Many of you may not know it, but about a month ago Microsoft released a new operating system. The name of the operating system is Windows Home Server (WHS) and it is built on the back of Windows Server 2003. The resaon you may not have heard about it is because it is an OEM only operating system. Currently you cannot buy it unless it is installed on a computer. Because there are no computers currently being sold with this operating system installed, am forced to build my own. In this article I will be going over the hardware required to successfully run Windows Home Server.
The hardware requirements for Windows Home server are really basic, so it is really easy to find parts and put together a machine without spending a lot of money. The Microsoft website indicates the minimum hardware requirements for Windows Home Server are a 1GHz Pentium III with 512MB of RAM. The recommended hardware is exactly the same except they recommend a Pentium 4, AMD x64 or newer CPU.
Probably more important than CPU or memory is going to be storage space. The minimum recommended is 70 GB, but you are going to want more if you plan on backing up multiple computers or sharing lots of media files. If you are really strapped for money you can start out small and add more hard drives as your needs and budget grow.
For my system I went slightly above the minimum and recommended specs. I did this because I know a new version will come out eventually and it will probably have higher requirements. I want to reuse this hardware when that happens, so I tried to anticipate what a newer version would require.
For my CPU I chose a 2.0GHz Intel Celeron 440. This processor runs both 32 and 64 bit code. This will be useful as the industry transitions into a 64 bit world. It is also a very low power processor so I don’t have to worry about my electricity bill going through the roof.
For RAM I installed 1 GB of Kingston ValueRAM, this doubles the recommended amount so it should be good for an upgrade or two.
Because I have several computers that I will backup, and I want to be able to share media and pictures with other computers, I wanted to get a large capacity hard drive. Since 1 TB drives are really expensive I went with two 500 GB drives. They will be a good starting point for this server and I can always add more later. The Seagate Barracuda 7200.10 ST3500630AS is what I chose because it is fast and provides lots of storage.
Besides how powerful and fast this server will be, I was also concerned with how big and hot this server was going to be, and how much power it would use. This server is going to have to sit in my office and take up space, so I wanted it to be as small as possible. I went with a Micro-ATX platform because it offers a smaller design, but is not really expensive. I could have gone even smaller and chosen a Mini-ITX design, but the parts are often more expensive and the small size of the cases prevents future expandability.
The case I purchased is the Cooler Master Centurion 541. This case is smaller than a mid-tower, but still offers space for two hard drives, two 5.25″ drives and two 3.5″ drives. There is also support for a single 120mm fan in the front and two 80mm fans in the back, but as I will show later you may not need any case fans.
Because I didn’t use a very powerful processor and WHS doesn’t need a graphics or a sound card, a big power supply is not required. I chose a 330 watt power supply because I wanted to keep this computer as low on power usage as possible. The Seasonic S12 330 watt power supply is 80% efficient and it provides more than enough power for my needs.
A DVD drive will be needed, but only because the software comes on a DVD. If you buy a pre-built Windows Home Server machine it will most likely not come with a DVD drive. After the software is installed the DVD drive would not be required and it could be removed. I chose a very basic DVD drive. LITE-ON LH-20A1S has writing capabilities, but they won’t be needed. You could save about $15 if you bought a DVD player without writing capabilities.
The motherboard is a very basic one. It obviously had to fit the Micro-ATX case, but I also wanted it to have several other features. I chose the Gigabyte GA-945GCMX-S2 because it fits all my requirements. This motherboard has four 3Gb/s Serial ATA ports, one ATA100 port, four USB 2.0 ports, onboard Gigabit LAN, onboard 8 channel audio, and an Integrated Intel Graphic Media Accelerator 950. You will never use the onboard audio, and after the initial install you will never use the video controller again. With the four Serial ATA ports and the ATA100 port you can have up to six hard drives. This provides for a lot of expandability.
Putting it all together
Putting together a computer has become a lot easier recently. As I will demonstrate it is simply a matter of putting all the pieces together.
When putting a computer together you want to start with the case. Remove everything from the case that may get in the way, we can put it all back later. In my case the only thing I removed is the hard drive cage.
The next step is to put the motherboard in the case. Before you do this you need to check out the kind of heatsink you have. If it requires you to attach stuff to the back of the motherboard you will need to do that first. Luckily for me I used the stock heatsink and it does not require extra attachments on the back. Attaching the motherboard to the case is really easy to do. You just set it in the case, line up the holes on the motherboard with the holes in the case and put in the screws. When you are lining it up make sure your motherboard connectors all fit in the cases back panel. Mine did not, so I had to replace the back panel with the one that came with the motherboard.
Next, I attached the processor. This is probably the easiest step and is very difficult to mess up. With Intel chips you no longer have to worry about bending pins or putting it in the wrong way. First, there are no pins on the chip, and there are tabs on the processor and on the CPU slot on the motherboard that make it so the CPU won’t fit unless they are aligned correctly. This motherboard has an easy to use lever with a lid that holds the CPU in place. To open the lid you simply and carefully lift the lever and then lift the lid. There is a small plastic cover that needs to be removed from the lid and then the CPU is put in place. You then lower the lid and push down the lever. The lever will be a little more difficult to lower because the CPU is in the slot, but it should not be difficult. If you find that the lever is difficult to lower then you may want to recheck your CPU and make sure it is firmly in place.
After the CPU is installed you will need to install the heatsink and fan. The processor I bought came with a heatsink. This heatsink is very simple to install and it already had thermal wax applied to the bottom. I choose to remove the wax and apply a high quality thermal grease. This is really easy to do, you simply take a razor blade and carefully remove the wax. Then clean the heatsink and processor with some high-purity isopropyl alcohol and a lint free cloth. For a lint free cloth I use coffee filters because they are really cheap. After they are clean you only need to apply a small amount of grease to the top of the CPU. There is no need to spread the grease around because the pressure of the heatsink will do that for you. To install the heatsink that came with the processor you simply place it on top of the CPU and press down on each of the posts. You will hear them click as you do and this means they are securing to the motherboard. After you have pressed down all four posts you should give the heatsink a little turn, just a couple of degrees each direction. This will help eliminate any air bubbles in the grease and test the heatsinks connection to the motherboard. It should not be loose at all and should be hard to move.
The case cables are the next thing to be installed. These cables are for the front panel lights, power and reset buttons and the USB and audio ports on the front. Again, because you will never use the audio you can choose to not install these. Attaching the lights, power and reset buttons can be tricky because the connectors are so small. You just need to be patient and make sure you refer to the manual to make sure you are connecting the correct plugs to the correct pins.
The next thing I installed is the Power Supply. This is also really easy to do. You simply need to fit it into place in the top back of the case and line up the holes from the case and the power supply. At this point I did not attach the power to anything yet. I did this because the cables can get in the way for the next steps.
I put in the DVD drive next. The case makes installing drives very easy with the toolless design. To make things easier on you I recommend that you attach the power and Serial ATA connectors to the DVD drive before you put it in the case. Then you simply need to slide the drive into the front of the case, line up the holes in the drive with the tabs in the drive bay, and then slide the plastic fastener to the left and push the lock down to secure it in place. I then attached the serial ATA cable to the motherboard.
Putting the hard drives in is the next step. If you didn’t remove the hard drive bay in the first step then you should remove it now. Installing the hard drives is simply a matter of attaching the rails and then sliding them into the bay. One thing that surprised me is that the drives do not go into the bay the same direction. One drive goes in facing up and the other faces down. This makes it so the plugs for each drive are on opposite sides and they do not get in each others way. After I put in both drives I put the bay back in place and then attached the power cables and Serial ATA cables.
We’re almost done now. The last two things to do are put in the memory and then attach the power cables. Each of these are equally easy to do. The memory will only go in one direction. There is a small tab in the memory module that will line up with a tab in the memory connector. Then you press down. You have to make sure you press down hard and equally apply pressure on the memory. You will know it is secure when the locks on each side click into place. Now there are just two power cables that need to be attached to the motherboard. The big one on the left is for overall motherboard power and the small one at the bottom is for the CPU power.
After this you will want to plug it in and test it before you put the side back on. The only problem I encountered was that I put the hard drive light plug in upside down, this made the light stay on all the time.
At this point there are not a lot of performance tests we can run, but I wanted to point out how cool the CPU is running. This CPU is running at 23°C. As a reference, my main computer that I just installed a water cooler on runs at about 50°C. This CPU runs so cool in this computer that the heatsink fan does not even turn on. The BIOS screen shows the fan running at 559 RPM, but when I look at the fan it just sits there and twitches.
Because the computer is running so cool I probably don’t need any fans. I put in a single 80mm fan on the back of the case, but could easily remove it and not suffer any consequences.
One other test I wanted to perform is to see how much power the computer uses. I attached a Kill A Watt EZ. This simple device reports the real time power usage of anything that is plugged into it. As you can see from the picture the computer is using about 55 watts when sitting at the BIOS screen. I consider this to be good because my main computer uses about 100 watts.
I don’t have a sound meter, but I can tell you that I have a hard time hearing this computer. It is extremely quiet, and the only two fans turning are the Power Supplie’s 120mm fan and 80mm rear case fan.
Warranty and Support
The warranty is non-existent, except where each part has a warranty. It is up to you the builder to make sure you buy parts that have manufacturer warranties.
I am really happy with what I have built because it is completely silent and running so cool it does not need any fans. As always, you can easily search around for parts for your own computer, but for you convenience I will provide links to shops that sell the parts I bought. The entire system I put together only cost me $596.07 and that includes shipping. Here is a list of all the parts I bought:
GIGABYTE GA-945GCMX-S2 $56.99
SeaSonic S12 II SS-330GB $59.99
LITE-ON LH-20A1S $31.99
Intel Celeron 440 BX80557440 $65.99
|JusTech'n editors' rating|