I had an old Dell Dimension 2100 laying around that a friend gave me when he upgraded that I decided would be sufficient to at least test an install. Microsoft recommends you use a machine that has at least a P3 1Ghz processor with 512MB of RAM. My test machine has a 1.1Ghz P4 processor with 512Ghz of RAM so in theory it should work.
Since the computer only had a 40GB hard drive, I decided that I'd go ahead and invest in a 500GB SATA hard drive since I anticipated needing lots of hard drive space. This is where my first problem was encountered. The old Dell doesn't have SATA ports, so I invested about $15 in a VIA VT6421A 3-port SATA RAID controller since I've made a personal vow not to invest in any other IDE hard drives.
Then I ran into my next problem. The installation disks for WHS come on DVDs and the old Dell only had a CD-ROM drive. So, I temporarily pulled a DVD-ROM drive out of one of my other machines and popped it in the test machine and started the installation.
The install went smooth. I told it to install to the new drive and it went through its motions for 30 minutes or so while I went and had lunch. Then I came back and the install wanted me to reboot to continue. I did and then found my next problem. The old machine would not boot off the drive on the add-on SATA controller. This was a real bummer since I really didn't want to have to use any IDE drives, but not a big issue. My main machine had an extra 250GB drive in it that I wasn't using for anything yet, so I pulled it out and plugged it into the on-board IDE controller and re-installed WHS. I then added the 500GB drive and expanded the total capacity of the server to about 700GB (who knows where that extra 50GB went...).
I rebooted and the install finished successfully. It's alive! So, then I spent a few minutes exploring the WHS Console which is the only obvious difference between WHS and Windows Server 2003.
Then I installed the Connector software on three machines (a Windows MCE 2005 machine, a Windows Vista Ultimate machine, and a Windows XP Pro laptop). The install sends you through a wizard that lets you configure backups for the machine you are adding to WHS. On the MCE 2005 machine, I ran into a problem. When WHS was examining the machine looking for drives to backup, it came back and reported:
After spending a few hours researching the problem, I finally found a solution that fixed the problem. It turns out that some third-party software can modify a registry key that WHS uses and the solution is to set this key back to the value that Windows originally sets it to. The key is:“This computer cannot be backed up automatically because it does not have any hard-drive volumes that are configured with the NTFS file system”.
I set the value to "PartMgr" and rebooted and then the backups were configured without problems.
The initial backups ran fine that night and I was quite impressed by their efficiency. One machine that had 233GB of used hard drive space backed up to 83GB on the WHS server.
One of the really exciting features of WHS is that it allows you to remotely access all of the computers in your home network from anywhere in the world. No static IPs are required for any of the machines. From the WHS console, you setup a name for your network and it gives you an address such as https://thelees.homeserver.com which takes care of monitoring your modems public IP address and sets up a public web site where you can configure WHS and access your shared files. All of this is controlled through user accounts.
This is where I ran into my next problem. I use a Linksys firewall router to block all incoming traffic from reaching my computers. After some research, I learned that I needed to setup port forwarding in my router to my WHS server for ports 80, 443, 3389, and 4125. The last two are specifically needed for Remote Access while the first two are used to connect to the WHS web site.
Now that I have all the basics working, I'm going to "play" with it for a few weeks and check out some add-ins that are available. I'll write more on individual features as necessary. Also, I'm going to start researching some better cases that are more suited to lots of hard drive expansion and a motherboard that supports booting from SATA.
So far, the hardware seems to be plenty powerful to make WHS run like a champ.