Another Microserver

13Aug11

After switching to using my tablet PC as my main machine I was missing the local storage and optical drive from my desktop. The solution was to get another HP Microserver to be a sort of sidecar when I want the extra drives. As the HP cashback deal is still on this is a surprisingly cost effective approach, with the Microserver and a Sony[1] DVD-RW coming in at less than £140. As I had a 1GB stick of RAM left over from upgrading my other Microserver, and a bunch of largish hard drives from my old desktop getting it properly up to spec was achievable with no further expense.

ESXi – not this time

I had planned on putting ESXi onto this box just so that I could try it out, but I was thwarted. 2GB of RAM is supposedly the minimum, so maybe I was pushing my luck, but with the integrated video card taking 32MB it seems I was just short[2]. I abandoned VMWare in favour of a bare metal install of Windows 2008R2 (again), though this time without Hyper-V.

Video transcoding

Although the processor on the Microserver is pretty weedy I thought I’d give it a try at video transcoding with DivX Plus Converter. It worked out better than I expected, with files converting in about 1.25x real time (= 0.625 real time for 2 passes), though it was a bit of a journey getting there. At first DivX+ was saying that it couldn’t read the input files, which looked like a CODEC issue. Since I had already installed the right CODEC I suspected some of the underlying plumbing might be missing as a result of Windows Media Player not being there in Server 2008R2. Installing the Windows Server Desktop Feature fixed this.

iSCSI

The original tweet that had brought my attention to the Microserver had been about iSCSI performance, so I thought I’d give this a go. At first I couldn’t find how to set it up as a target, but eventually I found this guide, which set me on the right track. There doesn’t seem to be any way to use raw disks as targets, but using VHDs allows for some nice extra features, and doesn’t seem to harm the performance, which appears to be a clear step up from using CIFS. Once the target was set up connecting to it from the Windows 7 iSCSI initiator on my tablet was pretty easy.

Using the eSATA connector for a 6th internal drive

I had read elsewhere about people using the eSATA connector for another (2.5″) internal drive. If I’d been paying more attention I’d have noticed the warnings not to buy cheap eSATA-SATA cables from eBay, but instead to get decent quality ones. As the optical drive I got is fairly short there’s plenty of room in the case for a laptop drive. Luckily I had some spare SATA power connectors from the old desktop:

For the time being I just have an old laptop drive in there, but I may transplant an SSD at some stage.

Hibernation

As the whole point of this box is to just provide extra storage for the tablet PC I don’t want it to be always on. It turns out to be fairly easy to enable hibernation – just run an cmd window as admin and invoke ‘powercfg.exe /hibernate on’. I then set the power button to hibernate. It’s also possible for me to put the machine into hibernation from terminal server client by clicking on the task bar and hitting Alt-F4 and selecting hibernate (as hibernate isn’t available in its usual place on the Start menu).

Overall

I was super happy with my first Microserver, and this one’s just as good. I have it doing a slightly different job, but it’s working perfectly. A docked laptop plus a Microserver seems to be a great alternative to a desktop.

[1] The drive is pretty much unbranded, but shows up as an ‘Optiarc AD-5260S’ in device manager. I may regret not splashing the extra £5 for a Samsung SH-222AB – time will tell.
[2] When trying to install ESXi I managed to get an error message along the lines of ‘you only have 1.97GiB. Minimum of 1.97GiB required’ – not very helpful. I ended up playing with VMWare on my old Dell instead.



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