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Introduction to the HP t730 Thin client - the little box that could

Welcome to the short and succint guide to the HP t730 thin client
(Also known by HP internal codename Pixar)

So why should you care (as a home labber)?


It's a large thin client, roughly in the dimensions of 221mm W x 240mm H x 67 mm D, ~3.55 Liters, dating back to mid-2015. It plays the big brother role to the t630.

The HP t-series thin clients are about as close as AMD got to releasing an intel NUC competitor, and on their big expandable clients (t620, t730, t740) you are offered an AMD NUC but with a PCIe slot.

In the t730, you have not-mediocre performance thanks to its 2014 lineage Piledriver cores, relatively low power usage/noise levels combined with one thing that Intel NUC owners wish they have, and until the NUC9 came along in late 2019/early 2020, something that they don't have - a PCIe x16 (electrically x8) slot.

Since the t730 came out 4-5 years ago most large institutions are swapping them out off-lease, and large numbers will enter the market at a substantial discount, representing a good opportunity to pick up these super-NUC-of-sorts with a cut-down PS4 GPU setup.

How much CPU and GPU firepower can I expect from one?

The CPU on the t730 is based on the RX-427BB off the Bald Eagle SoC family, which is 4 piledriver core CPUs with 35w TDP and with GPUs built-in. This is roughly the same as the AMD FX7600p APU found in Asus budget gaming laptops (X550Z series) from 2015. In terms of Intel equivalency, something like a Haswell i3 (full voltage) or a Broadwell i5-5250U (low voltage and found in the 3rd generation i5 NUC5s).

The Radeon R7 embedded GPU has 6 Compute Units arranged in a 512 Unified shaders:32 Render Output Units:8 Texture Mapping Unit configuration. Raw GPU horsepower is 615 Gigaflops, or roughly 1/3 of a base level Sony PlayStation 4 (the PS4 have 18 Compute Units of the same lineage but paired with 4 Jaguar CPU cores, which are a bit weaker). You can think of it as like having a cut-down PS4.

Base configuration as shipped is usually 4-8GB of RAM and 16 to 32GB of SSD.

OS as shipped 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 (unofficially supporting a max of 32GB at 16GB/slot, same as Intel Broadwell/Skylake CPUs)
• 2 M.2 slots:
- Key E (Wireless, HP fiber NIC or PCIe x1)
- Key B+M (SATA - this is where the original flash drive resides)
• 4 USB3 ports in the back, 2 in the front, and 2 more internal (not bootable)
• 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

Community Verified Upgrade Compatibility with the t730
  • RAM: 16 (official) or 32 (tested by us) GB of RAM.
  • SSD: Crucial MX500 SATA M.2 512GB, depending on whether you are connecting to another machine for storage (NFS4/iSCSI, etc)
  • PNY GT1030 video card (for gaming or improve video playback)
  • Allied Telesis AT29-SC Gigabit Fiber card (an LC version available but it's close to 300 USD)
OS Compatibility with the t730

The following bas been tested and known to work:


Microsoft Windows 7/10 Pro
Microsoft Windows Server 2012
• CentOS 7.1908
• Debian Linux / Proxmox VE 5.2/6.1
VMWare ESXi 6.5 U3 (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 (2.4.4)

How much am I expected to pay?

As of Q3 2020, about 125-150 USD for a refurb unit, and since most machines are past the 4 year lease mark, they will be dumped on the open market at very reasonable prices - just don't be afraid to low-ball and walk away from rdiculous counter-offers.

Advantages
  • 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 an okay-for-2015 Radeon R7 (GCN 2/UVD4.2) GPU
  • Not that small, but not nearly as big as an SFF
  • Nearly silent with a single general purpose fan, and even when loaded, the fans are inaudible
  • Low profile PCIe x8 slot
  • AMD-vi and HSA support baked into the BIOS, and you can do software SRIOV up to 7 PCIe VFs (no PCIe ACS and no ARI Forwarding. It's experimental and not that secure)
  • Inexpensive Broadcom Fiber NIC (AT29M2-SC)/Intel WiFi cards are available
  • Professional looking and can be made rather inconspicuous with the HP under-desk thin client mounting kit
Disadvantages

• 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 post-Haswell NUCs), and you only have a single SATA M.2 slot
• Need a 90w HP power brick, but it uses the standard HP 7.4mm black-ring-tip 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 (for the M720p...not really)
• The Radeon R7 is a GCN2/UVD 4.2/VCE2 design (this is before Polaris) and it's aging badly. If you plan to use it as an HTPC box, remember that it'll only decode H.264 at up to 2k, and no HEVC support at all. H.264 encoding is...not that great.
• HP released a replacement thin client (t740) in Q3 2019, and it’s an embedded Ryzen machine (with even better performance).

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.
So yes. Use it to drive multiple screens - delight friends, intimidate enemies.

- 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.

- 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 somewhat supported in Linux but VMDirectPath (its VMWare equivalent) isn’t, unfortunately. You could in theory load up at least 8 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 okay if you crank the details down. Wanna run a retro gaming arcade cabinet and run Daytona USA or Virtua Racer in MAME? 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.

Are there similar products out in the market today?

DFI makes the DF122-BE, which is a cheaper but louder industrial PC equivalent.

QNAP has a series of NAS based on the AMD RX421BD (the TVS-x73e), which is based on the Excavator core and offers about a 10-15% performance boost. However, it quotes for about:

800 USD for the TVS-473e (quad bay)
1250 USD for the TVS-873e (eight bays)

It's not entirely bad when you consider that the t730 thin client + Microserver G7 combo will cost about that amount if it's decked out (so to speak) - it's actually what I wanted the MSG10 to be...
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Great introduction to the HP T730