My Windows Home Server

I built my own Windows Home Server box.  You can buy some decent pre-built units, but I wanted to build my own.  I wanted a small, quiet, low-power device.  I was willing to compromise on performance & capacity to get it.  I decided that my collection of movies should live on my media center, just because I wanted to have a small WHS.

Dell D600 laptop

A laptop meets the small & low-power requirements without effort.  They also have a built-in keyboard/mouse/display and battery backup, while still being small.

Dell leases these to corporations.  After the lease expires, they are sold for cheap.  I bought mine at a popular auction site for ~$300.  It had a 1.4GHz P4 and 512MB RAM.  Most have USB 2.0 (important for adding storage) and GigE (important for pushing a lot of data back and forth).  Many have Wi-Fi, which may be useful.

D600 parts are easy to come by, and their online manuals are very good.

Pair of 160GB 2.5″ drives

Hard drive prices (per GB) follow a “saddle” curve.  At the time of building, 120GB were at the bottom of the curve; 160GB were a bit higher.  Above 160GB were much higher.  I knew that I wanted space for 100GB today; 160GB would give me a little breathing room.  Since replacing drives is expensive (and replacing the primary drive is annoying), breathing room seemed wise.

For the secondary drive, I bought a 2nd HD caddy, which replaces the DVD drive.

Great print server!

It’s small enough that it can fit comforably under my printer on my desk.  (I was careful to leave a little venting room.)  I like simple, obvious names, so my printer path is now \\SERVER\Printer.  The USB cable from server to printer only spans ~6 inches.

What if I need more storage?

 One of these days I will probably decide that my movies should be moved to the server.  I rip my DVDs lossless, and currently have ~400GB, so I’m going to need more room.  Upgrading the internal 2.5″ drives won’t be feasible for a while – they’re still too small.  Until then, I will need to add external storage. 

I can use the pair of USB 2.0 ports.  With these, an external enclosure with a pair of large 3.5″ drives are a good choice.  (Two drives means I can fully use the USB bandwidth without dramatically overloading it.). 

Another option is to get a PCMCIA card (there’s only one slot) with USB 2.0 or eSATA. 

One downside is that the external drives won’t be on the battery that’s built in.  That means I will need a separate UPS if I want them protected.


Comments (7)

  1. Jamie Akers says:

    You may wish to look into external USB laptop hard drives.  They are powered by USB and not by mains power.  Obviously more expensive but may be cheaper than a full fledged UPS unit.  It’s down to how long your power outages last for and how much you want to spend.

  2. MSDN Archive says:

    That’s an interesting idea, thanks!

  3. Timbojones says:

    I recently picked up an ethernet hard drive:  There have been some issues with getting Windows to store the authentication information and automatically map shares at boot time, but in general it works very well.

  4. MSDN Archive says:

    Tim, you should check out WHS.  It’s is one of the coolest things Microsoft has done a in while.  If you want to build your own, send me an email.

  5. J Ostrus says:

    Quite an interesting idea, the cheap laptop to be the server heh. I might just do that for my second one. I was wondering if you might have any thoughts on redundancy as I didn’t see an easy way to utilize the Raid5 capability of the Windows Server platform even though it is capable with WHS. When doing an add hard drive with the menu it doesn’t give such options however doing it manually in the disk management mmc it creates a new drive letter that doesn’t seem to be usable by the WHS backup services. Do you know of any drawbacks of using this vs a hardware raid solution. I wanted to to this so I can mix my sata and pata drives since i have quite a few that are all the same size, as well as not have to worry about the rare chance the controller goes bad and I can’t get the same thing to replace it and then I have a stack of drives with redundant data but no way to read them. That way I could just pop them into another machine or on another motherboard or something if needed to get back up incase of such failure. Of course there’s always having to make a backup of the WHS os partition but thats easily remedied. This was actually the main reason I considered WHS since the process I used previously involved Acronis TrueImage with an XP Pro pseudo server to store the image files on a shared network folder with a heavy password.

  6. MSDN Archive says:

    Ostrus: I would avoid using RAID on WHS, and let WHS do its own disk management.  Also, I would caution against logging on to a WHS machine, and instead managing it through the Home Server Console.