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Building your home server box RRS feed

  • General discussion

  • [This is a re-posting of my blog post on this subject to the forums for posterity sake. Hope it's useful.]

    Until OEMs ship Windows Home Server hardware the only way to run Windows Home Server is on a machine you provide. The hardware requirements are pretty meager:

    • An x86 CPU with roughly the same horsepower as a 1GHz Pentium III. It will actually run on less (I had it running on an old 550MHz Pentium III for a while), but for a reasonable experience you want something in this range. My current box at home is running an AMD Sempron 3500+.
    • At least 512MB of RAM. Memory is cheap, so you might as well go with 1GB if you can swing it.
    • Some sort of cheapo GPU. Once your server is setup you won't need to have a keyboard, mouse, or monitor plugged in, but setup requires one. Be aware that many onboard GPUs use system memory and if you only have 512MB of RAM you might need to change the BIOS settings to use the minimum amount of system memory.
    • An internal or external DVD ROM reader. The Windows Home Server instalation media is a DVD and that is the only supported way of setting up a server. You need to make sure your motherboard/BIOS supports booting from DVDs.  Many older machines cannot boot from DVDs!
    • An Ethernet adapter. It's hard to find a mainboard these days with anything other than Gigabit Ethernet onboard, but if all you have is 100baseT it will work fine.
    • For hard disks our miniumum requirement is a single 80GB or larger disk. In reality you will want the largest disks you can find and multiple of them (in order to get redundancy).  I won't go into the details of why here, but you should make sure that your first disk (disk 0) is NOT your smallest disk.  For example if you have 3 120GB disks and an 80GB disk lying around, DO NO put the 80GB disk as the first disk.
    • EDIT: Make sure your system supports USB 2.0, 1394, or eSATA for external hard disk expansion. USB 1.1 is waaaay to slow and expanding your home server's storage using USB 1.1 will really suck.

    I'm seeing people start to post their experiences and suggestions.  Over at We Got Served is a great set of posts putting together your Windows Home Server machine. And last week Ars Technica posted a useful article that is not specific to Windows Home Server but mostly applies.

    One word of caution: Machines thrown together from parts lying around are known as frankenmachines. I personally enjoy building frankenmachines. It's an interesting challenge. But it's a challenge because many times there are problems. Mismatched or faulty RAM. Cables with nicks in them. BIOS that are way out of date. Hard disks that make scary noises. And so on.

    Do not build a frankenmachime if your goal is to save time and money. More likely than not, the amount of time you spend getting everything working won't be worth it. Go online (I like newegg.com) or down to Fry's and buy new components instead.

    Monday, February 12, 2007 9:49 PM
    Moderator

All replies

  • I'm glad to hear that eSATA is supported.

    Will eSATA enclosures such as this one that use a port multiplier work?
    Monday, February 12, 2007 11:56 PM
  • Hi Charlie,

    I already read that specific post on your blog and now I really have to ask: Could you please explain why I should not use my smallest disk as my boot disk? I'm curious to learn what happens in that case and how "bad" it is because I kind of expect that this might "just happen" in the field when people build their own WHS (rather than buying an OEM machine) with only one HDD and then get a second, larger one when they run out of disk space.

    Best regards from DevDiv
    Dennis

    Monday, February 12, 2007 11:59 PM
  •  Neil-H wrote:
    I'm glad to hear that eSATA is supported.

    Will eSATA enclosures such as this one that use a port multiplier work?

    We don't and can't test all possible hardware out there. But, generally, if something works with Windows Server 2003 it will work with Windows Home Server.

    Tuesday, February 13, 2007 12:12 AM
    Moderator
  •  Dennis Dietrich - MSFT wrote:

    Hi Charlie,

    I already read that specific post on your blog and now I really have to ask: Could you please explain why I should not use my smallest disk as my boot disk? I'm curious to learn what happens in that case and how "bad" it is because I kind of expect that this might "just happen" in the field when people build their own WHS (rather than buying an OEM machine) with only one HDD and then get a second, larger one when they run out of disk space.

    Best regards from DevDiv
    Dennis

    The primary reason has to do with a limitation in Drive Extender in beta 2. Specifically the largest file you can copy to your server is limited to the amount of free space on the primary drive. So if you put an 80GB drive in there, and we use 10GB of it for the system partition, you have 70GB left. The largest file you could copy would be something less than 70GB.

    For Vista clients this problem is exaberated by the fact that Vista calcluates required free disk space before copying. If you select 1000 files to copy and their sizes sum up to greater than 70GB Vista won't let you copy the all at once.

    Tuesday, February 13, 2007 12:15 AM
    Moderator
  •  cek wrote:
     Dennis Dietrich - MSFT wrote:

    Hi Charlie,

    I already read that specific post on your blog and now I really have to ask: Could you please explain why I should not use my smallest disk as my boot disk? I'm curious to learn what happens in that case and how "bad" it is because I kind of expect that this might "just happen" in the field when people build their own WHS (rather than buying an OEM machine) with only one HDD and then get a second, larger one when they run out of disk space.

    Best regards from DevDiv
    Dennis

    The primary reason has to do with a limitation in Drive Extender in beta 2. Specifically the largest file you can copy to your server is limited to the amount of free space on the primary drive. So if you put an 80GB drive in there, and we use 10GB of it for the system partition, you have 70GB left. The largest file you could copy would be something less than 70GB.

    For Vista clients this problem is exaberated by the fact that Vista calcluates required free disk space before copying. If you select 1000 files to copy and their sizes sum up to greater than 70GB Vista won't let you copy the all at once.

    Is there some sort of free space optimization that happens then to keep as much free space as possible on the boot disk?

    Tuesday, February 13, 2007 5:35 AM
  • It sounds like it is more a temporary problem than a permanent one as he specifically mentioned the problem as being in "beta 2".

    I'm guessing they will have a workaround for this post beta 2.
    Tuesday, February 13, 2007 2:52 PM
  •  Kerry_Brown wrote:
     cek wrote:
     Dennis Dietrich - MSFT wrote:

    Hi Charlie,

    I already read that specific post on your blog and now I really have to ask: Could you please explain why I should not use my smallest disk as my boot disk? I'm curious to learn what happens in that case and how "bad" it is because I kind of expect that this might "just happen" in the field when people build their own WHS (rather than buying an OEM machine) with only one HDD and then get a second, larger one when they run out of disk space.

    Best regards from DevDiv
    Dennis

    The primary reason has to do with a limitation in Drive Extender in beta 2. Specifically the largest file you can copy to your server is limited to the amount of free space on the primary drive. So if you put an 80GB drive in there, and we use 10GB of it for the system partition, you have 70GB left. The largest file you could copy would be something less than 70GB.

    For Vista clients this problem is exaberated by the fact that Vista calcluates required free disk space before copying. If you select 1000 files to copy and their sizes sum up to greater than 70GB Vista won't let you copy the all at once.

    Is there some sort of free space optimization that happens then to keep as much free space as possible on the boot disk?

    Yes. Drive Extender will priortize puting duplicates on the primary last.

    Tuesday, February 13, 2007 8:11 PM
    Moderator
  • hehe, frankenmachines are great.... I "re-tooled" my Win2K3 Server which is now the Home Server. (added gigabit ethernet, a DVD drive, some more RAM and all my old disks that were lying around (or in numerous other machines, lol)
     
    anywho, I just wanted to say I have experienced the problem, first hand, of having a small primary drive (40gb to be exact. I think because of the way DE copes with data, I simply filled up the 30gb D:\ with the tombstones for the other 500gb of data and backups I have. (see https://forums.microsoft.com/WindowsHomeServer/ShowPost.aspx?PostID=1248215&SiteID=50&mode=1 for my experience with upgrading my system drive). Its fun only being able to copy 100mb or less of data at a time, but what also happened was the drive space (on D:\ drive) kept decreasing, as if the server actually WAS out of disk space (I had 150gb free on the expanded drive).
     
    cheers
     
    Russ
     
     
     
     
    Tuesday, February 20, 2007 3:13 PM
  • Hello,

    I go with your considerations regarding that the minimum hardware requirements are not that high. But let us see one category of typical home user who thinks the product is good for him: He wants to test first instead of starting with a chunk of hardware investment. He may take an older PC or he may take the PC he just is using with a current OS like XP or Linux for similar purposes.

    So there should be an easier way to allow multi boot scenarios, which do not rely on the first harddrive in a system any more. Between, after having my Netserver E800 blocked due to only 384 MB of RAM now my Athlon 3500+ machine is blocked, because the system disk is a 20 GB drive with Windows Server 2003 R2 installed. Instead of allowing to use the second drive, which is 250 GByte size I am now again enforced to do something miraculous to get setup running.

    Don't you think that a server, which is provided for the home area, should be more flexible in relation to installation? Of course only, if home server is meaned as a system, which will not exclusively be provided by OEMs, but also be available as retail box.

    Best greetings from Germany
    Olaf

    Tuesday, February 20, 2007 7:41 PM
    Moderator
  • you are absolutely right.

    a home server should not have high requirements heck they should even make the system compatible with pentium II processors. i know most people are saying you can get a pentium II or pentium 4 system for cheap right now. but remember most users at home will probably have a 6 + year old system waiting to be thrown out of the house. if microsoft can make  use of older system it will give them a big advantage. a 250 gb hardrive is more than most users get if they even order a base system from any company for under $1000. i know that microsoft will want users to have a better proccessor or hardware parts mainly because of the advancements in power management but for them to penetrate the market they need something that people can say " wow check this i have a 7 year old system and now i use it as my server". if microsoft is not able to make older systems work with this then i can gurantee that in 6 months a linux version of a home server will be out that will support double the hardware that microsoft can support and probably more features such as a websever and sftp server.

    i am gonna use my alienware laptop from 5 years ago as my home server since my p3 has a 10gb hardrive.

     

    people i think we have to step back and look and see what is important to us using a home server. what do we want out of it, and what must it do.

    i have 3

    1) security keep my information safe. use bitlocker use a firewall have antivirus support i don't care just make my information safe

    2) i want to easily connect and manage my data as well as the other pc's in my home

    3) give me a way to remove unnecesarry devices from my home. allow me to remove my media center pc and just have a media center extender (xbox 360)

    these are just my 2 cents to the situation

     

    Wednesday, February 21, 2007 6:14 PM
  • Ok been reading and rereading and still haven't found the answer or even a hint to it. Is WHS built on an exsiting kernel, "NT" , or was it built from scratch?

    In order to build a box that will work properly you would have to know what you are trying to use. I personally would like to see WHS work with a X64 system. Like XP X64! The speed and reliability of that OS is unreal. If it would work and use the 64 bit architechture that would be really great.

    Like it has been said before, you would almost have to build a NEW box in order to make the system reliable.

    Thursday, February 22, 2007 2:28 PM
  •  olsofty wrote:

    Ok been reading and rereading and still haven't found the answer or even a hint to it. Is WHS built on an exsiting kernel, "NT" , or was it built from scratch?

    I've read in several places in the forums here and in several trade articles that WHS is based on Server 2003.

    Thursday, February 22, 2007 3:49 PM
  •  olsofty wrote:

    Ok been reading and rereading and still haven't found the answer or even a hint to it. Is WHS built on an exsiting kernel, "NT" , or was it built from scratch?

    From what I have read in another section here, it seems WHS is based off of Windows Server 2003 R2 Small Business Edition.  (32-bit I would asume, since the min req's list 32-bit CPU's)

    Thursday, February 22, 2007 5:00 PM
  • Are there any good SERVER type cases?
    Friday, February 23, 2007 1:16 PM
  •  Apopilot wrote:
    Are there any good SERVER type cases?

    There are many.  What are your needs?  How many drive bays will you need?  What form factor motherboard will you use?  ATX or BTX?  Rackmount, tower, or something else?

    Chenbro makes some great cases.  I have the SR-107 as my workstation case and it has 4 hard drive bays and is built like a tank...however, it's a pretty big, heavy case.  Antec and Chieftec cases are also good, though personally I avoid Antec power supplies.  I prefer Sparkle, Seasonic, and Zalman power supplies.  I'm using an HTPC case with 3 hard drive bays for my WHS install.

    Pete

    Sunday, March 4, 2007 4:47 AM
  •  Scott Weaver wrote:
     olsofty wrote:

    Ok been reading and rereading and still haven't found the answer or even a hint to it. Is WHS built on an exsiting kernel, "NT" , or was it built from scratch?

    From what I have read in another section here, it seems WHS is based off of Windows Server 2003 R2 Small Business Edition.  (32-bit I would asume, since the min req's list 32-bit CPU's)

    WHS is based on Windows 2003 server for small buisness.

    Also need someone to add the note that the primary drive should be the biggest rather than the smallest, as this is somewhat counter to how many desktop pc's are configured. I've done that with my WHS, and oh well. .there isn't much of a way to fix it.

    Sunday, March 4, 2007 7:44 PM