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.