I am proud to introduce the HP t730 thin client, which is a relatively inexpensive expandable thin client capable of punching above its weight. It’s a decent multimedia machine for HTPC duties, a halfway decent console gaming emulator, and most importantly, it’s a high efficiency hypervisor node that have surprising expandability. Think of it as like a cheap AMD powered Super-NUC that allows you to do some interesting things. Note that this can also apply to its industrial PC clone (the DFI DT122E)
How much can I expect to pay for one?
As of November 2018, expect to pay about 225 USD including shipping and handling for one in “like new” condition on eBay. Note that prices can fluctuate based on stock, demand and whether HP releases a replacement machine for it or not. If you want to go cheap, the DT122E barebones is about 125 USD or Best Offers on eBay as of late-2018.
What’s inside a typical machine?
All configurations come with an AMD RX427BB APU - an embedded version of the FX7600p. It scored about 4300 Passmarks (so roughly the same as the latest non-Retina Core i7 MacBook Air).
It comes with a Radeon R7 embedded GPU with 384 compute units. Raw GPU horsepower is about 1/3 to 1/2 of a base level Sony PlayStation 4.
In terms of base configuration it’s usually 4-8GB of RAM and 16 to 32GB of SSD.
OS is HP ThinPro (a variant of Ubuntu Linux), Windows 7 Embedded x64 or Windows 10 IoT edition x64.
What’s my path to expandability?
• 2 DDR3L Notebook RAM slots
• 2 M.2 slots, Key E (Wireless, HP fiber NIC or PCIe x1) and Key B+M (SATA)
• 4 USB3 slots in the back, 2 in the front, and 2 more internal
• One PCIe 3.0 x8 slot (in an x16 small form factor)
What can I do with that PCIe slot (x16 physical, x8 electrical)?
The following bas been tested and known to work:
• Intel i340-T4 Quadport GigE cards
• Intel i350-T4 Quadport GigE cards
• SolarFlare SFN5122F 10GbE card
• SolarFlare Flareon SFN7322F 10GbE/PTP stamper cards (make sure you get fans for them or they will crash your machine)
• Mellanox ConnectX2 VPI 40GbE/Infiniband adapter
• Mellanox ConnectX3 VPI 40GbE/Infiniband adapter
• PNY GT1030 Video card
OS Compatibility with the t730
The following bas been tested and known to work:
• Microsoft Windows 7/10 Pro
• Microsoft Windows Server 2012
• CentOS 7.1804
• Debian Linux / Proxmox VE 5.2
• VMWare ESXi 6.5 U2 (you’ll need to turn off Secure boot/UEFI and compose a custom boot image to include the Realtek drivers if you want to avoid the purple screen of death
• pfsense (latest)
- Cheaper than a base model Playstation 4 and far more useful
- Usually sold with workable amounts of RAM / M.2 SATA SSD already pre-baked, so get it home, plug it in, and done
- Quad DisplayPort support coupled with a halfway decent Radeon R7 (GCN 1.1) GPU
- Not that small, but not nearly NUC size
- Nearly silent with a single general purpose fan
- Low profile PCIe x8 slot
- AMD-vi and HSA support baked into the BIOS, so you can do SRIOV up to 7 PCIe VFs
- Inexpensive Broadcom Fiber NIC (AT29M2-SC)/Intel WiFi card available
- Professional looking and can be made rather inconspicuous with the HP under-desk thin client mounting kit
• No IPMI, and no VPro (not really a concern if it’s only for a homelab, you can always use an RPi to act as a ghetto BMC)
• Quadcore, but they are AMD Steamroller cores (so not all the power efficient)
• A little more power hungry than the t620 Plus (idles at 7 w), the t730 will idle at around 10.5 w if you unplug the display and the Radeon R7 deactivates.
• Only 2 DDR3L Notebook DIMM slots (32GB is the max, so about the same as the later NUCs), and you only have a single SATA M.2 slot
• Need a 90w HP power brick, but it uses the standard HP Notebook power plug
• The default NIC is a Realtek GigE model, and they are known until recently for some truly crapulent showstopping drivers
• Unstable if the system thermals are above acceptable limits
• Corporate NUCs (Dell Optiplex 70x0 USFFs/HP EliteDesk 800 Gx Minis/Lenovo M9xx models are even better bang for the computing buck, but you'll lose the PCIe x8 slot
• HP released a replacement thin client (t740), and it’s an embedded Ryzen machine (with even better performance). Overindulgence can lead to a classic instance of chasing bad money with good. On the other hand, It's existence will also drive prices down on the t730.
So, what can I do with it?
- You can drive up to 4 LCDs in 4k resolution, so at the very least you can use Synergy to connect to multiple desktops. HP ThinPro out of the box can support various protocols like VNC, RDP, VNC RGS, NoMachine NX or Cendio ThinLinc. USB remote access is supported so you can in theory setup a remote VM in KVM and remotely connect USB and audio to it via the SPICE protocol. As for Win10, well, no explanations needed, really.
- Run a “more powerful” firewall. I know many people here swears by the t620 Plus, but if you have some serious packet filtering, you could in theory toss in a dual port 10GbE card on the t730 and work with higher line speeds. If you use something that can take advantage of the 7 SRIOV VFs in KVM (see below), well, that's even better.
- Low-to-medium performance expandable hypervisor. Yeah, it’s about the same horsepower as a Broadwell-U, and SVM/RVI/AMDV-i is enabled. SRIOV is supported in Linux but VMotion (its VMWare equivalent) isn’t, unfortunately. You could in theory load up at least 10 VMs (with 32GB of RAM) and do some useful stuff with it. Oh yeah, since it has a PCIe x8 slot (PCIe x16 form factor), you can toss in a Mellanox 10/40 GbE card and use it to talk to an iSCSI or NFSv4 mount on a legit NAS/SAN setup.
- You can do some light to moderate gaming on it - It should behave like a Haswell PC with a mainstream GPU from 2014, and if you need extra horsepower, toss in a GT1030 PCIe card (with active cooling, please) and you’ll be able to play modern titles decently well if you crank the details down. Wanna run a retro gaming arcade cabinet and run Daytona USA or Virtua Racer in MAME? Sure, this will do the trick.
In fact, with the exception of the quad SATA bay support, I don't see much reason to buy an HP MicroServer G10. I used my t730 to upgrade an N40L Microserver G7, and it works great.
Upgrade Compatibility with the t730
- RAM: 16 or 32GB of RAM.
- SSD: Crucial MX500 SATA M.2 512GB, depending on whether you are connecting to another machine for storage (NFS4/iSCSI, etc)
- The aforementioned GT1030 video card (for gaming or speed up HTPC applications)
- Allied Telesis AT29-SC Gigabit Fiber card (LC version available but it's close to 300 USD)