HPE ProLiant DL385 Gen11 review: Cores galore and plenty more

HPE's superbly designed 2U rack server takes CPU core density to the next level

The HPE ProLiant user inerface

IT Pro Verdict


  • +

    Massive EPYC core density

  • +

    Extensive storage features

  • +

    Top remote management


  • -

    No complaints here

With AMD's latest EPYC 9004 'Genoa' CPUs at the helm, HPE's ProLiant DL385 Gen11 is ready to deliver some serious acceleration to enterprise workloads. This rack server supports all the EPYC 9004 2P models including the 2.4GHz 96-core EPYC 9654 and with two CPU sockets up for grabs, it can present up to 192 physical cores in 2U of rack space.

Naturally, 4,800MT/s DDR5 memory is on the table and the DL385 Gen11 supports up to 6TB in dual-processor configurations. Expansion potential is equally impressive as the server can have up to eight PCIe Gen5 slots and the motherboard has two OCP 3.0 edge connectors as well.

Businesses seeking a high storage capacity will also find a lot to like, as the DL385 Gen11 offers a remarkable range of storage options including U.3 NVMe and Gen5 EDSFF devices. The chassis is also accelerator optimized and supports up to eight single-width or four double-width GPU cards.

HPE ProLiant DL385 Gen11 review: Design and expansion

HPE supplied us with its Base model for review which costs less than £6,000 and gets you out of the starting blocks with a solid hardware package. This includes a 16-core 3GHz AMD EPYC 9124 CPU, 32GB of DDR5 SmartMemory, an 8-bay SFF front drive cage (no storage included) managed by an MR408i-o Gen11 OCP 3 RAID card, a quad-Gigabit OCP 3 network card and one 800W FlexSlot PSU.

Internal design is impressively tidy as the two CPU sockets are located towards the front of the motherboard with our EPYC 9124 topped off with a very large passive heatsink. You can choose any of the 14 EPYC 2P CPUs and a total of 24 DIMM slots allows it to be upgraded to 6TB although 256GB modules currently command a very high price.

Cooling is handled by a bank of six hot-plug fans behind the drive backplane with our system sporting a set of standard modules. Specify CPUs with TDPs between 240W and 300W and you'll need high-performance heatsinks and fans while CPUs above 300W require the max-performance versions.

Our system includes a primary riser cage with a single PCIe x16 Gen5 slot but this can be replaced with a three slot version and HPE offers secondary and tertiary riser cages with a choice of slot counts and a key feature is they are all the PCIe Gen5 variety. The OCP 3 slots are located under the primary and secondary riser cages and if you want more than Gigabit, HPE offers dual 10GbE, dual and quad 10/25GbE, and even dual 100/200GbE OCP 3 cards.

HPE ProLiant DL385 Gen11 review: Storage bonanza

You're spoilt for storage choices as the DL385 Gen11 supports an incredible range of interfaces, devices, and form factors. Drive count potential is one of the highest we've seen in a 2U rack server as you can specify up to 20 LFF HDDs or 34 SFF HDDs/SSDs.

Using HPE's storage boxes, base systems start with a 4-LFF or 8-SFF front drive box and to increase capacity, you add more boxes along with the appropriate backplanes and RAID controllers. Starting with an 8-bay SFF front box, our system accepts two more at the front and, at the cost of an expansion riser, another 2-bay box at the rear.

The HPE ProLiant hardware

The drive count can be boosted further with a 4-LFF or 8-SFF midplane box which sits over the CPUs, replaces the air shroud, and requires the high-performance fan kit. The SFF midplane box supports SAS, SATA and U.3 NVMe drives and both types require lower CPU heatsinks which introduce a 300W TDP restriction although this still allows 84-core EPYC 9634 CPUs to be specified.

Whichever model you choose, you'll need a RAID card as all Gen11 models have dispensed with the onboard SR100i Smart Array controller and another new feature is HPE's NS204i-u Gen11 card. Similar to Dell's BOSS-N1, this fits in a dedicated slot and presents two hot-plug M.2 NVMe SSDs at the rear which can be mirrored and used as a boot device.

HPE ProLiant DL385 Gen11 review: Management

The new iLO 6 embedded controller delivers a wealth of remote management and monitoring services and introduces HPE's trusted security features. Building on iLO 5 features such as Secure Start and 'silicon root of trust' firmware fingerprinting, the iLO 6 SPDM (Security Protocol and Data Module) authenticates all hardware components and optional PCIe expansion cards.

If SPDM spots an unauthenticated component or the addition of a 'hostile' device, it flags this up as a risk in its security log and can use a policy to stop the boot process. RedFish certificate and signature management works with HPE's Secure Boot and the iLO 6 RESTful API to ensure components run during startup are trusted while the PLDM (Platform Level Data Model) service ensures you can safely update device firmware from any remote location without the need to shut down or reboot the server.

Management applications and services are in abundance with HPE's OneView providing a central console for all your HPE systems and can also monitor hypervisors, storage arrays, pools, and switches. We run HPE's free iLO Amplifier Pack on our Hyper-V server which provides a separate web management console for discovery, inventory, and compliance reporting for up to 10,000 Gen8, 9, 10 and 11 servers.

After linking up the iLO Amplifier Pack app with our HPE InfoSight cloud account, we could view details such as critical server health issues, power status, and installed hardware from its web portal. And then there's HPE's GreenLake Compute Ops Management cloud service which presents a portal for viewing your entire infrastructure, automating system lifecycle compliance policies, and managing server deployments.

HPE ProLiant DL385 Gen11 review: Verdict

With AMD's EPYC 9004 CPUs in the driving seat, HPE's ProLiant DL385 Gen11 delivers an unprecedented core density. Add support for up to 6TB of DDR5 memory, an impressive storage capacity, PCIe Gen5 expansion options, multi-GPU capabilities, and a wealth of management and platform security services and you have a versatile rack server that's clearly capable of running virtually any enterprise workload.

HPE ProLiant DL385 Gen11 specifications

Swipe to scroll horizontally
Chassis2U rack (SKU:P55080-B21)
CPU16-core 3GHz AMD EPYC 9124 (max 2)
Memory32GB 4,800MT/s ECC DDR5 SmartMemory (max 6TB)
Storage bays8 x hot-swap SFF (max 34 with mid and rear cages)
RAIDHPE MR408i-o 4GB cache OCP card
Storage includedNone included
NetworkBMC 5719 quad-Gigabit OCP 3.0 card
Expansion1 x PCIe Gen 5 slot (max 8)
Power800W HPE FlexSlot PSU (max 2)
ManagementHPE iLO6 Standard
Warranty3Yr On-Site NBD
Dave Mitchell

Dave is an IT consultant and freelance journalist specialising in hands-on reviews of computer networking products covering all market sectors from small businesses to enterprises. Founder of Binary Testing Ltd – the UK’s premier independent network testing laboratory - Dave has over 45 years of experience in the IT industry.

Dave has produced many thousands of in-depth business networking product reviews from his lab which have been reproduced globally. Writing for ITPro and its sister title, PC Pro, he covers all areas of business IT infrastructure, including servers, storage, network security, data protection, cloud, infrastructure and services.