Taming the HP DL180 G5

Taming the HP DL180 G5

Introduction

The HP ProLiant DL180 G5 can be an excellent, inexpensive storage platform for the home or lab.  It uses tried and true HP hardware, accommodates dual Xeon CPUs plus 12 x 3.5″ drives in a 2RU chassis, and both server and backplane play nicely with the ubiquitous LSI HBAs in IT mode, should you choose to use Linux software RAID.  With well-equipped models going for under $300 shipped on ebay, it’s a solid foundation on which to build a file server or shared storage platform.  But there is one problem when using the DL180 outside of a datacenter environment – it’s loud.  Not quite 747-taking-off-loud once it idles down, but it’s still loud enough that my wife wants to know why she can hear one of my “wind machines” through the master bathroom floor vents.  Of course, here at Teknophiles, we’re not going to let a little thing like fan noise stop us from using what is otherwise a compelling platform, are we?  Nope.  With a few simple modifications, we’ll show you how to domesticate this unruly beast.

DL180 Cooling

This thing blows!
This thing blows!

The DL180 G5 employs four 60mm x 38mm Delta PFC0612DE-7Q1F PWM fans that serve double-duty as chassis and processor cooling fans.  Very capable fans, these Deltas churn out air at a rate of 68 CFM at a whopping 12000 RPM.  They also consume as much as 16.8 W (each!), and produce an unfriendly 65.5 dBA.  Not exactly ideal for a basement or lab situation in which you must share the work space.  Even at 50%, these fans spin at nearly 6000 RPM and produce a good bit of noise.

There’s some good news, however.  Unlike many servers, the HP DL180 uses standard 5-pin fan connectors to connect the PWM fans rather than a proprietary connector or a fan module.  This simply means that, since we only plan on running a single Xeon L5420 processor, we should be able to find a suitable replacement fan that’s lower RPM, and therefore much quieter, yet still offers decent enough air flow to keep the drives and CPU from overheating.  Conceptually, the server should ramp fan RPM based on CPU and various board temperatures, so even a slower fan should be able provide airflow above the Delta fan’s idle flow rate, should the additional cooling be needed.

These theories are all well and good, but the engineers at HP are some pretty smart folks.  Most enterprise chassis are quite good at monitoring hardware, including the cooling components.  Some servers might have a minimum fan speed threshold, below which the server may go into a “limp mode” (i.e. full fan power), or even fail to POST altogether.  So, before we shell out money for new fans, we need a proof of concept to demonstrate that the server will not balk at a slower RPM fan.

Fan Test

Like many dutiful IT guys, we have piles of abandoned computer crap in our basements.  This may make our wives nuts, but occasionally we get to smugly smile when some old part fits the bill perfectly for a “critical” test we’re performing.  Such was the case here, when an old AMD PWM processor fan was called into service for our DL180 G5 proof of concept.

Spinning is good.

 

With the test fan in place, the server was booted into the BIOS to check fan speeds.  As fate would have it, the HP DL180 G5 doesn’t appear to be phased that one of it’s fans is spinning at a mere fraction of it’s normal speed.  Here you can see the AMD CPU fan rotating at a modest 1776 RPM, while the stock fans spin at 5800 RPM.  You may also note that the lower critical (LC) value for fan RPM is 0.00.  As long as a fan is detected, the server should boot and operate as normal.  It’s on us, then, to monitor temps and make sure we don’t melt anything!

One of these is not like the others.
One of these is not like the others.

 

New Fan Installation

Now, on to the fun stuff.  After sampling a few different fans in the 60mm x 38mm form factor, we settled on a MagLev Sunon PWM fan.  Known for their quiet bearing operation and long life, The MagLev Sunon fans are some of our favorite fans for numerous applications.  We selected the PSD1206PMV3-A, which can often times be found under analogous Dell part numbers.  This fan flows just over 34 CFM, but only consumes 3.4 W, generating significant power savings when multiplied across four fans.  Best yet, it’s max rotational speed is around 8000 RPM, which should yield much lower sound levels at idle speeds.



It was evident upon receiving the new Sunons that this wasn’t going to be a plug-and-play affair, however.  As you can clearly see, the new fans use a non-standard 4-pin connector, and also have a quite short pigtail.  To make these fans work in the DL180, we’re going have to break out the soldering iron and the crimp tool.

De-pinning the connector

After cutting off the old 4-pin connector, appropriately colored wires were soldered onto the pigtail to extend the wires to the proper length.  This will allow to us the DL180 chassis’ cable management to keep things neatly tucked away inside the case.   One thing we do have to be careful of is the order of the pins in the connector.  Unfortunately, you cannot always count on fan manufacturers to use a standard color pattern to denote the purpose of each wire.  As you can see in the table below, there’s quite a bit of variance in color coding – even within the same manufacturer.  Improperly wiring your fan may prevent the fan from spinning, or could even cause damage to the fan or motherboard.  Make sure you’re comfortable with a multimeter and test the motherboard pinout for voltage.  Don’t assume!

Fan Color Codes
Fan Wiring Color Codes

Once the proper wiring pattern was established, new fan connector pins were crimped onto the wires and then inserted into a standard 4 or 5-pin fan connector.  The reason a 4 or 5-pin connector will work in this case is that HP uses a 5-position fan header on the motherboard, but one of the pins is unused.  Either a 4 or 5-pin connector will work since both connectors are keyed such that they can only be inserted one way.  Alternatively, you could sacrifice another 4 or 5-pin fan such as the aforementioned AMD CPU fan.  Simply solder the wires with the 4 or 5-pin fan connector in the proper order and simultaneously extend the wiring without having to crimp on new pins.  After the soldering and pinning is complete, be sure to tidy up your wires with some loom or heat shrink to ensure airflow remains optimal in the server chassis.

Ready for action!
Ready for action!

Once all four fans were rewired and inserted into their retention brackets as shown above, the fans were inserted back into their respective slots and plugged into the fan headers.   After the initial POST sequence the fans quieted down to a much more manageable level.  A peek in the BIOS shows that the new fans are idling between 3500 – 4000 RPMs.

Much quieter
Much quieter now

Conclusion

After several days of monitoring, drive and CPU temps appear to be holding steady within a safe range with our new fans.   With room for 12 x 2TB drives, reliable hardware, and a compact 2U form factor the HP DL180 G5 makes a great budget storage platform.  Ours is humming happily along  with 24TB of raw storage and shows that, with a little ingenuity, a server once only suited for a data center can be right at home in a basement or lab environment.

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