10Base-T segments


    ALR Revolution 6x6

    This is a first-rate server that offers more scalability and fault tolerance than most competitors.

    Pros: As many as six processors; support for multiple drive bays; fault tolerance; touchscreen information panel.

    Cons: Expensive processor upgrades.

    Advanced Logic Research Inc., Irvine, Calif.; (714) 581-6770; fax: (714) 581-9240;

    Price: (as tested): $39,962

    Copyright © 1997 by InfoWorld Publishing Company

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