Building your Windows Home Server box

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 or down to Fry’s and buy new components instead.

© Charlie Kindel. All Rights Reserved.


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