Installing Windows Home Server on the Thecus N5200 RRS feed

  • General discussion

  • After my last home server project ended with tears, I decided that my next system was going to be somewhat smaller, portable, use significantly less power and have no more than four or five drives.

    However, money has been somewhat tight for me of late, and I've had to make do with no home server to store all my stuff, or have the benefit of daily C: backups for all my Windows machines. I had all my media stored locally on my main PC, and backed it up weekly to my trusty Thecus N5200. I read somewhere that it's possible to hack these things to run a slightly more powerful Linux, when it suddenly struck me - low power, 5 drives, small and portable. Okay, the 600MHz CPU kinda sucks, but damn. It's almost all I need.

    So I did it, and according to my somewhat extensive Google-fu, I think I'm the first person to actually succeed.

    So without further ado, I present to you my Thecus N5200 Windows Home Server (in progress):


    How the heck did I do it? Well, I did a bit of research into the hardware first. The mainboard and network cards are fairly stock standard Intel stuff, so that's not a worry - the biggest concern was the custom SATA controller - which is apparently a Marvell MV88SX6081 8-port SATA II PCI-X Controller. Thankfully, this chip is used on the Supermicro AOC-SAT2-MV8. I've included where to get this driver from the list of other hardware components needed.

    So, to hack the N5200, you'll need:
    • A DB15 HD PCB (or surface) right angle mount. It looks like this:

      With a bit of fiddling - you attach this to the spare spot next to the serial port. Don't worry about popping the hole out on the backplate, or soldering it in - it won't quite fit with the case on. You won't need it after you finish installing it, so just keep it there with electrical tape, or try balance it in a way so it'll hold steady.
    • A USB external DVD drive of some kind. After discovering that I couldn't get my N5200 to boot from my two USB thumb drives, I had to resort to gutting an old USB IDE drive enclosure, and hooking a DVD-ROM drive up to it.
    • A USB thumb drive with the drivers listed below.
    • USB keyboard and mouse. Keep in mind that there are only 3 USB ports on the N5200, so you'll either need a hub of some kind, or go mouseless during the initial part of the install (brush up on your keyboard shortcuts!).
    • A 512MB DDR DIMM to replace the crappy 256MB DIMM. If you own the N5200 Pro, Thecus were kind enough to do this for you already.
    • The knowledge that this is voiding the heck out of any warranty you've got left

    Drivers you'll need:
    • Video (some kind of Intel onboard thing, supposed to be an 852GM, but won't install).
    • NetChip USB Controller 2282. I assume this is the USB-host port on the back. Can't find drivers for this.
    • I have no idea how to get the LED display to do anything, or respond to button presses. It forever says "Self testing..."

    So here's what you do. First, you need to pull the N5200 apart. There are three screws on the back, which allow you to slide the cover, and remove the backplate. When removing the backplate, watch out for the fan that's attached to it, and be sure to disconnect it from the SATA backplate.

    On the mainboard, you remove the big "Thecus N5200_RJ45" board that resides above the serial port, by taking out the two screws, and carefully pulling it towards you. You then place the DB15 HD connector onto the board, positioning all those little pins into the correct holes. I found positioning the back row first, and then using a small flathead screwdriver to help adjust the front row to slide in helped. Be sure not to accidently bend any of the little pins out of shape. Tape it down with some electrical tape, or try position the VGA cable so it's not pulling on the DB15 connector too much.

    Remove the little 64MB (or 256MB in the case of the Pro) flash drive. Keep it somewhere safe, just in case. If all goes well, we won't be needing it. While you're there, be sure to replace the RAM with a 512MB DIMM if you're stuck with the standard N5200 like me.

    Hook up the monitor and watch it boot. To make things easy, just have the one SATA drive in there - whichever drive you want SYS to be on. Hit DEL to get into the BIOS, in order to change the boot volume. Under "Advanced" (second option), go to the boot order. Set the first to USB-CDROM, the second and third to Disabled, and ensure "Allow other devices to boot" or whatever it's called is ENABLED.

    Connect your USB DVD drive, and go through the usual motions of installing Home Server. Be sure to place the SATA drivers at least onto a USB thumb drive, and make sure it's unextracted (you see INF's and sys files, not one large ZIP). When Home Server setup complains it can't find a hard drive, select "Load Drivers", slap the USB drive in, and continue with setup until finished. Be sure to load the NIC drivers once finished, and verify you can remote into the server via Remote Desktop, before pulling out all the cables and stuff, and placing the case back together again. Install the rest of your drives, and away you go.

    I'll have to get back to you all on how it actually performs - the SATA controller and gigabit ethernet should be fairly quick, but the 600MHz CPU in the stock N5200 could hamper performance. The N5200 Pro should alleviate those worries with the 1.5GHz processor, at least. I'll be sure to report back on how unbearingly slow and painful it is.

    This page gave me the idea of using the DB15 VGA connector, and also alerted me as to what kind of drivers I'd need to look for.

    This site was also an interesting read, despite being entirely in German.

    There might be a way somewhere amongst those two sites to get the front LED to do something.
    • Edited by TLG Jaymz Wednesday, April 8, 2009 1:29 PM Self-censoring :V
    Wednesday, April 8, 2009 1:28 PM

All replies

  • A very nice example of an unsupported set-up.  And I thought my unsupported RAID card was something big.  You take the cake.  Keep us posted on the results.

    Wednesday, April 8, 2009 11:11 PM
  • If you have the N5200 Pro version Thecus you could replace the Celeron with a Pentium M, I used 1,7GHz and replaced the RAM with 1GB chip, this makes allt the diffrence.

     The display driver is Intel 82852/82855 GM/GME the drivers can be found at Intel's download center.

    Now all I need is to be able have some fun with the Led panel..... so if someone got an IDEA!

    Wednesday, October 20, 2010 11:26 PM
  • i just did this my self to. your video card is a Intel(R) 82852/82855 GM/GME Graphics Controller

    drivers are here.


    Saturday, October 8, 2011 4:21 PM
  • I appreciate this is an old original post.. but it seems right to simply tag on (especially as I see others have recently commented).

     I have just installed WHS2011 on my Thecus 7700Pro. For those who think this is probably just a hack and mash exercise, I have to say that I bought the Thecus 7700pro as an "out of the box" solution but after 12 months of often painful issues, rather than hitting the scrap heap (excluding the drives) the box has been given a new lease of life. Fortunately, I'm not one of those who are dependent on Drive Extender.... and so WSH2011 suits me just fine. Yes, there are issues with WHS2011 but I really do believe that WHS2011 - derived from Server2008r2 - will be supported by Microsoft through to a future Windows 8 upgrade (including DE) where it will ultimately shine. In any case, my issues with WHS2011 are paltry compared to the issues I had with the Thecus firmware/software.


    So – to the point. The mods were very similar to those indicated by TLG Jajmz (thanks to you and the others you reference for the inspiration). I managed to find a proper short-form angled VGA DB15 from China (via Ebay) – arrived within a few days and very inexpensive. It fits perfectly – was a very easy solder job – and it sits in the back-panel as it would if it had been there as part of the original hardware. The DB15 was a very tight fit and I’m sure it would have worked just as easily taped down as opposed to being soldered in. The video is essential for BIOS entry and also needed for WHS2011 configuration and proper management.


    Out came the Thecus DOM and in went an old 2.5” PATA drive via a 44pin flat cable (disk sits on top of the drive caddy internally). I booted from the WHS2011 installation disk via a USB DVD drive I use with my laptops (plugged in a rear USB socket so it’s picked up properly by the BIOS). The front USB’s were used for a USB keyboard and mouse (BIOS seems to recognise these via the front USB, but not USB DVD via the front). I did have a problem with the installation at first. The problem was that my PATA drive at 30Gb was much smaller than the minimum 160Gb required by WHS2011. This is very easily resolved by placing a cfg.ini file on a USB Flash Drive.  Check the internet – “WHS2011 installation on a small drive”. WHS2011 takes up around 15Gb but minimum restrictions are set for good reasons. The installation also appeared to have an issue with my USB DVD drive (others have seen a similar problem) and so I created a USB Flash Drive installation disk (easily to find instructions on the net if you’re not sure how to do this – search for: “WHS2011 bootable flash drive”). The WHS2011 installation DVD is approximately 4Gb, and so I used an 8Gb Flash Drive I had to hand. I also placed the cfg.ini file in the root of the flash drive. Once I’d changed the BIOS to boot from the USB Flash Drive, all went very smoothly.


    Unfortunately the standard VGA output from the Thecus board is max 640x480, so during the WHS2011 initial configuration (the usual Windows Time settings, etc) I just had to blindly press <Enter> where I couldn’t see the full screen. You can change all the settings later in any case. Once into WHS2011 proper I could then install the additional drivers needed.  First up was the Video – basic Intel 945GM Express Chipset. I simply used the latest driver from the Intel download section of their website: “win7_64_1512754.exe”, and then I was straight into 1024x768 – more than good enough for server purposes and rock steady.


    Next was the driver set for the SATA’s. The controllers (4 off for the potential 8 drives) are Silicon Image 3132. The driver file is “3132_x64_1.0.15.6_logo.zip” which can be obtained from the Silicon Image download section of their website.  All hot swaps now visible and configurable as might be needed. As to the Network connections, WHS2011 picked up the two Intel 82574L Gigabit ports immediately and installed the necessary drivers from within its own resource library.  


    Just a couple of additional comments: Before I set up WHS2011 fully (and registered it), I thought I’d try a PATA SSD (one that I whipped out of an old laptop for the purpose – a Mercury Legacy Pro 60Gb). The Thecus BIOS didn’t like it. After ghosting it from the disk I used for the original installation, I managed to boot using it but far too many Windows “error 11” – likely due to alignment issues, even though alignment software passed the drive as good (and its perfect on my old Sony).  But now that I have it all working well, I’ve ghosted to a new 160Gb drive. The system isn’t noticeably slower than the linux system I’ve replaced and I have saved myself the cost of building a new storage server (for the time being).  

    Sunday, November 20, 2011 11:19 AM
  • Hi, Deema90.

    I'm going to do the same thing with my thecus n4200pro, but I wonder what will happen with this small display when you run windows server? It won't show all these initializations strings and will glow with an error?

    Monday, November 28, 2011 1:23 PM
  • Initialization strings? WHS201 is effectively auto-install (with the config file t automatically defaults as necessary). The only problem with the initial 640x480 is seeing the likes of the standard windows "time zone" setup, etc.  Tricky but not a show stopper because you can change all the standard setting later. my WHS2011 Thecus has been rock steady since the initial build, and no issues. For me, it was worth the change-over to WHS.  
    Sunday, January 22, 2012 10:31 AM