Liam Jackson Saves an Old HP MicroServer From the Scrapheap with a 3D-Printed Drive-Bay PC Bracket

Replacing the original motherboard entirely, this clever bracket houses an Intel N100-based mini-PC in the MicroServer's 5.25" bay.

Gareth Halfacree
2 months agoUpcycling / HW101 / 3D Printing

Software engineer Liam Jackson has penned a guide to bringing an old Hewlett-Packard N36L/N40L/N54L ProLiant MicroServer bang up-to-date — by shoving an Intel N100-based mini-PC in its 5.25" drive bay, replacing the stock motherboard entirely.

"The HP N54L MicroServer (and the N36L/N40L) is a great solid chassis with four toolless drive bays, a key operated front door, optical drive bay, and aging AMD Turion II Neo CPU," Jackson explains. "However, the CPU does not really keep up in the days of gigabit broadband and running multiple Docker containers."

"It also has the unfortunate feature of just powering off if it overheats," Jackson continues. "This has earned it the household nickname of 'the saddest server.' Since the CPU is soldered and the the motherboard is non-standard, another way to upgrade this otherwise solid unit was needed to keep it from becoming just more ewaste."

With no easy way to mount a modern motherboard where the original lives, Jackson set about looking for alternative places to put a replacement — and spotted the typically-unused 5.25" drive bay a the top of the case. A 3D-printed adapter accepted an off-the-shelf mini-PC based around Intel's N100 CPU, a major upgrade from the AMD Turion II that originally shipped in the MicroServer, and slotted it home at the top of the case.

"Hooking up the four-bay HDD cage in the N54L was surprisingly easy," Jackson adds. "It connects to the original motherboard via a mini-SAS [Serial Attached SCSI] (SFF-8087) connector. This connector spec can carry four lanes of SATA, so cables to split mini-SAS to four SATA ports are common and is basically all this HDD cage does. All that was needed was to install a £14 [around $18] M.2 card into the mini-PC's M.2 NVMe slot, connect up the drive cage to the mini-SAS port, and Unraid recognised the drives straight away!"

The mini-PC, and a new case fan, are both powered from the existing MicroServer power supply — now running constantly using what Jackson calls the "ATX 'paperclip trick,'" in which two pins of the ATX cable are permanently shorted to send a constant power-on signal.

"Overall this project was very successful," Jackson concludes, "and not only is the server now much faster (it can saturate my gigabit link on downloads, whereas it was limited to around 25% before) and lower power, heat seems much better too and it saved the MicroServer chassis and PSU from becoming waste."

The full project write-up is available on Hackaday.io, while Jackson has published the STL files for the PC adapter bracket on Printables under a public domain license.

Gareth Halfacree
Freelance journalist, technical author, hacker, tinkerer, erstwhile sysadmin. For hire: freelance@halfacree.co.uk.
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