No matter how simple a manufacturer tries to make its server's setup process, these machines are inherently more complex--and therefore more difficult to configure--than a largely boot-and-go PC. That said, HP puts forth a generally good effort at simplifying the ProLiant ML310 G2's setup. The process begins with the company's SmartStart utility, which scans the system's hardware to ensure that all parts are in working order. The program then takes you through a series of questions that determine particular settings for the operating system, which in our case was Windows Server 2003. Your answers inform the operating system how you want to use the server--for example, whether you want the system to manage your office e-mail, Web access, FTP transfers, and more. Though SmartStart's questions were a bit easier to understand than those of the Windows Server OS, they'll still read like Greek to anyone without at least an intermediate understanding of computers and networking.
The final step in the ML310 G2's setup process involves installing HP's helpful System Insight Manager application. It provides mind-easing oversight features such as identification of all the PCs that should (and shouldn't) be on your network; advance warning of system failures; and time-saving deployment of systemwide upgrades from the server itself. The application's System Management Homepage conveniently aggregates these features in a well-organized Web-based interface. The main limitation with the ML310 is that it supports only a single processor and doesn't offer a Xeon processor configuration.
The ProLiant ML310 G2's tower case is about the size of a big PC's. While a large system like this is hard to hide, at least its dark-gray color helps it blend into the background. Cracking open the case is relatively easy, thanks to setscrews that you can twist with your fingers. The inside of the removable panel includes a handy system map to help you spot important features, such as the four PCI slots (one 32-bit PCI, two 64-bit PCI-X, and one PCI Express) and four DIMM slots for memory modules. The case also has three removable drive bays and four nonremovable bays, all of which offer easy access for installing drives.
Every ProLiant ML310 G2 offers the same baseline components, which consist of a single Intel processor, ECC PC 3200 DDR SDRAM starting at 512MB, and a low-cost Intel E7221 chipset. Each ML310 G2 also features an 8MB ATI Rage XP graphics chip and a Broadcom 5705 Gigabit Ethernet chip; both are built into the server's motherboard. Otherwise, you can choose a Celeron or Pentium 4 processor rated between 2.8GHz and 3.4GHz; up to 4GB of memory; from one to four 80GB to 250GB 7,200rpm SATA hard drives or 36GB to 146GB 15,000rpm SCSI drives, with or without RAID support; an additional network card that lets you use the box as a router or a firewall; a 48X CD-ROM drive, a CD burner, a DVD burner, and/or a floppy drive; and one of dozens of operating systems, ranging from Red Hat to Microsoft Small Business Server 2003. Need help deciding? Head over to CNET's server buying guide for more information on picking the right components.
Our reasonably priced $2,226 (as of June 2005) ProLiant ML310 G2 test machine carried a 3.2GHz Pentium 4 processor, 1GB of memory, one 80GB SATA hard drive, a CD-ROM drive, and the Windows Server 2003 operating system. From a performance standpoint, these parts should easily provide enough speed to support a small office with about a dozen employees or fewer. Small businesses with at least a couple dozen employees who would all be hammering on the server simultaneously should consider opting for the 3.4GHz P4 CPU, more memory, and fast SCSI hard drives.
The ProLiant ML310 ships with a basic one-year warranty that includes handy onsite service. The company offers plenty of ways to extend your service through options such as a five-year warranty and in-person installation help. You can call HP's toll-free support line around the clock, though only for the length of your warranty. You can also engage in a real-time chat with a tech-support rep via the HP support Web site.