Among the nerd elite, HP's Proliant N40L MicroServer caused quite a buzz. Especially since you could grab it regularly for between AU$200 and AU$270, and it bagged you a system with 2GB RAM, four 3.5-inch bays, a single 5.25-inch bay, a dual core 1.5GHz AMD Turion II and a gigabit Ethernet port. It was also rather accessible, allowing for a raft of user upgrades.
HP isn't the only game in town though — take Acer's AC100, a NAS-sized micro server aimed at the enterprise. To those in the know, this means two things: server parts and a higher price tag. Around AU$1100 gets you a Xeon E3 1260L @ 2.4GHz, 2GB of ECC RAM (with one slot spare), an Intel gigabit Ethernet port, six USB 2.0 ports and four 3.5-inch hard drive bays. It's a less flexible machine than the Proliant N40L, and the motherboard is barely accessible, thanks to a riveted-in drive cage, but it'll definitely give you more CPU grunt if you need it. You can throw in a PCI-E 2.0 x8 half-height card if you wish, but it's physically x8, so you won't be able to add in a discrete graphics card. This would be a nice addition, as the included graphics, supplied over VGA, can only do 1280x1024, a common thing in the server world.
The front door is locked by and only accessible via key, with the power button and removable trays hidden behind. Each has a status light associated with it, although these did nothing throughout our test period.
Intel's C202 chipset is included to support software RAID 0, 1, 5 and 10, and Acer officially supports Windows 2008 R2, RHEL 6 and Suse 11. As punishment, Acer includes all its drivers on DVD — the AC100 doesn't have an optical drive. Thankfully, there's a program that will load a USB stick with the drivers from the DVD, should you have another machine to use it on. Expect to waste a stick though; Acer's program first formats the flash drive to FAT32.
The unit stays reasonably quiet, with a single 120mm fan on the right and a 40mm fan on the 200W power supply.
Performance wise, the Xeon E3 1260L puts it close to the Core i7 2630QM, taking 234 seconds to complete our Handbrake video encoding benchmark, 42 seconds to complete our iTunes MP3 encoding benchmark, 264 seconds to complete our Photoshop benchmark and 268 seconds to complete our multimedia multitasking test.
While the AC100 is definitely aimed at the server crowd, we think Acer's missed an opportunity to service the enthusiast, as HP has done with its Proliant N40L. Arguably at this size, it's more of a small business purchase as well, meaning that Xeon and ECC RAM may not be so relevant or worth the extra outlay. Still, if you want peace of mind that your components fall into a higher QC'd bin, you know where to look.