HP Moonshot server cartridge teardown and hands-on

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HP sent us a Moonshot server cartridge, not for a traditional review but for a photo-shoot and a teardown. For logistical reasons, we didn’t ask them to send the whole system chassis (HP Moonshot 1500) as it is both heavy and bulky at 82Kg in absolute terms, but relatively compact compared to rival solutions.

The cartridge itself comfortably sits on an A4 page and is around 15mm thick. It packs an Intel Atom S1260 processor clocked at 2GHz, a single SO-DIMM slot filled with a 8GB DDR3-ECC 1.35v memory module (Samsung M474B1G73BH0), a Broadcom BCM5720 Gb Ethernet controller, a Marvell 88SE1925-NAA2 SATA controller and a 500GB 2.5in hard disk drive (a rebadged Seagate Constellation 2 drive ST9500620NS).

A few observations; a transparent Perspex part shields around half of the motherboard. The memory module is located at the back of the cartridge and the hard disk drive is can be easily removable. The S1260 is a dual-core Atom processor with four threads, 1MB cache and a maximum TDP of 8.5W. It supports up to 8GB of RAM and offers Hyper-Threading and Virtualisation. Intel also sells a low-power alternative, the S1240, which costs the same but has a max. TDP that’s 28 per cent less.

Moonshot is, by and large, a perfectly formed product but it has some fundamental flaws as mentioned by Johan De Gelas from Anandtech in a fairly detailed article. Most of them though are tied to the chip used and herein lies the beauty of Moonshot, which HP defines as the first software-defined server.

The platform is not tied to one vendor (Intel) who has already committed to a new Atom (Avoton) for the server market. AMD will also get a share of Moonshot when its x86 APU, Kyoto, hits the market en masse this year and its ARM-based alter ego, Seattle, in the second half of next year. A third player, Calxeda, will also get its piece of the Moonshot pie as it is one of the key partners of HP’s project.

One needs to bear in mind that this is the first generation Moonshot server and compared to how Moonshot's legacy may eventually change the way we think of servers over the next few years, it is a relatively small but still significant step.

At last year’s Server Design Summit, Parthasarathy Ranganathan, a corporate fellow at HP Labs who happens to work on the Moonshot project, discussed about the comcept of nanostores, a combination of memristors and logic that may end up being a compelling alternative to our current CPU-focused architectures. Now, you might also want to read a recently written article called Meet the System-On-Disk: When the (hard) drive becomes the server to give you a taste of what we expect will come next.