Create your own Network Attached Storage (NAS) Home Server with a HP Microserver N54L

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Create your own Network Attached Storage (NAS) Home Server with a HP Microserver N54L

This tutorial assumes that you own or are planning on purchasing a HP ProLiant N54L MicroServer. I recommend using Windows 8.1 Professional as your OS, however there are many different Operating Systems you can use. At the end of the day it’s what ever works for you. I tried a few and this is what worked for me.

UPDATE 22/2/17: Windows 10 is now available and is recommended over Windows 8.1

HOME SERVER HARDWARE Specifications:

  • HP Proliant Microserver N54L: from $229
  • 1x 1TB Western Digital Green HDD: from $52
  • 1x 1TB Samsung F3 HDD: N/A
  • 2x 2TB Hitachi Deskstar HDDs: from $99ea
  • 1x 4TB Hitachi Deskstar HDD: from $229ea

It’s really up to you what Hard Drives you put into your NAS Home Server. I have selected 5x HDD above based on my NAS setup. A basic starter package will cost you around $300. I will cover some additional upgrades throughout this tutorial and explain the benefits as well as cost at time of publishing. Hitachi have also released their NAS range HDDs.

UPDATE: Since writting these tutorial 12 months ago I have replaced my 1TB WD Green HDD with a
250GB Samsung 830 Evo SSD. I have swapped out my Samsung 1TB F3 HDD and Hitachi 2TB Deskstar for 2x WD 4TB Red NASWARE 3.0 Drives

INTRODUCTION:

The average IT enthusiast will have a large amount of data. Every day our data consumption grows. The problem is that we need somewhere to store our data. Information is important to us now more than ever.

To make matters worse, our data is spread across multiple computers and mobile devices. Big technology companies such as Google, Apple & Microsoft are embracing new technologies such as the cloud. This has allowed us to manage/backup our data as long as we have a internet connection.

But what happens when we have large files which can’t be uploaded to the cloud? Or your cloud is simply not large enough. It suddenly becomes a costly exercise to protect and store your data. Not to mention time consuming to upload and download large files.

Privacy concerns have been a hot topic in the media this year. Some people are uncomfortable sending information to a third parties who has free rein over your sometimes sensitive information. If you’re a business owner then secure and safe information is critical for your business.
The solution, a centralised Network Attached Storage (NAS) device to store and manage your important data.

I can’t stress enough how important it is to backup your data. Whether it be family photos or your music/movie collection. Personally whenever I buy a new CD or blu-ray I instantly back it up digitally. If my media ever gets damaged then I have a digital backup copy.
My web development projects are backed up weekly, sometimes even daily. For me to achieve these tasks it is critical that I have a NAS Home Server. Before I came to this conclusion I knew that my NAS needed to satisfy some strict criteria. It needed to be lower powered, low noise, expandable, value for money, remotely accessible, double as a Home Theatre Personal Computer (HTPC), iPad/iPhone streamer and finally always on should I need it to be.

THE HP PROLIANT N54L MICROSERVER:

You may have heard about the HP ProLiant Microserver series. The N54L is the 3rd release of the popular HP series.

“The HP ProLiant MicroServer is a general purpose server that can provide a platform to organize and safeguard your business information, allow effective communication with customers and make the most of your existing office equipment and resources. The HP MicroServer is a cost effective starter server for businesses with less than 10 clients and it can take your business to the next level of productivity and efficiency.”Hewitt Packard Website – Source: http://www8.hp.com/au/en/products/proliant-servers/product-detail.html?oid=5336623#!tab=features

The best thing about the HP Microserver N54L is the price point. You definitely get value for money compared to other NAS on the market. For a comparison of cost visit the a famous Australian IT supplier Shopping Express or check out the latest rates at Static Ice.

The HP 54L consumes roughly 25 Watts at full power. It’s based around a AMD Turion™ II Model Neo Processor. It has 1x Integrated 4 port SATA RAID capable of handling 4x HDD with storage capacities up to 4TB per drive bay. You get 2GB (1x2GB) UDIMM ECC RAM included. On the back of the box you have 1x 1Gb NC107i Ethernet Port with 2x USB2.0 ports & a onboard VGA out. The front of the unit sports an impressive 4x USB2.0 ports and a empty 5.25″ Bay. There are also an extra 3x PCIe slots for an extra hardware such as a Video Card, USB3.0 Controller, Digital TV Recorder, SATA Card, etc. I forgot to mention that you have an onboard USB port and extra SATA port for an 5th HDD or CD/DVD/Bluray Drive. The PSU has a maximum output of 150 Watts. See http://www8.hp.com/au/en/products/proliant-servers/product-detail.html?oid=5336623#!tab=specs for more information

The AMD Turion™ II Model Neo Processor supports Visualization, so if you want to throw in some extra ECC RAM (max 16GB) and virtualise a bunch of systems, you’d be more than capable. Don’t expect it to have a lot of horsepower though, but it’s enough to play with should you need.

SETTING UP

When your server arrives, it will arrive in a plain brown box with an illustrated picture of the N54L.
(W) 38cm (H) 38.5cm (D) 32cm

Unboxing N54L

On the server there will be a key cable-tied to the back of the server that unlocks the front door.

HP N54L Back

Opening the front door reveals four non hot-plug hard drive cages meaning that you must power down the system before swapping out your hard drives. The first job undo the 2 thumb screws on the left and right side shown in the picture below.

HP N54L Front

Unplug all the cables attached to the Motherboard and pull out of the tray. Take care not to damage anything

  1. HP MotherboardPCIe x 1 IPMI Slot
  2. PCIe x 16 Slot
  3. Mini SAS Controller
  4. Internal USB Connector
  5. ODD Connector
  6. Fan Connector
  7. TPM Connector
  8. Front USB Header 1
  9. Front USB Header 2
  10. Front Panel Connector
  11. 24 Pin Power Connector
  12. DDR3 DIMM Slots 1 + 2
  13. VGA Connector
  14. NIC1 / USBx2 Connector
  15. eSATA Connector

All the screws you need are thoughtfully placed at the bottom of the front door. If you look closely you will also notice a Torx tool hanging there too. If your unsure about what I’m taking about look for the tool that looks like an allan key.

PREPARE YOUR HARD DRIVES:

The next step is to prepare your hard drives. For the purpose of this tutorial we will use all 4 of our Hard Drives. I’m going to select my 1x 1TB Western Digital Green Drive as my primary Operating System drive. Although this is not the fastest drive, it will serve as a great low powered, low heat, low noise, always on hard drive. Grab your torx and screws from the front door. Take out each hdd bay and setup your hard drives like I have in the image below.

NAS HDDs

Place your hard drives back into your NAS Home Server. So at this point the hardware is looking good. On the back on the HP N54L you will notice a 120mm fan. The only other fan is a 40mm fan inside the PSU (Power Supply Unit). The temperatures of the processor will easily hit 54C under load and idle around 38C. Clearly this will not be an acceptable stock standard cooling system.

Modification 01

EXTRAS YOU WILL NEED:
  1. Noctua 40mm NF-A4x10 FLX 4500RPM Fan: $22
  2. Scythe 100mm Kaze Jyu Slim 1000RPM Fan: $9.50
  3. Molex Power Splitters: $3
  4. 2×3 Pin Fan Cable: $5
  5. Thin Cable Ties: $5
Modification 01 Parts

This modification won’t void your warranty and it will make your technology happier because your system will run cooler. Don’t feel like you need to modify your cooling system. HP have made sure that their stock cooling system is sufficient at keeping your system from overheating. Cooler temperatures mean more stability and more fans enhance the systems airflow and reduce the PSU temperature without adding much noise.

1. ADDING THE 40MM NOCTUA FAN TO THE POWER SUPPLY UNIT

Using the included Torx Tool again, remove the three screws at the rear of the N54L that hold the PSU in place. Unplug all power cables and gently remove the PSU from the system. Take 3x thin cable ties and thread them through the cooling vents in the PSU. Be careful not to touch any internal components and don’t go poking around inside the PSU. Attach the 40mm Noctua Fan and pass the 3 cable ties through its mounting holes. Make sure the fan is mounted correctly, you don’t want to be able to see the sticker.

40mm Noctua Fan

Trim the excess cable ties. The fan should now be mounted flush to the PSU. Push you PSU back into place and re-secure 3 screws on the back. Use the Molex Power Splitter and 2x 3pin fan cable to power the fan.

Noctua Installed

Take note of where the Molex Power Splitter and 2x 3pin fan cable to power the fan are located. These should look similar to the image above

2. ADDING THE 100MM KAZE JYU SLIM FAN TO THE FRONT DOOR

The next step is to install a fan on the N54L front door. This will allow heat to be exhausted from the front as well as the back. Grab 4 cable ties and open the N54L front door. You can take the door off to gently by lifting it upwards off its hinge. Place the Scythe Kaze Jyu 100mm 1000RPM Fan against the honeycomb mesh. Pass a couple of cable ties through to reference a central position. Once your happy with the position place 1x cable ties on the four courners of your fan and secure like the image below. As a optional extra, place an old stocking around the honeycomb mesh. This will assist in stopping excess dust getting into your N54L. I recommend doing this before installing the Scythe Kaze Jyu 100mm 1000RPM Fan.

HP N54L Frontdoor fan

The Scythe Kaze Jyu 100mm 1000RPM Fan comes with a molex to 3 pin adapter. Use this cable so that it powers the 40mm fan on the PSU also.

Modification 2

So far we have installed our hard drives. We have added extra fans for better cooling. Now we will look at adding an Astrotek PCIe USB 3.0 Card + Asus Radeon HD6450 Silent Video Card to our N54L Server.

USB3 will allow us to transfer data quickly from our server to an external storage device. It would be nice if HP included a USB3 at stock but unfortunately they have not chosen this option. To solve this problem I have chosen the Astrotek PCIe USB3.0 which works fine for me. The Astrotek PCIe USB3 adds 2xUSB3 slots to the back of our server. The controller is based on the ASMEDIA ASM1042 chipset.

It’s no secret that this chipset has been around for a while. There are currently better chipsets available on the market. Please research what best fits your budget and performance requirements. Personally I don’t think it makes a difference, just grab the cheapest USB3 (ASMEDIA, MARVELL, NEC) PCIe card you can find. Make sure that your USB card comes with a Low Profile Form Factor otherwise it will not fit inside the N54L.

In addition to our USB3 modification we will be turning our N54L into a Home Theatre Personal Computer or HTPC. This will allow us to play media stored on our hard drives via HDMI.

The HP ProLiant N54L Microserver is not designed to be used as a HTPC, however it is quite capable of playing 1080p content on Full HD Monitors/TVs. If you are building a HTPC as your primary function I would suggest looking at more powerful options to safeguard future developments in 4K technology.

UPDATE: Since writting this tutorial I have swapped my USB3 PCIe out with an Intel® 82574L Gigabit Ethernet Controller. Feel free to utilise your PCIe slot anyway you wish.

ADDING THE ASTROTEK USB3.0 PCIe Card
EXTRAS YOU WILL NEED:
  1. Astrotek PCIe USB 3.0 Card: $19
  2. Molex Power Splitters: $3
  3. Molex To Molex and 4 Pin Power: $6
Modification 02 Parts

Insert your Astrotek PCIe USB 3.0 Card into your PCIe Slot. See image below.

Be sure to connect your Molex to 4 Pin Power Cable to the Astrotek USB3 PCIe Card. Some PCIe cards do not require extra power but it is required in this situation

HP N54 Topdown View 01

As you can see in the image below, I have connected my Molex Power Splitter behind the HP logo light. The Molex connects to the Molex to 4 Pin Power Cable which connects to the Astrotek PCIe USB3 Card.

4. ADDING THE ASUS RADEON HD6450 SILENT VIDEO CARD
EXTRAS YOU WILL NEED:
  1. Asus Radeon HD6450 Silent Video Card: $49

The Asus Radeon HD6450 Slient Video Card is a little easier to install. Simply insert it into the opposite PCIe slot on your system board.

Asus HD6450 Sideview

Once you have installed your Astrotek PCIe USB3 Card & the Radeon HD6450 Silent Video Card, test placing the tray back inside the N54L Server. Notice it’s a nice snug fit.

ADDING MORE ECC RAM
EXTRAS YOU WILL NEED:
  1. 4GB Kingston ECC RAM KTH-PL313E: $49

For your HP ProLiant Microserver to run more efficiently I recommend upgrading your ECC RAM. HP supply you with 1x2GB of ECC DDR3 UDIMM RAM. This is clearly not enough. I recommend 6GB as a minimum. If you are thinking of choosing a cheaper option and installing Non-ECC RAM then please watch this video below before making your final decision.

People have been know to install up to 16GB of ECC RAM in the N54L with a few BIOS Hacks. Head over to this Overclockers Thread for more information.

Installation is simple, simply insert your 4GB Kingston ECC RAM KTH-PL313E into your spare DIMM slot. If you have forgotten where this is located, please refer to Item 12 on page 1.

Kingston ECC Server RAM

HOT TIP: Remember to make sure your RAM modules are pushed in all the way. Sometimes they seem like they are secured but they are not.

Modification 3

It’s a known fact that the Thermal Paste that ships with many per-built systems has the consistency of old blu tack.
I recommend grabbing your favourite thermal paste and re-applying a fresh layer to your CPU and heatsink.
Be warned this process does void your warranty.

CHANGING CPU THERMAL PASTE
EXTRAS YOU WILL NEED:
  1. Thermal Paste: $10
  2. Paper Towel: $3
  3. 100% Isopropyl Alcohol: $8
  4. 30mm Sunon MagLev 9500RPM Fan: $9
  5. 30cm 3-Pin Fan Extension Cable: $5

Unplug all your power leads if you haven’t already done so. Remove the large heatsink by pushing down on one of the metal leads and unhook it from the mainboard. Grab your paper towel and 100% Isoproply Alcohol.

Apply 100% Isoproply Alcohol to the heatsink and processor. Wipe off all of the original thermal paste and set aside for a few minutes to dry.

Apply your brand new thermal paste. If you’re unsure on how to apply new thermal paste please please click the link below.

ADDING THE 30MM SUNON MAGLEV 9500RPM FAN

Not another fan I hear you say.

Now that we have a freshly applied brand new thermal paste I recommending installing another fan to help circulate the warm air even more. Don’t worry it’s only 30mm and runs very quite. Please examine the 2 images below to see where and how to install the 30mm Sunon MagLev 9500RPM fan. I recommend 1x Cable Tie to secure your fan.

Notice how the 30mm Sunon MagLev 9500RPM Fan is installed on our N54L system board. Notice where the fan cable ends. This will be important later when we need to connect power.

Place the system board back into the N54L Server. Re-connect all the cables associated with the system board.
Make sure all your Molex and Fan connections are connected. You may need to get a little creative here. If you have difficulties please let me know and I will add extra steps to this tutorial.

This process can be a little tedious as you only have a small space to work with. HP have designed the N54L to fit snuggly so expect some resistance.

Modification 04

You have 3 choices for this 4th and final modification.

  1. Install a 5th hard drive.
  2. Install a 5.25″ CD/DVD/Blu-Ray Drive
  3. No further changes.

For this tutorial I have chosen to install a 5th hard drive. We have already specified the hard drive on page 1.

INSTALLING A 5TH HARD DISK DRIVE
EXTRAS YOU WILL NEED:
  1. Hard Drive: from $59
  2. 5.25″ to 3.5″ Bracket Mount: $5
  3. Molex to SATA Power: $3
  4. 30cm SATA Cable: $3

Grab your 5.25″ to 3.5″ Bracket Mount and fasten your 5th Hard Disk Drive as shown.

Connect you Molex to SATA Power and 30cm SATA Cable to your hard drive.

Insert your 5th hard drive into your N54L server.

Connect your 30cm SATA to SATA cable to the free ODD Connector on your system board. If you have forgotten where this is please refer to Item 5 on page 1. Follow the orange SATA cable in the image below to see how I have positioned mine. I added some micro foam under my 5.25″ to 3.5″ bracket mount to stop vibration. Up to you how you will stop vibration. Use 5900RPM hard drives for best results.

Place the HP ProLiant N54L Microserver Lid back onto the system and make sure all your cable management is tidy.

Your new NAS Home Server internal HARDWARE setup is now complete.

Installing your Operating System

Now that we have installed our internal hardware it’s time to install our operating system. Many online forums will recommend you install a server distro such as Windows Server, Ubuntu Server or similar. Please feel free to choose this method if you like. For me I found Windows 8 Professional to do a good if not better job than any Server based OS. Plus if you want to run a Linux distribution package like Ubuntu Server you can via VirtualBox. Check out how to achieve this here.

I recommend using an external USB DVD Drive to Install Windows 8 Professional 64 bit on your N54L. An alternative method would be to install Windows 8 from a USB Device.

Rather than list all the steps involved in installing Windows 8, if you are not sure on how this process works please follow this easy to follow tutorial.

Since writting this tutorial Windows 8.1 has been released. Alternately you can purchase a copy of Windows 8.1 or Windows 8 users can upgrade for free via the Windows Store. Once you have installed Windows 8 or 8.1, I recommend you do the following.

  • Update Windows 8 / 8.1 Professional so that you have all the latest updates installed.
  • Double Check that all your driver’s installed correctly.
  • Defrag your Hard Drives
  • Install the latest Asus Radeon HD6450 Video Card Drivers

You can check that your drivers on the HP N54L installed correctly by going to Control Panel and selecting Device Manager. See screenshots below.

INSTALLING ADDITONAL PROGRAMS

The N54L wasn’t a bad system when it arrived from the factory.
The modifications we have made will make it a well cooled, fully flexible platform that is more than capable of serving data throughout the home and office.

Now that we have our Operating System installed, it’s time to install some PAID & some FREE programs to really get the most out of our New NAS Home Server.

WHAT YOU WILL NEED:
  1. Start 8: $5
  2. Splashtop 2 Software/App: $9.99
  3. Airplayit Software/App: FREE
  4. VLC Media Player: FREE
  5. iTunes: FREE
  6. XBMC: FREE
  7. VirtualBox: FREE
  8. DropBox: FREE

1. INSTALLING START8

The most annoying thing about Windows 8 is the absence of the START button.

A solution that I have been using for a few months now is a neat little program called “Start8“. It’s developed by Stardock

This is by far the best $4.99 you will ever spend. There are other solutions available but I find this works well for me.

2. INSTALLING SPLASHTOP 2 STREAMER + APP

If you are like many people these days, you either own an iPhone, iPad, Tablet or portable mobile device. If you are one of those rare people that doesn’t then I’m not sure how you stumbled on this tutorial.

When I first set up my N54L NAS Home Server I needed to be able to access it from my iPad, iPhone, Macbook Pro from anywhere in the house. I looked through the Apple App Store and found a highly recommended APP called Splashtop. At the time Splashtop were having a promotion and I scored the APP for FREE. It’s currently $9.99 but keep an eye out for promotions when they give it away for free.

“Splashtop Inc. delivers the best-in-class cross-screen productivity and collaboration experience, bridging smartphones, tablets, computers, TVs, and clouds. Splashtop remote desktop enables people to access and control their favorite apps, files, and data via their mobile devices. More than 14 million users have downloaded Splashtop from app stores, and manufacturing partners including HP, Lenovo, Dell, Acer, Sony, Asus, Toshiba, Intel and others have shipped Splashtop on more than 100 million devices.” Splashtop Website – Source: http://www.splashtop.com/about-us

Once you have installed the Splashtop APP on your mobile device, you need to install the Splashtop Streamer onto all the computers you want to remotely connect too. Follow these simple steps below which can be found on their website.

Another great feature of this APP is that it can access any of your devices via the Internet. That means if you router at home is turned on and you have access to the internet then your mobile device can connect to your computer running Splashtop. If your N54L is running Splashtop Streamer, guess what? You can remotely connect to it.

Unfortunately Splashtop do charge you a monthly fee however it’s the cheapest I have found on the internet. Check out their plans and pricing from $1.99 per month or $16 per year from memory. By far the best $16 I have spent in a long time

3. INSTALLING AIRPLAYIT STREAMER + APP

“Air Playit is a video streaming software designed to stream videos audios to Apple iPhone, iPad, iPod touch and Google Android OS mobile devices. Air Playit is capable of streaming 320 different video & audio formats to your mobile devices via WiFi and 3G/4G network. It acts as your personal audio video cloud server and lets you watch videos on the go.” AirPlayIt Website – Source: http://www.airplayit.com/

IMPORTANT: Finding small issues using this APP since the iOS7 update. Can’t view media in widescreen on iPad. Hoping that the developer fixes it soon as I have not found any other programs as good as this one.

The above quote from the AirPlayIt website says it all. AirPlayIt allows you to stream media from your N54L server via your WIFI Router onto your iPad, iPhone, Andriod Mobile Devices

Installation is simple, download the APP onto your mobile device. Install the AirPlayIt Server onto your Windows or Mac computer, in this case it will be our N54L Server running Windows 8 Professional.

 

For further details on how to set up AirPlayIt on your mobile devices please read the following AirPlayIt User Guide

4. INSTALLING VLC MEDIA PLAYER

“VLC is a free and open source cross-platform multimedia player and framework that plays most multimedia files as well as DVD, Audio CD, VCD, and various streaming protocols.” Videolan VLC Website – Source: http://www.videolan.org/vlc/index.html

VLC Media Player will allow you to play almost ANY type of multimedia file on your N54L Home Server via your installed Asus Radeon HD6450 Silent Video Card.

 

Installation is simple, download and install the VLC Media Player from the Videolan Website.

5. INSTALLING APPLE ITUNES

If you have and iPad, iPhone, iPad chances are you have iTunes. Moving your iTunes Library to your N54L NAS allows you share your library throughout the home/office via Wifi.

If you would like to learn more about this process please read How to offload your iTunes library to a NAS.

 

Once you have your iTunes Library on your NAS, I recommend setting up Home Sharing. Head over to the Apple Support website to learn more.

6. INSTALLING XBMC MEDIA PLAYER

“XBMC is an award-winning free and open source (GPL) software media player and entertainment hub that can be installed on Linux, OSX, Windows, iOS, and Android, featuring a 10-foot user interface for use with televisions and remote controls. It allows users to play and view most videos, music, podcasts, and other digital media files from local and network storage media and the internet. Our forums and Wiki are bursting with knowledge and help for the new user right up to the application developer. We also have helpful Facebook, Google+, Reddit, Twitter and Youtube pages.” XBMC Website – Source: http://xbmc.org/about/

Since we already have VLC media player installed we don’t really need to install XBMC.

Having said that the benefit of installing XBMC media player is will allows us to use third party addons. These addons are written externally by programmers not necessarily official involved (nor condoned) with the official XBMC Foundation. Addons basically create a bridge or interface between online entertainment web sites offering streaming video, and the XBMC software installed to your N54L.

Certain website addons give you the ability to freely access every movie and television show ever made. The addons update themselves automatically and are entirely legal as all they do is link to content on existing online sources. You can even get live sports, news and international channels.

 

You can find the latest download release of XMBC Media Player here.

7. INSTALLING VIRTUALBOX

“VirtualBox is a powerful x86 and AMD64/Intel64 virtualization product for enterprise as well as home use. Not only is VirtualBox an extremely feature rich, high performance product for enterprise customers, it is also the only professional solution that is freely available as Open Source Software under the terms of the GNU General Public License (GPL) version 2” Oracle VirtualBox Website – Source: https://www.virtualbox.org/

Ever needed to test or run another Operating System on your computer? VirtualBox is a free program that allows you to do this. The HP ProLiant N54L Microserver is capable of visualization.

I am currently using VirtualBox on my HP N54L to run my own testing webserver for my freelance business. I achieve this by running Ubuntu Server 12.04LTS with Apache2,MySQL,PHP installed. When I want to open up a port I simply configure my router and allow web traffic through port 80. Because I’m using my Public IP this makes it very hard for the world to see what I’m currently working on. I also maintain ownership of my web development projects till they are released. I find it works for me.

 

If you would like to know more please head over to “How to create your own Ubuntu Webserver in VirtualBox“.

8. INSTALLING DROPBOX

“Dropbox is a free service that lets you bring your photos, docs, and videos anywhere and share them easily. Never email yourself a file again!” Dropbox Website – Source: https://www.dropbox.com/

Our final installation is Dropbox. Unless you have been living under a rock lately you would have heard of the Free Cloud service known as Dropbox.

I have this installed on every device I own. I don’t use it on my local network but it does come in handy working remotely.

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