HP Proliant MicroServer

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April 13, 2011 by Mike Chin

Proliant MicroServer
Street Price
Starts at $300~350 w/ 1GB RAM, 250GB HDD

The HP Proliant MicroServer caused a ripple of excitement among some SPCR forum members when it first came to light late last year. Ostensibly a part of HP's extensive server line, the MicroServer is aptly named, being truly small, and nothing like the big noisy racks the term server brings to mind. It is much closer in size and price to 4-HDD Network Attached Storage (NAS) boxes or Windows Home Server servers (like the now discontinued HP MediaSmart Servers) but with the promise of considerbly higher performance hardware than the Intel Atom or ARM chips most often used in such boxes.

These snippets from the press release at the launch of the MicroServer make HP's target market crystal clear:

"Designed for companies with less than ten employees, the HP ProLiant MicroServer enables them to share and secure critical business information. Ideal when needing to stay connected, whether in the office or on the road, the server simplifies how users access data differently than on desktop or notebook PCs.

"The HP ProLiant MicroServer's compact, quiet and sleek design is about half the size and 50 percent quieter than most entry-level servers. It also offers lower power consumption for energy-conscious businesses.(1)

"HP has the top position in the x86 server market with 39.2 percent factory revenue share, according to IDC's Worldwide Quarterly Server Tracker.

"Based on current buying trends and the continued advancement of technology, approximately 1.7 million small businesses will purchase their first server in the next five years, according to AMI Partners, a global strategy consulting firm.

" 'Small businesses have traditionally relied on interconnected PCs to share files and resources, which doesn't help them keep pace with a competitive environment,' said Jim Ganthier, vice president, Marketing, Industry Standard Servers, HP. 'Leveraging over 20 years in server leadership and innovation, HP is introducing a no-compromise, compact server designed to fit into office environments with a versatile appearance and quiet operations.' "

It is a server marketed to small and home businesses, but some of its features are obviously attractive to sophisticated home network users as well.

The starting price for a base unit with 1 GB RAM and a single 160 HDD was a modest $300 at launch, making it easily affordable for most home users. Currently, the MSP has risen to US$350 (with a larger 250 GB drive, it seems) presumably due to the weakness of the US dollar. In the UK, £100 rebates from HP are being offered during the first quarter of 2011 (extended to end of April), making the current £209 price a very sweet deal.

The key features that makes this product enticing for energy- and noise-conscious users include:

  • Low starting price
  • Very low power (12W TDP CPU)
  • Potential for low noise (just two fans, a 120mm and a smaller one)
  • PCI-E x 1 slot for TV card
  • PCI-E x16 slot for discrete graphics
  • Full size DDR3 slots (not expensive laptop or server) for cheap upgrade to 2 or 4 GB
  • ECC RAM support (not found in HP Home Servers)
  • 4 HDD easy to use "pluggable" drive bay (not hot swap)
  • Sturdy, tidy build quality — even the motherboard slides out easily on a tray
  • Internal power supply rather than yet another AC/DC adapter to add to the clutter
  • Full size optical drive (for lower cost)
  • Gigabit ethernet

The processor in the MicroServer is an AMD Neo N36L, a low power (12W TDP) variant of the Athlon II designed for embedded computing. That's right, this dual core 1.3 GHz CPU is soldered to the motherboard; the absence of a CPU socket is part of the reason for the low cost.

SPCR received a review sample with 2 GB of non-ECC RAM, preinstalled with Microsoft Windows Server 2008: R2 Foundation preinstalled on one of two 160 GB Seagate 7200 RPM hard drives. A keyboard and mouse were also supplied, but the MicroServer is meant normally to run headless via another PC in the network. This configuration is a significant step up from the base product. The Windows Server 2008: R2 Foundation operating system adds around $200 to the overall cost, and the additional software might cost an additional $100 or so.

A 160 GB drive is highly restrictive by today's standards. Some businesses might be OK with such a small amount of storage per drive in a server, but at a time when 2 TB drives routinely sell for no more than ~$75, 160 or 250 GB drives seem like throwaways. It also seems remiss not to take advantage of the MicroServer support for ECC RAM, which does improve data integrity. Why not offer it without HDDs or RAM and let the users choose for themselves?

Part of the answer could be that the MicroServer is meant to be sold by HP or its resellers configured as a server with an operating system preinstalled. In other words, the base price for the near-barebones system is a gesture for die-hard DIYers only.

HP MicroServer package examined by SPCR's Maxi Miss Kitty. The second box contained HP-branded USB keyboard and mouse.

The main box held the MicroServer, the AC cord and optical discs for HP documentation and drivers, and the Microsoft Windows Server 2008: R2 Foundation OS software.

Review Methodology

We have covered the topic of home servers in the past, but we have never actually covered a server, per se. The MicroServer isn't meant a home server, but HP discontinued its popular WHS-based MediaSmart Server line at the end of 2010, with some web speculation that the main cause was the elimination of Microsoft's user-friendly Drive Extender HDD/storage management in the 2011 edition of WHS. Given that the MediaSmart Servers were probably the most successful WHS-based products around, their departure likely leaves a gap in the marketplace. It's easy to envisage DIY users installing the earlier version of WHS on the MicroServer, even with the prospect of the eventual cessation of Microsoft support for the old software.

In any case, there are enough different server packages to make us complete newbies with them. The various popular distributions of Linux, FreeNas, and Windows offerings can all be run on the HP Proliant MicroServer. Server experts we are not, but we do have a pretty good handle on computer hardware in general, on acoustics and on thermal and power issues, so as you might have expected, this review will focus primarily on hardware. Naturally, some references will be made to our sample and its Windows Server 2008: R2 Foundation system.

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