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

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!

 

12 Comments

  1. Nice post!

    I was looking to do something similar, looked for low profile dual port gigabit NICs to fit in the N40L… I will probably end up doing the same thing, those cards at retail, cost a lot of money!

    Thanks for the write up!

  2. Hi! I am also owner of a N40L that I want to use as a NAS under openmediavault.

    I bought a second hand Dual port Gigabit interface (broadcom Netextrem II 5709c) to aggregate two ethernet links on my switch. The card was sold with a large bracket too.

    At the begining I wanted to build a short bracket from a piece of tin because I did not want to modify the original one. Then I realized I also had to shorten the card’s PCIe interface to be able to use it on the server’s 1 lane PCIe slot. The 8 lanes slot is needed for a SAS adapter. So why not shorten the NIC at both ends? 🙂

    Your post shown me how simple the modification is and it finished to convince me. Thanks!

    SAS and Ethernet adapters are now installed and my N40L. I am still searching for two 4 bays sas arrays at a reasonable price.

  3. Yes – you will be limited by the PCI-Ex 1x slot speed though. Fine for a single NIC, but on a dual NIC card you may start running into bottlenecks… Look up the theoretical speeds etc to check!

  4. I had a 2 port NIC i needed to put into a machine to make a Pfsense box, had the normal NIC bracket vs low rise issue. I read what you did, and i just used tin snips and a pliers and had it done in no time.
    Thanks for the tip!

  5. Just about to do this myself – glad to see its easy.
    Out with the Junior Hack Saw.
    Will also be doing the same with a Raid card for the Microserver.

  6. Just found this card over at amazon for $45 including shipping, they mentioned that could be shipped with low profile. So contact the seller amtech, just go an email from them that they would ship it with low profile. So placed the order will see how it turns out. If ships will full height bracket have your great writeup on how to mod it – thanks!

  7. So got the card in the mail today, came with the low profile – bing bang zoom its in my N40L everything looks good sofar. Created some new switches moved the nics around, I did have an issue where it renumbered the nics so could not get to esxi host after reboot – had to move the lan cable around until hit the right card 😉

    Now got it all worked out, now that have 2 more nics to play with – moved the vmkernel to its own nic/switch. So far all looks good, your writeup about the nic helped know what to order, even though did not have to use your mod the card seems to be working great – Thanks!

  8. Hi,
    Instead of adding a dual port NIC, could you just add a single port NIC card? That way you’d end up with 2 NICs in total which could thenbe channel bonded to give 2 Gb bandwidth? Would that work?
    Thanks
    Michael

  9. That would be possible too – no problem technically. I would only be slightly concerned with having two different brands / models of NIC being bonded – that wouldn’t be ideal, but if you were not using it for anything mission critical it should be just fine 🙂

    Sean

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