Acer Altos G330 Mk2 Server - Information

This page is a compliation of information about the Acer Altos G330 Mk2 Server. I seem to get a lot of emails about them, so I've complied what I know here for the assistance and information of those who own or are thinking of buying these servers.

| My Servers || Drive Bays || Hard Drive Caddies || Hard Drive Fan |
| Parts (Infoteam) || Quirks - Graphics, PCI Slots etc || Resources || Links |

My Servers

I bought two of these servers from ebuyer - I am one of the few who was lucky enough to buy them at a silly price: about 25 more than the processor was being sold for seperately - yes, that's case, motherboard, power supply, RAM, DVD-ROM, processor heatsink/fan, ball mouse and euro mains lead for about 25! For a while I had a third (from ebay) as well. I run one as a network file/music (workhorse) server and another is relegated to backup duties. Both run Windows XP Pro SP3.

My machines are to TT.G3BE0.011 spec, i.e. they came without hard drives, operating system, drive caddies or hard drive fan, but with 1GB RAM and the 3GHz E3110 Xeon dual core processor. You can of course order this machine with a variety of specs (and in countries other than the UK) so some of the information on this page may not apply to you.

My advice if you are thinking of buying one? They are reasonable machines if you are a home user wanting a cheap server. Think carefully if you're expecting to use the machine for general use (surfing etc), and forget it if you're a gamer (see the graphics issues). If you are thinking of buying one as a server for your business, don't put it where you will depend on it - because if it ever goes wrong, you'll have gone bust before the spare parts arrived.

Drive Bays

In theory the machine has three 5.25" bays (all external), and seven 3.5" bays (only one external). From top to bottom - three 5.25" bays (external), one 3.5" bay (external), two 3.5" bays (internal) and four 3.5" bays (internal).

At the top of the case are the three 5.25" bays. As standard the very top one is filled with the DVD-ROM. Some people have had success fitting hard drives here using adaptor rails, but without some opening of the front of the case, ventilation will be limited. Most importantly these bays are screw-less, with no provision for fixings on the motherboard side (but there are horizontal pieces of metal giving some support). The sliding clips could be removed from the other side of the bay, giving access to some screw holes.

Below these is the one external 3.5" bay. It is ideal for a floppy drive or similar. It also has a screw-less fixing, with a sliding clip on the outside and no fixings at all on the motherboard side - and again removing the sliding clip will expose some screw holes. It looks like the floppy drive cage could be removed to fit another 5.25" drive here, but it would mean sacrificing the front USB ports.

Below this are two internal 3.5" bays. These are not well ventilated (the front panel is solid) and I would not put hard drives here that gave off any significant heat. Also there is a metal tab on the motherboard side that prevents a drive from being slid into these slots from the rear (this would need bending out of the way somehow), and there are no screw fixing holes on the motherboard side. This cage is riveted to the front panel, so removing it to bend the tab back is not so easy.

At the bottom of the case are four well ventilated 3.5" bays, allowing the use of hard drives that dissipate a lot of heat and thus they are intended for the main server storage array. Hard Drive Caddies are essential to use these bays, and if you wish to maintain your warranty, a Hard Drive Fan is also needed if you fit more than two drives here. Note that these bays will only take SATA drives; U160/U320 SCSI drives cannot easily be fitted because the connector layout - the connectors plugged into the back of the drives foul the metalwork of the case (the folded over part in the right of the photo above). IDE drives are likely to be similarly affected.

Hard Drive Caddies

As standard, the machine comes without any caddies (aka easy-swap carriers) fitted. If you wish to use the properly ventilated drive bays, then you will need to purchase caddies.

Acer don't list them as a seperate part on their website, but they can be purchased without buying hard drives. The caddies are part number TC.R160G.012 and cost me 7.90 each, plus shipping (6) and VAT from Infoteam. When I ordered them I was quoted an astonishing 20 working days lead time (they actually took 18 working days to arrive) - not what I'd call good service.

There is a hot-plug backplane available for SATA drives (essentially having it means you do not have to open the side of the case to change hard drives over). As this costs 72.44, I decided I would live with having to open the side of the case!

2 of the caddies as they arrived from Infoteam. At the very bottom of a big box (i.e touching the cardboard outer), with a load of foam stuffed on top - not good packing - but none appear to be broken. The parcel came by DHL, so if you're not in during the week collecting them could be a pain (the depots close at 6pm, but are open on Saturdays).

The caddies removed from their plastic bags. I've opened one of the securing/closing levers just to show how they look. The cream plastic part in the middle is just there to retain the screws, you remove this when you fit your drive. There is a clear plastic light pipe along the right hand side of the caddy, for if/when you have a backplane fitted.

What looks like a pair of caddies supplied with the machine are actually a pair of clip-in blanking plates - above is the comparison.

Two caddies fitted into the server. The top one is fully in place, the next one down is left sticking partly out. The bottom two slots still have the blanking plates that the server is supplied with still in place. Note that the lever has to be open to fit the caddy into the case.

Rear view of the two caddies, this time with both of them pushed fully into place. You can also see the screws used for mounting the hot plug backplane.

Hard Drive Fan

To maintain your warranty, if you fit more than two hard drives into the lower drive bays, you need to fit a fan to the side of these bays. I wanted the fan to be speed controlled by the motherboard (and the bios to monitor it properly), so I ordered the correct Acer part to fit the 4 pin connector on the board. On the Acer website the part has Acer part number SO.G33SA.003.

Infoteam suggested three parts:
HDD Fan Kit - 23.R310L.001
Altos Fan System - TC.R3100.001
Altos Fan Kit Hard Drive System - TZ.R3100.003

...of which with the help of Server Tech Support we decided the first (23....) is the correct one, and is what I ordered. The cost was 7.90 each each plus 6 P&P + VAT. I was quoted a ridiculous 30 working days for delivery! They arrived after only(?!?) 17 working days, but instead of 23.R310L.001, I had been supplied with TZ.R3100.003.

Both fan kits were packed into a small cardboard box, only just big enough for them. Only adequate rather than good packing... but they arrived unbroken. In this shot you can also see the four holes where the fan is fitted onto the metalwork (one is hiding behind the blue and white wire).

Contents of the fan kit. One 92mm four pin fan with finger guard already attached, one bag of fixing pins.

The pins in more detail. To save me showing how to fit the fans, follow the How To Guide - How to add the HDD cage fan from Acer. I fitted the pins the other way round, because I couldn't be bothered taking the hard drives out of the computer - but it was damn fiddly fitting the pins, so I recommend following the method in the instructions!

The fan in place on the side of the hard drives bay. Note the warning label!

The fan in place and wired to the motherboard - yes there's only 2 drives shown in the photo (and strictly the fan is not needed yet therefore), but more drives have been fitted since.

Parts (Infoteam)

In the UK, parts for this server are supplied by Infoteam.

Spare Parts Team - 0870 853 1007
(credit card parts ordering, suggesting part numbers)

Server Tech Support - 0870 853 1006
(to try and work out which part number suggested by the above is the right one!)

Based on my experience, I am not impressed with the parts backup. Parts are not available same week, forget same day. The caddies I bought took 18 working days (nearly 4 whole weeks) to arrive, while the fans took 17 working days (just over 3 weeks). If I needed a part for a server in a business situation, such a delay would simply be unacceptable. Now there may be business support options offered that give better service, but I am not aware of any. If you run a business and are thinking of using Acer servers, you cannot afford not to ask about this.

As far as I am aware, other suppliers will generally source their parts through Infoteam, thus there is no way of getting around the delay (unless you are lucky and the supplier has the part already in stock), also it will probably cost you more to go elsewhere.

Getting the right part is also less than easy, as the part numbers used by Infoteam do not correspond to the part numbers on Acers website! This is a crazy situation and makes ordering parts little more than guesswork (Infoteam's staff can do little to help, they can only work from the information on their screens in front of them). Fortunately, the part numbers for the most common parts you will need to order are on this page.

Quirks - Graphics, PCI Slots etc

There are a few quirks to be aware of. They are not a problem if you have bought the machine to use as a server (as it is intended to be used), but they might trip you up otherwise.

On Board Graphics - The on-board graphics is at best only adequate for 2D and Windows use, and simply is not up to gaming use. Compared to even a basic i3 windows graphics are laggy and at times frustratingly slow, surfing is difficult, and at times painful with Flash enabled sites. When playing high resolution video in a window it drops frames, and the same goes for any video full screen. Low resolution video in a smaller window (e.g. YouTube) is acceptable. I find reducing the windows graphics acceleration level (putting more graphics load onto the processor) makes a small improvement. So why not replace the graphics card? Unfortunately that's not possible - see below.

PCI slots - The two standard PCI slots (cream coloured below) on the motherboard are PCI version 2.2 or 3.0, 3.3V types. To the casual observer they look as if they have been fitted the wrong way round! Older 5V PCI cards have a single slot towards the rear of the card, newer PCI cards can work at 3.3V and 5V and have slots both at the front and rear of the card. I've had an Adaptec 29160 SCSI card working perfectly in these PCI slots. See the
Wikipedia page on PCI.

Graphics/PCI Express - The motherboard has 3 PCIe (PCI Express) slots (dark brown above) - one x16, one x8 and one x4. But put a graphics card in the x16 slot and the performance will not be as good as you might expect, if indeed the machine boots at all. This slot will only run at x1 speed with a graphics card fitted - my experience is (once you find a graphics card that will allow it to boot) the machine will always crash after any time up to a few hours - others also report that the machines can take a long time to POST if a graphics card is fitted. The Acer and Gigabyte sites say simply that a VGA card is not supported (it is not clear if this applies to only the x16 slot or to all three PCIe slots). This is a limitation of the Intel 3200 chipset used on the motherboard - the Intel 3200 chipset MCH datasheet (or here) under 1.2.4 PCI Express Interface states that "...The 3200/3210 MCHs do not support PCI Express graphics. The PCI Express ports are intended for external device attach."

Overclocking - Forget it. This is a server, designed for long term reliability. There is no provision in the bios for any form of overclocking, timing or voltage adjustment.

Memory (RAM) - Both ECC and non-ECC can be used, but they cannot be mixed on the board. Acer and Gigabyte claim that only ECC memory can be used, and the best ECC upgrade option I have found is from Kingston e.g. part D12872G60 (1GB) or D25672G60 (2GB). However non-ECC memory has been successfully used - the machine I bought on ebay worked fine with non-ECC DDR2 that was also a lower speed (533MHz) than standard (800MHz).

Motherboard - Made by Gigabyte, is a GA-5DXSL-RH. There were some pages on their Chinese website, but these are now gone. Gigabyte seem to deny it ever existed...

Ventilation - The CPU fan has a large plastic "trumpet" attached that goes almost (but not quite) to the vent in the side of the case. This means that if you stand the server close beside another computer (or a wall etc) then the airflow to the CPU will be restricted. Depending where you position your computers, this may be a disadvantage to you. To reduce dust ingress I have covered the side panel on my machines with filter foam, and to keep airflow to the CPU reasonable I have had to cut this trumpet down.

Processor - Relevant only if you have the E3110 Xeon - This processor is believed to be essentially identical to the Intel Core2Duo E8400 (possibly selected "best of batch" parts, and possibly with a few extra bits turned on - i.e. they are disabled in the E8400). Also, my cases have "Pentium Dual Core inside" stickers, but they definitely contain the Xeon.

Drives - Only SATA ports are provided on the motherboard, there are no IDE or SCSI ports provided, so to fit such drives you will need an add-in card (but beware of the PCI slot and drive bay issues). A SATA DVD-ROM is provided, and there is a standard floppy drive port on the motherboard. There are 6 SATA ports, so it is not possible to utilise all the drive bays without an add-in card.

Noise - All the fans in the machine are four pin speed controlled types, meaning the noise varies depending on how hot the machine gets. At turn on the fans run at full speed for a few seconds, and then rapidly slow down. The speed control is not continuously variable (smooth), but runs in a number of steps from low to maximum. When new and with only one or two hard drives fitted, these are nice quiet machines, with the fans rarely going faster than their minimum speed. Now a bit older and dustier, with several hard drives in each, they usually sit at the next fan speed up when idle - not noisy, but I know they are on now. When the fans rev at full, they are noisy machines and you do not want to be trying to work with one next to you - but this is rare, I struggle to load the processor enough to cause this to happen. I find only Norton Internet Security occasionally causes the fan speed to rise, or if a process crashes, the processor load can rise to 50% as one core is fully loaded, and then the fan speed rises to maximum.

Case Open - Being a server, if you open the case, next time you reboot the bios will complain and halt the bootup. It's not a problem, but don't open the case and then expect the machine to boot fully without going into the bios and clearing the case open status.

Windows XP - There is no official support for Windows XP. The System Setup CD will not perform a guided setup of XP, however most of the XP drivers are on the CD. Only a better version of the ethernet driver is known to be available. Some people have reported difficulties in installing XP, however it is possible that these problems are with the 64 bit version only - personally I had no problems installing XP Pro 32 bit. Hardware SATA RAID is reported by some as particular issue, some people report the Server 2003 driver can be used, but the Installation and Configuration Guide does list an XP driver (on page 52).

Resources

Although some of these documents are available elsewhere, I've put them here as links on other sites can disappear over time.

How To Guide - How to add the HDD cage fan (pdf - same thing on the Acer website)

Acer G330 Mk2 Users Guide (pdf - UK English)

Acer Server and Storage Price List from August 2008, UK - useful for specifications of the different models (pdf)

Acer Product Brochure (pdf - same thing on the Acer website)

Acer G330 Mk2 Installation and Configuration Guide (pdf - same thing on the Acer website)

Text from the Ebuyer product reviews - a useful page, where much of the information on this page came from. The original link is broken as of 23/9/08 (as this version of the G330 is discontinued on ebuyer).

Links

Thread on the Ebuyer Forums where a lot of the issues on this page were highlighted - and also maybe what brought you to this page!

Acer Link to the G330 Mk2 with the system specifications

Acer Support and Drivers for G330 Mk2

Acer Server Options (Click on Server & Storage, then Server Options - you have to trawl through for G330 MK2 options - and there aren't many)

Sales Link on Ebuyer (broken as of 23/9/08, as this version of the G330 discontinued by ebuyer)

Gigabyte Motherboard 1 link to the Gigabyte site for the motherboard used in the server (broken 25/4/09)

Gigabyte Motherboard 2 link to the Gigabyte site for the motherboard used in the server (broken 25/4/09)


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