Review

Windows Home Server Review

Microsoft has a difficult challenge ahead of them in convincing people that they need Windows Home Server. After all, having another computer in the house—especially one that doesn't have a screen, a keyboard, or a mouse—isn't something people are shoving each other in the face for. But when families take a good long look at what WHS can do, like automated, centralized daily backups, simplified remote access, storage expansion and network file sharing, they may just change their minds. We got our hands on a Norco DS-520 Home Server, one of the first pre-made boxes available, and definitely loved what we saw.

Before the software, here's the hardware we used to explore WinHoServer. Norco's DS 520 has a 1GHz Celeron M processor, up to 1GB RAM, eight SATA II channels, 3 eSATA ports, four USB 2.0 ports, two Gigabit Ethernet ports and a total capacity of 8TB when using 1TB drives. It's got an MSRP of $649, which may seem high for a headless machine, but it's not quite like a standard Windows machine you've used. True, you can make a Windows XP or Vista machine into a NAS that backs up and has RAID and allows remote access, you need deep networking and computer experience to do so. WinHoSo is designed for the average family with more than one computer. And you pay for both the convenience and the upgrade ability.

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I've tried windows home server, and it is good, but I agree with your first 2 points: Microsoft has a difficult challenge ahead in convincing people that they need windows home server, and that you can do the same with a NAS drive. I disagree with your point that today, using a NAS drive requires deep knowledge of computers and networking.

You should check out other linux based platforms that the same functionality as windows home server, and are very easy to setup, configure and use - much easier to setup in fact than windows home server. LaCie has a 1/2 TB drive with the HipServ platform pre-installed available now for $200... thats $200 for software and hardware all in. Low power, low sound, on all the time and the HipServ platform comes pre-installed - its a full Linux RedHat ES4 distribution so you are running a real server in your home, but the Linux portions are completely hidden from the end user with an easy to use interface. I've tried HipServ and its really easy for even my wife to use for backup/restore of all computers in the home (Win XP, Vista, and Mac, remote access to content, serving media up to DLNA and Windows Connect media servers (playstation3, xbox360, roku). I've got one in addition to windows home server, and the LaCie drive with HipServ works really well. If it sounds interesting you can read more here: http://www.lacie.com/us/products/product.htm?pid=10994 and http://www.axentra.com/hipserv.htm.

Um, why wasn't this ease of use just folded into these same services and tools found in XP or, even more intelligently, their new release, Vista? Cause they just couldn't go another day without another SKU? Ahem.

No Windows Release to date other than WHS has the "Drive Extender" feature that this does, which is probably the nicest thing about it.

MioTheGreat said,
No Windows Release to date other than WHS has the "Drive Extender" feature that this does, which is probably the nicest thing about it.
It's also a feature you WOULDNT want in a home PC too coincidently as I imagine it adds alot of overhead to accomplish it similar to a software RAID solution. In the server performance is less of an issue compared to stability and the like so it's ok to have such features. That alone is IMHO reason enough for this to be it's own product.

Besides...windows Vista has shadow copy as a decent backup solution and can be used as a media player device. Put it in raid and you have a backup and media sharring device...just that the backups are local to the one machine. So if you want, while Vista won't replace this product you can perform a fair amount of the functionality if you want with Vista out of the box.

I still think the servers a good idea.

Could WHS be setup to send wake-on-lan messages to the other computers, to wake them up if they need to be backed up? So that you'll be able to save power?

I built my own WHS and love it. I use it as a central place to store all of my data which is automatically protected against hard drive failure. I stream that data to my HTPC or my main desktop. My music library, photos, videos, files, etc. are all stored on it and it runs quite well.
I don't keep that data on my desktop and just back it up to the server. There is simply too much data. I have terabytes of data. So I keep everything stored and backed up on the server. It's also nice not to have to worry about what data goes on what drive as all drives are added to a single storage pool. Very nice.

And I have used the remote feature to log into my server from work and download files that I need from it. Also allows you to remote desktop in to any computer on your home network. Very handy.

dumb question but how did you get remote desktop to work? because when i tried logging into my server from a hotel while in LA, all i saw was the shared folders option.... remote desktop only worked when i was on my home network....I had turned on remote access for my account as well....guess I'll have to trouble shoot it

thats also a waste of power having to keep all the machines in the house on and this machine on. ID rather just be able to make the images of the computer myself and store it on an external harddrive.

Why do you have to keep all the machines in the house on? Or even the server for that matter, if you're not going to use it to share media and just make backups?

You can start the server, backup the PCs and then shut the server off again. OR you can leave the server on to share media and make backups from the other home PCs which don't have to stay on 24/7 unless you have them actually doing something.

The main idea of WHS is to share media with all the PCs, media extenders/360s and even over the internet for when you're away from home. Plus it makes backups if you want it to. To do that most people would leave it on all the time, but you don't HAVE to.

GP007 said,
Why do you have to keep all the machines in the house on? Or even the server for that matter, if you're not going to use it to share media and just make backups?

You can start the server, backup the PCs and then shut the server off again. OR you can leave the server on to share media and make backups from the other home PCs which don't have to stay on 24/7 unless you have them actually doing something.

The main idea of WHS is to share media with all the PCs, media extenders/360s and even over the internet for when you're away from home. Plus it makes backups if you want it to. To do that most people would leave it on all the time, but you don't HAVE to.

In order to have a backup scheduled for every night the computer has to be on in order to do it. All my pc's are off during the night.

Also vista makes backing up things automatically to a external harddrive just as easy. I just dont see spending $500 + dollars for basically a new computer when I can spend $100 or less on an external harddrive that can be used to backup all my pcs.

I'm sure its easy enough to change the times the backup takes place if thats something you need. Just do them in the day instead.

I believe WHS will wake the PC's up if they are in sleep mode. I'm not sure since I don't have the RTM version to install.

majortom1981 said,

In order to have a backup scheduled for every night the computer has to be on in order to do it. All my pc's are off during the night.

Also vista makes backing up things automatically to a external harddrive just as easy. I just dont see spending $500 + dollars for basically a new computer when I can spend $100 or less on an external harddrive that can be used to backup all my pcs.

so why not just change the backup time to a time that computers are on? and why do a backup every single night? My moms laptop hasn't been turned on in 10 days, so no backup in 10 days....it saves space on the server for something that doesn't change very often..

majortom1981 said,

In order to have a backup scheduled for every night the computer has to be on in order to do it. All my pc's are off during the night.

Also vista makes backing up things automatically to a external harddrive just as easy. I just dont see spending $500 + dollars for basically a new computer when I can spend $100 or less on an external harddrive that can be used to backup all my pcs.

so why not just change the backup time to a time that computers are on? and why do a backup every single night? My moms laptop hasn't been turned on in 10 days, so no backup in 10 days....it saves space on the server for something that doesn't change very often..

majortom1981 said,

In order to have a backup scheduled for every night the computer has to be on in order to do it. All my pc's are off during the night.

Also vista makes backing up things automatically to a external harddrive just as easy. I just dont see spending $500 + dollars for basically a new computer when I can spend $100 or less on an external harddrive that can be used to backup all my pcs.

Then you don't have much data and a server isn't for you.

Like I said in my other post, I don't store any data on my main computer. It has a single 150gb raptor. I install programs and such to it but all data such as music, photos, videos, etc. are stored on the server. And WHS is an excellent choice because it protects my data against hard drive failure. The system I built for it can hold 12 internal hard drives and I am well on my way to filling them all up.
I also love how it will do a complete backup of my systems daily. So if any of my computers hard drives fail or become corrupt I can restore the entire thing to the last point of the backup in about 20 minutes. I don't have to break out the OS discs, reinstall apps or configure.

archer75 said,

Then you don't have much data and a server isn't for you.

Like I said in my other post, I don't store any data on my main computer. It has a single 150gb raptor. I install programs and such to it but all data such as music, photos, videos, etc. are stored on the server. And WHS is an excellent choice because it protects my data against hard drive failure. The system I built for it can hold 12 internal hard drives and I am well on my way to filling them all up.
I also love how it will do a complete backup of my systems daily. So if any of my computers hard drives fail or become corrupt I can restore the entire thing to the last point of the backup in about 20 minutes. I don't have to break out the OS discs, reinstall apps or configure.


If all your data is just on the server won't it just take the servers HDD to die to kill your backup? From that description it sounds like only your programs themselves are protected from a HDD failure as thats the only data you have 2 copies of.

Thats unless the server duplicates all that data on the server twice in some manner to prevent such issues.

The Norco's DS 520 hardware is "OK" .. I would just have to add a wifi card or a usb wifi to it
so, I can hide it in a closet or something... I was planning on adding this to my home network
as soon as HP released their version, but I might just get this one. I'll just wait a few weeks
and see whats available ...

GenBlood said,
The Norco's DS 520 hardware is "OK" .. I would just have to add a wifi card or a usb wifi to it
so, I can hide it in a closet or something... I was planning on adding this to my home network
as soon as HP released their version, but I might just get this one. I'll just wait a few weeks
and see whats available ...

Last I heard, wireless was not an option for backups.

I heard the same regarding wireless. That said, all you likely need to do is get a wireless bridge or a router that support bridging mode and the server will see it as a ethernet connection anyway. The Linksys WRT54GL for instance is quite cheap nowdays and can be flashed with a 3rd party to add that functionality. I'm sure that that would work.

Joel said,

Last I heard, wireless was not an option for backups.

wireless works just fine.... My laptops back themselves up and they're always wireless.... it works just fine.

SirEvan said,

wireless works just fine.... My laptops back themselves up and they're always wireless.... it works just fine.

You'd have a wireless router I assume but with the server wired in? Because thats alot different than having your server use a wireless adapter to connect to the router which from what I've read is not supported.