Stuff to pimp your Windows Home Server

Hacking Windows Home Server is a blog dedicated to Microsoft's WHS technology. Brought to you by Donavon West, Microsoft MVP and author of LiveGadgets.net and donavon.com I'll also discuss the Hewlett-Packard HP MediaSmart Server EX470, EX475, EX485, EX487, the T7-HSA Tranquil Harmony Home Server and any other new Home Server hardware platforms that arise. You can also call this hacking or hackz. In any case I will show you some cool things to make your Microsoft Windows Home Server even sweeter.

A blog devoted to getting the most out of your
Windows Home Server by Microsoft MVP Donavon West.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

VIA ARTiGO A2000 as a WHS

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As reported Monday on WeGotServed, VIA is showing off it's latest small wonder, the A2000, at the 2009 Consumer Electronics Show (CES). I was fortunate enough to get my hands on one of these little devils a few days before the show began. VIA does not sell the A2000 as Windows Home Server (i.e. you can not buy it with WHS pre-installed like you can with the HP MediaSmart Server), however with a $99 Windows Home Server System builder DVD in hand, I will show you how to turn this little gem into a great little Windows Home Server!

The A2000 is based on the VIA C7-D  processor running at 1.5GHz and the VX800 chipset. It features one slot for up to 2GB of DDR2 RAM, two 3.5 inch SATA drive bays, 3 USB ports and a gigabit Ethernet. The barebones system retails for $299. You can read more about the A2000 on the VIA website.

Parts List

Before you begin, gather the following:

You will also need temporary use of a USB keyboard, USB mouse and a VGA monitor in order to install the OS.

Assembling the hardware

I'm almost ashamed to be writing up a how-to on assembling the hardware because it is so easy to do, but I have some helpful tips along the way. All you need is a Phillips screw driver.

  1. Remove the 3 screws from the back of the computer that secure the case.
    image
  2. Slide the case forward and up.
  3. Press in on the 4 plastic latches that hold the front panel in place.
  4. Hinge the front cover down. Note: be careful not to stretch the wiring so far as to disconnect anything. That was one of my helpful hints :)
    image
  5. Slide in one or two SATA hard drives. If you are assembling a one drive system, place the single drive on the bottom (even thought the back plane is labeled the other way around).
    image
  6. When sliding in the lower hard drive, be careful, the clearance above the red SATA connector is tight! You may have to carefully bend it out of the way, being careful not to disconnect it.
    image
  7. Screw each drive into place, each with 4 screws (provided).
    image
  8. Replace the front panel and the main cover.
  9. Plug in the power, network cords. USB keyboard and mouse.

Installing Windows Home Server

If you've been following my DIY hardware builds, you can guess what is about to happen next (yes, it involves a USB memory stick).

  1. On a Windows Vista computer, create a bootable USB memory stick as shown in this article (steps 1-8).
  2. We will need to copy over the Gigabit network drivers from the VIA CD. Open Windows Explorer and create a folder on the memory stick called A2000.
  3. Open another Explorer window and navigate to D:\Drivers\GLAN\vt6120_vt6122_vt6130_vt6132_drivers31_full\Velocity_Driver_v31_VIA\XP_Srv2003_2K_ME_98SE (where D: is the driver letter of your CDROM)
  4. Drag and drop the X86 folder onto the memory stick.
  5. Insert the USB memory stick into the A2000 and turn on the power.
  6. The A2000 should recognize a non-bootable hard drive and a bootable memory stick so the WHS installer should run.
  7. From this point on it should be an unattended install taking about an hour and what will seem like about 900 reboots.
  8. When the installation is done, you will see this screen:
    image
  9. Now enter a password (this will be your Administrator password).
    image
  10. Enter your preferences for the next few screens and you finally will see this message.
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  11. DO NOT SHUT DOWN OR REBOOT YET. We need to install the network drivers.
  12. On the A2000 click Start, right click on My Computer and click Manage.
  13. In the left panel click on Device Manager.
  14. On the right panel, under Other Devices, you should see Ethernet Controller.
  15. Right click on Ethernet Controller and click Update Driver…
    image
  16. A dialog should appear. Select Install from a list or specific location and click Next.
    image
  17. Check Include this location in search and click Browse. Select the folder X:\A2000\X86 and click Next. This is the location of the drivers that we copied to the USB memory stick back in step 4.
    image
  18. The drivers installs and if successful, you will see this in the right panel.
    image
  19. At this point you are done, although you will likely find that you need to run Windows Update to get the latest updates for your system (mine installed 51 High Priority and 4 Optional Software updates). You will also want to install the Connector software on your client PCs.
  20. Go ahead and unplug the USB memory stick, USB mouse, keyboard and VGA monitor. You won't need them anymore as everything can now be administered via the Windows Home Server Console.

The obligatory "customization" icon

I like to give my DIY builds that OEM feel, so I've designed

  1. Make sure that your WHS Console is not open.
  2. On your A2000 Home Server open an Internet Explorer browser.
  3. Download this image file from my Windows Live SkyDrive.
  4. In Windows Explorer, go to \\Program Files\Windows Home Server and create a subfolder named OEM.
  5. Copy the downloaded image file into this newly created folder.
  6. If you open up the WHS Console and click on Settings then Resources, you will now see the custom A2000 icon:
    image

This is the all important comparison section

Let's compare it with the WHS "standard", the HP MediaSmart Server EX485 and our DIY low cost $300 KPC server:

 

Shuttle KPC

HP EX485

VIA A2000

Size

small

small

smaller

Power (when idle)*

51 watts

50 watts

29 watts

Internal drive bays

2

4 (hot swappable)

2

USB Ports

4 rear

1 front, 3 rear

1 front, 2 rear**

Price

$310

$648 MSRP

$299 barebones
$475 complete***

Processor/speed

Intel Celeron 430
1.8GHz

Intel Celeron 440
2GHz

VIA C7-D
1.5GHz

* Wattage depends of brand and type of hard drives installed. These numbers represent the computer with 2 drives installed. Measured using a Kill-a-Watt.
** there appears to be a fourth USB port header on the A2000 mainboard (probably to support an optional internal wireless card). It would require some clever hacking to be of any use, like an internal 2.5" USB drive perhaps. :)
*** Includes the cost of WHS OEM DVD, 1GB memory and 1x 500GB hard drive.

The Bottom Line

The VIA ARTiGO A2000 makes a great little Windows Home Server. It's one short coming, as I see it, is that is only has room for two internal SATA drives (I consider three drives as a minimum for an entry level WHS). The "third drive" (or even a forth or fifth) is easily overcome using external USB drives. But compared to the KPC (which also has just 2 internal drive bays), the A2000 is smaller, quieter and uses less power. Advantage A2000.

HP MediaSmart Server vs. VIA A2000

The C7 processor is not as powerful as the Intel Celeron 440 that is in the new HP, but speed in a home server is not necessary for nightly backups and file sharing. An "always on" server should be as miserly as possible and at 29 watts, advantage A2000.

It's other advantages over the HP MediaSmart Server are obvious: size and cost. The A2000 is the same width as the EX485, one inch longer and less than half the height. At about two thirds of the cost, the VIA A2000 will certainly give the HP MediaSmart Server a run for it's money for many households.

Fin. Why not comment on what you've just read or even Digg It!

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7 comments:

metfoo said...

i like it, but i think i need something with a bit more power

Quiggles said...

Depends what you are using it for - for general WHS duties, that spec is plenty sufficient.

Joshua said...

My thing is, I like the HP's with the hot swappable drives. I know it is nothing that you will need to do all the time, but like the idea that I do not have to shutdown the system and open it up to add or remove HDs from the system.

Donavon West said...

@Joshua - I hear you. When you insert a hot swappable drive, it's like you are doing something that you were told all of your life that you shouldn't be doing. You almost feel dirty doing it, but it's fun.

Or is that not what you meant? :)

netbuyercj said...

Some other benefit for A2000, 1. it's quite, around 26dB. 2. Quality, VIA choice solid capacitors on it and ball-bearing cooling with the best quality/relability for the system operating.

XXWombatXx said...

Any idea if this thing supports RAID 1?

jjh said...

Windows HS? Run a real OS that won't bog down the cpu. I'd suggest a version of Ubuntu (Kbuntu), or Debian, minimally configured to run a Samba server. Other options are NAS-Lite, or FreeNAS. I've run Debian-Samba and FreeNAS on 1GHz and 1.5 GHz processor boards (MicroATX form factor) with 1-2 GB of RAM. The system are snappy. Also, if you want to run a real backup server, just install Amanda on the Debian box, and configure the clients appropriately. You will never consider Windoz again.

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