Till now I had been using a combination of an Apple Time Capsule and a collection of attached USB external harddiscs as my NAS and backup solution. This isn’t really that good and also I am starting to approach the Time Capsules known lifespan of around 20 months. The Time Capsule Memorial Register has a great graph showing the bell curve of the failure rates; the average being 19 months and 20 days
Due to this I decided to go out and buy a NAS, but looking at the price of a 4 bay QNAP or Synology unpopulated drives which started around £250-300, I though there had to be a better/cheaper way as this is nearly the price of a small desktop PC.
Some of my work colleagues had used a HP Microserver, and after reading up on it, and using a £100 cashback offer I managed to get my very own HP N40L Microserver for only £97 – already far cheaper than the main rivals.
Specs wise, it won’t be beating your average PC anytime soon but its not meant to, this is a low power small business server. As standard it comes with a dual core AMD Turion 1.5GHz processor, a 250GB harddisc and 2GB of RAM. What makes it cheaper is that it doesn’t come with an OS pre-installed, thats up to the end user.
It should be noted a few niggles that don’t make this perfect from the get-go.
- There is only VGA out, perfectly fine as the default function of a server but HDMI would be perfect for turning this into a media centre.
- There is no audio-out.
- The 5th SATA is not full speed (designed for an ODD) – can be fixed with a BIOS mod.
While buying the server I also bought a selection of components to upgrade the rig and make my choice of OS more usable:
- Crucial 8GB (2x4GB) DDR3 1333Mhz Ballistix Sport Memory Kit CL9 1.5V
- Asus GT 610 1GB DDR3 VGA DVI HDMI PCI-E Low Profile Graphics Card
- 8GB Sandisk Cruzer USB drive
This combine caused me a few hiccups when installing OS’s (Windows fault not the hardware) which I’ll explain later but overall it cost me (including the N40L itself) around £170
One of the nice things about this server is that it has an internal USB port, some people use this for hosting a USB based OS such as FreeNAS or even Ubuntu however I originally choose Windows Server 2012 as my OS of choice but I ran into a problem.
After installing, while setting up devices I encountered a BSOD; the dreading ‘DPC Watchdog Violation’ error. After reading up on the matter it seems there are a variety of reasons for this on the N40L but mainly revolves around the use of NVidia graphics cards when your installed RAM is over 2GB. I checked out my RAM and it was error free, and the OS worked fine when I had the external graphics card disabled or removed, but as soon as I installed it I got BSODs.
This was really annoying, the same BSOD occured with Windows 8, and there is no known install time fix apart from removing the graphics card.
I settled on Windows 7 as my OS of choice – with the graphics card and lots of RAM I could also use the machine as a basic gaming rig, or run XBMC or MMC so I ruled out Windows Home Server as an option.
Everything installed fine and I used the 8GB USB drive as a supplemental readyboost drive to improve idle spin up performance.