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What to look for when buying a server

Explaining the different features on offer

There are a number of key features that a PC server will have. If you don't understand these in detail and are feeling a bit confused try and get some independent assistance to help you make the correct decision.

If you want to run a business system on the server as well, you should seek advice from the system's developer or provider because business systems can have a major impact on performance.

Here are the typical features you will need to understand when purchasing a PC server:


A processor is the “brain” of the PC server. The better the processor then the faster your PC server will work for you.

A budget server will use a single processor without any option to add a second.

A mid-sized server will have two processors with the ability to run on just one if one of the processors fails. The ability to add further processors would be useful but, in practice, companies rarely upgrade processors after a server is installed.

Main memory

Memory is the thinking space for the PC server. The more memory, the more room to think and the faster the server will perform.

A budget server will come with 512Mb of main memory, although 1Gb would give a significant performance boost for most applications.

A mid-sized server will have a minimum of 2Gb of main memory. Look for the ability to expand to at least 8Gb.

When checking expansion capability (the ability to extend the power of the server), ask how much main memory can be added to the supplied configuration. Main memory is fitted into slots. The way it is configured in a supplied configuration might mean the processor can no longer accommodate the theoretical maximum amount of main memory without replacing the memory you get to start with.

Disk drives

These are used to store your files, images and data. The bigger the disk drive, the more you can store on your server. Most small businesses will be fine with between 80Gb and 150Gb.

A budget server will come with a single disk drive of between, say, 80Gb and 300Gb. It will probably support an additional disk drive.

A mid-sized server will come with, say, 4 drives of between 80-700Gb each. You should expect the server to support at least six drives, preferably more. It should also support several options that allow the server to continue without interruption even if one of the disk drives fails.

Removable media

You will need a CD/DVD drive in order to install software on the server. A writeable drive can be used for backup purposes.

If you get the option to add a diskette drive, you should take it – just in case. But you're unlikely to need it.

For a mid-sized server, you should consider adding a tape backup unit and supporting software.


A budget server will fail if there is a failure in the power supply or a power interruption.

A mid-sized server will come with options for providing power in the event of a supply problem. You will need to consider how vulnerable you may be to power problems and configure your server appropriately.

Operating software

This is likely to be a significant part of the overall cost of the server. Make sure it is included in the price you pay or that you budget for it as an extra. If you intend to run business software on the server, check what licensing you need with the developer or supplier. Ask about any other software you need such as email software like Microsoft Exchange or Lotus Notes.

Source: Buying a PC server

The Business IT Guide enables businesses to make the right IT decisions


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