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Home labs – adding and modding a dual port Gigabit NIC to the HP Microserver N40L

August 8th, 2012 12 comments

I wanted to add more physical NICs to my HP Microserver N40L machine to use with vSphere. The box comes with an onboard 1GBit NIC, but I wanted to play around with VLANs and multiple uplinks in my home lab. The problem is finding an affordable solution – most dual port NICs that are any use with ESXi (Intel chipset based) cost almost as much as the Microserver itself which is quite off-putting!

After trawling ebay and the VMware HCL I found that that the HP NC360T PCI Express Dual Port Gigabit Network Card would work well with ESXi 5.0 and that I could get these NICs (used) fairly cheap. I picked up a used card off ebay for only £30 ($46.97 US), which was in my budget. Problem was I could not find a card with a low-profile bracket, so I thought I would just make do with the normal bracket and either remove it, or modify it to fit.

The NIC itself has two 1GBit ports, and is based on the Intel 82571EB chipset and offers a 4 lane (x4) PCI Express bus. This means that I could use it on the HP Microserver’s 16x PCI Express slot (which is downward compatible of course). Apparently there are also mods out there that can be used to get this card to work in the x1 slot if you don’t have the x16 slot free – but I haven’t attempted this yet.

I first tried it out without the bracket (by just removing two screws that hold the bracket to the PCB). This worked fine, but was really not a permanent solution, especially for plugging/unplugging cables whilst the machine was powered up.

not a good solution - the NIC without bracket - way too flimsy

 

So out came the tools as I decided to modify the existing bracket to fit the Microserver’s low-profile chassis.

The Intel card's bracket next to the Microserver's blanking plate.

 

HP NC360T PCI Express card with bracket removed

 

Step 1 – I drew a line at the point where the 90 degree bend in the bracket should be for a low-profile card. I then took a junior hacksaw and “scored” this line out (saw a little bit in to weaken the metal).

Step 2 – Now with the score mark in place, I simply used two pairs of pliers to bend the bracket along the score mark, which was now easy and accurate.

bending the bracket on the score mark

 

Step 3 – I marked off where the 90 degree protruding point of the bracket would end, and used the hacksaw to remove the excess. I then cut out a small notch in this top piece for the screw that holds the PCI card in place normally. I attached the bracket back to the NIC and installed in the Microserver.

 

The HP NIC fitted with modified bracket

 

And here is the final result after ESXi 5.0 recognises the new hardware –

The NIC recognised under Network adapters view - ESXi 5.0

If you have managed to find any good PCI Express NICs for the HP N40L Microserver, or have any advice or experiences with mods for hardware and the Microserver, please post in the comments section!