Building a Green Windows Home Server: Installing the Software

Friday, September 5, 2008 – 3:42 AM

WHS with Disk Management Add-in So now the hardware all seems to be working it’s time to install Windows Home Server and any associated add-ins. More importantly there are some drivers, BIOS and operating system settings to update in order to get the best performance from your system and reduce it’s power consumption.

The system configuration section of this post actually applies to any AMD processor system with Cool’ n’ Quiet power management. So it’s worth checking out even if you’re not building a Home Server.

Installing Windows Home Server

As I mentioned before I had this frighteningly clever plan to boot WHS off a 2Gb USB thumb drive. Needless to say this didn’t work. For some reason the BIOS refused to recognize the USB. After half an hour of messing around I simply pulled the DVD drive out of my Dell XPS desktop and hooked it up to in place of the second HDD. WHS is designed to run headless but in order to install you need a monitor, keyboard  and mouse connected until you have the server on the network and then you can use the Windows Home Server Console or Remote Desktop into it.

The BIOSTAR motherboard supports selecting a boot device so simply turn on and press the F9 key. Some time and several reboots later your WHS should be good to go. First thing to do is connect to the network and run Windows Update to patch the server and install Home Server Power Pack 1.

At this point I powered down the server reconnected the second SATA drive and put the DVD drive back where it belongs, in my desktop PC. Keep everything else connected as you’ll need these for configuring the system in the next step.

I’m not really going to say much more about setting up Windows Home Server itself. It’s very straightforward if you’ve gotten this far and have a working server then configuring backups is going to be a breeze.

It is worth mentioning a WHS add-in that I’ve found useful. The Windows Home Server Disk Management Add-In allows you to display the physical location of disks in the server along with their status. There are probably more add-ins but I’ve not looked at them seriously yet.

System configuration

BIOSTAR Monitor showing CPU and System fan speeds.The next thing to do is make sure you’re getting the best performance out of t he hardware.

First there are a couple of BIOS settings to configure. Reboot the server and press DEL to enter setup.

  1. On the PC Health Status > Smart Fan Option screen change the CPU Smart Fan to 3 Pin and then press enter on the Smart Fan Calibration option to calibrate the fan.
  2. One PC Health Status screen set the Shutdown Temperature. I picked 60C (the minimum) just to be on the safe side.

The hardware monitor software (on the BIOSTAR drivers and utilities CD) will allow you to monitor the fan speed. With the smart fan options configured the fans are running at less than half their maximum speeds and making a lot less noise.

Subsequently I’ve played around with this some more. I removed the 80mm fan and run the 120mm off the SYS FAN connector on the motherboard, rather than daisy chaining it through the CPU FAN connector. Recalibrating the fan settings in the BIOS results in a quieter machine and seems to run cool enough.

Power options. Click to see full size so you can read the text!Next configure the processor to use less power when idle. AMD Cool’ n’ Quiet mode runs the processor at a reduced clock speed and voltage when it’s not being heavily used. It’s not enabled by default so there are a couple of steps to get it working.

  1. Install the AMD Power Monitor Version 1.2.3 and AMD Processor Driver Version for Windows XP and Windows Server 2003 (x86 and x64) both can be downloaded here.
  2. Reboot the machine.
  3. Open All Programs > Control Panel > Power Settings and change the Power scheme to “Server Balanced Processor Power and Performance”.
  4. In the same panel you can also configure the disks to turn off after a period of no use.

AMD Power Monitor showing the processor in Cool n Quiet mode.It would be nice to verify that Cool’ n’ Quiet was working and you can do this using the AMD Power monitor. Run the monitor and let the server idle. If Cool’ n’ Quiet is running you  should see the frequency of each core drop to 1000MHz and the voltage drop to 1.000V. If you start using the machine (launch IE and browse to a web page) then the frequency will switch to 2300MHz and the voltage will increase to 1.200V.

You can also use SpeedFan to get the same information. SpeedFan also allows you to change a lot of (somewhat scary) setting within your computer, use these at your own risk!

At this point we’re pretty much done. Time to close up the case, if you haven’t already, and disconnect the keyboard and mouse. Any further work can be done using Remote Desktop or the Windows Home Server Console.

In the final part of this series of posts I’ll discuss what, if anything I’d do differently next time, how you could build one cheaper and investigate further as to how green this build really is.

Next… Part 4: Conclusions 
Index: all posts in this series

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Aphex Twin – Classics