Before I begin with the article, I have a little post-holiday story for you:
'Twas the night before CES and all through the house…
Ok, where was I. Oh yeah, VIA has created system builders kit that is based on the VIA EPIA PX-Series Pico-ITX main board. It's called the ARTiGO A1000. For those of you who may not be familiar, Pico-ITX is a standard motherboard form factor that is a mere 10 x 7.2 cm (smaller than your wallet). The entire computer, case and all, measures just 5.9" x 4.3" x 1.8" (15cm x 11cm x 4.5cm). Let me be clear about this folks, this system is small!
How small? To the right is a picture of my completed A1000 sitting next to the new HP MediaSmart Server EX485. I used to think the HP was small, but now it looks down right massive compared to the VIA.
How do we turn this little beast into a Windows Home Server? Before we begin, I've assembled the following items:
- ARTiGO Pico-ITX Builder Kit A1000
- 100GB 2.5" IDE hard drive
- 1GB DDR2 533 SODIMM
- a copy of Windows Home Server OEM system builders edition
- a 2GB USB memory stick
- (optional) external USB hard drives
You will also need temporary use of a USB keyboard, USB mouse and a VGA monitor in order to install the OS.
A note about memory. The VIA EPIA PX-Series Pico-ITX main board will accept a maximum of 1GB of RAM. Also the RAM must be a certain configuration (16 x 64M x 8-bit). Be sure you know what configuration the RAM is before you buy it or to be safe, order this one from newegg (it's the one that I successfully used).
Any IDE laptop hard drive will do. However, WHS will not install on a drive smaller that 80GB.
Assembling the hardware
Here are my step-by-step photos. You can also use VIA's assembly guide.
- Install the RAM into the slot on the bottom of the mainboard.
- Remove the mainboard bracket from the case as shown.
- Attach the hard drive using 4 screws.
- Attach the mainboard to the top side of the bracket.
- Attach the IDE hard drive connector.
- Using two screws, attach the power adapter sub-assembly.
- Mount the mainboard to the chassis. Use a pliers or small wrench to tighten the hex screws around the VGA connector (this will secure the back of the mainboard to the case).
- Connect the power sub-assembly to the mainboard. Carefully push the excess wiring down into the case.
- Connect the front panel, USB and audio cables.
- Close up the case (with a single screw on the rear of the unit) and pat yourself on the back for a job well done! You can go ahead and attach the power, USB keyboard, mouse and VGA cables as well.
Updating the BIOS
Unfortunately, the system BIOS on the EPIA PX-Series mainboard that I received is not fully ACPI compliant. Windows Home Server requires an ACPI compliant BIOS in order to install. Don't believe me? Take a look at the BSOD that I got during an attempt at an install (click to enlarge).
The good news is that VIA does have a BIOS that will work. The bad news is that it's not a simple task. You will have to patch your BIOS yourself. This means hacking together and creating a DOS bootable USB memory stick with the BIOS flash utility and the new BIOS image.
- Download the HP USB Disk Storage Format Tool here.
- Locate an old DOS diskette, download the DOS image here or get the individual files here (Pick any version. All you need is COMMAND.COM, IO.SYS and MSDOS.SYS).
- Copy COMMAND.COM, IO.SYS and MSDOS.SYS or unzip the contents of the DOS image into a folder.
- Download the VIA BIOS Flash Utility for DOS here.
- Download the new BIOS image
here. Note: the BIOS image that I am using is a test image that I received from VIA and is not for public release. VIA has told me that after it has been thoroughly validated (i.e. tested some more), it will be released here. The current version is 1.03 which is NOT what you are looking for.
- Insert your USB memory stick and wait for Windows to install any necessary drivers.
- Launch the HP software.
- Select your USB device (yours will be named something different)
- Select FAT32 under File system
- Check Create a DOS startup disk
- Click the "…" button and select the folder you created in step 3 above.
- Click Start to format your USB memory stick.
- You will get the following warning after which, if you are OK with, you will click Yes.
- After a couple of minutes your USB memory stick will be completely formatted.
- Now open up Explorer and copy/paste the Via BIOS Flash Utility for DOS and BIOS images files onto the newly formatted drive. Note that you will not see COMMAND.COM, IO.SYS and MSDOS.SYS as they are marked as system and hidden.
- Insert the new DOS bootable USB memory stick into the Pico-ITX and power it on. If it does not boot up from the USB drive, try going into BIOS setup first (by pressing Del), then exiting setup. I don't know why but that worked for me.
- If all goes well, you should see a DOS prompt like this (click to enlarge):
- Type VIAFLASH and press Enter.
- You will see a screen like this:
- Select menu item 2 - Update BIOS
- When it asks for a filename type 47TEBUG4.BIN (or whatever the new BIOS image is named).
- And finally type Y to begin the programming.
- After a few minutes you should see BIOS Updated!
- Power down the A1000.
Installing Windows Home Server
We're half way home. Now comes the fun part, installing Windows Home Server.
- On a Windows Vista computer, create a bootable USB memory stick as shown in this article (steps 1-8).
- Insert the USB memory stick into the A1000 and turn on the power.
- The A1000 should recognize a non-bootable hard drive and a bootable memory stick so the WHS installer should run.
- From this point on it should be an unattended install taking about an hour and what will seem like about 900 reboots.
- You will see screens like this along the way:
- When the installation is done, you will see this screen:
- Now enter a password (this will be your Administrator password).
- Enter your preferences for the next few screens and you finally will see this message.
- At this point you are done, although you will likely fine that you need to run Windows Update to get the latest updates for your system. You will also want to install the Connector software on your client PCs.
Create a custom WHS Console icon
One last "finishing touch" is to customize the WHS Console:
- Make sure that your WHS Console is not open.
- On your Pico Home Server open an Internet Explorer browser.
- Download this image file from my Windows Live SkyDrive.
- In Windows Explorer, go to \\Program Files\Windows Home Server and create a subfolder named OEM.
- Copy the downloaded image file into this newly created folder.
- If you open up the WHS Console and click on Settings then Resources, you will now see the custom VIA icon:
How does it stack up against the competition?
Here is a quick non-scientific comparison between the Pico Home Server, the KPC Home Server and an the new HP EX485.
Pico Home Server
$299 kit only, $465 complete
VIA C7 1GHz
Intel Celeron 430 1.8GHz
Intel Celeron 440 2GHz
|Hard Drive bays|
1 internal 2.5"
4 internal (hot swappable)
3 rear, 1 front
As you can see the Pico Home Server can't compete with our other two contenders when it comes to internal hard drive storage, but it does have 4 USB posts for additional drives. It also lacks a gigabit Ethernet connection. While this is probably fine for the casual user, power users will find this unacceptable.
Where the Pico Home Server does shine is in it's almost stealth-like power signature (only 13 watts) and in it's "almost not even there" size.
Adding External Storage
Ok, so now you have a Windows Home Server, but you only have 80GB of non system partition. Not a lot of NAS (network attached storage). To really make this work, you'll need to max out the external storage. You can do that in one of two ways:
- Add up to 4 USB hard drives
- Use an external SATA drive
If you want to add an external SATA drive, you will have to get a SATA to eSATA connector (see image right) and leave the lid off of the case. Probably not what you want to do unless you are building a custom case. With the small size of the mainboard, this opens up come very interesting possibilities, but that is the subject for a different article.
Also, the SATA connector on the mainboard does not support a port multiplier, so adding a multi drive bay enclosure like this one is out of the question. Too bad.
Other VIA Solutions
Though not reviewed here, VIA has some other interesting platforms out (and even more coming out that I can't tell you about yet, but stay tuned!) For example, the VIA EPIA-P700 Pico-ITX main board has all the features and the same Pico-ITX form factor as the board we reviewed here, but also has a Gigabit LAN. If you are a system integrator, you should give this board some serious consideration when designing your Windows Home Server.
Then there is the VIA ARGiGO A2000 barebones server. Wow. With basically the same features as the $300 Shuttle KPC server that I built, you can have a 2 drive, 3 TB home server that is about half the size. I only wish the A2000 had an eSATA port for hard drive expandability.
Oh yeah, I mentioned that there might be something FREE…
OK, here's the part that you all have been waiting for. Not only have I built up this sweet Pico Home Server using off the shelf parts, but (and I can't believe I'm doing this) I am giving it away to one of my lucky readers for free!
What do you need to do to win? Virtually nothing. Between now and Sunday, 11 Jan 2009, 11:59pm EST (midnight on the day the CES ends), leave a comment on this blog telling me what you would do with a Windows Home Server that's smaller than your sack lunch and you will be entered in the drawing. Ok, any comment will do, but don't you want to win in style?
Not the "lucky winner" type? Fear not. I also have second and third place prizes that aren't too shabby either.
International readers, I've heard your screams. Unlike past contests, readers from outside of the United States are allowed to enter the contest (read the fine print below).
First Prize is everything you see above, including:
- The fully assembled VIA ARTiGO A1000 Pico Home Server shown in this article with 1GB RAM and 100 GB hard internal system drive.
- NFR (not for resale) copy of Windows Home Server OEM System Builders DVD (pre-installed on hard drive and DVD included)
- A paperback copy of Mommy, Why is there a Server in the House?
- A paperback copy of Server Feng Shui.
Note: does not include external drives, keyboard, mouse, monitor or USB stick.
- Winners will be announced sometime on Monday, 12 Jan 2009 as a new blog post on http://www.homeserverhacks.com/ with instructions to the winners on how to claim your prize.
- Even though this will be a completely random drawing (with all names drawn from an actual hat) all decisions are final.
- Unclaimed items will remain on my shelf collecting dust.
- I do not warrant any of the hardware. It is awarded in "as-is" condition.
- Shipping is free within the United States.
- I will ship outside of the United States, but you will have to pay for International shipping, taxes and import fees before the item is shipped. (I accept PayPal ONLY for the fees).
- There may be countries where I am restricted from shipping the computer and Windows Home Server DVDs (like probably North Korea or maybe Iran). Winning entries from such countries will be void (again see: dust, shelf).
- Ok, technically it is two nights before CES, but I'm giving away a Windows Home Server so give me a break already! :)
Good luck and Happy New Year from Home Server Hacks!