Top Ten

HP ProLiant ML150 Gen9 Review

HP ProLiant ML150 Gen9 front view

HP ProLiant ML150 Gen9 rear view

Click for larger view

Small businesses that thought the latest core-dense Xeon tower servers were beyond their budget can think again. HP’s new ProLiant ML150 Gen9 delivers support for E5-2600 v3 Xeon processors and yet prices for this compact tower start at less than $1,500.

It’s designed to provide a budget-friendly mix of power and capacity but also has plenty of room inside to grow with you as your business expands. You can tailor the system to suit as HP offers three models to get you out of the starting blocks.

On review is the entry-level model which comes with a single 6-core 1.6GHz E5-2603 v3 Xeon CPU. Dual sockets are a key feature of the ML150 so you can add a second CPU when you want and HP also offers eight options ranging up to the high-end (and very expensive) 10-core E5-2660 v3.

Low cost towers often have limitations in the storage department but not so with the ML150. The price we’ve shown doesn’t include any hard disks but you can choose from SATA, Midline-SAS, SAS or SSDs, add extra storage bays and push the drive count to 16. The ML150 is also certified for HP’s 6TB and 8TB Helium drives.

Installation and management

HP's Smart Storage Administrator

The Smart Storage Administrator can be used to configure any of HP’s RAID controllers

Installing an OS on the server is a cinch as the ML150 includes HP’s embedded Active Intelligent Provisioning feature. It does away with the need to boot the server with a setup disk as you choose this option from the BIOS menu and simply follow the wizard.

We selected Windows Server 2012 R2 from the menu, loaded the OS disk when instructed and left the server to do the rest. Usefully, it offers direct access to storage so you can set up your RAID arrays from the same process.

Server monitoring doesn’t get any better either as the ML150 has HP’s embedded iLO4 chip. This shares access with the first Gigabit port and provides a slick web portal offering a wealth of information about server operations and critical components, fault alerting and direct access to HP’s online support.

HP’s iLO4

HP’s iLO4 is the best remote management controller on the planet

The server ships with an iLO4 Standard license which also allows you to remotely turn the server on and off or reboot it. If you want features such as full OS remote control and power metering you’ll need an iLO4 Essentials upgrade.

HP provides free critical firmware updates for its ProLiant servers but you must have a valid warranty or support contract to access regular ROM BIOS firmware updates. We kept an eye on these using HP’s free iOS Insight Online app which provides views of registered systems and support contracts.

Storage conundrums

HP’s iOS iLO Console app

We could even remotely access and control the ML150 using HP’s iOS iLO Console app

Due to the extensive range of storage options for the ML150 we’d advise doing some research to ensure you make the right choices. The motherboard has an embedded Dynamic Smart Array B140i RAID controller which supports up to ten LFF SATA drives along with mirrors, stripes and RAID-5 arrays.

The base system comes with one 4-bay cold-swap drive cage and you can add a second above it (or choose hot-swap cages instead). If you don’t require the 5.25in expansion bays at the top, you can put two more drives in these using HP’s optional enablement kit.

For high-performance hot-swap drives, you’ll need HP’s H240 PCI-e RAID card which supports eight 12Gbits/sec SAS SFF drives or its P840 card which can handle up to 16 SFF drives. Bear in mind you can’t mix different drive cages so if you want SFF drives from the outset we recommend the performance model which gets you started with an eight bay cage and a P240 RAID card.

HP’s hot-swap SmartDrive carriers are rather clever as they are packed with status LEDs so you know exactly what the drives up to. A rotating green ring shows drive activity and the multicolored center LED glows white to warn that the drive must not be removed if, for example, another one in the same RAID array has already failed.

Build quality and design

The chassis is very sturdy and provides good physical security. The front door can be locked shut which keeps the hard disks away from wandering fingers and also stops the side panel being removed.
HP ProLiant ML150 Gen9 inside view

Once inside, you’ll be greeted by a well-designed interior where the motherboard is covered by a solid plastic (and easily removable) shroud that ensures air is directed where it’s needed most. The single CPU models have two cold-swap cooling fans behind the drive bays and you get a third fan included in HP’s second CPU enablement kit.

The base model only includes a single 4GB DDR4 stick but the sixteen DIMM slots allow memory in dual-CPU configurations to be expanded to 512GB using 32GB RDIMMs. Expansion potential is equally impressive as four of the six PCI-Express slots are activated with just one CPU.

The iLO4 management access can be placed on a dedicated network using the optional port kit and there’s also a microSD card slot on the motherboard for loading up an embedded hypervisor. Power is provided by a single fixed 550W PSU and HP’s redundant power supply backplane option can be added to support dual hot-plug 800W supplies.

During testing, we found the server was whisper quiet making it a top choice for offices that value their tranquility. It’s also easy on the utility bill as we measured our review system drawing only 53W with the operating system in idle and peaking at 80W with the CPU under maximum load.

PROS:
  • Excellent value
  • Xeon E5-2600 v3 power
  • Class leading remote management
  • Highly expandable
  • Easy OS deployment

CONS:
  • Choose your storage options carefully

Conclusion

The ProLiant ML150 Gen9 combines a powerful processing package with big expansion plans and all at an affordable price. There’s little not to like about it making this an ideal choice for small businesses looking for their first purpose-built tower server.

9.2 Total Score
Big Expansion Potential at an Affordable Price

The ProLiant ML150 Gen9 combines a powerful processing package with big expansion plans and all at an affordable price. There’s little not to like about it making this an ideal choice for small businesses looking for their first purpose-built tower server.

Performance
9
Features
9.5
Build Quality
9
Usability
9
Value
9.5
User Rating: Be the first one!