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Rack Server Battle Royale: HPE vs. Dell. TechMike’s Pros and Cons of Each Brand – One Winner May Surprise You!

 

Dell PowerEdge vs. HPE ProLiant Rack Servers. Is it tomato vs. tomahto, simply a matter of personal preference?  Or are there fundamental considerations with what is best for your use case?  

Dell and HPE are the most prominent players of the 21-billion-dollar server market and by far take up the most significant share of servers that TechMikeNY sells.  As refurbishers, we have spent countless hours building and configuring Dell and HPE servers and have a unique insight on what they bring to the table – especially when they have reached the secondary market.    

Here are our top categories and considerations when lining up HPE vs. Dell.

Servers: take your corners. DING! DING!

 WHO ARE WE DOING BUSINESS WITH ANYWAY?  HP or HPE?  In 2015, Hewlett Packard – HP – was split into two distinct companies: Hewlett Packard (HP) and Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE).  Previous to that split, HP had their consumer products, e.g., laptops, desktops, printers, and their Enterprise product line, e.g., servers, switches, all under the same business entity.  Now, servers and other datacenter type parts fall exclusively under HPE. 
The bottom line: if you hear “HP server,” it undoubtedly refers to HPE.

 

Round 1: Support and Firmware Upgrades

Dell provides free updates for its servers’ firmware.  That is not the case with HPE, where firmware updates require a premium subscription.  While TechMikeNY has an HPE firmware contract, so any server you buy from us will have the latest and greatest firmware for that model, it still ruffles our RAM sticks that HP puts a paywall up for their updates.  (Note that for HPE, the contract and ownership of the server are transferable for the term it is in effect (yearly).  After that initial year, it would be up to the new owner to renew the support agreement.)

ROUND WIN: Dell.  If keeping the latest and greatest firmware updates is critical to your business or HomeLab, Dell gets the leg up on support due to their free program.   

Round 2: Design and Hardware Architecture

Let’s go under the hood and examine some of the highlights, and lowlights, of HPE vs. Dell when it comes to their hardware layout and design. 

Dell 12th Gen RAID clips: In their 12th Gen servers, Dell implemented blue plastic clips that hold the mini-RAID controller in place.  Unfortunately, these blue plastic clips are incredibly delicate and turn brittle and easily break when exposed to heat for an extended time.

 A broken 12th Gen Dell RAID controller clip.  NOTE: the faded blue hue of the plastic.   This is usually a sign that the plastic has become brittle.

We are happy to report that Dell has changed their architecture regarding RAID clips, and now 13th Gen Dell servers come with a connector that screws onto the system board – a much more durable port and connector design.  

HPE vs. Dell backplane cables.  If you plan to do a lot of tinkering and hard drive upgrades with your server, you should be aware that HPE servers have significantly more cabling – especially in the area of backplane SAS cables.  For example, Dell servers have a maximum of two cables, regardless of how many drive bays are populated (in other words, any server utilizing more than four hard drives will require a second backplane cable, but no more).  

HPE, on the other hand, requires a backplane cable for each section of drives installed. 

For a comparison:

  • A Dell 16-drive server would have 2 backplane SAS cables with any of the Dell mini RAID controllers
  • An HPE 16-drive server would have 4 backplane SAS cables. 
  • HP DL380 G9 24 Bay has 6 backplane SAS cables using a P440 controller 

Furthermore, if you utilize a RAID controller in an HPE server, the cables go first to a PCI expander card before a separate cable connects the expander to the RAID controller. 

The backplane of an HPE server, left. Each section of the backplane requires two cables.  Each cable then travels to a PCI expander card, on the right.  A separate cable then connects to the RAID controller.

ROUND WIN: Draw.  The 12th Gen Dell RAID controller clips are a critical design failure by Dell – fortunately, that issue has been corrected in their 13th Gen models.  HPE’s backplane cable situation can be more work to manage than Dell’s 2-cable architecture. 

Round 3: Efficiency

Every two years, we conduct testing of some of our server models, specifically regarding energy consumption, heat generation, and sound or loudness. 

One result that surprised us was how much more energy-efficient the HPE G9 servers were than the corresponding Dell and HPE G8 models.  (In fact, the result was so pronounced, we had our technician re-measure the results several times to make sure it wasn’t a fluke!). 

The tables below show that the power draw for both the DL360 G9 and DL380 G9 was significantly lower at both idle and peak measurements. 

 

You can view our full Server Guides page to get more information. (You’ll notice that due to their better efficiency, HPE G9 servers generated much less heat output as well).

ROUND WIN: HPE.  If energy consumption – and a lighter energy bill – are essential to you, based on our testing, HPE G9 servers may warrant a closer look. 

Final Thoughts

While we can’t determine a clear overall winner in the Battle of the Enterprise Servers, hopefully, a better understanding of the manufacturers’ features can help you make a more informed decision when it comes to HPE vs. Dell.

As always, if you want to share something we may have missed, leave a comment below.  We love hearing from our readers!

 2 comments

  • Thanks for your comment below, pricemc1. We wholeheartedly agree that HPE’s paywall on their firmware updates are poor form and a major ding on their brand. And yeah, for many HomeLab users — even small business users — that subscription cost can be a dealbreaker. We would love to see HPE drop that paywall but we suspect it is such a lucrative revenue stream from their large corporate customers, it will probably never go away.

    TechMike
  • Agree with your conclusions but have to give the overall win clearly to Dell if your buying these servers for a home lab or second hand business use case. The fact that HPE started charging for certain firmwares is really the main reason why Dell is so much better for these use cases. I should never have to pay for firmwares that fix things. Thats like saying I should pay for recalls on a car. You would never pay your car’s manufacturer to fix things that are defective.

    pricemc1

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