Top 10 best servers of 2016 for SMBs

Servers still have a big role to play for small businesses

Sooner or later, a growing business will need a server of some sort to allow staff to share information and collaborate.

There may be fewer name brand manufacturers selling servers these days, but the reality is that there's as much choice as ever, thanks to the ever widening range of server categories.

In this top 10, we've selected the crème de la crème of servers, ranging from those aimed at small businesses to the sort that bigger enterprises depend on.

So here, in no particular order, are the top servers for businesses large and small.

t20 1

1. Dell PowerEdge T20 [barebones]

Shows you how cheap a barebones server can get

CPU: Intel Pentium G3220 | Graphics: Intel HD Graphics | RAM: 4GB | Storage: No drives included | Connectivity: Up to 12 x USB ports (4 x USB 3.0), 2 x DisplayPort, VGA, serial, 2 x PS2, Gigabit Ethernet | Dimensions (W x D x H): 17.5 x 43.5 x 36cm

Very cheap
Compact mini-tower with easy access to internals
G3220 is more a desktop than server CPU
No drives or OS

Servers do not have to be massive or expensive. Take the PowerEdge T20 for example; it has benefited from a wealth of knowledge derived from the 20 years of experience Dell has building servers. While the barebones version doesn't have a hard drive, it's certainly cheap – in the recent past, it has been priced at less than £100 (with cashback offers, that is – it’s always well worth keeping an eye out for these).

It has a Haswell-based Pentium processor that can clock up to 3GHz and supports up to 32GB DDR3 ECC RAM (note that this model comes with 4GB). Expansion capabilities include four SATA ports (32TB if you use 8TB hard drives), four I/O slots and 10 USB ports. Astoundingly for a PC of this price, you also get two DisplayPort connectors, a VGA one, two PS2 and one serial port. Other than a Gigabit Ethernet port, the other points of interest are a 290W PSU and an Intel-based RAID controller.

Read the full review: Dell PowerEdge T20 [barebones]

t20 1

2. Dell PowerEdge T20 [Xeon]

A Xeon dream with plentiful connectivity on offer

CPU: Intel Xeon E3-1225 v3 | Graphics: Intel HD Graphics P4600 | RAM: 32GB | Storage: 1TB HDD | Connectivity: Up to 12 x USB ports (4 x USB 3.0), 2 x DisplayPort, VGA, serial, 2 x PS2, Gigabit Ethernet | Dimensions (W x D x H): 17.5 x 43.5 x 36cm

Fast quad-core Xeon processor
Room for six internal disks
Single Gigabit network port
No hot-swapping of disks

A bewildering array of SKU (stock keeping units) mean that you sometimes have to sift through entire price lists in order to find the needles in the proverbial haystack. Take the T20 from Dell: You can buy it either as a barebones (listed above) or as a fully configured server. Aimed at the entry-level/SoHo market, the T20 manages to squeeze a lot of expansion potential into a compact, quiet mini-tower chassis plus it comes with a wealth of server features by default making it an ideal alternative to an office workstation.

Compared to the barebones version, this particular model features a more powerful Xeon processor (E3-1225 v3) with 32GB ECC RAM and a 1TB hard disk drive spinning at 7200RPM. It doesn't come with an OS but system administrators will appreciate the flexibility in this respect.

Read the full review: Dell PowerEdge T20 [Xeon]

Lenovo TS140

3. Lenovo ThinkServer TS140

A stealthy server offering quite potent performance

CPU: Intel Xeon E3-1226 v3 | Graphics: Intel HD Graphics P4600 | RAM: 4GB | Storage: 2 x 1TB HDD | Connectivity: 9 x USB 2.0, serial, video, 2 x DisplayPort, audio, Gigabit Ethernet | Dimensions (W x D x H): 17.5 x 42.5 x 43cm

Most affordable ThinkServer model
Whisper quiet
No hot-swapping drives
Not much else to complain about

Lenovo took over IBM's x86 server range back in 2014 and has built on the best of the ThinkServer tradition. The TS140 is the most affordable of the range and is a 4U enterprise-class server that competes with the Dell T20. It comes with support for RAID 0,1,10 and 5 (via an on-board controller) with two 1TB 7200RPM hard disk drives. Like the competition, this one can accommodate up to four 3.5-inch HDDs in total, which means that it can go up to 32TB of storage when loaded with 8TB models. The Intel Xeon E3-1226 V3 processor should be powerful enough for small and medium enterprises.

Lenovo also claims that the acoustics of the TS140 are even quieter than a typical library at 26 decibels. As is the case for the competition, you also get an impressive array of ports and connectors: eight USB ports, four PCI/PCI-e slots, three video connectors (including a pair of DisplayPorts), Serial, Gigabit Ethernet and three audio connectors.

Supermicro

4. Supermicro SuperWorkstation 5039A-IL

You're looking at the fine line between workstations and servers

CPU: Intel Xeon E3-1200 v5 | Graphics: Intel HD Graphics P530 | RAM: 64GB | Storage: No drives included | Connectivity: 6 x USB 3.0, 8 x USB 2.0, 2 x USB 3.1, 7.1 audio, HDMI, DVI-D, DisplayPort, 2 x Gigabit Ethernet | Dimensions (W x D x H): 19 x 52.5 x 42.5cm

Loads of upgrade space and potential
Support for up to eight hard drives
A hefty beast of a machine
Strictly speaking it's a workstation PC

There is sometimes a very fine line between workstations and servers and there is probably no better example than the 5039A-IL from Supermicro. It is part of its SuperWorkstation range but works just as well as a server with acres of upgrade space. Given that it is a barebones solution, the 5039A-IL is especially suitable for small businesses with niche needs like creative houses that might want a server that's a bit more than just a print or file server.

This single socket, mid-tower behemoth (it weighs in at 18.1kg without any parts) offers some impressive tech on board: You can specify Skylake processors (Xeon or Core i3/5/7), up to 64GB of DDR4 ECC memory, plus there's USB 3.1, HDMI, and twin Gigabit ports on the connectivity front, and 7.1 audio to boot. Its expansion capabilities are also breath-taking: DVI/DisplayPort/VGA, serial, eight SATA ports, six PCI/PCI-e slots and support for up to eight (yes, eight) hard disk drives, all powered by a 500W PSU. Supermicro, while not a household name, is one of the biggest server and workstation manufacturers out there with decades of experience.

Primergy

5. Fujitsu Primergy TX1310 M1

Fujitsu's reliability guarantee is second to none

CPU: Intel Xeon E3-1226 v3 | Graphics: Intel HD Graphics P4600 | RAM: 16GB | Storage: 2 x 1TB HDD | Connectivity: 5 x USB 3.0, 2 x Gigabit Ethernet | Dimensions (W x D x H): 17.5 x 42 x 39.5cm

Fantastic guarantee
Has an optical drive
No RAID 5
Fujitsu isn't the first brand you'd think of

When you think about servers, Fujitsu is probably not the first vendor which springs to mind. And yet, the Japanese manufacturer is one of the very few (if not the only one) that can claim to be involved in anything from SMB servers to, well, supercomputers. The TX1310 is its entry-level, SMB-focused server and comes with some pretty solid credentials plus an unmatched, industry-leading reliability guarantee. If your server breaks down within the first year of purchase, not only will Fujitsu fix or replace it, the company will also refund you the amount you paid for the server.

Like pretty much everyone at this end of the market, it is designed to run silently 24/7 and offers RAID 0/1/10 but not 5. This model incudes an Intel Xeon E3-1226 v3, two 1TB hard drives and 16GB of RAM. We like the fact that it comes with an optical drive and has two Gigabit Ethernet ports for redundancy. With four DIMM slots and four storage bays, this server supports up to 32TB of storage and 32GB of memory.

Gen8

6. HP Proliant Microserver Gen8

A compact if slightly noisy server

CPU: Intel Celeron G1610T | Graphics: Matrox G200 | RAM: 4GB | Storage: No drives included | Connectivity: 4 x USB 2.0, 2 x USB 3.0, VGA, 2 x Gigabit Ethernet | Dimensions (W x D x H): 23 x 24.5 x 23cm

Professional build quality with ease of access
Compact size
No hot-swap disks
Could be quieter

One of the fastest growing segments of the server market is dominated by a single company. HP Enterprise's Proliant Microserver Gen8 has successfully managed to fend off competition – thanks to an attractive feature mix and plenty of discounts – and ultimately own this market. These tiny servers have found a market well outside their niche with prosumers buying them en masse and touting their obvious advantages over NAS (network attached storage).

Despite being very small (less than 13l in volume) and light (less than 7kg), this machine packs some impressive capabilities. We're talking support for Intel's Xeon E3 family, up to 16GB of RAM, on system management processor, two Gigabit Ethernet ports, one PCIe slot, support for RAID 0/1/10, a DVD writer, up to four hard disk drives, an internal microSD card slot, an integrated Matrox G200 graphics chip and seven USB ports. It only has a VGA port, though, and has just two memory modules.

Read the full review: HP Proliant Microserver Gen8

TS440

7. Lenovo ThinkServer TS440

A beefy server that can handle up to eight drives

CPU: Xeon E3-1276 v3 | Graphics: Intel HD Graphics P4600 | RAM: 8GB | Storage: No drives included | Connectivity: 6 x USB 3.0, 2 x USB 2.0, serial, video, Gigabit Ethernet | Dimensions (W x D x H): 19.5 x 59.5 x 43cm

Impressive performer
Three-year onsite warranty
Not cheap
A big machine

If you want something a bit beefier than the aforementioned servers, then consider the TS440. It is far more expensive but then again you get a server that's in another league. For a start, it is far bigger than the previously mentioned servers with a 50 litre volume and a 25kg weight. This 5U server runs on Intel's Xeon E3 models with Turbo Boost technology plus it offers a three-year onsite warranty.

It supports up to 32GB of RAM and its integrated RAID controller offers the four main RAID types. You get a DVD writer, four fans, a 450W PSU and one Gigabit Ethernet port. Up to eight hard disk drives can be installed and there are a whopping eight USB ports as well. There's a lockable door, support for ECC memory, plus a serial and a VGA connector. Sadly, no DisplayPort is present here despite what the Lenovo product page says.

Gen9

8. HP Proliant ML350 Gen 9

Extremely well-featured server offering plenty of power

CPU: Intel Xeon E5-2603 v3 | Graphics: Matrox G200 | RAM: 8GB | Storage: No drives included | Connectivity: 4 x Gigabit Ethernet | Dimensions (W x D x H): N/A

Six-core Xeon CPU
Three-year onsite NBD warranty
It'll certainly dent your wallet
Not much else to complain about

Pitching in the same category as the TS440 is the ML350. This is an expensive piece of kit but just look at the feature list and it actually seems like a very decent deal. Other than the fact that it has a dedicated, integrated graphics card (Matrox G200), it offers a three-year onsite next business day warranty, four Gigabit Ethernet ports and support for 12Gbps SAS (note that it takes only 2.5-inch drives).

But there's more – this server runs an Intel Xeon E5-2603 v3 processor (not the usual E3 CPU) and supports two CPUs. The E5 has six cores which makes it particularly well-suited for more taxing tasks. We're also impressed by the amount of memory slots (24) that it has, allowing it to hit 3TB of memory once 128GB LRDIMM roll out. Oh and other than a lockable front door and a storage controller, this server earns brownie points for having dual redundant, hot-swappable 500W PSUs.

Scan

9. Scan 3XS SER-T25

A beast driven by twin Xeon processors

CPU: Dual Intel Xeon E5-2603 v4 | Graphics: Nvidia GT 610 | RAM: 64GB | Storage: 1TB HDD | Connectivity: 2 x Gigabit Ethernet | Dimensions (W x D x H): 23.2 x 56 x 55.9cm

Compact and quiet
Very powerful
Not the cheapest (but well-priced given its power)
Any other complaint would be nit-picking

A powerful server doesn't have to be expensive – that's essentially what Scan wants to convey to prospective customers. Specifically designed for the SMB market, this 3XS offering is engineered to be compact and as quiet as possible. The UK-based vendor provides real-time tracking at every stage of the server build process (the servers are built to order, and production includes a 24 hour burn test and 88 point QC check ). Each comes with a three-year onsite warranty; what's more, you get a free recovery USB stick with diagnostic utilities.

If that wasn't enough, the components used in the system are amongst the best in our round-up. Two Broadwell-based Intel Xeon E5-2603 v4 processors provide a total of 12 cores and 30MB of cache. Then there's 64GB of DDR4 ECC RAM from Samsung, a 1TB WD Enterprise-class hard disk drive, two Intel Gigabit Ethernet ports, a 1000W Gold PSU and support for eight hard disk drives. Built by Corsair, the case has a door and all the panels are lined with noise damping material.

Asus

10. Asus TS500

A mainstream tower server with flexibility in spades

CPU: Intel Xeon E5-2600 v3 | Graphics: N/A | RAM: As ordered | Storage: No Drives Included | Connectivity: 8 x USB ports, VGA, PS2, 3 x Gigabit Ethernet | Dimensions (W x D x H): 22 x 54.5 x 45.5cm

Perfect for server and workstation use
No shortage of power and flexibility
Not everyone will need all those features
Seeing the Asus label may surprise some

Like Supermicro, Asus is not well known for its servers. Instead, the Taiwanese company, one of the biggest component vendors in the world, is popular for a wide range of consumer products including its motherboards. Its TS500-E8-PS4 is a mainstream pedestal 5U tower server perfectly built for both workstation and server dual use.

It features the latest Intel Xeon processor E5-2600 v3 product families, eight DDR4 DIMMs (supporting half a terabyte of RAM), six expansion slots, three 5.25-inch media bays and a single 500W 80 Plus Bronze power supply. There are four 3.5-inch hot-swap SATA/SAS HDD bays which is also upgradable to eight HDD bays for flexible storage requirements.

In addition, with Intel's Intelligent Platform Management Interface (IPMI) 2.0-compliant ASMB8-iKVM module in the TS500 you'll be able to monitor, control and manage the server remotely. Other key specs include 10 SATA ports, a DVD writer, eight USB ports, a PS2 port, a VGA one and three Gigabit Ethernet ports. Note that this is a barebones server, but obviously that gives you plenty of flexibility - something this machine offers in spades.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Editor, TechRadar Pro

Désiré (Twitter) has been musing and writing about technology since 1997. Following an eight-year stint at ITProPortal.com where he discovered the joys of global techfests, Désiré now heads up TechRadar Pro