A few months ago I picked up an interesting bit of technology, the Acer Aspire easy Store H340. The price was right at just $50. But of course it was craigslist and I offered $40, because you’ve just got to ask, and they accepted!
Quick Feature List:
CPU/Processor: Intel Atom 230 Processor @ 1.60GHz (64bit)
RAM/Memory: 2GB DDR2 533 MHz (one slot only=single channel)
Chipset: Intel 945GC Express
Video: Intel GMA 950
Factory OS/Operating System: Windows Home Server
4x Tool less Hot Swap SATA 300 Drive Bays
1x Integrated 256MB USB Flash Drive
Size: 7.9″ Wide by 7.1″ Deep by 8.3″ Tall
These are nice machines that feature a compact design with a cool modern look to them. The drive bays are cooled by a large 120mm fan, however the unit is a little noisy, and the hard drives didn’t stay as cool as I might have expected. Looking at the opposite side of the case the power supply is clearly blocking air flow, which is probably the reason for both the noise and heat. I do like the look and feel of the power button, but as it is so large I have accidentally turned the machine off bumping it while opening the door. I also appreciate the convenience of the front side USB port.
This unit had a 2TB Western Digital HDD installed along with a 1TB Seagate HDD. Unfortunately the 2TB had multiple S.M.A.R.T. issues including failure imminent on a number of checks. The 1TB drive checked out fine, and I still feel I received a fair deal on the device. I would at least hope that the original owner was unaware of the disk condition when they sold the machine to me. Regardless, everything else about the machine was excellent. Overall condition was clean and looked practically like new. The original owner still had the accessory box and manuals that came with the unit. And the OS was reset to factory (WHS).
Since this box had a license for Windows Home Server, I thought why not check it out. After viewing numerous reviews & posts online I came to the conclusion that perhaps I should just install Linux (probably openSUSE, because that is what I know best).
This device has integrated graphics onboard, however there is no port on the back of the machine to connect a monitor. The mother board contains a proprietary video/ps2 keyboard/mouse header but no cable was produced by the manufacturer for the general public. This adapter cable can be purchased online, someone in Germany manufacturers them. They are a little over $40 US for the VGA cable alone. To me, this wasn’t worth the cost. Computers are a fun hobby, but I don’t put much money into them. Instead I looked for a 1x PCIe video card that would fit in the expansion slot. At the time I thought it lucky the motherboard had that slot. I got on eBay and found an ATI FireMV 2250 256MB for $14 bucks and used the best offer to offer the seller $10. Again I was fortunate enough for the seller to accept my offer. The ATI FireMV 2250 supports two monitors via a DMS-59 port which requires an adapter to use with any monitor. Once again my luck was with me, I found a DMS-59 to dual VGA for just $4 with free shipping (not really sure how a seller on eBay can make any money with a price like that but I’m not complaining). With those two parts I was ready to install the new OS. As you can see in the images below, there is not much room to get any expansion card installed. I had to detach the card bracket to get the card into position and then screw the bracket back onto the card once installed.
My original idea was to install the OS onto the integrated 256MB USB flash memory. First, I attempted to install openSUSE 13.2. Unfortunately I could not get all the way through the installation program. I tried multiple times, but seemingly random crashes would happen. My first guess was some type of hardware failure. I checked the RAM, and I tested the newly acquired video card in some other comparable hardware. At the very least, those parts seemed to work fine. I tried a number of other OSes, including Ubuntu 15.04 server and Windows XP to see if I could get any system running on the machine. After many failed attempts I was starting to think that perhaps the motherboard had some undisclosed issue. After a bit, it dawned on me that perhaps the new video card was the problem, like an incompatibility with other installed hardware. My best guess is probably a conflict with the onboard video, which I don’t think could be turned off in the bios (or jumpered off on the motherboard). Ordinarily, I might have just installed the OS on a comparable machine, and then move the disk drive to the computer that won’t install. Since I was so intent on using the integrated USB flash as the primary disk drive I hadn’t considered that option. The machine only has 4 onboard SATA ports, so if I would use one for an OS, I would only have 3 left for my raid (or at the very least for single drive hot swap use). Certainly you could probably add a 1x PCIe SATA controller, but the case configuration is pretty tight and there is hardly enough room to sneak in custom mounted 2.5″ HDD anywhere. Finally, I did end up deciding to install openSUSE 13.2 (minimal CLI server) to a similar machine onto a 2GB USB stick. I figured, at least maybe this way I could finally find out if the machine was damaged or there was just some funky issue with installation. I added a small script at boot time to write to a file and say “worked”. Sure enough, the installation on the USB stick started right up (after letting the H340 boot for about 2 minutes I just yanked the USB and plugged it into a different machine to see if it had written the file). I had configured the network settings during the initial install. However, I did not know what name the interface would get in openSUSE. Once again, I modified the 2GB USB disk in a different computer to run the command “cat /proc/net/dev >> /somefile.txt” at boot. Then after the H340 was booted up, I pulled the USB stick and read somefile.txt on another machine to find the network interface name. Next I modified “/etc/sysconfig/network/ifcfg-interface_name” on the flash drive, to replace “interface_name” with the interface that I found in somefile.txt, such as eth0. With that last change, I booted the system one final time and was able to SSH into the machine soon thereafter.
I was somewhat worried about adding a flash drive as a hard disk for a couple of reasons. Mostly I was concerned it may be slow, but I was also concerned that it could get broken off. Fortunately it is right below the ethernet cable and doesn’t appear to be in any particular danger of physical damage. As for the speed, it seems fine. I don’t use the device for much other than cleaning and checking hard drives, which isn’t disk intensive on the OS drive of course.
In the weeks that followed the build I found the H340 to be a competent and reliable performer. Though a little doggy, the Intel Atom 230 did well enough for what it is. When cleaning 4 hard drives at the same time the CPU usage was at consistent at about 60-65%. The openSUSE 13.2 installation has never crashed, at boot time it uses just 120MB of RAM. The hot swap drive bays work great, and I love how they are tool less. I didn’t bother trying to get the drive bay lights to come on, or to stop the i from flashing on the front panel. I know others have worked at this, and it may be fun, but I guess it isn’t really necessary. I have considered using this machine with a raid array and nfs. Sadly, I don’t have any other conveniently tool less hot swappable available setups like this. So the ability to pop a hard drive into a machine to test/clean/recover is a better use for me. Due to the machines small size I was able to install it on top of my main workstation, looks pretty cool!
One of the great things about this setup is that the H340 really becomes almost an extension of my main workstation. Since I control it remotely through ssh on my main rig, and since it is within arms reach while I’m at my desk, it is just as good as having an additional 4 hot swappable hard drive bays inside the main case. Linux is perfect for this type of setup, and probably makes it seem a little more seamless. I’ll do a post on my trash picked Intel Dual LGA1366 workstation sometime soon!
In conclusion, though this was a frustrating build it did turn out very well. I ended up spending $54 on the build total, but of course, I didn’t really end up needing the video card and adapter cable ($14). I’ve seen the H340 going on eBay for about $100 (depending on disk configuration), so my price to value ratio was pretty good. I would definitely recommend this item to anyone considering one for a reasonable price.