HP MicroServer Gen8

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...where to start?

First of all I'm writing this (late 2019) a very long time after the HP MicroServer Gen8 was initially introduced (Summer 2013). Additional thoughts are jumping around in my head, so here's a bullet list;

  • Only supports 16 GB of RAM (I think HP purposely hobbled this server so it didn't compete with higher end servers)
  • Does NOT support UEFI booting (Given the date that it was built I'm surprised at this).
  • It "brags" 6 GB/S SATA speeds, but then adds a foot note that only 2 drives will run at that speed, with the remaining drives operating at 6 GB/S (Again, a bit of a surprise. And I can add to that by noting that if one connects a Samsung 850 EVO SSD to the internal SATA connector (which also runs through the B120i RAID Controller, not the motherboard chipset) with none / zero other drives connected in the four removable drive bays, it will only run at 3 GB/S transfer speeds.)
  • And on the subject of the B120i RAID Controller, during the boot process it displays a message of "Press F5" to enter the Smart Storage Administrator configuration utility. That seems to be a cruel joke. I know, because it got played on me during several boots where I tried to access it. Turns out, according to an HP document, that the B120i RAID Controller does have the Smart Storage Administrator capability, but the BIOS on the HP MicroServer Gen8 server does not have the capability to facilitate it. They recommend downloading a bootable ISO version of the Smart Storage Administrator to access and configure disk drives (see section below on this subject)

There is a lot of evidence that HP purposely "de-tuned" this device to match its small stature so it didn't make the larger servers HP sells look bad. Very disappointing they let the bean counters make decisions on this device.

Now having said all of those things about HP, I'll say something nice that continues to support my theory of HP hobbling their microservers. The Gen8 version of the server has the iLO feature (Lights Out). This is equivalent to a Dell DRAC (Dell Remote Access Controller) and provides full remote access to the server, including a remote GUI console. For those not familiar with the feature, it's like having VNC control from when the server is first booted, giving one the ability to fully control the computer before windows has booted. It also includes the ability to remotely power cycle the hardware and do some BIOS configuration via a Web GUI. Sadly they took that feature away in the Gen9 version of the microserver, which seems par for the course in terms of HP purposely hobbling this series of servers.

Internal Secure Digital Card Micro-card

I read so many different blogs, etc. that mentioned installing some version of Linux on the internal secure digital micro-card. After installing Windows and inserting a 100 MB/S (actual speed I tested on other computers did approach this velocity) Micro SD card I tested its speed. Guess what? The transfer speed clearly indicates the card reader is "wired in" as a USB 2.0 device. That's fine and completely understandable given HP's strategy of hobbling this fine computer.

Anyway, my question is why in the world would anyone choose to install an OS on a USB flash drive? If one was dead set on doing this, why not use a USB 3 flash drive plugged into the back? The speed difference is phenomenal. There are 2 USB 3.0 ports on the rear of the server and the controller has the capability to support 6 ports if HP so chose (I checked)

Oh, and as a special note, as mentioned by several people, this server will not recognize a new SD card plugged in when the power is on. Power must be off when the SD Card is inserted. It doesn't seem to harm the hardware, but it won't recognize it like a device plugged into a regular USB port. Oh, well.

B120i RAID Controller in RAID Mode (not ACHI or SATA mode) and the Smart Storage Administrator

As mentioned above, you won't be able to access the Smart Storage Administrator during the boot process by pressing the F5 key. This is a problem if one wants to take advantage of hardware RAID (1 / mirroring or 5) as like with most RAID controllers, a disk or SSD must first be configured as a "virtual disk" (or equivalent name) before Windows can "see" the disk. IE, most RAID controllers (the Dell S100 being an exception) do not present a plugged in disk to Windows or Linux automatically as SATA ports built into a motherboard and controlled by an Intel, AMD, or other manufacturer's chipset. Solution? As mentioned previously, use the bootable ISO version of Smart Storage Administrator from HP.

Another surprise installing Windows Server 2019 was that HP didn't provide or Microsoft didn't include drivers for the B120i RAID Controller. I'm thinking this is on HP, because Microsoft continues to include drivers for Adaptec RAID Controllers that plug into ISA slots. So be prepared to find the "F6" driver (if you've been around as long as me, you know what I'm referring to) on HP's site.

Special Note to Installers from the Past

Again, remember, I'm writing this long after this server was introduced, so I'm not trying to disparage anyone that has written on this subject in the past. Having said that, here are some tips and information to ignore from other web sites.

  • It is absolutely possible to install an OS (Windows or Linux, etc.) on an SSD or 2.5" HDD (no room for a 3.5" HDD) connected to the SATA port intended for an internal CD/DVD drive. An SSD fits nice and snug right behind the plastic plate for the CD/DVD.
  • Do NOT install an OS on a Micro SD card in the internal slot because it will run at USB 2.0 speed.
  • If you enable RAID mode on the B120i controller you need the bootable ISO version of Smart Storage Administrator from HP. I could not get a version of this to boot from a USB device using the most recent version of Rufus or another non-HP utility to create a bootable USB flash drive from an ISO. It turns out the HP USB Key Creator Utility will work. It also works when the ISO image is burned to a physical DVD (it's just over the maximum CD size).
  • If you want a 5th disk drive and a CD / DVD drive, it is possible. There's room for the SSD behind a CD / DVD drive. Hook the SSD into the extra internal SSD port and buy a SATA to USB connector and connect the CD / DVD device into the internal USB port.