HP ProLiant ML115 review

£345
Price when reviewed

With its ProLiant ML115, HP claims it can deliver a true server at a desktop price. It firmly targets small businesses with modest requirements looking for their first server, but also larger companies wanting to deploy local IT services to remote sites and branches. A price of only £345 for the system on review indicates HP has achieved its aim, but there’s more to the equation than just a low initial outlay.

HP ProLiant ML115 review

The ML115 is a compact pedestal server and represents the entry point for HP’s extensive range of AMD Opteron-equipped systems. General build quality looks up to the job, as the ML115 uses an all-metal chassis that feels tough enough to handle the rigours of most small office environments. Physical security extends to the side panel, which can be padlocked shut, and this also blocks access to the lugs for front cover removal. Expansion options are modest: the front panel has room for two 5.25in devices, with one home to a DVD-ROM drive, leaving one spare for devices such as that all-important backup tape drive. You also get a couple of USB ports routed through to the front.

Removing the side panel reveals a tidy interior with easy access to all key components. The most noticeable feature is the hefty active heatsink on top of the processor, with an array of copper pipes weaving through it to aid with heat dissipation. General chassis cooling is handled by a large fan at the rear of the chassis. Noise pollution is a big issue in small offices and workers should no longer have to put up with wheezing servers. The upshot of HP’s cooling arrangements is that fan speeds have been reduced substantially, making the ML115 one very cool and very quiet customer.

The review system came equipped with a 1.8GHz Opteron 1210 module, which is the entry point of AMD’s one-way processors aimed at single-socket server and workstations applications. This is partnered by a modest 512MB of memory, but you can upgrade this to a maximum of 8GB. The network connection is handled by a single embedded Gigabit Ethernet adapter, while basic storage services are provided by an embedded four-port SATA controller on the motherboard. Usefully, the ports are located next to the internal hard disk cage to reduce cable clutter. We were supplied a single 160GB Seagate SATA hard disk, but the cage has room for up to four drives. Adding drives is easy enough – you just remove the grille at the front of the cage and slide them in until the drive slides lock into place.

The Nvidia chipset adds basic RAID functions to the embedded SATA controller, which offers support for both mirrored and striped arrays. It’s easily configured from the BIOS menu, where you simply select the drives you want included and decide what array type you require. If you want more than this then you’ll need to add HP’s Smart Array E200 controller. This comes with 128MB of cache memory plus support for RAID0, 1 and 5 arrays, and will set you back an extra £189. There’s plenty of room for more expansion cards, as the server offers 16x and 8x PCI-E slots and a pair of 32-bit PCI slots at the bottom of the motherboard.

One area where costs have been cut is with the bundled software and server-management features, as the ML115 isn’t supplied with HP’s excellent SmartStart and Insight Manager utilities. The single CD-ROM isn’t bootable and just contains device drivers for a range of OSes and some user manuals. However, the lack of the SmartStart tool isn’t really an issue, since we had Windows Server 2003 R2 installed on it inside an hour. Unlike the majority of ProLiant servers, the ML115 isn’t blessed with HP’s embedded iLO2 controller chip. However, it does have all the angles covered, as if you fancy remote web browser management you can cough up another £119 for the optional 100c kit. This comprises a small card with its own processor that fits into a proprietary IPMI slot on the motherboard and provides a dedicated Ethernet port for remote access. From the secure browser interface, you can power the server up and down, directly access the BIOS settings, monitor critical hardware components and boot the server from a virtual floppy or CD-ROM drive. For the money, we’d say this card is well worth having.

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