System i 515 Review

Tower Front ViewTogether with user based pricing (9407-) for i5/OS, IBM released two new hardware models which support this new licensing scheme – those are the 515 for up to 40 users with limited extension capability, and the 525 for bigger deployments.

The 515 is mostly the same hardware as the 520+ (1.9 Ghz Power5+). So there’s not that much to tell about the new hardware – the problems the 520 platform has are still the same.

The internal case design is a reminder of the years before 2000 – installing additional memory is about as complicated as it can get, as it requires removing the power supplies, service processor, tape/cd tray and fan modules. This isn’t what you would expect from an expensive IBM server – because their System x division sure knows how to design the internals of a server (see comparison pictures to the right).

Rack Front ViewA few changes have been introduced, like the addition of a new 4mm low end tape drive. One of the systems we have received has one of these. The 4mm tapes are really small, and they look like they are going to break just by holding them in your fingers. With 36/72 GB capacity, they are just a bit better than the SLR60 drives that were standard in the 520 Express configs before. Some 515 Express configs still feature SLR60 drives, probably to aid migration from older systems.

One thing changed though – the 515 tower model lacks a front door. I’m still not quite sure if I like this change – while many customers broke the front door in it’s first year of operation, it provided good isolation against drive seek noises, which is now missing. You can still use the machine in an office without causing too much disturbance, but it is now definitively louder than a 520.

CPU and RAMOn the other hand, IBM seems to have finally gotten around to pre-load the console configuration correctly, so you don’t have to reconfigure the system console using the control panel when you’re using a Thin Console.

On the disk side, IBM seems to be stuck with U320 – I don’t really understand why, because with 2.5″ SAS disks they would be able to fit 16 drives into the base unit. The good thing is that the 36GB disks are now gone, and the minimal size is 72GB (this also applies to 520 Express configurations). While this won’t matter for most small business customers, it now allows you to store Image Catalogs of the OS and cumulative PTFs on the system without worrying about the disk running full.

X3650 Opened UpIBM touted the now available 3800 CPW would offer much more bang for the back than the previous 600 CPW 520s. This hasn’t worked out that great, because i5/OS is much more constrained with Disk IO than CPU – the administrative HTTP server is still crawling on these systems if you have only 1 GB of RAM and a single pair of disks. IBM should either offer more disk arms in their base systems (for the same price, of course), or fix the IO dependency of i5/OS.

In the end, the 515 isn’t really a new machine, just a new licensing model which lowers the price for the System i a little bit for smaller businesses. While this might entice small businesses already running a System i to upgrade their hardware, I do not believe that IBM will be able to acquire many new customers without improving performance, lowering prices and improving remote maintenance access.

[tags]ibm, system i, 515, hardware, power5[/tags]

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