Windows Home Server on MSI Wind Barebones

I needed to do some PC work and swapping for my parents. To do this I needed a place to store files and backups. I decided a Windows Home Server was ideal for this although the cost of one would be a problem since the need was temporary. So I looked for a solution that would be low cost by using what I already had available or could use elsewhere once I was done.

I decided to base the Windows Home Server on the MSI Wind PC Intel 945GC 1 x 200Pin Intel GMA 950 Barebones System which MSI has taken to calling “Nettops” these days. This is a small (11.8” x 9.5” x 2.6” / 300mm x 240mm x 65mm) desktop as shown in the picture (click for larger view). It contains a single core 1.6GHz Intel Atom Processor. It supports 2 SATAII connections and has one 200 pin DDR2 memory slot. At $140 it nicely priced. (There’s currently a $10 rebate running through the end of March bringing it down to $130, unfortunately I got mine in February.)

For memory I got Kingston 2GB 200-pin DDR2 533 memory giving it 2GB on a single memory stick. The MSI takes laptop memory so I expected it to be more expensive but the price was comparable to 2Gb desktop memory at $21.

For the hard drive I used my old standby, the Western Digital Caviar Green Drive. They’re currently $60 but I used one I had available.

I used the ASUS DVD/CD Burner with Lightscribe to do the installation but it didn’t stay installed after the build was complete. It’s a $28 drive but any SATA CD drive could be used for the installation. The MSI Wind doesn’t have any IDE ports. I was able to boot and install using this drive without making any BIOS changes. A USB keyboard and mouse are also needed for the build but aren’t needed once it’s done.

In total, the server has $200 worth of hardware (barebones/RAM/HDD). I’ll be reusing the hardware later. If I was to add the Windows Home Server software it would be another $100. So the OS alone would be 1/3rd the cost of the Windows Home Server. In this case I installed the software but didn’t enter the key to activate it. I used an OEM copy of the software so it gives a 30-day evaluation period when no license key is entered. In retrospect I would have used Microsoft’s evaluation copy since it provides a 60-day evaluation period.

The MSI Wind Barebones has two internal SATAII ports with cables that are just long enough to reach the internal drive bays. One is a 3.5” bay for the hard drive, the other is a 5.25” bay for a CD drive. I suppose a second hard drive could be added with the right brackets. For the installation I unhooked the hold-down tab so the cable would reach the DVD drive laying on top of the case. Installation of the drive and RAM was straight-forward. I didn’t use a CF card and as others have mentioned, installation of the CF-card would be a pain. For power there’s an external 65w laptop power supply.

Once the hardware was assembled I booted off the Windows Home Server DVD and went through the installation without incident. But once the installation was done I didn’t have any network connectivity and device manager didn’t recognize the network card.

Trying to install the drivers from the enclosed MSI CD resulted in an error that it was an unsupported OS. I just ended up going to the Realtek website and downloaded the drivers for WinXP (WinServer 2003). Once I loaded the drivers all was well with the Windows Home Server.

The WHS has already served it’s purpose and the evaluation period ran out yesterday. It ran without incident. I didn’t do any benchmarking but since I was concerned about viruses I did install the evaluation copy of the Avast AV software for WHS. Even with the AV overhead the file copies and backups felt quick enough. Another benefit is the silence of the hardware.

I suppose the MSI Wind barebones makes a cost effective WHS although expandability is limited. There are 6 USB ports (4 back, 2 front) but if you’re going to add all those external USB drives you’ll be going against the initial compact size and low power usage. The 65w power supply should support a second internal hard drive although I’d be more concerned about heat than power if a second hard drive is added.

In the end, the MSI barebones did what it needed to do as a Windows Home Server.