Yet Another NAS – HP Microserver N40L – Adding 5th hard drive and Installing a modded firmware

So it has come to the time where I am running out of disk space again (don’t we all)…..and I finally have to expand the storage of the NAS.

My HP N40L is already maximized in terms of drive bay storage. I have a 3TB parity drive, a 3TB Disk 1, a 2TB Disk 2 and another 2TB Disk 3, all setup as part of an unRAID array.  Total storage at this point in time is 7TB. I decided to transplant one of the 2TB drive from the Buffalo Linkstation Quad Pro to the Microserver to increase the storage from 7TB to 9TB. I am planning to buy another 3TB drive for this NAS so this 2TB transplant at this stage is purely a stop gap measure.

To get the N40L to run with a fifth hard drive, we will need to find a suitable space to house the drive. This part is easy because my optical bay is empty and I don’t plan to put in an optical drive in a NAS. The more important consideration is that we have to run with a modded firmware because the standard SATA port for the optical bay is limited to run at IDE mode which means the drive will run slooow. My XBox will not like that.

Fortunately there are many other how-tos on the internet that teaches you how to utilize the optical bay for another hard drive and most importantly, how to flash the firmware with a modded version. This is exactly what I am going to do. 

I am sure most people will agree that this particular topic has already been blogged to death on the internet. I don’t intend to better any of the great how-to tutorials on the net, but rather I am blogging this to document my own experience in the process.

Here are some of the great tutorials on the internet. You can’t get better than these.

Essentially in a nutshell, I followed Joe Miner’s excellent guide except I cut corners in a few places. Yes I am lazy.

First, we have to download what is called a SoftPaq by HP. This is essentially an update Bios file that has a filename something like SPXXXXX.exe. Joe Miner in his article gave a URL link to download this Bios file but the link is not working for me….so I have to take a peek at HP’s site. HP’s website is a monster site. It is so easy to get lost in that html jungle there. Long story short, I managed to download apparently the same Bios [here]:

This is a 2.6MB download. It is a fairly old system ROM dated back to 29th July 2011. The thing is that we don’t really care what system ROM we are dealing with here. We really just want the package so we can execute the firmware update from a USB drive and we are going to replace the original HP ROM file with our own modded version so whether the original ROM is dated 2011 or 2013 doesn’t matter to us really.

After downloading the SoftPaq, we will need to run the file and this will deposit a bunch of files in c:\SWSetup folder. Essentially the files will help us to create a bootable USB key for the restoration and upgrading of the firmware. This is how the SoftPaq runs when you click on it.

2014-01-25 09_09_49-Windows 7 [Running] - Oracle VM VirtualBox

2014-01-25 09_12_42-Windows 7 [Running] - Oracle VM VirtualBox

This will launch the web browser showing the following page. We will need a USB thumbdrive to boot the NAS from. I used a 4GB USB Sandisk but any USB thumbdrive will work. Insert the USB drive into the PC and click on the “Launch HP USB Key setup creation utility”.

2014-01-25 09_52_25-Windows 7 [Running] - Oracle VM VirtualBox

This will launch the HPQUSB.exe file. Select Run

2014-01-25 10_09_45-

This will then launch the HP USB Key Setup Creation Utility as follows:

2014-01-25 10_10_53-HP USB Key Setup Creation Utility

Click the Start Button and the USB thumbdrive will be prepped to make it bootable with the bios firmware in the right folder.

2014-01-25 10_11_45-Hewlett-Packard ProLiant Flash Update

The above process will be completed in a flash. Very straightforward here.

Joe Miner has further included the link here in case something screws up and Bios Recovery is necessary. Go [here] if you really need to run this step. I could have misunderstood what Joe Miner meant but I think he recommended to create 2 USB thumbdrives. The first one is a stock drive for Bios Recovery just in case something goes wrong. The second thumb drive is used for the actual flashing and modding of the stock firmware on the NAS. I didn’t bother creating 2 USB drive. So fingers crossed at this stage.

Now we need to get the modified Bios/Firmware from this discussion thread:

http://www.bios-mods.com/forum/Thread-HP-Proliant-Microserver-AMI-BIOS-MOD.

Joe has also kindly linked the bios that we needed here: http://bios-mods.com/BIOS/AMI/HP/o41072911mod.rar. Download the ROM. Unpack the RAR file and we will see a file called o41072911mod.rom. The first letter in this filename is not “zero”….it is the letter “Oh”. We need to rename this file o41072911.rom. i.e. remove the “mod” wording.

2014-01-25 10_36_28-Total Commander (x64) 8.01 - Joseph K.T. Lo

What we need to do is to copy the modded firmware and overwrite the original one that is populated on the USB thumbdrive from the earlier steps. But to be safe, I copied the original o41072911.rom file from the USB stick to my PC folder just in case. Then I copy the modded firmware to the USB drive, overwriting the original.

I am now ready to flash the firmware. Joe Miner suggested to remove all the hard drives in the NAS. Remove all network cable, PCI cards and the like, etc…effectively returning to the stock configuration as much as possible. I think this is a very sensible suggestion as this limit the kind of things that can go wrong. I did just that. I also removed the USB thumb drive that I had my unRAID server OS.

We need to connect the Microserver to a working monitor with a working keyboard. I don’t have a spare USB keyboard and mouse so I used the Logitech K400 wireless keyboard and touchpad borrowed from my Xbox media player. Any kind of USB wired/wireless keyboard should work fine.

I am now ready to flash. The flashing process is so straightforward that it surprises me. The whole thing over in less than 30 seconds or so. It is just fast. I didn’t expect that.

The firmware upgrading process will finish when you see the C:> prompt. I remove the USB drive and press Ctrl-Alt-Delete to recycle boot the PC and enter the Bios. Following which I adjusted the Bios settings exactly as what Joe Miner did. We only really need to adjust the Bios to get these settings.

Bios Settings 1

Bios Settings 2

That’s all the settings we need really. Save the settings and power down the NAS. We are now ready to install the 5th hard drive into the system. This is also a very simple process. There are many how-to articles already on this topic so I won’t say too much.

What I did find is that the SATA port on the motherboard has very little clearance to the bottom of the hard drive cages. There are others who managed to use a normal SATA cable with a straight connector. I feel better with an angled connector so I am going to use that.

I also find that it is easier to get access to the SATA port by slightly withdrawing the motherboard tray. This can be easily done by unscrewing two of the screws.

2014-01-25-HP Microserver motherboard tray

This is how the SATA cable looks like when plugged into the motherboard.

2014-01-25-HP Microserver motherboard tray 2

Route the SATA cable to the back of the NAS and this is how the final assembly of the hard drive looks like:

2014-01-25-HP Microserver Hard Drive

Now after rebooting the NAS and reassigning the drive to the respective physical drive, UnRAID will look like this:

2014-01-25 14_14_00-Defiant_Main

If disk4 is assigned to the physical drive, the array will not go online until disk4 is added to the array. The colour of the “LED” light to disk4 is blue, meaning it is not part of the array as yet.

2014-01-25 14_17_51-Defiant_Main

We have to enable the “clear” command to zero the new disk so that it can be recognized by unraid.

2014-01-25 14_19_58-Defiant_Main

This will start the clearing process and unfortunately the process is painfully slow. The entire array will not be accessible until the clearing process is completed.

After the painful waiting process, I now have additional 2TB of space to play with. While it is a short term measure, it will have to do for now. Problems with this setup? None that I can tell although I do find that the drive in the optical drive bay runs consistently hotter than the other drive bays probably because there is just little to no ventilation within the optical drive bay area. So I might have to get a drive caddy system if I do buy a 3TB hard drive to replace the current 2TB in future. For now, I am happy Nas’ing. I hope you do too.

Posted on January 25, 2014, in Computer, Hardware, Software, How-to's, HP Microserver N40L and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. Enjoyed reading this and just what I needed…

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