Hands On: HP ProLiant MicroServer

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:

[table id=54 /]

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.

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39 comments

  1. I notice what appears to be two monitor connections on the back, which can't be right surely? Are there free PCI slots inside the machine? I wondering about the possibility of adding more SATA ports, maybe with a port multiplier.

    1. Is it possible that the add-on card is a remote access card? My Dell servers have them and it is wonderful when I'm half way across the country and the systems need TLC. The give-a-way is the fact that there is a monitor and a network jack on it.

  2. Doesn't WHS 2011 require a 1.4ghz processor minimum? Regardless of actual performance, won't you have to hack the installer just to get it installed?

  3. WHS 2001 System requirements:
    1.4 GHz (64-bit processor) or faster for single core
    1.3 GHz or faster for multi-core
    According to this latest info contained in the RC documenation there is no need to hack the installer.

  4. Terry forgot to mention that the 250GB HD version of this is now coming with a cut down150W power supply whereas the 160GB HD version has a 200W PSU fitted.

  5. For those in the U.S. you can get a Dell T110 (Xenon processor, 2 GB RAM) server for ~$350 delivered to your doorstep. That is over half off the "retail" price of $694 (before S&H and sales tax). I believe, but cannot confirm unequivocally, the S100 software RAID, which supports 0, 1, 5 & 10, comes with the base system. It also has some Dell server capabilities that are way beyond what you would expect at this "sale" price point.

    This system's performance would be comparable or better than any of the systems mentioned in this article with the exception of graphics performance.

      1. @Kiwi, you are missing the point here: The HP N36L takes about 60Watts fully equipped with 4HD’s and idles at about 40W. That Dell with its Xenon probably takes 5x that just doing nothing.

          1. Wich option CPU, how much RAM and how many HD's in the system with what OS does this measure 48W idleing?

          2. Yeah, nice little system with good bang for the buck. Personally I like Dells support system better than HP, but your mileage may vary.

  6. @DanB: Just as @GMCinema said, I've installed WHS2011/SBS2011E with no unattended installation file, and nothing was raised by the installer.
    @Netizen: That's the remote access card, which gives you full remote console and power control, amongst other things, via a web interface. Hence the second NIC. It's useful for connecting in and seeing if the server's stuck at a BIOS screen, or power cycling if it's hung. I'm not sure about adding a port multiplier, but I have added a P410 RAID controller to give me hardware accelerated RAID5 across 4x2TB drives.

    1. Cheers, nchell. I have seen the RA card for sale separately, so I expect it isn't included with the base configuration available from most retailers around the £250 mark. That's good news as it opens up a slot for expansion. I'd probably chance it with a £25 non-raid sata card though, cos I'm low on funds.

    2. nchell, How did you get on with the P410 card and your 4x2TB drives. Im running into an issue that in which following the install of WHS2011, I have 3.x TB of disc that I cannot use. How did you get around this? Thanks Pemberto

      1. Oke,

        The reason why i asked this question is because of the the acer home server that im using at the moment, its to slow if you want to unzip files or download with a newsreader with an 100mbit connection, I also would like to connect a external monitor to the server and i see that this server has an vga adapter.

  7. Hi
    Do you know is it possible to instal windows xp or vista?
    Can you tell me from where i can buy a sound card for this machine?

  8. Mine has been running WHS flawlessly now for two months. I added a pair of WD 1.5TB EADS drives (I’m cautious of advanced format drives and couldn’t get 2TB EADS).

    It happily runs Squeezebox Server serving two Squeezeboxes, and also streams video and lets us view all our digital pictures on an Xbox 360. Most importantly it backs up my netbook and PC. I don’t allow remote access so I haven’t bothered with AV.

    I was a bit cautious, being a total newbie to WHS, but it’s been a smooth ride. I followed a very helpful thread on the forums, and all went well.

  9. I have an EX475, from the searching I've done I think this will use less power than the ex475, but does anyone know how it's sound levels compare?

  10. Hello all,

    I did combine the n36l microserver with a HP Smart Array p410 raid controller with 512MB cache (with battery)(controller price in the Netherlands is in or about 270 Euro (now already down to 250 euro)).
    The setup is combined with 2 x 4Gb Kingston memory and 2 x 300GB WD Velociraptors.
    I made 2 blog entries on installation and VMware ESXi installation.
    They can be found here:
    http://deludi.nl/blog/vbscript/various/various-ho
    http://deludi.nl/blog/vbscript/various/various-ho

    I will write more entries on actually running the VM’s.

    Best regards,

    dirk adamsky

  11. Hi Dirk Excellent Job of adding the Hp Smart Array P410 Raid card. Do you know if it's possible to upgrade the cpu?

    1. I got XP running on it as Windows 7 and my external sound card don’t play nice. But it was a bloody mission. You basically need to find the drivers for each device by chipset, etc, HP does not provide drivers for it. You also need to turn off ADHCP for the drives, etc. Not recommended, as it also doesn’t hibernate properly (it does not support sleep modes) — under XP, un-hibernating takes as long as booting. Seriously. Eventually just put Win 7 on. Shrug.

  12. Hi same on any other possible upgrade of this server? My main objective will be WHS v1 or 2011 maybe, thank you Michel

  13. So, as far as WHS 2011 data protection, does it have its own method of backing up data to other drives in case of a hard drive failure, or do I need to buy a RAID card if Im planning on getting, say 4 2TB drives for this server? thanks for the review

  14. I have one of these, and it runs great with ubuntu 12.04 on it. Why anyone would want to pay for and waste processor on Windows Home Server 2011 is beyond me.

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