Review: The Battle of the Windows Home Server Systems

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Review: The Battle of the Windows Home Server Systems

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Nice write up!  O0

I have a remedial WHS question:  Does it perform SW RAID (or similar)?  Or is it a JBOD arrangement? 

Mike Garcen's picture
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thanks for the feedback!

Check this link out for a better explanation than i could do on the differences between Home Server & RAID: http://www.wegotserved.co.uk/2008/09/29/why-windows-home-server-does-not...

Mike Garcen (shadymg) MissingRemote Editor-in-Chief Windows Entertainment and Connected Home MVP (formerly Media Center MVP) Twitter @mikegarcen MissingRemote on Facebook

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Thanks, good gouge.  I'd often wondered about it, now I see I'm glad I moved on to Server2k8.  That's not the 'droid I'm looking for :D  I just wish that LTO4 prices would come down!

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Joined: 6 Feb 2007

Talk about timing. I have quite a bit of my own perspective I can add to your great writeup.

I have been living with WHS since the beginning of April. The obvious choice for me was to go the Frankenstein route. I contemplated the same options mentioned here and based on the one weakness of the HP mediasmart you did not mention and the fact that I have a stockpile of spare parts, I decided to build my own from spare parts.
The weakness of the mediasmart is it's limited expansion options. Even though you could add external drives, it would not look quite so sexy anymore and external drives will end up costing more than internal drives. Without careful planning and spending a bit of extra cast it too will end up looking like frankenstein.
Besides I had the parts and all I had to buy was my choice of case ($90), the software ($160 at that time on newegg) and a sata controller card ($35 for one I made sure worked with WHS before buying). I set a lofty goal that I wanted my initial offering to be able to grow to 10 HDD's and be rack mountable. So I chose my case accordingly.
The spare parts I used:
Asus  A7N8X-E Deluxe 462(A) NVIDIA nForce2 Ultra 400 ATX AMD
XP 2400+ Barton 1.8ghz
with 512mb ram and an old Ati 9700Pro (I'm sure this is sucking the juice - will measure this weekend)

It's a great CPU for the server but the mobo is very long in the tooth. It's got 2 sata ports and a gigabit lan, but it is obvious that these 2 features where thrown on as an after thought and not meant to be the primaries. IDE and a seperate 10/100 port where meant for the mainstream, the rest was just added to justify the "deluxe" in the name.

In any case I patiently waited for PP1 before I grew the solution from 1 HDD to 3. And then my problems started. Now the idea is not to moan about it here. Go to http://forum.wegotserved.co.uk/index.php?showtopic=4000 to read more if you care.

Reason for posting is to make a few observations of my own: I searched extensively to find solutions to my problems and came to the conclusion that there is not much user-to-user support available out there for the "frankenstein" problems. Even though there are many "frankenstein" problems out there, there is just not any answers. To the point that I google word for word error messages I receive and find zero hits. (I'm talking about errors generated by the console not obscure "could not initialize xyz.dll" type errors)

So last night I came to the conclusion that I need to retire my frankenstein. My options:
-Abandon WHS
-Buy new hardware
-Buy HP Mediasmart

I decided to give it one more try but that based on the cost I already sunk into the software and case, I could not justify HP's solution. So I ordered new hardware today and will do a fresh install on the new hardware.

Based on all the digging I did over the last few weeks I realized that there are great support for the mediasmart out there (talking user to user, no idea about HP's own support) and was frankly amazed at how this solution took off and basically owns the WHS market hands down.

So at this point I really regret going the route I did, but I am forced to labor forward with a homebuilt solution due to the cost I have sunk into it. The HP offering looks much more attractive now than it did in April. Now if HP could only come out with a rack solution too!

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That's essentially the WHS build I had planned. I guess I'll be reading your other thread.

My Home Theater, XLobbyMC
To Do: Finish Re-ripping my music collection - While Playing FF XIV

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great post fstrydom, sorry about the problems tho!!! but you do make a great post, sorry if it wasn't clear. There definitely is the decision that you will not be able to get more than 4 drives at once.

That being said, you could constantly keep upgrading the HD sizes Smile That being said, 3.5 terabytes is a lot of space...and that's not counting using the 1.5 terabyte drives that are available.

Clearly, if you need more storage than that, you probably want something bigger anyways Smile

Mike Garcen (shadymg) MissingRemote Editor-in-Chief Windows Entertainment and Connected Home MVP (formerly Media Center MVP) Twitter @mikegarcen MissingRemote on Facebook

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shadymg wrote:

great post fstrydom, sorry about the problems tho!!! but you do make a great post, sorry if it wasn't clear. There definitely is the decision that you will not be able to get more than 4 drives at once.

That being said, you could constantly keep upgrading the HD sizes Smile That being said, 3.5 terabytes is a lot of space...and that's not counting using the 1.5 terabyte drives that are available.

Clearly, if you need more storage than that, you probably want something bigger anyways Smile

I probably should have clarified that it is a weakness in how I wanted to use WHS. For most it would not be a weakness as the hard disks can indeed be upgraded. Although MS did not make it an easy process for the system disk it is possible (fresh install and re-installing the add-ins and running some processes). I guess that is why you mention 3.5tb (500gb system disk and 3*1tb). Of course the cost is going to ramp up quickly when replacing the disks.

One other plus for the mediasmart is the great software (add-ins) that are proprietary. One thing I really want to do with my server is to use it to sync my ipods through itunes. In my overall home setup I do not have the itunes software installed on the machine that the music is stored on, and iTunes is very weak in updating it's library from another machine. I still need to move my music to my server, but first I need to figure out a solution to update my ipods from it. HP provides an add-in for this functionality. (How I hate iTunes!!)

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Thanks for the review. It a very good reflection of the problems facing purchases of WHS. But there is an issue with the HP unit, and that the annoying high pitch noise the PSU makes which you failed to mention in your article. it does make me laugh that HP designed a beautiful piece of kit, but in order to live with it you have to hide it in a cupboard. What's more annoying is that it could have been powered by the passive PSU that runs the Chenbro, although HP's proprietary ATX socket would require experiementation (I'm not that brave).

Vista Ultimate 64bit configuered with 8 DVB-t tuners
Accent HT-400 + Asus P5W DH Deluxe + 6600 Core2Duo (XP-120) + 7600GT (Zalman VF900) + Seasonic S12-430

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For all you interested right now in the HP, ebay has one of those 30% cashback promos through live.com.  You can pick up a new HP for about $350.  That is a great price.  I am actually tempted to pull the trigger.

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Could you post more details on the $350 deal?

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Kojak71 wrote:

Thanks for the review. It a very good reflection of the problems facing purchases of WHS. But there is an issue with the HP unit, and that the annoying high pitch noise the PSU makes which you failed to mention in your article. it does make me laugh that HP designed a beautiful piece of kit, but in order to live with it you have to hide it in a cupboard. What's more annoying is that it could have been powered by the passive PSU that runs the Chenbro, although HP's proprietary ATX socket would require experiementation (I'm not that brave).

Hi Kojak, thanks for the feedback, but i have to say i have not heard any high pitch noise from my unit. Maybe it's a newer unit? Or i'm just lucky? I have it out in my living room, and can't hear a thing other than the occasional hard drive clicking.

Believe me, if i review ANYTHING that has a high pitch noise, i would never omit that from a review!!!

Mike Garcen (shadymg) MissingRemote Editor-in-Chief Windows Entertainment and Connected Home MVP (formerly Media Center MVP) Twitter @mikegarcen MissingRemote on Facebook

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Would the HP work well as a SageTV server?  Sage has a WHS client and a sempron 3400+ is not that underpowered as long as you are not doing lots of transcoding.  Every tuner would need to be USB or ethernet but otherwise might be a great little Sage Server.

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shadymg wrote:

Hi Kojak, thanks for the feedback, but i have to say i have not heard any high pitch noise from my unit. Maybe it's a newer unit? Or i'm just lucky? I have it out in my living room, and can't hear a thing other than the occasional hard drive clicking.

Believe me, if i review ANYTHING that has a high pitch noise, i would never omit that from a review!!!

The unit I had was delivered to me a month or two ago. Whilst I had it, HP were kind enough to swap it over for another one. After listening to that, as well as ones in PC World and John Lewis I decided it to return it to HP. I appreciate that noise is a subjective thing, so maybe my tolerance for noise is lower than others. But I'm not alone in blaming the 40mm fan in the PSU. A fan so small to push any reasonable amount of air, is incapable of doing so quietly.

Vista Ultimate 64bit configuered with 8 DVB-t tuners
Accent HT-400 + Asus P5W DH Deluxe + 6600 Core2Duo (XP-120) + 7600GT (Zalman VF900) + Seasonic S12-430

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autoboy wrote:

Would the HP work well as a SageTV server?  Sage has a WHS client and a sempron 3400+ is not that underpowered as long as you are not doing lots of transcoding.  Every tuner would need to be USB or ethernet but otherwise might be a great little Sage Server.

You hit it spot on, as long as you don't need to be doing transcoding & you'll just be recording normal, you should be fine. Of course, you'll have to use external tuners.

Mike Garcen (shadymg) MissingRemote Editor-in-Chief Windows Entertainment and Connected Home MVP (formerly Media Center MVP) Twitter @mikegarcen MissingRemote on Facebook

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For my use I'm curious if I can make the WHS act as a Sage client using Sage WHS version of the software. My WHS build will be with old, old parts that definitely don't have the ability to transcode very well for placeshifting. But I'd still like to be able to just drop tuners in and have it contribute recordings to the network.

My Home Theater, XLobbyMC
To Do: Finish Re-ripping my music collection - While Playing FF XIV

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autoboy wrote:

Would the HP work well as a SageTV server?  Sage has a WHS client and a sempron 3400+ is not that underpowered as long as you are not doing lots of transcoding.  Every tuner would need to be USB or ethernet but otherwise might be a great little Sage Server.

There are many success stories on http://forums.sagetv.com/ of people using HP MediaSmart Servers with SageTV.  I am using a "Frankenstein" WHS machine (P4 3.2GHz, 1GB RAM) with SageTV and it is working great.

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I also have a "Frankenstein" WHS at home, and love it.  according to my kill-a-watt, it consume just right under 80w running 24/7! 

spec: E2160, 2x1TB WD Green, 1x750GB WD AAKS, 1 DVD burner, 7600GS (I think.....), Gigabyte P35-DS3, 2 GB ram, a couple 120mm fans that runs at slowest speed, all in an Antec 300 case.  and it sits inside a room in my basement.  (if needed, I could stuff a quad in it too; therefore, more future proofed)

one of the major reason I choose Frankenstein over HP's beautiful WHS is the future expandability!  first (at least to me), it doesn't really need to win any beauty contest as it's gonna sit in a room at the basement with nobody seeing it (probably besides me)!  and I "hate" to be force to use multiple external drives for future expansion too!!  you know, the last thing you want for a home server is having many cables and external cases stacking/laying around!  and I don't plan to rebuild this server in the next couple of years at the very least. 

and that's why I chose my Frankenstein approach.  the Antec could eat up to 10 or so HDD if needed (w/ something like those 5.25" bay drive extender), should be more than good enough for forseeable future house needed).  the only parts that I bought is the case ($30 on sale from MicroCenter), 2 1TB WD Green drives, and the WHS disc. 

and I'm planning to add/migrate the SageTV into the WHS too for a one for all home server solution.  and just probably use their HD extender through out the house (3, liviing room, bedroom, and dedicate home theater room), that way, I would end up having less noise, less heat, and consume less power overall too than having full spec HTPC over the whole house!

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I'm a Frankenstein WHS user myself.  I LOVE it.

Antec Nine-Hundred case w/ Coolermaster 650w PSU
Gigabyte GA-MA69-S3
AMD 5000+ Black (o/c to 3.01 Ghz)
4GB RAM
250GB - OS Drive
2 - 500GB Drives
2 - 250GB Drives
1 - DVD DL Burner w/ Lightscribe
1 - HD-BR DVD Drive
Hauupage PVR150
Hauupage PVR250
Silicon Dust HD Homerun

I use mine as a SageTV WHS to record all my TV, store music, Pictures, and files from mine and the wife's PC in home directories.  I also rip DVD's directly on the server without ant performance hit even while recording 2 or more shows at the same time. (although I do try to wait till the server is mostly idle to rip... like overnight).

I love the HP Mediasmart devices and if it wans't for the fact that I found age a long time ago, and love recording show I would probably have one (although it would be frankensteined with another CPU, more RAM, better cooling, etc..)

I've seen a few add-ons (rally more hacks than add-ons) to allow the WHS to sleep and wake up to help conserve power.  I've been hesitant to try it until i see if in action.    Also, I'd hate to see the power consumption on my WHS, external drives, etc..  I'd say it's at the 160+ watt range.

HTPC: SageTV HD-300

Server:WHS on a Gigabyte GA-MA69G-S3H, AMD AM2 5000+ Black edition 2GB Adata DDR2-800 RAM,  HVR-2250, HD Homerun Tuner, Maxtor 25GB OS drive, 1-WD 1TB data drive, 2-Samsung 1TB HDD's, 1-500GB backup drive; SageTV for WHS.

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I'm a Frankenstein non-WHS builder myself.  I went with a stripped down Debian linux install with Samba.

Celeron Pentium 4 2.4GHz (Northwood)
Asus P4V533-MX
2x256MB PC2100
Generic case from shopRBC.com
Seasonic S12-380W PSU
Coolermaster 3X5.25IN to 4X3.5IN Drive Bay Convertor
D-Link PCI Gigabit Ethernet controller
Syba PCI 4-port SATA/RAID controller
Addonics PCI 4-port SATA/RAID controller
1x 80G HDD (OS)
1x 250G HDD
7x 500GB HDD
2x 1TB HDD

All HDDs (except OS) spin down after 20 minutes.  In this mode, total AC power consumption is ~80W.  This machine is on 24/7.  I've got a 2nd machine with the same amount of storage which only turns on once/week to perform an rsync backup of the 1st machine.

ET

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nicely done fellas. not sure the Antec Nine Hundred is the most incognito chassis in the world Tongue

Mike Garcen (shadymg) MissingRemote Editor-in-Chief Windows Entertainment and Connected Home MVP (formerly Media Center MVP) Twitter @mikegarcen MissingRemote on Facebook

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Talked up using Sage on WHS, but having it not be the main Sage server over in the Sage forums. It just starts to work like a situation where you have tuners in multiple pcs around the home. Still need to purchase the full version of Sage. To counter this, someone mentioned the idea of just buying an X2 processor, cheap mobo and 2gb of RAM for around a $100ish instead of buying a full version of Sage.

Essentially save $50 buy  buying a client license instead, use my existing full license on the WHS box and put the $50 saved towards the $100ish in new hardware so that the WHS box could handle placeshifting without too much effort.

Is it wrong to be planning my next build, when not even all the parts have arrived for my current build Laughing out loud

My Home Theater, XLobbyMC
To Do: Finish Re-ripping my music collection - While Playing FF XIV

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It's definately wrong!  And we ALL do it...

Dude...  How old IS this FusionHDTV3 ???

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For $100 you could definitely get a system capable of placeshifting but the motherboard stability might be comprimised a bit.  You might be looking at more like $120-130 if you want a name brand motherboard with solid caps.  Remember that the transcoding on SageTV is single threaded so your best bet is a highly clocked dual core over a triple or quad.  Not that those hit the $100 mark.

Actually, there is a 45W Single core Athlon available at 2.8 Ghz.  Would that almost be better than a similarly priced 2.3Ghz X2 for SageTV transcoding?  I am assuming there is no overclocking going on.  This is a server after all.

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Have you ripped BDs to the server and tried streaming them. I'd be really impressed if the server could push 20-30 gig over the network within an hour if it has any other tasks going on.
IE: recording a few TV streams and/or serving data to other machines.

rgroves wrote:

I'm a Frankenstein WHS user myself.   I LOVE it.

Antec Nine-Hundred case w/ Coolermaster 650w PSU
Gigabyte GA-MA69-S3
AMD 5000+ Black (o/c to 3.01 Ghz)
4GB RAM
250GB - OS Drive
2 - 500GB Drives
2 - 250GB Drives
1 - DVD DL Burner w/ Lightscribe
1 - HD-BR DVD Drive
Hauupage PVR150
Hauupage PVR250
Silicon Dust HD Homerun

I use mine as a SageTV WHS to record all my TV, store music, Pictures, and files from mine and the wife's PC in home directories.  I also rip DVD's directly on the server without ant performance hit even while recording 2 or more shows at the same time. (although I do try to wait till the server is mostly idle to rip... like overnight).

I love the HP Mediasmart devices and if it wans't for the fact that I found age a long time ago, and love recording show I would probably have one (although it would be frankensteined with another CPU, more RAM, better cooling, etc..)

I've seen a few add-ons (rally more hacks than add-ons) to allow the WHS to sleep and wake up to help conserve power.  I've been hesitant to try it until i see if in action.    Also, I'd hate to see the power consumption on my WHS, external drives, etc..  I'd say it's at the 160+ watt range.

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Another custom build for WHS, very pleased with it. I find MyMovies the killer app that justifies the WHS build.

mobo - ASUS P5B Deluxe
ram - 2 gig
disks - 160gig sata sys disk, 4 1TB sata storage
cpu - cd2 Intel 6300 1.86 Ghz
case - Antec P180

And 4 500gig sata disks in a remote box to backup the WHS.

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I don't see why any machine couldn't do BD streaming.  A BD tops out a 50mbps so it is not even going to saturate a 100BaseT network.  That is really easy.  I bet my old PII 350 server could have done that.

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yup. dude, i've even streamed blu-ray content across a 100mb network with hecka weak CPU as the NAS

Mike Garcen (shadymg) MissingRemote Editor-in-Chief Windows Entertainment and Connected Home MVP (formerly Media Center MVP) Twitter @mikegarcen MissingRemote on Facebook

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"Now if HP could only come out with a rack solution too!"

amen to that  brother!

switched to a PS3-BD Remote, and now IT is missing!!!

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The next version of MyMovies may make WHS an even sweeter solution:

http://thedigitallifestyle.com/cs/blogs/ian/archive/2008/10/05/my-movies-for-windows-home-server.aspx

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yah, just saw that as well!!! Can't wait to play with it! Should beat me having to remote desktop into the WHS to handle mymovies

Mike Garcen (shadymg) MissingRemote Editor-in-Chief Windows Entertainment and Connected Home MVP (formerly Media Center MVP) Twitter @mikegarcen MissingRemote on Facebook

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That's what i've been waiting for MyMovies for WHS...can't wait!

I have a homebuilt WHS box:

Lian LI PC 1000VBW
Antec TruePower 2.0 550 Watt PS
Abit AN-M2
AMD X2 3800
2GB DDR2 800
4 x 500GB Western Digital Caviar SE16's
AMS 4 Drive Backplane with an additional 4 x 500GB Western Digital Caviar SE16's (3.6TB's total)
Samsung DVD/RW
Windows Home Server Power Pack 1

This system is the true center of my Media/Storage/Streaming..etc.  I have 2 Vista media Centers, one main in the Living Room and my Daughter's Laptop in her bedroom and two extenders, 1 Xbox 360 in the Gameroom and 1 Linksys DMA2200 from our Bedroom.  I can stream multiple files to multiple rooms.  Many times my wife is watching recorded TV from the main media center on the Linksys Extender in HD via a Recorded TV folder on my WHS box-THANKS TO TV MANAGER WHS ADD-IN, my daughter could be watching a DVD or listening to music all housed on WHS, and I could be watching a another recorded show in the living room and it all works great together. 

Yes...WHS could have been a little easier to incorporate into my Media Center network, but, thankfully, there are some talented programmers out there that are making that a lot easier.

I will be adding Mirage 2.0 to WHS running on an mPanel from mControl Embedded Automation very soon.  I will put up some pics of everything soon! ;D

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Joined: 3 Dec 2006

Congratulations guys!!  You just made the front page of SilentPCReview.com with this article.

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schweeet!! After all the years reading their front page, good to be able to give a bit back!!!

Mike Garcen (shadymg) MissingRemote Editor-in-Chief Windows Entertainment and Connected Home MVP (formerly Media Center MVP) Twitter @mikegarcen MissingRemote on Facebook

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Joined: 11 Nov 2008

Just came upon this site for the review.

Glad I did. Very good article. One that anyone considering a WHS solution should read.

I went with a mix of Frank and option 2.

Trying to decide between a "pretty" case or just a functional case with lots of room for expansion like an Antec 300 or even 900.

mobo ASUS P9QL-EM              $125
CPU Intel E4300                          $0 (Old part)
mem Corsair 2G 6400C4              $0
2x Seagate 1.5TB HDDs          $400
Seagate 1TB HDD                        $0
WD 500G HDD                            $0
WD MyBook 500G USB HDD        $0 (for offsite backup)
Fan to cool HDDs                        $0

This is what she look like so far (screw driver to start her up):
[img width=650 height=867]http://i204.photobucket.com/albums/bb118/SpeedyVV/WHS/Boot-1.jpg[/img]
[img width=650 height=867]http://i204.photobucket.com/albums/bb118/SpeedyVV/WHS/booted-1.jpg[/img]

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