HP’s Proliant Microserver is a great little unit, very well suited for the small office and nowadays even more importantly, the “Home”. In an ever increasing mass and multi media hungry environment. This server fits the bill in simplicity, power usage, expandability and acoustics (especially for the home).
I managed to get the server for approximately $299 delivered to my door within a week (Sensational). Check staticice.com.au for price comparison within Australia.
Unit Specification can be found at following link: HP Specification Link
My Main Goal
With a family and therefore numerous listening and viewing tastes I wanted to set up a Home Media Server that would act as a single reference point for all. I wanted to be able to serve data to a number of clients ranging from Android devices, IOS devices, networked PC’s, Home Theatre Systems and Televisions. Obviously this unit would need to be able to push and use data required by such software as ITunes, XBMC, Windows Media Player, and Air Video Server just to name a few.
I also wanted a device that would minimise my power consumption, as I intended to leave this unit on and running 24/7. This is of course possible from my current home PC’s, but with their power usage ranging from 230W up, I needed something better. Currently this HP unit usage runs between 35 and 40W offering an excellent solution.
Finally I was after a unit that would minimise my time spent gathering aired television content. Automation was the key and I will discuss the solution that I integrated onto the system in Part 2 of this post.
Unit was well packaged and delivered safely to my door. Upon opening I was very impressed with the build quality offered by the unit, even down the additional screws and tightening tool embedded within the door of the unit. This was perfect for when I added my storage drives, but more on that in a minute.
The unit ships with 2G of Ram and a 250G hard drive. So I went out and purchased an additional 6TB (3x2TB) Seagate SATA3 HDD’s for approx $310. I initially thought that I would have to juice up the RAM but decided to wait and see the performance of the unit before going down that path. Basically I would use the 250G disk for my OS ad the 6TB as the data container. RAID configurations were also an option but once again I have alternate back up means, so I didn’t bother. There are many posts and websites detailing people ploughing up to 16TB of data storage into these units, so if you feel the need, go ahead and fill your boots. The one last addition I made to the unit was an optical drive $12. Really not necessary but for some of the work I am wanting this unit to do it was appropriate at the time (did make initial set up easier as well).
So in total my hardware costs added up to just over $600, with me making use of an old USB mouse and keyboard (once again for initial set up). This can actually be removed for 99% of usage with remote desktop etc being invoked on the unit.
Upon opening the unit, you will find that the cabling and PCB’s packed in with manipulation of several cables required to get to the RAM location. I am not suggesting that this is painful but just shows that HP have packed a lot into this form factor. Mounting the additional drives was a breeze using the supplied tool and screws, with the quick snapping action of the drive bays providing a robust design solution. The integration of the optical drive was also a very simple with this well designed unit and instructions supplied with the product. In total, it probably took about 20 minutes to install all the hardware.
Operating System (Decisions Decisions)
This was one area I struggled in. The choice of an operating system for the new unit. There is a heap of useful help out there for Linux and Windows Home Server WHS, but after talking to a few guys at work, I settled on something simple and familiar, “Windows 7 Ultimate”. This OS offered me all the functionality that I was after, I was familiar with it and the big plus was that driver support is abundant. (Driver Support a sometimes overlooked requirement. Lack of it can turn something simple into a nightmare)
Post OS Installation and Handy Hints
The windows 7 install was quite straight forward as you would expect. My networked connection allowed drivers to be gathered from the internet simply and easily. Service packs and security updates applied and my antivirus and firewall applications added and updated.
At the completion of this I simply added the device to my home network and begun the adventure of loading additional software. First stop was installing ITunes. Once again, a follow the bouncing ball operation to install and point it to the correct directory so that is can see my music library. Also you will need to set up Home Sharing in ITunes, but this too is a very simple activity. Rememeber to also place ITunes in your Start up folder so that it kicks off and opens when windows starts.
One handy tip that I can offer here is that the HP device does not come with a sound card. ITunes upon start up realises this and generates and error and prompt window telling you this every single time. Not so much of a problem if you are sitting at the device and can click the go away button, but is painful when you have ITunes set to start up when windows starts and you have walked away from the device. To get around this I discovered a clever bit of software called a “Virtual Audio Cable” (VAC). What this software does is described on the link below. I only downloaded the trial version as it is not time based but connection limited. So for the purposes of the media server this trial version far exceeds what is required.
I downloaded the software from the following link. Clicked on install and have done nothing with it since then. VAC Download Page . It just works.
The unit itself is very quiet indeed. During installation and set up I had the unit placed at desk level, with only the gentle and very low whir of the internal fan able to be heard. Actually it is so quiet I can actually hear the hard drives clicking click into gear when particular operations are under way.
My following posts will start to detail the software build up that I utilised on the HP unit. It will detail the use of Newsgroups, Sickbeard, SABnzbd, CouchPotato and XBMC and how you can achieve a high level of automation from your machine, with little effort.
Part 1 Conclusion
HP Proliant N40L Microserver is an excellent device perfectly suited for the changing home environment. It offers a true networked solution for an excellent price, opening up the digitised data that families collect and enabling it to be brought out into the living areas for it to be enjoyed. More on how to do this in the next post