With an extended overseas journey approaching, and some spare time which will be dedicated to some software and scenario testing, I’ve decided to purchase one of the Acer AC100 micro servers for this purpose.

The Acer box is a very different beast to the HP MicroServer, with Acer going down the path of a high performance Xeon versus the ultra low voltage AMD CPU in the HP. For general NAS, storage or other light CPU overhead work, this difference won’t really be seen, but due to the amount of work I’ll be doing building out VMs and running various test loads, the AMD CPU in the HP is going to be a little anemic. Two cores versus four cores with HyperThreading, the ability to go to 16GB of RAM instead of just 8GB are the big winners on this front. I will be sticking to 8GB to start with due to the lack of supported 8GB ECC Unbuffered RAM on the Acer compatibility list, and the lack of support from the major RAM manufacturers as well, but this will change. Having an Intel NIC on board is also a nice sweetener.

That’s not to say the HP doesn’t have it’s own charm – the ease with which you can turn this 4 HDD device into a 6 HDD device means that it’s potentially a better option for the storage junkie. It also has two PCI-E slots instead of the single slot in the Acer (which will be occupied by an Intel i350-T2 NIC due to it’s support for advanced virtualisation and iSCSI capabilities), and is built like a tank. The modular design of the HP generally impresses, hopefully the Acer comes close. The HP unit is also a quarter of the price of the Acer, which is definitely going to be a deciding factor for most.

There are some things that both servers lack – neither support hardware RAID 5. While Acer promotes the support of RAID 5, the fine print reveals that it is via an Intel software solution. Both can support RAID 5 via OS configuration, but hardware offloading would defintiely be appreciated. The extra horsepower in the Acer should reduce the overall potential impact performance of parity calculations, but a better RAID implementation wouldn’t hurt.

I’ll give a further update when the Acer unit arrives, and give some feedback on setup and build quality versus the HP, but to me they are very different beasts, even though they appear similar at first.