Review – HP Microserver
I asked Leslie how it was so cheap. It turns out that the (ex VAT) price was £199 (now officially £209), and that HP was (and still is) doing a £100 cashback deal.
Clearly the Microserver would have made a good basis for a dedicated NAS box, perhaps running something like FreeNAS. For me though it was too late for that. Of course I could put the NAS I’d just bought on eBay, and start from scratch, but I didn’t fancy that idea. I ordered one anyway though, with a view to replacing the Dell Precision 490  in my garage that held backups and runs various VMs. I ordered one from box.co.uk, and spent my cashback (well before ever getting it) on a couple of 4GB DIMMS so that I’d have room for a few VMs.
Once the box arrived I popped in the extra RAM and got things going by installing Windows 2008R2 and Hyper-V (I had considered VSphere and ESXi so that I could get some VMWare experience, but I hadn’t arranged media or licenses – so I went with what I had). Once the machine was running I rotated in a number of drives from other machines. The build quality and attention to detail is fantastic – just what I’d expect from a high end server. There were drive screws and a torx key secured inside the front door, and everything popped into the removable bays without trouble. I later put an ICYDock into the optical bay, but it doesn’t seem to hot plug, and I’ve not spent the time troubleshooting it yet – there are certainly reports online of people getting a 5th drive going.
The machine runs almost whisper quiet (not that it matters much in the garage). Performance wise the little AMD processor seems adequate – I’m not asking it to do video transcoding, and it seems up to the job of running a handful of general purpose (not too busy) VMs, where I would expect RAM to be the bounding factor. My expectation is that I can probably stick about 6-8 VMs on there before things get too busy. IO performance also seems decent, though I’ve not put any fast spindles (or SSDs) in there. It’s standing up well as my AD DC, DNS server, uTorrent seed box, SSH server, web(DAV) server and a few other things on a handful of VMs (Windows and Linux).
Overall I’m delighted with this little machine. The main advantage is its low power consumption. Now that this is my only always on PC the quiescent power consumption for my house has dropped about 6p/hr, so I reckon that the HP and the NAS will have paid for themselves within a year. Lets hope that HP keeps making these, and making them better.
Update 1 –
30 Jun 2011 – it seems that the cashback deal has finally come to an end :( Fingers crossed for an even better MicroServer and a new cashback deal for that. False alarm, the deal is still on until at least the end of July August September October November December 2011 January February December 2012, and the cashback has now gone up to £110. It looks like it won’t be renewed in 2013 though. So the new N54L based Microserver came along, and initially only had £50 cashback, but that’s now gone up to £100 (so they’re coming out at ~£180 inc VAT and shipping), until at least the end of June 2013.
Update 2 – I ended up buying another Microserver, and writing up some more howto stuff.
Update 3 – Microservers based on the slightly faster N40L CPU are now available.
Fingers crossed that there might be a cashback deal for those too. HP are also offering the same cash back on these. Given that the price is much the same, and they have an extra GB of RAM as well as that faster CPU it seems that the deal is better than ever. Get ’em before the HDD shortage caused by the Thai floods pushes the price of everything up.
Update 4 – I got one of the new N40L Microservers. Apart from new labels on the HDD caddies nothing much has changed. I wrote a new post about using it for the Windows 8 Developer Preview, including giving it a decent multi screen graphics capability.
 I had a wobbly moment with this. When I ordered mine it was the 29th Apr, and the deal was scheduled to end on the 30th. When I saw that the invoice date was 3 May (due to the holiday weekend in the UK) I thought I’d have a fight on my hands. Luckily the deal had been extended again to the end of May.
 I’d considered building my own NAS box along the lines of this guide, but had decided that life’s too short.
 The Dell is now doing duty as my main box. It may be a little dated now, but with an OCZ Deneva SSD and 8GB RAM it’s still pretty awesome. I’d love to build an super fast new machine with Sandy Bridge processors, and maybe the Z68 chipset, but its hard to justify the cost. Maybe I’ll drop another Xeon 5140 in there to keep the other one company, as this seems to be a config that lets me hit the CPUs hard.
 Reports that the main SATA bays aren’t hot plug turn out to be false. The three extra drives that I added all went in with the machine powered up (what could possibly go wrong?) and it was then just a case of importing the foreign disks in drive manager.
I can’t vouch for removal, as I’ve not tried that. Despite the ‘Non-Hot Plug HDD’ labels on the new caddies, hot plug works fine (at least in Windows) if you install the latest AMD drivers, which also has the benefit of supporting higher resolution screen modes on the VGA output.
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