HPE ProLiant DL20 Gen9 review

HPE’s little Skylake Xeon rack server packs in a generous feature set and good performance

Editor's Choice
Price
£1,273
  • Space saving chassis; Xeon E3-1200 v5 CPU; DDR4 memory; Whisper quiet; iLO4 management
  • Nothing to complain about at this price

The latest ProLiant DL20 Gen9 from the freshly minted Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) squeezes a remarkable range of features into the smallest of chassis. Measuring a shade over 15in. deep, this compact 1U rack server supports Intel's new E3-1200 v5 Skylake' Xeon processors plus fast DDR4 memory as well as plenty of expansion options. 

The DL20 Gen9 is surprisingly affordable with prices starting on the right side of 500. The entry-level model has a 3.3GHz dual-core Pentium G4400 and HPE also offers a 3.5GHz G4500, two Core i3-6000 choices plus eight E3-1200 v5 Base and Performance CPU options.

Our review system was fitted with a 3.4GHz quad-core E3-1230 v5 Xeon, 16GB of DDR4 and an upgraded Smart Array P440 PCI-E RAID card. HPE quoted us a list price of 1,273 ex VAT for the system without any drives and street prices will almost certainly be lower.

Storage and SmartDrives

Base systems have two non-hot-plug (NHP) LFF SATA drive bays, but you can order hot-plug drive bays instead. Either way, they're managed by the server's embedded Dynamic Smart Array B140i controller which supports stripes, mirrors and RAID5 arrays.

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Alternatively, there is a model with four hot-swap SFF bays which also employs the B140i controller for SATA drives. For more storage performance, HPE offers the Smart Array H240 HBA which adds 12Gbps SAS support to the storage equation.

Our system had a Smart Array P440 HBA fitted which we think is overkill for this server. It supports an optional 4GB FBWC (flash backed write cache) module plus RAID6 and 60 arrays.

HPE's SmartDrive carriers are packed with LEDs with a spinner ring inside the lever shows drive status and activity. We had only one drive configured, so the carrier release button glowed white indicating the drive must not be removed while the server is powered up.

Internal design and expansion

The DL20 Gen9 presents a well-designed interior with easy access to all the important bits. The motherboard occupies the right-hand side of the chassis with the processor located towards the front and serviced by two small fans.

Four DIMM slots sit next to the CPU socket and a solid plastic shroud covers them all for improved air flow. Our system was equipped with two 8GB DDR4 UDIMM modules and the motherboard supports a maximum of 64GB.

A third dual-rotor fan sits in the middle of the chassis and is angled towards the expansion riser card. You have two riser card choices with the standard one offering a PCI-Express x8 slot on each side and another which replaces one slot with a FlexibleLOM interface which accepts HPE's low-profile quad-port Gigabit Ethernet and dual-port 10GbE adapters. 

There is another alternative as HPE offers a riser card with a 16X PCI-E slot specifically for its Nvidia Quadro K2200 GPU Module. Virtualisation fans also get a nod as the motherboard has a microSD card slot for an embedded hypervisor.

Power and noise

Entry models get a single 290W fixed PSU, but power redundancy is possible. You can upgrade the server to dual hot-plug 900W PSUs using HP's enablement kit, although this is only supported by models with SFF bays.

The new Xeon made its presence known in our power test with the server drawing only 39W in idle and peaking at 102W under extreme pressure from the SiSoft Sandra benchmarking app. By comparison, a ProLiant DL320 Gen8 v2 rack server with a 3.4GHz E3-1240 v3 Xeon returned idle and peak readings of 54W and 120W.

HP has done a fine job keeping noise levels down making the DL20 Gen9 suitable for a wide range of deployments including small offices. Using the excellent SPLnFFT iOS app on our iPad, we recorded background noise levels of 38dB in the lab with all equipment turned off. With the server turned on and the iPad one metre away, noise levels only rose to 41dB.

Deployment and management

HPE's Intelligent Provisioning feature makes light work of OS deployment. Just select this option during boot-up, choose your OS, point it at the installation file location when requested and leave it to load the OS and all required drivers.

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The DL20 Gen9 is endowed with HPE's embedded iLO4 chip so remote management features simply don't get any better. The slick iLO4 web portal provides a wealth of information about operations and critical components, fault alerting and direct access to HP's online support.

The server is supplied with an iLO4 Standard license which includes options for remotely turning the server on and off or rebooting it. You'll need to upgrade to an iLO4 Essentials license if you want full OS remote control and power metering.

HPE's standard setting iLO4 provides a slick 3D graph of critical server temperatures

With the HPE Insight agent installed on the server, we could also access its Systems Management Homepage directly from the iLO4 portal. Note that all critical firmware updates for ProLiant server are provided free of charge, but regular ROM BIOS firmware updates require a valid warranty or support contract.

You'll need an iLO4 Essentials upgrade to get full OS remote control.

The iLO4 Insight Agent provides remote access to the server's System Management Homepage web console

Conclusions

Despite its dainty proportions, the ProLiant DL20 Gen9 has all the credentials for a serious entry-level rack server. It combines a classy set of features with plenty of processing power plus silent running and won't be beaten for value.

Verdict

The ProLiant DL20 Gen9 is ideally suited to expanding SMBs short on space and hungry for more server power

Chassis: 1U rack

CPU: 3.4GHz Intel Xeon E3-1230 v5

Memory: 16GB DDR4 2,133MHz UDIMM (max 64GB)

Storage: 2 x LFF or 4 x SFF drive bays

RAID: HP Smart Array P440 12Gbps SAS

Array support: RAID0, 1, 10, 5, 50, 6, 60

Expansion: 2x PCI-E x8 Gen3, FlexibleLOM

Network: 2 x embedded Gigabit Ethernet

Other: Internal USB 3, microSD card slot

Power: 290W fixed PSU

Management: HP iLO4 Standard

Warranty: 1 year on site Next Business Day

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