A Review of the Acer AC100 Micro Server for Small Business

by Ronald Pacchiano

Power, price and performance combine to make the Acer AC100 Micro Server a worthy choice for small business.

Back in April we covered Acer's launching of its AC100 Micro Server for small business. And this month, we got to take it for a test drive to see how well this small business server actually serves small business. We won’t be coy. The system configuration we tested costs $1,399, and you'd be hard pressed to find a better small business server in that price range.

Acer AC100 Small Business Server Configuration

The Acer AC100 Micro Server sports a cube-shape form factor that houses four, 3.5-inch hot-swappable drive bays behind its lockable front panel. The black server -- with blue lights and a rather simple, but cool looking orange accent strip on the front -- won’t be out of place in an office setting.

The AC100 is a true business class server that offers a choice of three different CPUs: an Intel Pentium, a Core i3 or a Xeon E3. Plus, the server supports a maximum of 16GB of un-buffered DDR3 ECC memory. An integrated VGA port lets you attach a monitor directly to the system, which simplifies troubleshooting.

Acer AC100 Micro Small Business Server

The Acer AC100 Micro Server for Small Business

Rounding out this package: 6 USB ports (two on the front, four on the back), one PCIe x8 slot, Gigabit Ethernet and a solitary eSATA connector; all powered by an energy-efficient, 200W 80 PLUS power supply. The AC100 supports a variety of Windows- and Linux-based operating systems and supports a maximum of 8TB of storage. Intel software RAID provides redundant data protection, offering support for RAID 0, 1, 10 and 5. This optional functionality comes pre-configured by Acer.

You can change the RAID configuration later if you like, upgrading from say a RAID 1 array to a RAID 5 array, but that would force you to wipe the server and reinstall the OS. It should also be noted that you can purchase the AC100  with the operating system (Model AC100s) or without (Model AC100).

This distinction is important because the AC100 provides RAID support for both the Windows and Linux operating systems, whereas the AC100s, which comes with Windows preloaded, provides RAID support only for Windows operating systems, so be sure to plan appropriately.

Testing the Acer AC100 Small Business Server

We evaluated the AC100s model equipped with an Intel E3-1260L 4-core 2.4 GHz processor, paired with 8GB of memory and two 1TB hard drives. These came pre-configured in a RAID 1 array, running the Windows Small Business Server 2011 Essentials OS. This OS is great choice for small businesses with fewer than 25 users and no dedicated IT personal.

Built on many Windows 2008 server technologies, the SBS 2011 Essentials operating system includes a drastically simplified interface for managing users, shared folders, and day-to-day maintenance. Smart configuration wizards make carrying out even complex functions easy.

The OS includes robust remote access capabilities, allowing employees to access business information from virtually anywhere via an elegant browser-based interface. SBS 2011 also provides users with superior workstation protection, thanks to impressive automated backup capabilities.

As far as the hardware goes, the AC100 performed tremendously. It sat on our desk throughout the evaluation, and during that time it made virtually no noise and produced almost no heat. The easily accessible hard drives make adding capacity quick and easy, and USB ports are conveniently located on the front of the machine.

The lockable front panel secures the power button and hard drives and prevents accidental removal or shutdown. Due to its size, and for added security, the AC100 comes equipped with a Kensington lock slot to help deter theft.

The AC100 disappoints us in three ways. The system lacks USB 3.0 ports and, while we appreciate the form-factor restrictions, the power supply should be easier to replace in case of a failure. Lastly, we'd like the option to upgrade to hardware RAID. It's just a more reliable solution for a business-class product.

The Challenge: Buying the Acer AC100 Small Business Server

According to Acer, our test system (as configured) costs approximately $1,399 and is available now via resellers in the U.S. Despite our best efforts though, we've had difficulty locating the server for purchase. We did find it for sale on Best Buy's Business website for $1,383.99. However, this unit is equipped with only 4GB of RAM (ours had 8GB).

Another company called Howard Technology sells this same unit for just $1,025.99. However, the servers on both sites were on backorder. Therefore interested buyers should be prepared to spend some time shopping around.

The AC100 comes with a standard 1-year, next-business-day, on-site warranty. An upgraded 3-year, next-business-day, on-site warranty is also available for around $200.

Small Business Server Price Comparison

We looked at two other servers to see where the AC100s stands in the value equation, and it compares pretty well to the competition. A traditional entry-level server from Dell -- the PowerEdge T110 II -- sports a typical mid-tower design. We configured it to match the specs of the AC100 as close as possible. Memory and storage were on par, minus the hot-swappable HDs, making the biggest differentiator the processor.

Equipped with a slower Intel Xeon E3-1220, 3.1 GHz processor, the system lists for $1,603. Upgrading to a significantly faster Intel E3-1230, 3.2 GHz processor adds $60 to the bottom line.

The HP Proliant MicroServer has a similar form-factor to the Acer, but nowhere near the horsepower. It's equipped with only an AMD Turion II Neo N40L 1.5 GHz processor, 8GB of RAM, and dual 500GB hard drives configured in a RAID 1 array (RAID 5 is not an option). This comes housed in non-hot-pluggable drive bays and saddled with a minuscule 150W power supply.

The Proliant offers a 1-year, next-business-day parts replacement warranty, but no onsite support. This configuration will cost you just slightly less than $1,000.

Bottom Line

If you're in the market for a powerful, yet inconspicuous server, that has the capability to meet your small business server needs, then the AC100 deserves a closer look. One of the most powerful servers available at this price point, the low-maintenance AC100 doesn't require a dedicated server room, and it offers enough expandability to grow with your business.

It's an ideal solution for a small satellite office or for any small business with fewer than 25 users and minimal technical resources. The only real challenge is finding a place to purchase it.

Ronald V. Pacchiano is a systems integrator and technology specialist with expertise in Windows server management, desktop support and network administration. He is also an accomplished technology journalist, writing product reviews, monthly columns and feature stories for both print and Web-based publications.

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This article was originally published on Thursday May 24th 2012
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