Project TinyMiniMicro: Reviving Small Corporate Desktops

WANg

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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.
Well, You can think of Dell/HP/Lenovo as the 3 major vendors of enterprise class desktop lines (that’s the Optiflex/EliteDesk/ThinkCentres respectively), and each of the vendors also have specific members of the family targeting for different demographics.

For example, in the Optiplex line Dells have the 3000s for value customers, the 5000s for the mainstreams, the 7s for large institutions, and the 9s for professionals. The difference is a beefier heat sink and higher grade discrete video choices.

Then there are the different designations for Intel versus AMD...the industry tends to use a trailing "0" for the Intel, and "5" for the AMD machines.

For example, HP tends to use the model number 705 to designate AMD based hardware, and 800 for Intel based.

However, the most important distinction to consider is that each vendor comes with 3 categories for their enterprise desktop machines, which is grouped according to their internal volume (length x width x height), and are typically denoted in liters. While knowing the dimensions is important, knowing the volume is essential. It informs on how much you can fit inside, how much heat wicking capacity they can have, and how much shelf space you'll need.
The abbreviations are taken from HP, but they translate well across lines and families. Here's what the volume ranges are:

Minitower (MT) ~ 13 to 20 L
Small Form Factor (SFF) ~ 7 to 13 L
Desktop Mini/Micro/Tiny (DM) ~ -.5 to 2 L <- Those are the "corporate NUCs" that I talk about

There are stragglers between those different size ranges - for example, HP used to have a Ultra-Small form factor (USFF)...which goes between the SFF and the DM. The "big" thin clients from HP (t620+, t730, t740) that I work with are between 3-4L. Apple Mac Minis are around 2L in size.

Don't confuse the SFFs with the DMs as they are not directly comparable - SFFs tend to have bigger power supplies, use desktop components and actual PCIe cards. They are cheaper on the secondary market because they are bigger, takes up more shelf-space (both at the consumer and at the retailer/reseller), and as Rodney Dangerfield put it "don't get much respect at all", simply because of how many are dumped by enterprises who cycles through them off-lease, and how desktops are simply not the main focus for IT procurement. I am personally not a big fan of SFFs since they are similar to build-your-own MIniITX machines, but minus the smaller footprint. Some of the later SFFs also engineered out the reasons why you'll want one, namely, the 4 RAM slots, or extra PSU capacity. In some ways the only reason why you'll want one is MAYBE the over-capacity heatsink/cooling fan setup that allows the owner to swap out a weak Celeron with a quadcore Core i7 down the line without much ancillary work. The flip side is that they are cheap, and most have decent enterprise warranties, often still valid at the time of purchase from a secondary market. If/when i get one, I place support calls to get the vendor to send me a new motherboard and whatever life limited component they tend to have based on my extensive experience of knowing what would likely fail, and what steps to take to get them to send a replacement board.

Consumer level SFFs like the HP 290s are not great ideas: cost engineered to be just "good enough" to last maybe 2-3 years with heavy use, and sold originally with 1 year base level warranties that are....well, not worth the paper that it's printed on (anyone who dealt with "consumer-side" support with long phone queues and mail-in servicing will know my pain - I have relatives who treat me like I am their personal IT helpdesk, and they always buy the cheap crap from Best Buy, oh, the irony inherent in that store name). The service depots are likely out of replacement parts for them, and when you get them, the warranties are usually done and over with. When they die, you are SOL. There are hidden costs to "cheap", like buying a secondhand Mercedes from the 90s. Sure, they are cheap and can often be tank-like reliable, but the second they break down? Money pits - the spare parts are just so expensive due to their relative scarcity.

Now as for the DMs, they are corporate NUCs, but they can have nice features, like a pair of M2 slots (might be SATA, might be NVMe), they might have a single quiet blower to cool itself down (tends to use laptop components), and the power supply tends to be external (usually the power bricks from the manufacturer's enterprise laptop lines). They are usually very densely packed, well-engineered, somewhat user-serviceable but doesn't offer much in terms of upgrades. Some might have discrete graphics options residing in an MXM slot.
Normally these machines will not be super-cheap, but thanks to the numbers produced and the preferences from some businesses to hide their computers on mounting kits behind the LCDs (making them much more demanded), when they go on the secondary market post-lease, they can be rather cheap as well. Of course, machines like that can be replaced by thin clients as well...
 
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Patrick

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@WANg perhaps for the best, my t740 offer was rejected now eBay has them over $500. T640 they want $220. At that point, it probably makes sense to keep on the MicroMini nodes since I'm getting more memory, SSD, and the Win10 Pro license for ~$30-50 more.

This is actually good since it helps contain scope.
 

WANg

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@WANg perhaps for the best, my t740 offer was rejected now eBay has them over $500. T640 they want $220. At that point, it probably makes sense to keep on the MicroMini nodes since I'm getting more memory, SSD, and the Win10 Pro license for ~$30-50 more.

This is actually good since it helps contain scope.
Yeah, the pricing on thin clients are tricky. Sometimes you discover a great deal, but give it a week or 2, the deal disappears and you end up with something...not quite. They are not nearly as liquid as offers on the corporate NUCs. When they are liquid (lots of offers) the buyers tend to have a better time...like the current market on the t630. Those are good little machines hovering at 70-100, depending on whether you need accessories or not.

The cheapest I’ve seen a t740 in the past 2 weeks is 420 USD on clearance at CDW (that does come with a keyboard, mouse, power supply, stand and a 3 year warranty, but that’s more than the 350 USD on offer for a Ryzen 5 m715q Gen2 (I recently missed out on a m715q that was accepted at 275), or the 370 all-in I paid for my t740.

I saw best offer deals for the t640 start at 230 USD, which usually implies an accepted offer for 220 (200+shipping), unless it’s an all-in offer with a mouse+keyboard+PSU tossed in. That being said, yeah...at that price range it’s getting so close to the Ryzen 3 based m715q G2. When factoring in the price of an upgrade it makes it not quite worth it (unless you like passively cooled Ryzen embedded machines with soldered APUs)
 
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newabc

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Some ebay sellers are listing 5 or 10 micro/tiny form factor barebones, but I think they need more skills to put the cpu, ram and hdd in than the SFFs.
 
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nthu9280

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If/when i get one, I place support calls to get the vendor to send me a new motherboard and whatever life limited component they tend to have based on my extensive experience of knowing what would likely fail, and what steps to take to get them to send a replacement board.
^^^ Wish I was as diligent. A while ago I got a Elitedesk 800 G2 SFF and it did have some factory warranty. Windows 10 install gave BSOD. I ran HW diags and didn't find anything. Prime95 & memtest also were fine. Had other priorities and let this one sit unused for a while and now I see power light comes on and CPU fan runs but no display. tried different onboard display to no avail. Both HP warranty and ebay return windows are long passed and I'm stuck with this dud.
 

Marsh

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@nthu9280
No worries, HP G2 mini system board goes for a song on Ebay ( $25-$35 ).
It is amazing how cheap the corporate computer components.
I usually buy the entire G2 mini barebone system for $30-$35 each. It even comes with heatsink.
 

Cookie1990

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Please, everything without power draf in IDLE and Load is next to useloess.
Please please please always post with power draw, do it for your german friends :D.
 

Patrick

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@WANg not yet.

Dell OptiPlex 3050 and 5050 arrived today. The 5050 has WiFi but did not come with an antenna.

Overall, these are very nice units. The 3050 came with a SATA SSD, but there are M.2 WLAN and SSD ports onboard. The 5050 came with a SanDisk X600 SATA M.2 SSD but has room for a 2.5" drive tray.

Thus far, the HP units that have M.2 SSDs have not had the 2.5" retention mechanisms.

On the pricing bit @Marsh here is the 5050 breakdown
  • Core i7-7700T has been selling in the $245-275 range
  • 16GB of RAM (2x 8GB) has been $50-55
  • 128GB SSD = $18-25
I got the unit for $375. I think that is reasonable.

@Cookie1990 trying to figure out the best way to do that. It may just be an idle/ load number with power and noise. It will still show some strange results since we are crossing CPU vendors and generations. Still, Skylake++++++ has been around for awhile.
 
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Marsh

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Core i7-7700T has been selling in the $245-275 range
I got the unit for $375. I think that is reasonable.
I think it is a very good deal for the I7 unit.
I really like the corporate off-lease machine. There are many unexpected gems.
Sometimes, the entire system cost less than the CPU

Once , I purchased a HP G2 SFF ( not mini ) with I7-6700 , 8GB ram for $120 shipped.
Unbelievable price.
 
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Patrick

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The Core i7-7700T is nice, but I actually think the i5-8500T is not too bad. You lose a bit on clocks, and 2 threads, but you gain 2 cores and more cache from the extra cores.

The stage part is I could basically sell that CPU and with the proceeds buy a 4C/ 4T i5-6500t system.

Also, I just realized that with the Optiplex 7070 I will have i5-6500T, i5-7500T, i5-8500T, and i5-9500T samples.
 

Marsh

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I love to see the performance comparison between i5-6500T, i5-7500T, i5-8500T.

Currently , my 2 workstation are HP 800G2 mini with I5-6500T and 32 GB ram. It does everything that I need.

I also have 2 x I7-6700 cpu , 1 x I7-7700 , 2 x I5-9400 that I picked up cheap.
 
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Patrick

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Post 1 updated with the first 14 nodes for testing. I used the GH5 instead of the S1R but it came out OK.
 

BlueFox

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Post 1 updated with the first 14 nodes for testing. I used the GH5 instead of the S1R but it came out OK.
m4/3 isn't that much of a downgrade. :(

Guessing you're skipping the NUC line since they have considerably more coverage already and tend to command a price premium?
 

Patrick

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@BlueFox that is basically the idea.

Pretty much the concept is going to be getting an ultra-low cost cluster together that you can add nodes to as you want more cores/ RAM.

Let us say you start with 1-2 nodes. A year later you add a third. In year 2 maybe you decided you want to go from 4C to 6C nodes but you only want three so you pull a 4C out. Then you can use the removed 4C node out as a web browsing box or sell it off. Even if you got $175 for it, and bought at $275-325 two years earlier, that is a relatively small loss.

NUCs have a ton of coverage already. I also have a suspicion that these corporate desktop nodes outsell NUCs.