Microsoft Windows Home Server is so new that not many people know about it yet, and not many countries have it avaialble. New Zealand was actually the first country in the world to have this new software available for system builders, and Dunedin-based PC Gear has sent me their first Microsoft Windows Home Server system for a review.
The PC Gear Home Server comes in a single box, ready for use. The only cable you will find in the box is the power cable. Everything you need to create a home network, store your digital life and centrally manage your PCs is found in the software.
Windows Home Server is a very new type of system. It basically provides a repository for data scattered around the house, with sharing capabilities. You can for example upload your music, recorded videos and pictures to the server and allow people access to these files around the house.
All management is performed from other PCs on the network. You can just plug the Home Server to the network and mains, and use the Windows Home Server Console to manage users, computers, shared folders, streaming media folders and overall network configuration.
When you configure the Windows Home Server you will also find that you can have a special website address that will constantly point to your home server, so you can remotely access your files, upload new documents, or even allows friends to access restricted parts of your collection.
Another one of the important functions you will find on Windows Home Server is the centralised backup. You can install a "connector" software on each PC at home and this program will backup the entire contents of your PC to the server. Because it uses deduplication techniques a file is only stored once, even if it appears in multiple PCs around the house.
We needed to put this brief explanation on top of this review because Windows Home Server is really new, and many people wouldn't understand why PC Gear decided on the configuration on offer.
You see, this server won't come with a high end video card, neither the fastest processor. But what it really needs - and offers - is plenty of storage space and fast gigabit network.
The PC Gear Home Server comes in a black Thermaltake Matrix VD2000BNS case, a 5.68 Kg middle tower box measuring 420 x 190 x 480 mm. This case offes ten drive bays, being four 5.25" and six 3.5". It sports a tool free operation, and a key to lock the case preventing access to internas and hard drives.
Inside the case you will find two 500 GB Seagate Barracuda 7200 RPM drives. Windows Home Server reserves the first 20 GB for the operating system, and the rest as storage area.
You shouldn't look at the storage space through your file manager. Instead, open the Windows Home Server Console to see the "server storage". When you plug a drive to Windows Home Server you have the option to add it to the "server storage" and it will become invisible to you - but files are stored on this drive with certain special pointers. Every file you place in the the shared folders are actually stored in the "server storage" area, and pointers are placed in the the first drive, called tombstones.
When you have multiple drives in the "server storage" you can enable the Duplication feature that will makesure the files are copied across drives providing you with multiple copies in case of failure in a single drive. If you plug external USB 2.0 drives you can even add space to the "server storage" without having to reboot the server.
In terms of expansion, you can have up to four SATA disc drives and extra two IDE drives on this machine.
Below you will find the performance for the default drives, according to PerformanceTest:
The PC Gear Home Server is based on an ASUS P5S-MX SE motherboard, Intel Pentium Dual-Core processor, running at 1.8 GHz and 1 GB RAM. The processor is perhaps a bit more than needed, since the main function for this machine is of a file server, but you can never complain of having a bit of extra power - it's quite possible that you might want to add an anti-virus to your server and the extra CPU speed will be welcome then.
The build is really good, with some attention to details, such as a mesh around the cables, making sure the interior is clear to provide good air flow. The computer itself is not the quietest one, but I have seen worse than this - and remember the server will probably be tucked away in the office or even in the basement. This is not your main PC at the house!
You will find the system ready to use, so just go ahead, plug the power cable, plug it to the network and start managing it from another one of your PCs.
OVerall I am pleased with this configuration. I actually talked to PC Gear when they initially thought of building this machine and we agreed the extra video card wasn't a requirement, but faster disc drives were. So I can say I had a bit of input on this too!
At NZ$1,199 the PC Gear Home Server provides more functionality than a NAS unit, and it's ready to use. Recommended.