How to build your own Windows Home Server rig

Recycle an old PC or build out a bare-bones system with Windows Home Server

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Windows Home Server will create and format a 20GB system partition on the C:\ drive and then create a second partition for data storage using the balance of the available space on the drive. It will also automatically format any additional drives in your machine; the bigger the drives, the longer this step will take.

You can leave the machine unattended at this point, but if you're using a USB hard drive to install Windows Home Server, you must reconnect that drive while the first internal drive is being formatted -- otherwise, the installation will fail and you'll have to start over. Windows Home Server won't touch the external USB hard drive during the formatting process, but it will find it again when it needs to move to the next step in the installation.

Step 4: Finalize your installation

After the drive(s) have been formatted, the setup process begins in earnest, although you won't have much to do until the operating system automatically restarts (at which point you'll need to access the BIOS again; more on that in a moment).

1. When you see the Windows Home Server setup message, click the Next button.

2. It's important that you monitor the progress of the installation and start tapping the Delete key (or whichever key you use to access the BIOS) when the machine reboots. If you don't access the BIOS and reconfigure it to boot from the internal hard drive, you'll wind up at the beginning of the installation process again when the computer boots from the USB or DVD drive.

3. In the BIOS, change the boot device priority list (as detailed in Step 2: Adjust the boot settings) so that the first boot device is the internal hard drive.

4. While you're still in the BIOS, there's another adjustment to make. Later on, after the entire Windows Home Server installation and setup process is complete, you'll use other computers on your network to access and control the server. This renders its mouse, keyboard and display unnecessary; you'll be able to remove them when you're finished. As we mentioned earlier, you won't need the optical drive, either.

So, to prevent the machine from hanging when it boots without a keyboard or display attached, go back into the BIOS settings, open the Standard CMOS Settings menu and change the Halt On value to "No Errors."

CMOS settings

Setting the Halt On value to "No Errors."

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5. When you've made the necessary changes to the BIOS, save your new settings and restart the machine once more.

6. The next step in the installation process will take an hour or so; you can leave the system unattended while it finishes (the computer will restart several times during this process).

7. In the final step of the installation, you'll be asked to type an administrator password that you'll use to access Windows Home Server. Since this will be the gateway to your entire network and every computer connected to it, you should come up with a strong password; Window Home Server requires one that's at least seven characters long and consists of upper- and lowercase letters, numbers and symbols. You'll also need a hint that will help you remember the password. When you're finished, click the right-pointing arrow at the bottom of the screen.

8. At the next screen, choose whether or not you want Windows Home Server to automatically download and install updates; we recommend that you turn this feature on. Make your choice and click the right-pointing arrow at the bottom of the screen.

9. In the next screen, indicate whether or not you wish to join Microsoft's Customer Experience Improvement Program. Microsoft claims it doesn't collect any private information using this tool, but sticklers for privacy typically decline this option. You'll be asked to make a similar choice regarding error reporting on the screen that follows.

10. Your Windows Home Server installation is now complete. But you'll need to perform at least one more housekeeping step before you can begin using the server: install the driver for the server's NIC. Copy the appropriate driver to a USB drive and install it from the Windows Home Server desktop. Launch Windows Explorer, locate the installation file and run the executable. You might need to restart the server to complete the driver installation.

11. When you're finished, you can remove the display, keyboard, mouse and external drive, and run the machine as a "headless" server. If you ever install new software or utilities on the server, you'll do so remotely.

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