Project TinyMiniMicro: Reviving Small Corporate Desktops

Patrick

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Project TinyMiniMicro is something I have wanted to look at for some time. There are a lot of home server users out there who need large amounts of storage. Others simply need a server to run a WiFi AP controller, a VoIP solution, and a few other services/ development VMs.

What and Why Tiny/ Mini/ Micro PCs?
There are a lot of technologies out there that one would want several physical nodes. For example, one may want Proxmox VE deployed across more nodes for HA style setups. One option is to use nested virtualization, but sometimes this is not what one would want. Further, sometimes you may have a big node, and want two smaller nodes simply for offload purposes when the main node needs to go down for service.

My thought on the nodes is that basically:
  • There are a ton of these corporate mini/ micro desktops
  • Customers for them do regular upgrade/ refresh cycles plus there are events such as bankruptcies that lead to a constant supply on secondary markets
  • They are likely to be sold by the large vendors in most countries due to their lower cost
  • The build quality of these devices is fairly good.
  • Allegedly, some even come with active onsite warranties.
Hardware and RPi 4 to TinyMiniMicro Comparison
  • People love Raspberry Pis. I just bought 2x RPi 4 8GB models. They may be $75, but once one buys all of the accessories to make a single node, they end up being well over $125.
  • Some of the units I have been buying in the $250 range have at least 4 threads and 8 or 16GB of memory (upgradeable.) Usually I have been getting 256GB SSDs.
  • Expansion on these units usually allows a 2.5" and a m.2 SSD
  • While RPi's are way better for IoT and such, as a lab, where power is a concern, but perhaps not the only concern, a 16GB/ 256GB x86 device at $250 is not that much of a worse value proposition than an 8GB/ 32GB (SD Card) RPi 4
  • They are designed to be silent except under heavy loads.
  • They tend to use lower-power processors
  • They are small and stackable.
  • A negative is that WiFi is optional.
Management
  • Many have Intel vPro and AMD DASH. Part of this exercise is looking at how those fare on these models as remote management tools. I know more about vPro/ AMT than I do about DASH - both let you do remote power on/ off
  • These Mini/ Micro PCs often come with Windows 10 Pro licenses which are tied directly to the hardware as OA/ OEM licenses. In the worst case, these can be repurposed as HTPCs since they have integrated graphics.
  • Windows 10 Pro also means one can enable remote desktop for the Windows machine
  • With WSL2, one can now run Windows as the primary OS (e.g. for a kid's PC) and then use Ubuntu in a VM for a cluster node.
Project MiniMicro Cover Forums.jpg

Project TinyMiniMicro Materials Status

On the EliteDesk 705 side:
  • EliteDesk 705 G3 Mini with the A10-8770E arrived for comparison purposes
  • Athlon 200GE arriving today to try out in the 705 G3's
  • EliteDesk 705 G4 Mini with Ryzen 3 Pro arrived - with keyboard and mouse!
  • ProDesk 405 G5 Mini with Ryzen 5 Pro arrived - with keyboard and mouse!
Expanding a bit on HP:
  • EliteDesk 800 G2 Mini arrived
  • EliteDesk 800 G3 Mini arrived. This did not come with the SSD mounting brackets so the Samsung SSD was flopping around.
  • EliteDesk 800 G4 Mini arrived. It had a 500GB hard drive, however, it also had a HDMI port so that was a big win.
  • EliteDesk 800 G4 Mini with i5-8500T 6C/6T and NVMe arrived with keyboard and mouse!
  • ProDesk 600 G4 Mini with i5-8500T. This had 16GB but in 1x16GB SODIMM configuration. It arrived with keyboard and mouse!
Lenovo as well:
  • Lenovo ThinkCentre M710q Tiny Arrived (@William reviewed the M720q)
  • Lenovo ThinkCentre M715q Tiny Arrived with keyboard and mouse!
Dell
  • OptiPlex 7070 Mini arrived with keyboard and mouse!
  • OptiPlex 7060 Mini arrived with big wifi antenna accessory
  • OptiPlex 5050 Mini arrived
  • OptiPlex 3050 Mini arrived
Project MiniMicro Cover Introduction 800x450 Cover.jpg

Video

Main Site Coverage
Introduction: https://www.servethehome.com/introducing-project-tinyminimicro-home-lab-revolution/
 
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zer0sum

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I've been on a bit of a search recently for a really small system that can run as my ESXi box at the gateway of my network.
I do a lot of testing and spin all sorts of different firewalls up and change security monitoring VM's or dmz systems constantly :)

For a while I was running a T620+ and then a E3C224D2I+E3-1265Lv3, but I've moved on and my searches led me towards certain Intel NUC models or an Asrock deskmini.

For my purposes the requirements are as follows:
  • Must support ESXi, but doesn't need to be 100% official
  • CPU that supports at least 4 cores and 8 threads
  • 64GB or more memory
  • 1 or 2 NVME drives
  • 2 LAN interfaces
There are various models of the 6th gen or newer Intel NUC can work really well for this if you add a Thunderbolt/USB network adapter.
The Deskmini A300 is sort of interesting as it supports Ryzen5 3400 :)
Or I might be able to work with a HP T740 I think.

I'm still researching at this stage though, and I'm looking forward to the results Patrick :D
 
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RTM

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This is very interesting, you may want to include thin clients and I suppose NUCs in this evaluation.
 

Patrick

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This is very interesting, you may want to include thin clients and I suppose NUCs in this evaluation.
This is getting expensive fast. Right now the focus is on getting a usable set and investigating if something in that set is interesting.
 

csp-guy

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Hello Patrick,

great article, and nice green field project.

If I can help, i have Elitedesk 705 Gen5 Win 10 / Hp T740 in active duty, if you need some comparison or test, I can do it.

I would like to thank you and to your writers for the excellent professional job in testing and in writing articles, you are my 1st source in server related topics, and new hardware tests.

I’m always amazed at how often you post an article or test, you can have a lot of work in it.

Kind regards,

Peter
 
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Patrick

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Something cool today. The ProDesk 405 arrived. This one came with both the HP mouse and keyboard!
 

Patrick

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Only 5 more remaining inbound. The Lenovo M715q Tiny also had a mouse and keyboard included.
 

Patrick

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The HP EliteDesk 800 G3 arrived today. This is the listing HP EliteDesk 800 G3 Desktop Mini i5-7500T 2.7 GHz 8GB RAM 256GB SSD No OS | eBay

4 cores/ 4 threads, 8GB, 256GB Samsung 871b SATA SSD.

The SSD was not locked in place via the 4 screw/ gasket mounting mechanisms.

The 8GB of memory in mine is in 1x 8GB so getting to 16GB is only about $35 (with tax and shipping) more. Not too bad actually for a Kaby Lake 4C/ 4T chip.

Also, not mentioned in this listing, but the unit has an Intel 8265NGW as well which means 802.11ac 2x2 and Bluetooth 4.2.

This is certainly a step-up from the 705 G3's with a nicer HDD mechanism, USB-C, and they replaced the chassis thumbscrew with a sliding lock.
 
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WANg

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This is getting expensive fast. Right now the focus is on getting a usable set and investigating if something in that set is interesting.
I should mention that there are some compelling deals out there as well, and it’s not supposed to be open season on your wallet. For example, HP t630 thin clients (usually 4GB DDR4 and 16 to 64GB SSDs) have barely trafficked open offers out on eBay that can be had for about 85 USD (even less if you have an older HP 7.4mm 60W laptop power brick on hand and don't need one included), and their GX-420GI APUs (low wattage and passive cooling) performs as well as the A6 APUs on the EliteDesk 705 G3s.

This setup compares well against the 8GB RPi 4s (which are, what, 75 USD each running an "under construction" RPi4 AArch64 build rather than bog standard amd64 Debian?). The t630 have 2 M.2 SSD slots and can take an extra multimode SC fiber NIC (the 10 USD, Broadcom Tigon based AT29M2-SC001 that's also used in the t640/t730 thin clients). If you need something like a t620 Plus but only need 2 Gigabit NICs (built-in Realtek and the fiber Tigon) this is a good option.

Even accounting for the more expensive models with more RAM (32GB max) and SSD storage, it's still very good bang for the buck. If you just need a witness node for clustering or a low duty hypervisor for running an on-site domain controller/Radius VM, this is also a good choice. Its younger and more powerful sister the Ryzen V1505 powered t640 just showed up on eBay with accepted offers at around the 180 USD range (YMMV) - that one is more of a future buy.

Oh yeah, @Patrick, you might want to touch upon their viability as HTPC and/or Plex boxes (because that's what some of us would use it for).
Stuff to ask is:
Can it offer hardware decode/encode for a given format in Windows and/or Linux? If so, what's the maximum bitrate?
Can it do so without pegging the CPU?
How efficient is it?
 
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Patrick

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@WANg - I think that we are rapidly getting to this being a huge product. I have been trying to get the T640/T740 on offers.

One thing that these desktops have, if it is important to you, is a Win 10 Pro license. That keeps costs down if you are using Windows.

Core i5-8500T 6 core / 6 thread model coming.

Also ordered some 8GB DIMMs at under $30/ ea including tax and shipping.
 

WANg

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@WANg - I think that we are rapidly getting to this being a huge product. I have been trying to get the T640/T740 on offers.

One thing that these desktops have, if it is important to you, is a Win 10 Pro license. That keeps costs down if you are using Windows.

Core i5-8500T 6 core / 6 thread model coming.

Also ordered some 8GB DIMMs at under $30/ ea including tax and shipping.
Heh. Instead of one big server purchase it's death of a thousand corporate NUC cuts - and we didn't even give you any grief (yet) for leaving out the Dell Optiplex Micros...Also, think of the positives of the spend - It'll be an interesting and unique article with useful implications. Is this going to be a forum series, or an in-depth site article?

As for the licensing? For the HTPC/Plex setup, having a Win10 Pro license definitely helps. But those thin clients (unless the are ThinPro/Zero) tend to have Win10 IoT licenses attached to them as well, and they can be modified to do useful things. If not, well, they can still do ESXi/Proxmox or whatever Linux/BSD just fine, so it's a "nice-to-have". Although I am not sure you can easily change your licensing from IoT to something else.
 
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Patrick

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@WANg we have three OptiPlex mini/ micros coming.

Likely going to be forums, main site, and YouTube since investing a lot in this now.
 

Marsh

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The sweet spot for me is the HP G2 mini with I5-6500T , 4 or 8GB ram on Ebay.
Many times, I would BIN between $100 to $125. A small NUC like desktop for about a C-note is super bargain.

Last month, due to the scary stock market volatility, I removed the Ebay search from my bookmark page.
There were 4 HP G2 mini sold listings between $100 - $125.

I am afraid after STH publish the series, I may not see HP G2 mini for less than $150.

In case my sense of humor failed. I am kidding about the popularity of STH effect .

I am looking forward the blog post.
 
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WANg

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The sweet spot for me is the HP G2 mini with I5-6500T , 4 or 8GB ram on Ebay.
Many times, I would BIN between $100 to $125. A small NUC like desktop for about a C-note is super bargain.

Last month, due to the scary stock market volatility, I removed the Ebay search from my bookmark page.
There were 4 HP G2 mini sold listings between $100 - $125.

I am afraid after STH publish the series, I may not see HP G2 mini for less than $150.

In case my sense of humor failed. I am kidding about the popularity of STH effect .

I am looking forward the blog post.
Heh, considering that I just paid 125 USD for a 3dfx Voodoo2 (for a retrogaming project), that's not bad at all. The Skylake is in a bit of a sweet spot for HTPC since it has usable HEVC/h265/VP9 decoding as long as it's not 10 bit color...
 

Marsh

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The Skylake is in a bit of a sweet spot for HTPC since it has usable HEVC/h265/VP9 decoding as long as it's not 10 bit color.
To get HEVC 10bit decoding on HP G2, I used a cheap Intel G4560 or G4600 CPU.
It work as HTPC or Plex/Emby server.
 

Agremlin

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I'm looking to getting one or two SFF/USFF hp/dell/lenovo for projects, can pickup used boxes cheap locally (im looking in $100-$150 range).

Has anyone come across a comparison of newish SFF machines comparing power use, expandability and processing power? @Patrick if you do compile some comparisons in a spreadsheet, would be great to see. (There seems to be a daunting array of dell and hp SFF models, help in narrowing down to a handful woul be super useful)

The HP 290 looks interesting, but ive only just started looking, ideally would like 4 physical cores, good single thread performance (eg 1200+ on passmark), and <20W idle power consumption.
 
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Patrick

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TBH - I am basically spending short 10 min brainstorming sessions on what I want to capture for all of these as I go through them. I have a feeling that we are hitting the point where there are too many units to have to go back and re-batch run.

Right now it is figuring out what is at:
  • Segment Level - these are all similar sizes, so talking about common traits/ what to look for
  • Vendor-specific - these vendors have certain design directions and small differences between their offerings that you can see across their portfolios. Also, potentially this is Intel, AMD, Dell, HP, Lenovo so five parts
  • Model-specific - features, options, performance
Then the output is a set of content aligned to the data we are collecting/ lessons learned.