News, Reviews

Hands On: HP ProLiant MicroServer N40L

Introduction

Windows Home Server 2011 may be fading away in favor of Windows Server 2012 Essentials (and Windows 8), but that does not mean that the hardware associated with home and small business servers is disappearing.

Case in point, the HP ProLiant MicroServer N40L.  At a base price of only $349, the MicroServer sports some pretty great features.  How that translates to performance is what we are here for today.

Windows Home Server may be going away, but I think the MicroServer is here to stay.

What’s In The Box?

The HP ProLiant MicroServer N40L comes in a no-frills shipping box.  This is definitely not meant to be displayed in your local Brick-‘n-Mortar.

That certainly does not mean that it arrives at your door step unprotected for the journey.  Once opened, we are greeted with the stripped-down support items such as the power cord and documentation.

 

Digging slightly deeper, we find the well protected server itself; still in the box

and after, the final setup and placement for an Operating System install.

How does this unit compare in size to a MediaSmart Server?

As you can see, a bit bigger (or more), but there is a bit more you can do with a MicroServer too.

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Hello. I’m from the heartland of the U.S. Lots of corn and beans, although Iowa is a lot more than just farmland. It also has a few computer enthusiasts (no, not me!). I’ve been around PCs since I got my 1st PC XT aloooong time ago. WGS is one of the first sites I found centered around WHS. And the best. Every once in awhile, I do get away from the KB and enjoy time with and my wife and our 4 kids. And I do have a day job.
  • Very nice review, and especially so because you took the time to compare it to both the N36L and a DIY machine.

    Now, to clarify those atrocious model names, let me clear them up for you, I think I got it. HP’s naming scheme results in absurdly long names, but you get all the info you need right from them. I’ll take on the “Deluxe” version, which is harder (and has more stuff).

    – “HP ProLiant N40L 1P 4GB-U Emb SATA NHP 2x500GB LFF SBS Ess 150W PS MicroServer”. Quite a mouthful, but easy enough to decode:

    – “HP Proliant N40L Microserver” is the base name. Easy enough, right?
    – “1P” stands for the number of CPUs available (in this case, only 1);
    – “4GB-U” tells you how much standard RAM you get, the “U” standing for “U-DIMM”, or ECC memory;
    – “Emb” is the only thing I can’t seem to place. It either links to the amount of RAM (stating 4GB is “embedded”, or standard), or to the SATA ports (“Embedded SATA”), though the first one makes more sense to me…
    – “SATA NHP” simply tells you the SATA connectors are “Non-Hot Plug(abble)”;
    – “2x500GB LFF” stands for the number, capacity and size of supplied HDDs (in this case, two 500GB low-form-factor drives, probably with only 1 platter to reduce sound output and make them slimmer, which helps with cooling);
    – “SBS Ess” means the unit comes preinstalled with a copy of Windows Small Business Server Essentials (which explains quite a bit of the price…);
    – “150W PS” is the PSU power rating.

    There 🙂 Though, to be honest, the geek in me would prefer the “HP ProLiant N40L 1P 4GB-E Emb SATA NHP 150W PS Microserver” version, which means you get a 4GB BYOD server (same price as the 2GB, 250GB HDD version) to play with.

    Now, one question that remains, at least to me: what kind of HDDs was the DIY server running? Because the 250GB HDD of the N40L is a 7200rpm variety, and it’s bound to behave better than “green” drives in multi-user scenarios… Could you clear that one up?

    In any case, thumbs up for the review.

    • Jim Clark

      2 of the drives are WD EARS Green; 2 are Seagate ST31000 7200 RPM drives. You are right tho as the drives can effect performance as much as anything else.

      • Maybe the test data was being moved to/from the slower WD drives on the DIY machine, then? I find it hard to believe a 1.5GHz Turion CPU (and respective Southbridge component) is able to handle simultaneous data transfer that much better than the DIY Athlon, even with server-grade HDDs… Or did I see something wrong?

        Also, I’ve since managed to understand the “Emb” reference on the name: it refers to the 5-port SATA controller. Apparently, HP sees it as an “Embedded SATA controller with embedded RAID”. Seriously, even Foxconn and Gigabyte designations are easier to handle… lol

  • rtrt

    I have one of these as well as its older brother the ’36’. I can confirm that both of them have a fully functioning VGA port without the add in card. Tested under win 8 and hackintosh.

    • Geeba

      How did you hackingtosh it? I tried and couldnt get it to work? I was thinking it was because it was a non intel CPU ?

    • Jim Clark

      Interesting. I never tried it without the add-in card, but the MB VGA port certainly does *not* work *with* the card installed.

      • Arie

        Correct. If you add the Remote Access Card, then the normal VGA port no longer works and you will need to use the VGA port on the Remote Access Card instead. Without having the Remote Access Card installed, the normal VGA port works.

        As for the eSATA port not being multiplier aware, updating the BIOS to an unlocked, unofficial version solves this. It also allows you to raise the speed of the fifth SATA port for example.

        A few things which I missed in your review are the internal USB port which can be used to host the operating system, the fact that the HP ProLiant MicroServer does not support hardware RAID, but only fake RAID via software, that the build in network card does not support jumbo frames and last but not least that the HP ProLiant MicroServer supports both ECC and non-ECC DDR3 SDRAM, with a maximum of 16GB, unlike the maximum of 8GB DDR3 ECC SDRAM mentioned in the specifications.

        If someone wishes to add hardware RAID support, then you can add a HP Smart Array P410/512 BBWC 2-ports Int PCIe x8 SAS Controller for example, which fits right in and does not require any extra cabling or converters. The battery kit provides extra protection against data loss.

        For jumbo frames support, you can add a HP NC360T PCI Express Dual Port Gigabit Server Adapter for example, which will give your HP ProLiant MicroServer two additional network ports to work with. A small side note: You may need to modify the PCI Express connector on this network card, depending on the available PCI Express connectors in your HP ProLiant MicroServer. This is simply a matter of using a small saw to cut off a piece of the network card and it took me only five minutes.

        I have added the above, plus 16GB of DDR3 ECC RAM to my HP ProLiant MicroServer N40L, which I use to host various virtual machines, running on VMware vSphere 5, which is installed on a fast USB stick. All four hard drives are in a RAID5. My setup is working like a charm.

  • PJMorse

    I found the inability to run multiple vitualized OS’s rather limiting, so I built the CriKit MicroServer and CriKit Desktop Private Cloud. http://www.crikit.info

  • Geeba

    Great boxes, I thought the RA Card was just a riser for the internal VGA? mine works fine without it, they also support although not officially 16Gb of RAM, I have WS 2012 Essentials running on my n40l without any issues too.

  • LaVike

    Given you are doing a series on using Win 8 as a home server, would you care to comment on how it would be to use the N40L in a Win 8 configuration.

    • The headline – reasonably humble spec, but should be fine.

    • rtrt

      i’m running Win 8 on my n40 with a small boot ssd. superfast boot and shutdown – needed as sleep not supported.
      to be fair i’m only playing with it so dont have a lot of insight.
      did try a 1080 movie on VLC – wasn’t very smooth. need to try a 720 at some point. thinking about putting in a video card in the pcie slot to see what if any difference it makes.
      iirc file transfer across the ethernet gets up to 55 to 60MB/s.
      i’m looking for Terrys Win 8 Home Server series to give me some ideas!

  • Great review Jim.

    I have one of these with 8Gb RAM, 2x2Tb HD’s in RAID 1 configuration. I didn’t need a VGA card as it has one built in. I did need a 4 Pin Molex to SATA power cable though. I paid £550 for it all and got £100 cash back too, deal was on back in April.

    It was a dream to set up and has been on 24/7 w/o crashing and has served (is serving) us well. No pun intended!!

    I can’t recommend them enough for a home server it’s great.

  • Bernard

    I intalled a DVD drive on one of these units and found the metal plate almost impossible to remove. The illustration shows it “popping out” with a simple twist of a screwdriver. That was not the case for me. After 10 minutes I almost bent the frame. Just as I was about to get the drill it finally came out. Has anyone else had this issue?

    • Ron Miller

      You bet!! There was more than a little swearing going on as I tried and tried to get that plate out. I actually DID have to bend the frame slightly, but it didn’t affect the fit of the optical drive. It’s amazing that a “space-age” device like a microserver comes in a frame so under-engineered that it requires an acetylene torch to accomplish what should be done with the “simple twist” you mention. I’ve done this on older computer cases several times, and it was never as difficult as this. It was ridiculous, actually.

  • nrf

    hi, nice review! just the right amount of tech measurement too. I use the vga port that came with mine, no problem. maybe yours was defective? Bottom line, I am very happy with mine and using whs2011 with 4 disk drives inside + usb2 server backup drive.
    thanks very much!

  • Nice review.
    I’m using the HP N36L for a while.
    I was very, very disappointed to find it disturbing loud.
    In contrast to what the reviewer here an at SPC.com stated, the chassis is making disturbing hum although the fan is nearly inaudible under normal load.
    Strong vibration comes permanently from the harddisk drives and is not dampened in any way. No rubber grommets or something helpfull. All the oscillation from the drives are amplified by the structur of the drivebay.
    Therefore the server had to be moved from my home office in to the kitchen. Arggg!
    Look at my galery. You will find pics (grabbed from SPC.com) in case you like to replace the fan.

    http://www.abload.de/image.php?img=hp_n36lltqg1.jpg
    galery “HP micro server”http://www.abload.de/gallery.php?key=pz2pM8cc

    • junebug2

      Did you install the screws to the hard drive? I have 3 green drives and its dead silent. Maybe something else is wrong?

  • Major-m

    The part about non functioning VGA port is inaccurate. It works perfectly fine, installing the remote access card disables it. Perhaps your test sample is defective?

  • HeyRadar

    Here’s some info. A replacement board is $550. Where as a new server is $349. See anything wrong with this picture? Should be ~$150.

    I’ve already went through 2 boards on mine, due to lightning hitting our network through the cable modem. I’ve since installed an add-on NIC card hoping that if it happens again, it will fry the NIC card and not my entire board. I’ve also installed network surge protectors everywhere.

    Note: The hit completely breaks the server, it won’t even power on.

    Source: http://h20141.www2.hp.com/Hpparts/Search_Results.aspx?mscssid=6E0EE20918C34B0AAB8E6BF31379CFD2&SearchIn=PartNumber&SearchPN=661787-001

    • bobbyc

      @HeyRadar:disqus
      I had the same thing happen to my N36L last week. Hp N36L Will Not Boot This confirms my suspicions that it hit the communications and not the power.

      I have not check the price for a new system board, but I suspect it will be a similar price. If it is more then $175, I will be buying a new server.

      • HeyRadar

        Sounds like it.

        When it hit, I also lost my cable modem, Cisco Router, Cisco 26 port switch, and 2 other 5 port switches. It also took out the on-board NIC for one of my PCs.
        The only thing the MicroServer does is blink the HP logo. Why my other PCs and WAPs could handle the surge, is unknown. All my PCs are DELLs.

        I’m going to be looking for suggestions on how to prevent/minimize lightening damage over my cable modem. I’ve put surge protectors before and after the cable modem. Any additional tips would be appreciated.

        • bobbyc

          Was your server on or off at the time? Did you loose your hdd’s? Did you lose your memory? I plan/hope to pull them out and stick them in the new server if I go that route. The price for a new system board for the N36L is $715.88. I will be buying a new HP Proliant ML 110 G7 with WHS 2011 included for $399.99. The N40L is $349.99 without a new copy of WHS 2011.
          http://www.newegg.com/Product/ComboDealDetails.aspx?ItemList=Combo.1017702

          • HeyRadar

            it was on. Didn’t lose my memory or drives. Thanks for the link but I think I’m will not buy another HP small business server. I use 1000s if HPs servers for my day job. Very reliable.

    • Broc Seib

      Ouch. For surge protection I only use http://www.zerosurge.com/ equipment now.

  • Paul

    Great review. Im running my server with the HP Smart Array P410, with a raid 5 array performance is great. 8 GB of ram and Widows 2008 R2, SQL 2008. Performance is great for such a small box.

  • Siby Sebastian

    I recently purchased the N40L base version with 2GB RAM from serversdirect UK. It was very noisy. I opened the PSU and the 40 mm fan within the PSU was the culprit. The main fan on the chasis is quiet. The PSu fan has an identifier number 4020th12b. In fact it has a high air movement and is powerful for its size. Its spec shows a noise level of 36 db. I am aware there are older versions of the microserver supplied with quiet fans. But what a stupid thing has HP done with the new machines ! I am planning to replace the psu fan with a quiet one, though less powerful.

  • Thanks for sharing such a nice blog.A good way of installing HP ProLiant MicroServer N40L in the operating system.

  • Alistair

    these work great with FreeNas / NAS4FREE, just install the os to a flash drive in the usb on the Motherboard then have all 4 drive bays for storage

    • kunj

      Good to note it is working with FreeNas. Do you have a step guide to you install ?

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