We were looking for a small, inexpensive, and eco-friendly headless Linux server that would support some low traffic services like providing a Maven Repository (Nexus), a Source Code Repository like GIT or SubVersion, etc.
The MSI Nettop 100 Barebone System seemed to be a close to perfect match, for what we had in mind, especially when considering that the missing pieces like memory and harddrive could be found in our scrap box. The MSI Nettop is one of the first Dual-Core Atom N330 Processor computers, has a very small footprint, consumes only 35 Watts on average, and costs about US$ 150.
A 64-bit Linux server with 4 virtual cores for about $150 didn’t sound too bad. When we received the box, we were amazed by the built quality of board and case as well as by the power of the dual-core ATOM chip.
… but first things first .. what do you really get, when ordering an MSI Nettop Barebone and what is missing:
MSI Wind Nettop 100 Desktop PC (1.6 GHz Intel Atom Dual Core N330 Processor, Barebone)
- Intel Dual Core Atom 330 1.6GHz, Frontside Bus 533MHz
- Intel 945GC Express chipset w/ Intel ICH7 I/O controller hub
- One VGA (no DVI/HDMI) port with integrated Intel GMA 950 graphics
- One CF Card Slot (internal), main board needs to be removed for access.
- One SD Card Slot (Front)
- Six USB 2.0 (Front 2, Rear 4)
- Realtek ALC858 8-CH Onboard Audio (6 jacks / Rear)
- One Ethernet Port, Realtek 8111C(10/100/1000Mbps)
- One Mic-in (Front)
- One Headphone-out (Front)
Memory Slot (Empty)
- One 200 pin Laptop Memory Slot
- Supported Memory:200-pin SODIMM, DDR2 PC2-4200 533MHz
- Speed 533MHz
- CAS Latency 4
- Two SATA 3.0Gb/s
- Mainly metal, black on the outside
- Plastic front bezel (black)
- One 3.5″ Internal bay
- One 5.25″ External bay
- External 65W Power Adapter
- Size: 11.8″ x 9.5″ x 2.55″
- Even at full load, the system operates, burning only 35 Watts
- Fan is noticeable but at 30dB still quiet.
- WiFi antenna included to support a 802.11a/b/g
- Vertical stand included
Let me be clear, .. here is what’s NOT included:
- Monitor, Keyboard, Mouse
- CD / DVD Drive
- WiFi Network Adapter
- Hard drive(s)
Listen, let me be very clear, .. the MSI Wind Nettop Barebone has only a VGA socket (no DVI or HDMI) meaning even if you want to run it headless, you still need a VGA-Monitor to do the initial setup. Please note that the VGA port does not provide a composite video signal on the un-used pins, i.e. inexpensive VGA-to-Composite-Video converters are useless.
Before configuring the BIOS, we needed to install memory and harddrive. While the Nettop supports up to 2GBytes, we had an un-used 1GB stick available, which we installed. The perfect memory module would look like this:
2GB, 200-Pin SODIMM, DDR2 PC2-4200, 533 MHz, CL=4
Faster memory, like PC2-5300 doesn’t provide any advantages, the frontside bus is limited to 533 MHz after all. However, down to CL 4 (CAS Latency) is supported, i.e. we got lucky that the scrap box memory (Crucial CT25664AC667) is unbuffered CL=4 memory.
The internals of the very well and solid built metal case provides space for a full size optical drive (5.25″) as well as a full size desktop harddrive (3.5″). However, we only had a 2.5-Inch laptop drive available, which is very quite and also less power hungry, i.e. eco-friendly. The harddrive bay is right on top of the processors heatsink, making it a less desirable location. Since we didn’t want to install a SATA optical drive, we put the harddrive into the muchcooler optical drive bay, which required a 3.5 to 2 X 2.5-Inch Bay Converter as well as Hard Drive Mounting Bracket. However, placing the harddrive away far away from the heatsinks not only prolongs the harddives life but also makes the whole system run a little cooler.
With memory and harddrive in place, we connected VGA-display and a USB Keyboard (anodized aluminum Apple Keyboard) and booted the system. By default the bootscreen was disabled and fast boot enabled, giving us only a VERY short moment to hit the delete key after hearing theBEEP. The 3rd or 4th attempt was finally successful and we were finally in the BIOS.
Since we didn’t have a CD-Drive connected, we had a Ubuntu 9.10 64-bit server distribution prepared on an SD-Card. After configuring the boot-option, as well as boot the screen settings in the BIOS, the Ubuntu installer came up on reboot.
Now, with Ubuntu Linux 9.10 (64-bit) server installed, there is much more to tell. The box runs smoothly and quietly, without any problems so far. It sits here in my room connected to the router via Ethernet cable but without Keyboard/Monitor/Mouse. So far, I have webmin, the browser-based interface for system administration for Unix installed and the above mentioned Nexus Maven Repository Server.