HP Proliant MicroServer Gen8

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SETUP & INITIONAL IMPRESSIONS

Getting the server up and running was reasonably straightforward — pretty much the same process as any PC without an O/S. However, if you don't have a spare monitor, mouse, and keyboard handy, HP allows you to set it up remotely via its ILO (Integrated Lights-Out) management technology. All you need to do is turn on the MicroServer and connect two ethernet cables (one goes into a dedicated ILO port) and use any other system on the same internal network to access it via a remote console; the credentials required are printed on a cardboard tag hanging off the back of the system.

ILO is a popular feature on all of HP's Enterprise grade servers so it's presence on the MicroServer is somewhat surprising. Unfortunately, there's a caveat that makes it too good to be true. Health monitoring, diagnostics, and power cycling over a web-based GUI are all possible but the remote console stops working when the operating system starts loading, so it's only good for initial setup and for making changes in the BIOS. To get unrestricted access to the remote console and other additional functionality, you need to acquire an upgraded ILO license, with the Essentials package being the cheapest at a cost of $150 for three years.

Installation of Windows Server 2012 proceeded without any issues and all the hardware worked out of the box, though it's advisable to update any available drivers from the HP website. The Windows Server 2012 incorporates features of Windows 8 like the tile-based start screen (only less colorful) which makes little sense on a PC without a touch screen and even less so on a server. With an Ivy Bridge CPU, plenty of RAM, and a SandForce-based SSD, the server was fairly snappy and responsive when used directly. The system takes a long time to start up, as the boot process involves a lot of hardware checking that requires more than two minutes before the Windows loading screen appears.

As the Gen8 utilizes a C204 chipset motherboard that lacks support for processor graphics, the Pentium G2020T's Intel HD IGP was set aside in favor of a Matrox G200 graphics chip. You don't need a powerful or even modern GPU for a server but we were surprised to find the picture quality very poor, as if accessing it through a remote desktop that had scaled down the color to maximize performance. We thought it was a driver issue before realizing the GPU is ancient and subject to color depth limitations which we haven't seen in over a decade. At resolutions of 1280x1024 and above, it can only output 16-bit color, and video playback doesn't work except for the most basic of formats. If you want the Gen8 to double as a HTPC, you'll need a discrete low-profile PCI-E graphics card with HDMI audio capability (there's no integrated sound card).

ACOUSTICS

The first MicroServer boasted a modest noise level of 23 dBA@1m when empty and could be made even quieter by replacing the fan. The Gen8 is far louder, measuring 29 dBA@1m, primarily due to the large exhaust fan spinning at a high speed throughout testing. There is no option in the BIOS or software that can slow it down. The fan's unique wiring and the fail-safes built into the Gen8 also make it resistant to speed modification. From what we can tell, the stock fan doesn't have any obvious acoustic flaws, so it would probably sound fairly smooth when slowed down. However, extensive research and hands-on experimentation failed to enable any kind of fan slowdown that did not trigger shutdown of the entire system. (Editor Mike Chin described his frustrations with the Gen8 fan in his notes at the end of this review.)

With four hard drives (which vary from 13 to 17 dBA@1m individually out in the open) installed, the SPL increased by only 1 dB. The drives also introduced some vibration to the enclosure as one would expect but it was a moderate amount. Resonance effects were only noticeable at short distances and keep in mind our combination of test drives vibrate a bit more than say the WD Red and NAS HDD series which are the most popular consumer NAS/server drives.

THERMALS

Thermal testing confirmed the stock fan runs more than fast enough. Three of our four hard drives never broke 30°C during testing. The energy efficient CPU also didn't require much in the way of cooling; on load the system power consumption increased by only ~15W compared to idle. Load heated up the processor to only 45°C and did not affect any of the drive temperatures.

System Measurements
Drive Configuration
SSD only
SSD + four hard drives
System State
Idle
CPU Load
Idle
CPU Load
CPU Temp
30°C
42°C
30°C
45°C
SSD Temp
23°C
24°C
HD Temp #1
N/A
32°C
HD Temp #2
27°C
HD Temp #3
29°C
HD Temp #4
26°C
System Power (AC)
28W
44W
52W
66W
SPL@1m
29 dBA
30 dBA
Ambient temperature: 21°C.

 

VERSUS CUSTOM BUILDS

Comparing our the Gen8's thermal results to several mini-ITX cases we've previously tested with the same hard drive configuration once again depicts the exhaust fan as overaggressive. The other builds were significantly quieter and had hard drive temperatures well under 40°C for the most part. The Gen8 boasts unbeatable temperatures but it comes at a high acoustic price.

System Measurement Comparison (Four Hard Drives, Idle)
Case
Lian Li PC-Q18
Chenbro SR30169
Fractal Node 304
HP ProLiant MicroServer Gen8
CPU
i5-2500K
i5-3470S
i5-2500K
Pent. G2020T
CPU Cooling
Scythe Big Shuriken 2
Noctua NH-L9i
Noctua NH-U12P
Stock (fanless)
Power Supply
CM Silent Pro M700W
AcBel CE2 300
CM Silent Pro M700W
Delta DPS-150AB-5 A
System Fan Speed(s)
5V
500 RPM
Low
Auto
CPU Temp
24°C
39°C
31°C
30°C
HD #1 Temp
35°C
42°C
36°C
32°C
HD #2 Temp
35°C
35°C
31°C
27°C
HD #3 Temp
30°C
37°C
34°C
29°C
HD #4 Temp
36°C
33°C
31°C
26°C
System Power (AC)
54W
60W
53W
52W
SPL@1m
21~22 dBA
23 dBA
23~24 dBA
30 dBA
Ambient temperature: 21°C.

While the Gen8 is tailor-made for server duty and is equipped with a 35W chip, its idle consumption was barely less than the Lian Li PC-Q18 and Fractal Node 304 builds which were both equipped with a heavy duty ATX power supply. The Cooler Master M700W isn't anywhere near peak efficiency at this power level so the MicroServer should have an advantage. Of course, it's hard to tell what effect all of the Gen8's additional server features has on the overall power draw.

Energy Efficiency (Single 2.5 inch SSD/HDD)


*originally tested with 2 x 3.5 inch drives; results adjusted to reflect power difference

The horsepower of a Ivy Bridge based desktop CPU increases energy consumption considerably compared to the original MicroServer. The original was equipped with a much less capable AMD Athlon II Neo chip but it used 9W less when idling and 13W less on full load. We included a couple of NUC configurations for comparison to give you an idea of how much more energy efficiency could have been eked if HP had opted to use the latest mobile hardware. These tiny boxes are more frugal with power yet still much faster than the first MicroServer. Using an external power brick might have also helped bring the power draw down. A 95W adapter would be enough to drive any of HP's Gen8 configurations along with four hard drives.



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