If you’re confused by the array of small server solutions produced by HP in the last few years, then you’re forgiven – after all, it seems as if most areas of the corporation have given the category a punt. HP’s MediaSmart Server you’ll be well aware of – that came courtesy of the consumer-focused HP Personal Systems Group (PSG). Meanwhile, the X510 Data Vault, a rebadged small-business variant of the MediaSmart Server, shipped from HP’s StorageWorks team. Then we come to today’s review model, the HP ProLiant MicroServer which comes from a different part of the organisation entirely. Certainly, there seems to have been a lot of excitement across HP around these small servers, but a noticeable lack of  clarity on just who they’re designed for – consumers, prosumers, SOHOs, SMBs?

It would be unkind to say that HP’s strategy should be summarised as “If in doubt, try them all out” but the good news is the confusion has created a number of very competent small server products over the past three years. With the company axing the MediaSmart Server and Data Vault lines in late 2010, we’re left with the HP ProLiant MicroServer to check out today.

Specifications

Launched in September 2010, the MicroServer’s ProLiant branding clearly suggests that this model is intended for the small business market, although that doesn’t exclude prosumers taking advantage of its features (indeed, a long thread over on our forums suggests there’s a lot of interest in using it as a home server). It’s a £300 entry-level server based on AMD’s dual-core Athlon II Neo N36L processor, running at 1.3 GHz. 1GB ECC RAM is included, although you can upgrade the server to 8GB RAM (across 2 DIMM slots) for additional power. Coming in at a low price, there’s not a huge amount of storage shipped with the MicroServer, but you will find options online with a single 160GB or 250GB drive installed in one of the four easily accessible drive bays.  The specification isn’t a powerhouse, but it’s decent enough for a first business server (especially if you just need centralised file sharing and storage plus the odd server application), and more than capable for home server usage.

Full specifications as follows:

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There are a couple of weaknesses to be aware of here. Firstly, RAID support. If you’re going to run Windows Home Server v1 on the HP MicroServer, then you will not be concerned but for those considering Windows Home Server 2011 and Windows Small Business Server Essentials 2011 may well need some degree of redundant data protection. The HP MicroServer does support RAID 0 (Data Striping) and RAID 1 (Mirroring) but we’d never recommend running RAID 0 on a server as it lacks any fault tolerance in the event of disk failure. We would have liked to have seen support for RAID 5 on the Microserver, for use when all of the drive bays are being utilised  – most 4-bay NAS competitors offer support for RAID 5, so it’s omission here is a gap that hopefully can be filled in the next generation of the server. In the meantime, you may wish to fit a separate RAID Controller card into one of the MicroServer’s (half-height/half-length) PCIe ports.

Secondly, the low low price of the HP MicroServer is helped by the provision of just a single year’s warranty – if you want more, you’ll need to opt for one of HP’s Care Packs. Compare that to HP’s three-year warranty on the X510 Data Vault and you may wish to look there instead (if you can find one still on sale).

For absolute happiness, I’d love to have seen 2GB RAM on board, rather than the 1GB slab fitted as standard, especially as the RAM upgrade is a fiddly job. That said, it’s very hard to argue with the specification that HP have delivered for the price, particularly with £100 cashback deals available this month. Bear in mind there’s no Operating System installed as standard (options with Windows Server 2008 Foundation, Windows Server 2008 R2 Standard and Red Hat Linux 5.5 pre-installed are available online), so that helps keep the advertised price keen enough to attract self-installers.

What’s in the Box?

It’s a straightforward package. You’ll get the HP Microserver, power cable, installation sheet and a CD with documentation. That’s your lot. The server itself is small, compact and more industrial looking than HP’s MediaSmart Server and X510 Data Vault, which you’d expect given the workplace targeting, but still looks good. The review model we had shipped from HP isn’t the base specification, as it includes a DVD writer and optional rear PCI card, so bear that in mind of you opt for the standard model.

The front of the server includes the power button, four USB 2.0 ports as well as our optional DVD writer. The drive bays are hidden and secured behind a lockable front panel – a nice feature for the security conscious. The HP logo serves as a Health LED, glowing blue for activity, amber and red depending on the severity of issue. Network and drive access LEDs are tucked next to the power button at the very top of the unit – a nice position if you’re looking down on the mini-tower.