Budget-oriented server and workstation buyers have long debated over whether the price tags on enterprise-class hardware components were worthwhile. In many cases, mainstream to high-end consumer equivalents could be found offering similar performance and specifications for far less money. And to be sure, in some instances, such as the $499 "servers" systems sold by big name OEMs, there is often little more to the server name than some extra validation and perhaps more generous support. However, enterprise-class components usually are often built differently from the ground up. Consider the two motherboards shown here, a recent model ECS board marketed toward gamers and an Intel S5500BC. To anyone who knows motherboards, the two look like night and day. The server board, despite needing to run two processors under heavy load around the clock, lacks all of the consumer board’s gold-toned heatsink foofaraw. The Intel component doesn’t aim to impress visually, but it will earn its keep once one appreciates its build quality and subtle features totally lacking in its consumer counterparts.
In this first look at what delineates enterprise components, we're going to spotlight motherboards, cases, and storage. Especially if you’re shopping for a small enterprise or branch office, take the following points as examples of the kind of features you should be looking for and asking about. Betting your operations on inadequate hardware is a recipe for poor performance if not outright disaster.