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EVERYTHING You Should Know About the HL15

The HL15 from 45Drives is here. It brings a lot of unique features and was built and designed with the HomeLab community in mind. In this in-depth review we’ll cover everything you want to know about this new storage server.

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Disclosures:

  • I was not paid
  • I was sent an HL15 for review

Intro

HL15 is here! HL15 from 45HomeLab

This is the newly released HL15 from 45 Homelab division of 45 Drives. It’s a server meant to meet the needs of the HomeLab community while bringing the build quality and design from their enterprise offerings. It’s a 15 bay server that can be used for just about whatever you want to use it for but it goes without saying that you’re most likely thinking about buying this to be your next storage server.

There’s a lot to unpack with this new server so this will be an in-depth look at the H15 HomeLab Storage Server. We’ll cover everything from the chassis, the backplane, the motherboard, the CPU, the power supply and power consumption, cooling, software selection, and even the price and value proposition, because at the end of the day if you don’t think it’s worth it, you’re probably not going to buy it. So, is it any good? Let’s find out.

Purchasing Options

When purchasing this machine you have a few options. Now you might have sticker shock when seeing these prices, but we’ll talk about that later in the video. But your options are:

  • Chassis & backplane only
  • Chassis, backplane, PSU, Data Cables, and PSU
  • or fully loaded and tested which is the machine that they sent to me for testing.

You have your choice of color, power cable, and additional add ons if you like. They sent a white for me, which is what I was hoping for.

First let’s dive into the chassis and the case.

Chassis / Case

HL15 front Steel chassis with screws. I really dig the white and blue

This chassis is made of steel and it’s solid. Like really solid. If you’ve only had aluminum cases in the past you’ll notice the difference right away. It has a powder coat finish that comes in white or black, mine is obviously in white. This design is really nice, it has sort of this Star Wars Hoth vibe to it, which I am a fan of. Now looking at this case you can see that it’s almost entirely metal metal and screws, which I think is a good thing. Why does that matter? We’ll, if you’ve ever had a rivet pop off of one of your cases it’s near impossible to fix, at least for me, I’ve never used rivets and wouldn’t know where to start.

You can open this case up using these thumb screws and the first thing you see is the top loading drive cage.

Holds 15 drives that can easily slide in and out, easy to see serial numbers (no more labels) and has these nice little springs to keep the drives in place. You’ll also notice No caddies, which is something 45 Drives does not like and after loading quite a few drives in other systems I think it’s starting to rub off on me. Caddies just add more parts, more screws, and ultimately more time and complexity when servicing drives. It’s something that I can now appreciate after dealing with the status quo for so many years.

Back of the chassis The back of the chassis is pretty basic, I do wish it used PCIe blanks vs breakaways

One of the downsides is that the PCIe slots have breakaways. Great if you never need to add an item (less parts, less screws, less things banging around) but awkward if you do shuffle around hardware. This is a carry over from their enterprise servers, something I also have in my AV15.

The other nice thing about this case is that it can lay flat or even stack up like a desktop with the included feet. If you’re choosing to rack mount this, you’ll just need to attach the included rack ears and then also pick up a pair of rack rails, which do not come with the server. If you don’t want the official rack rails, one of the universal rack shelves will work just fine.

Motherboard & Connectivity

Motherboard Lots of this connectivity options on this motherboard

We’ll go a little more in depth on the backplane and some of its features a little bit later but let’s first focus on the motherboard and connectivity to help you understand how it all works.

This motherboard is the SuperMicro X11SPH-nCTPF. It comes in 2 flavors, one with SFP+ networking and the other with 10Gbe networking.

X11SPH-nCTF https://www.supermicro.com/en/products/motherboard/x11sph-nctpf

CPU & RAM

CPU This is an intro level Xeon, great for PCIe lane, storage services, and a few containers or VMs but not too much after that

  • Single Socket LGA-3647 Motherboard
  • Up to 28 cores we’ll cover the specific CPU a little bit later
  • Up to 2 TB of RAM across the 8 DIMM slots
  • DDR4-3200 Dual Rank ECC Registered RAM

I opted for 32 GB of 2x16 and picked up more RAM from eBay and now have 128GB. It’s priced pretty fairly there if you’re thinking about buying some.

I made sure that I tested it and it all passed

If you do decide to do this, be sure to populate your DIMs in dual rank mode according to the motherboard manual.

SATA / SAS

PCIe

  • 4 PCIe 3.0 slots:
  • 16x, 8x, 8x, 4x in 8x slot
  • They are 3.0
  • 3.0 is 1 GB/s and 4.0 is 2 GB/s but real world not sure if you’re notice
  • This gives you plenty of room for expandability

Backplane

Custom backplane created by 45 drives.

  • It can address up to 15 drives.
  • They’ve wired up 8 to SATA and 7 to SAS
  • The 8 SATA run though the C622 onboard controller 6 GB ports
  • 7 SAS run through the Intel 3008 controller 12 GB/s ports
  • Can push up to 2,000 MB /s?
  • You can saturate a 10g link easily with this much storage
  • Basically NVMe speeds over the network
  • This backplane has some custom features.
  • It’s the same backplane that they put in their enterprise Storinators they just developed
    • Universal Hot Swap
      • Power limiting features so that when plugging in drives it won’t affect its neighbors voltage
    • Staggered spin up
      • Staggers the spin up of the hard drives
      • Starting all at the same time can create a surge
      • I think this is why one of my old JBOD servers trips my power supply when I power it on.

Power Supply

Hl15 standing up The HL15 has a modest power supply. Great for 15 drives but might need some additional wattage if you’re going to add more components

  • Rm750e from Corsair
  • ATX, Fully Modular make sure that you only use the cables you need reducing clutter in the case. This is welcomed because when swapping out the power supply in my AV15 there were lots of cables and it was a specialized power supply. Great to see they are using a standard ATX now.

  • Low noise because of its 120mm fan, and can even spin down to 0 RPMs on low loads.
  • It also has an 80 plus gold certified rating meaning that it’s up to 90% efficient at steady loads. Could you get a more efficient one, sure, but it’s going to cost a lot more.
  • Overall solid power supply but 750w might not leave too much headroom if you’re planning on adding all 15 drives and some additional components.

Networking

  • Dual 10g SFP+ ports
  • I went this route because I feel like it’s a little more flexible than going 10g ethernet
  • I ended up buying a few 10g RJ45 transceivers to connect to 10g ethernet on my switch (Where to Buy section)

IPMI

  • IPMI onboard
  • typical ASPEED IPMI you need on SuperMicro boards
  • Works great for getting into your machine when it’s powered down or before it has an OS.
  • I used it to flash the BMC and firmware shortly after getting it powered on.
  • I did buy the remote license update from SuperMicro, which I typically do with all my boards that allows you to flash bios through the UI.
  • It costs about 27 bucks and while it stinks to pay for this license, there’s no easy way around it if you do want to flash your BIOS remotely or want access to some of the other features.

Misc

There are lots of additional headers on the board if you need, like TPM, USB, and even additional serial.

IO

  • VGA, which honestly doesn’t matter since you have IPMI, but this is pretty typical with servers
  • USB 2 and 3.0 ports, network again, and serial.

Overall, I think this is a solid server board for this configuration.

CPU

Intel(R) Xeon(R) Bronze 3204 CPU @ 1.90GHz https://ark.intel.com/content/www/us/en/ark/products/193381/intel-xeon-bronze-3204-processor-8-25m-cache-1-90-ghz.html

  • 2nd gen Intel Xeon Scalable processors
  • Cascade Lake
  • 6 Cores, no Hyper-threading
  • Max clock 1.9, low for single thread performance but fine for me
  • Can address up to 48 PCIe lanes which is great for the board we have
  • TDP 85w
  • VTx, VtD, AES-NI and more of the typical tech you see in Xeon CPUs

Real world, is the CPU enough? It is for me. I will be doing very little compute on this server. If you plan on using this as a hypervisor like Proxmox, you might want to look into another CPU. I checked other CPU options on the used market and it’s actually not to bad if you want to upgrade this CPU later on down the road.

Power Consumption & Efficiency

  • Turning it on without anything plugged in it’s going to pull about 80 watts of power while doing system tests and if you plug in a few additional USB devices, the monitor, a couple of GBICs it’s going to pull an additional 10.
  • When fully booted into Ubuntu 22.04 LTS without anything plugged in it’s going to pull about 70 watts.
  • The only drives I had free to test with here these 8TB Seagate Ironwolf 7200 RPM NAS drives
  • After inserting each drive and letting them spin up and normalizing, each drive added about an additional 8-9 watts of power. After inserting 6 without anything else plugged in, we’re sitting at about 114 watts
  • After pulling in the 2 10g transceivers and the IPMI nic, we’re sitting at right around 125 watts. Not too bad all things considered.
  • I disconnected the fans just to see and it looks like they are using about 4 watts a a piece

Cooling

  • 6 x 120mm CoolerGuys fans
  • 1700 RPM
  • 32.5dBA
  • 73CFM - cubic feet per minute
  • 2.47mm H2O - static pressure (measures in inches of water)
  • 6 of these total
  • 3 in the front to take in cool air and cool the drives and another 3 to push air across the motherboard and keep components cool.

These fans move a lot of air and you don’t need to worry about your components ever overheating. They do this at the cost of noise though. How loud are the fans? I am not sure how to put this but they are quiet for enterprise servers and loud for a home server. They are much quieter than its enterprise counterpart, the AV15, but still not something you want to put in your living room. I am thinking about replacing them with Zigbee controller RGB fans like I did with my AV15 customization video but haven’t had the time to rip it apart yet.

If you do decide to replace the fans, just be sure that you’re getting something on par with these and specifically ones with enough static pressure.

The CPU cooler is passive and I think that has a lot to do with why they’re using these fans. On my AV15 I did swap this out for a noctua cpu cooler that kept it just as cool, if not more, which then allowed me to replace the fans with quieter fans. You can find the fans I used in the AV15 in the Where to Buy section.

OS & Software

The HL15 ships with Rocky Linux but I assume that’s there just to run their QA tests. Since this is an open system x86 you can install anything you like on it from Proxmox, to TrueNAS, VMware or any operating system. If you’re buying this as a storage server, most likely it’s going to be something that handles storage nicely.

I took a slightly different approach with this system and decided to not install a hypervisor and install Ubuntu LTS. This time I am going to go bare metal and see how manageable Ubuntu is with services like SMB, NFS, ZFS, some docker containers, and possibly some KVM if I want virtualization.

I am also going to give Cockpit a shot, or the Houston UI as 45Drives calls it. This gives me a friendly UI to manage some of these services which are otherwise pretty complex.

That’s when I found out that they don’t yet support 22.04, only 20.04 which is the previous LTS from 3 years ago. With all of that being said, I am going to install Cockpit without the 45Drives special sauce.

This was super simple with a command…

Or so I thought…

And that had its own issues so for the sake of showing off what Cockpit / Houston can do I decided to install Ubuntu 20.04, which is still supported. Hopefully 22.04 will be supported, or even 24.04 in the spring.

Installing is as easy as downloading a script and then executing it. It will install many different modules to help you manage your server. After setup is complete you’ll reboot.

Once installed you can see Houston or Cockpit running on your server IP https 9090

At the time of testing Houston for this video, it seems like some of these modules are not working properly with the HL15, for example the 45Drives Disks and the 45Drives Motherboard do not load, and the 45Drives System area is partially loaded and there are some services that fail to load like ZnapZend. These few things aside, the rest of the UI seems to be working.

I can create ZFS pools, create SMB and NFS Shares, and even create some virtual machines if I like, although the UI is pretty basic for this. Creating users, Charts, metrics, benchmarks, and even accessing the terminal all seem fine. You can also install additional applications by using the cli and finding an application on their project page however most of them are already installed. For example I installed and open LDAP server on my machine and that worked just fine, however beta applications like Tailscale and cloudflare tunnels aren’t available on this version of cockpit so you won’t be able to install them, arguably that’s probably better suited for something like Docker and containers, and if you’re going to install manage containers, you’ll want to install Portainer to manage them.

If I do end up going this route, I would leave Cockpit for managing hardware type services and configuration and leave the rest to Docker and I will manage Docker with Portainer since it’s only a few clicks away. All that being said, I know that this is a new line for 45 drives, but it would be nice if this were working so that I wouldn’t be forced to use proxmox because I don’t need virtualization, and TrueNAS because I don’t want to run their apps. I might just go bare metal without any gui, but managing configs for smb, zfs, zfs, etc is such a pain.

So more to come on the OS for this server, I still have time to make my decision and the nice thing is it’s flexible!

Hardware & Network Stress Test

Network stress testing The HL15 with a standard config can easily push 20 G/bs

You’ll have to see the video for this section. Spoiler alert, I can push 20 Gb/s with this configuration, no problem at all.

Price & Value

Hl15 homelab One of the first products that is targeting the HomeLab community

So let’s talk about some of the configuration options you saw earlier along with the value you’re getting.

You can choose:

  • Chassis + Backplane for $799 which is going to get you the chassis with the direct wire backplane. Everything else is up to you to supply and connect.
  • The next option at $910.00 is the Chassis + Backplane & PSU which is going to get you the chassis, the direct wire backplane, data cables, and the 750w ATX power supply.
  • The final option for $1999.99 is the fully built and tested system.

Let’s not beat around the bush, all of these options are priced pretty high. No matter which way you look at it, $800, $900, $2,000 dollars is a lot of money no matter what you are spending it on and I think you have to determine if there’s enough value here for you. Is getting a steel, repairable case with a backplane that can hold 15 caddie-less drives and give you NVMe speeds over the network important to you? If it is, you have few options out there. This isn’t a chassis you buy that comes with a proprietary motherboard and components, it’s a chassis that is open enough to accommodate any motherboard / CPU combination you throw at it, now and in the future. If you’re comparing it to other storage vendors, like synology, it’s on par for price, but if you’re comparing it to old used gear you’re going to think it’s expensive.

That being said, I would love to see cheaper options for those that are in the market for a homelab chassis like this one. And if not, maybe they will see these on the second hand market later in life.

If you can get past the price, I think you’ll find a case that has everything you’re going to want for a storage server, now and in the future. It looks like 45Drives addressed everything I mentioned in the AV15 with the HL15, well, except RGB, unless you’re counting the power switch. Also, I have to give them credit because they took a huge risk at bringing something to market that is as niche as HomeLab, because to my knowledge, they are one of the first to do it and brand it with the “HomeLab” Title.

Well I learned a lot about the HL15, storage servers, and network throughput testing and I hope you learned something too. And remember if you found anything in this video helpful, don’t forget share this post!

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Where to Buy

HL15:

HL15 Accessories:

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⚙️ See all the hardware I recommend at https://l.technotim.live/gear

🚀 Don’t forget to check out the 🚀Launchpad repo with all of the quick start source files

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