Acer Aspire Windows Home Server AH342-U2T2H

The Acer Aspire AH342 Home Server is one of the few Windows Home Servers still available for retail sale in the US. It’s a WHS V1 server and Newegg has been had them at clearance prices recently. Since it’s old software it’s not a simple out-of-the-box experience so I had one pass through my hands recently. I updated the WHS V1 on the server and got things going. I also had a chance to do some quick benchmarking and hardware testing.

Acer Aspire AH342 Home Server

Acer Aspire AH342 Home ServerThe Acer Aspire Windows Home Server seems to be one of the few Windows Home Servers that can still be purchased in the US. Just before Christmas Newegg had it on sale for $290. After Christmas it went back up to $350 but then dropped further to $260 (it’s list price is $449). Since it includes Windows Home Server v1, and not the latest version, I suspect we’ll see more discounting as Acer tries to clear out it’s stock. Hopefully they’ll have a WHS 2011 version and stay in the market. I took a look at the Acer Aspire AH342-U2T2H.

Windows Home Server v1 will end-of-life in January 2013 so any WHS v1 purchase needs to take that into account. It’s not like the server will turn into a pumpkin at that time, but Microsoft will stop providing updates. This will be after the Windows 8 release date so hopefully Microsoft would release new connector software if it’s needed for WHS. If you’re going to be using the server for remote access, meaning it’s accessible from the internet, the lack of security updates after 2012 would be a concern. If the server is going to only be accessed by computers in the home then it’s less of a concern.

The hardware should support Windows Home Server 2011 if you want to install it later. There’s no onboard video so you’ll either need to install a PCIe x1 video card or do a blind unattended install. The server comes with 2GB of RAM and the specs say that 2GB is the max so that could be an issue depending on what add-ins you install. The Atom D510 CPU is 64-bit so can run WHS 2011.

This server was purchased to provide backup and central storage for a few PCs, basically a low cost NAS. There’s only one drive so to use folder duplication a second drive would have to be added. Because hard drive prices haven’t returned to pre-flood pricing I’m contributing one of my slightly used 2 TB drives for use in the server.

Initial Setup

Because the WHS software delivered with the server is quit old I couldn’t use if for setup since I have Windows 7 clients. If I had Vista or XP clients I could have installed the bundled software and then upgraded. Since I only had Windows 7 I followed these steps:

  1. Unpacked, plugged in and powered on the server. While it was doing its initial setup I went to step 2.
  2. Download the latest connector software from Microsoft and burn it to a CD.
  3. Once the LEDs stopped blinking I was ready to move on. The quick start light said all the blue LEDs would be on solid which is a bit confusing. The panel LEDs include a network LED which blinks for network activity and a hard drive light which blinks for activity. The status LED was blue and red while the drive lights were blue and purple. I moved on once things seemed to settle down.
  4. I popped the connector CD into a Windows 7 PC and ran it. The screenshots for the installation are below. Click for a larger picture.
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  5. After logging onto the Windows Home Server my next step was to remove the McAfee Anti-virus software. I don’t use AV on my own WHS and if the owner wanted AV McAfee would be my last choice. As it is the included license is limited to 60-days so removing it wasn’t a problem for the server owner. The version pre-installed won’t work once WHS is updated although there might be an update from McAfee (I didn’t bother to inquire).I uninstalled McAfee through Add-Remove programs after RDP’ing into the server. It can’t be removed through the add-in manager.
  6. While still RDP’d into the server I ran Windows update and installed all the available updates.

At this point the Acer Aspire is a basic Windows Home Server v1 box with the latest updates.

Hardware & Features

The server comes with one 2TB Western Digital Green Drive (WD20EADS). I’d prefer a small system drive since I don’t like to share the OS drive with data, In this case it’s not much of a concern since I don’t expect heavy usage. So to take advantage of folder duplication I’ll be adding a second drive which is also a W20EADS drive. For testing purposes I added two more drives.

The server also has a nice compact form factor and will look good on a shelf. There’s also an eSata port and several USB ports (all USB 2). The front USB port has a one-button copy feature I’ll talk about later.

It’s also surprisingly quiet. I’ve got four drives installed and I’m doing a file copy. Even sitting next to the server I have to strain to hear the fan and the drives are silent.

There’s some multimedia software that will probably go unused and I don’t have time to test them. The console has tabs for “iTunes Server” and “Digital Media Server” and Firefly Media Server is installed. The server did show up as a “Media Server” for my LG Blu-Ray player and I was able to stream a video from the server.

The Lights Out add-in is also included although it is an old version (v0.8) so it needed to be upgrade. The add-in was licensed with an oem license but after the upgrade the license reverted to the trial version. Once the trial is over the license will revert to a community addition license which, according to this, has all the features of v0.8 plus a few more. The upgrade was done like installing any other add-in. I didn’t need to uninstall the original add-in although doing so probably would have been a good idea.

The One-button USB copy is interesting but I’d prefer it didn’t try to think so much. I tested with a drive full of DVD rips. It copied the drive to the public share as expected but then it copied about 50 of the .BUP and .IFO files to the video directory and renamed them to avoid duplicates. Pretty useless on their own and breaking the rip directory since they’re missing. It was also interesting that other files with the same names were left alone. So if you already have files in an organized directory structure this feature may change the structure so you may want to skip it and do a regular copy.

The expansion slot allows a video card to be added should one be needed. But it’s a PCI Express x1 slot which isn’t common among video cards. I’d be more inclined to look for a USB 3 expansion card to add some external drives. It will need to be a low-profile card.

I wish Acer would drop the McAfee AV add-in which I view as nothing but crapware. Even if it worked, it’s still only a 60-day license. The Light-Out adding is outdated but at least it was a full license. The included add-in and its license doesn’t provide any benefit once the latest version is installed.

I attached a Lian-Li EX-503 External Enclosure via the eSata port. The server could see four out of the five drives in the enclosure so the eSata port can handle a port multiplier but only up to four drives. There were also four drives in the server bays. I didn’t do any benchmarking or other testing beyond verifying that drives could be seen.

Power Consumption

I did some quick power measurements using a Kill-a-watt power meter. The server was plugged into the Kill-a-Watt which was plugged into the UPS outlet. I started with all 4 drive bays populated. There were three Western Digital 2 TB EADS drives including the one that shipped with the server as the OS drive. The fourth drive was a Hitachi  Deskstar 7K200 drive (2 TB, 7200 RPM).

With all four drives the power usage was between 52 and 56 watts. The 52 watts was when the server was idle, at least as far as access goes. Some background processes may be running although CPU usage did remain low. The 56 watts was during file copies or drive removal processing although it mostly stayed at 55 watts under load.

I removed the Hitachi drive and usage dropped to 44 to 46 watts with occasional and brief drops below 44 watts. When folder duplication was active the power usage was 46 watts.

With two W20EADS drives installed the power usage was 36 watts while idle and 37 watts while processing a client backup. During folder duplication, when both drives would be active, the power usage was 37 watts.

With just the original drive delivered with the server the power usage was 29 watts while idle.

Drive benchmarks

The benchmarks below are the screenshots of the ATTO benchmark results. ATTO was run locally on the server (double-click for full size).

ATTO Benchmark for Drive C:  ATTO Benchmark for Drive D:

There’s not much of a difference between C: and D: since they are the same physical drive.

The screenshot below shows the results of a robocopy from my Windows 7 PC to a server share with duplication enabled.

RobocopyResults_Win7ToAspire

The reported speed for the file transfer was about 2 GB per minute. If my math is right at 8 bits per Byte and 60 seconds per minute that’s about 271 Mbps. Turning the results to MB/s shows a speed of 33.94 MB/s which is significantly slower to the ATTO results run directly on the server, but includes all the server and network overhead. Additional tests produced similar results.

The screenshot below shows the results of a robocopy from the Aspire AH342 to my PC. The copy was started after the server completed drive balancing and wasn’t doing anything else.

Results of RoboCopy from Aspire H342 to Win7 PC

Assuming my math is again correct this is 231 Mbps and 28.93 MB/s.

The file copies were done with mostly video files so the average file size was pretty large and there wasn’t a lot of overhead opening a lot of files.

Summary

The price is certainly the big attraction although if you’re going to add three hard drives to max it out the cost will go up considerably at today’s prices. But if you have the drives or can wait for the flood-induced prices to drop it’s worth it. Personally I think a second drive should be added in order to enable folder duplication or to do backups so that will increase the cost.

Returning to Windows Home Server v1 was both nostalgic and a reminder of the frustrations WHS v1 brought. Removing a drive brings down the server while it’s processed which can be time consuming (hours). That’s not something most people will do as a regular activity so it’s not too much of a concern. There was also the occasional slowdown as some process ran (backup cleanup, drive balancing). After using WHS 2011 for about a year WHS V1 just looked and felt old.

I was impressed with the Acer Aspire AH342 Home Server. It will make a good NAS for sharing files and PC backups, which is why it was bought. But it’s not a product someone can buy off the shelf and expect to get running unless they’re familiar with WHS or have only Windows XP and Vista machines. But once the software’s age related issues are worked out it performed well. Plus I like the nice small cube form-factor and it’s quiet. It can be out in the open and on all the time.