Windows Home Server on the Cheap!

So why build a home server? There are a lot of options out there right now for storing data in your house. Netgear ReadyNAS is a great option and I have a lot of friends who have them and like them, however I wanted something more and easy to setup. Being a complete Windows house the choice was easy and I picked Window Home Server. I came to this conclusion since it offers easy setup, automatically backups of all computes in the house, remote desktop support, and great media streaming features in the latest version "Code Name Vail".

As always I wanted to create my own Windows Home Server (WHS) on the cheap. There are plenty of pre-configured WHS on the market today, but I wanted something more flexible and that would support the latest version "Vail" which required 64 bit support. Vail is currently in beta form and is free to try which is what I have installed, but it should be known that once the beta is over and the official version comes out you will most likely have no upgrade option and will have to start over.

WHS v1 and Vail Beta support "Drive Extender (DE)" technology, which basically allows you to simply add drives at any time and WHS will just manage everything for you including data duplication. Microsoft just announce the WHS Vail will not support DE. This means that in the final version of Vail you will have to use RAID instead of DE to manage your drives. There has been a lot of debate about this, however for myself I think I will be alright.

I chose to upgrade from WHS v1 to Vail for multiple reasons, but mostly it is much much faster, easier to set up, and has simply amazing streaming features. Streaming all runs on Silverlight technology and allows streaming of music, video, and a pretty cool picture gallery for any user you create on you WHS. This was the key item that I use all the time and I think makes it stand out from any other NAS alternative. Alright so now that you now about WHS and why I am in the beta for Vail, let's get down to what I bought.

Case: Rosewill R363-M-BK:

I actually first bought a smaller case, but over time I found that I really wanted to be able to ensure everything stayed cool, and had more room for more drives. I was actually able to pick this up for $30 online, however it is normally priced around $50. (Amazon)

Motherboard: Intel BOXD10MO:

I decided to go extremely low budget here, but went with a trusted brand, Intel. This little motherboard is sporting an Intel Dual Core Atom D510, 64bit support, gigabit ethernet, 2 Sata ports, and 1 PCI. I picked this up for about $75 online and has had great performance so far. (Amazon) (Newegg)

RAM: 2GB (2x 1GB) DDR2 800 (PS2 6400):
The motherboard supports up to 4GB of RAM, however I just picked up 2x1GB sticks for about $40, and this seems to be plenty of memory (Amazon) (Newegg)

Hard Drives: This is up to you, I got myself 2x2TB Western Digital Caviar Green Drives, plus another smaller drive for the OS. I plan one or two more 2TB drive for the final release. I paid around $80 each for the 2 TB drives.(Amazon) (Newegg)

The last thing you will need is a PCI card to add more Sata ports. I bought a really cheap card that add 2 more Sata port for about $20, when the final version of Vail comes out I will be buying a Raid card that will support 4 drives. PCI card on Newegg

Putting it all together is surprisingly easy and almost everything is color coded on the motherboard. You can download the Beta for Vail on the Microsoft Connect site.

I don't really have a setup guide for the Home Server, but it is pretty self easy to figure out if you setup a HTPC. If you have any questions please feel free to email me at any time.


UPDATED – Get MKV files to play on your Revo Easily with mkv2vob!

It is known that MKV files have issues playing on the Revo. They don't show up inside of Windows Media Center by default, you have to install codec packs or other utilities to get them to work at risk of messing up your Revo. I laid out a pretty nice tutorial on how to convert your files from MKV to WTV files which work on any windows machine. It is a bit complex though as it involves multiple programs to get it up and running. Recently Adam over at The Digital Media Zone told me he started to use mkv2vob to convert all his files. This program is just great, not only will it convert your MKV files to MPG which work perfect in Media Center, but it will automatically convert DTS audio to AC3, which is the only format that Media Center can work with. On top of that it will also take subtitle files and hard sub them into the video!

So here are the steps:

  1. Download mkv2vob
  2. Install the program and then go to the Configuration Tab and setup defaults, here is what mine looks like:
  3. If your file has a subtitle track you can turn it on by setting these defaults so they get encoded in the video:
  4. Now go ahead to the Add File tab and select the MKV file you wish to convert
  5. Go ahead and setup a Destination Directory which is where the file will be put when it is done.
  6. Go ahead and hit Add File and it will start converting.
  7. You can also add an entire directory as well which is nice.

UPDATE 11/23/10:

After a few comments I have gone back and discussed improvements to the settings that I have posted above. It seems although it is better to set Video Transcoding to "Automatic" and the Output File Extension to "mpg" or "m2ts". This will drastically increase your processing time as there is no reason to transcode a H.264 to an H.264 video stream:

That is it you are done! Enjoy.

Filed under: Revo, Tutorial 2 Comments

Fixing Overscan & Underscan on Aspire Revo

I have had a few people email me about overscan and underscan problems when they hooked their Revo up to their television. I would first make sure you screen resolution is set correctly depending on if your television is 720p or 1080p. You can do this simply by right clicking on your desktop and hitting "Screen resolution". If this does not solve your problem then you might want to check your television settings. All televisions are different, but on my Samsung under Picture Options I see the Size setting. I have mine set to Screen Fit, but play around with it to see if this fixes your issues. Lastly we can do some manual over/underscan adjustments via the Nvidia control panel.

First go ahead and right click on your desktop and select "Nvidia Control Panel"

Next under "Display" in the tree control select "Adjust desktop size and position"

Then hit the "Resize Desktop" button which will launch and application. You will see two sliders on your screen which you can adjust to fix any over/under scan issues. The green arrows should be pointing at the corners of your television.


Solving HDCP Handshake Issues With A Harmony

If you are running your Revo to your TV via an HDMI or DVI cable and have experienced an issue where the TV remains black searching for a signal on the correct input than you are probably experiencing a HDCP handshake issue. High-bandwidth Digital Content Protection, or HDCP for short, is used as an authentication process that prevents non-licensed devices from receiving content. You can read all about it over at Wikipedia, but in general HTPC people sometimes have issues with HDCP. I had a problem that whenever I turned on my TV and Receiver my Revo would never show up on my TV unless they turned on in a specific order or the input was different than the input that I had set for the Revo. Since I use a Logitech Harmony you are able to perform specific startup routines for an activity. It isn't exactly straight forward so I figured I would walk you through it.

Note: I run my Revo into My HT-CT100 receiver via HDMI, than the receiver goes to my TV via HDMI. In this case you will want to make adjustments to your receiver, if you don't have a receiver you will want to make adjustments to you TV.

Step 1: Go to the device page and select either your TV or your Receiver and press Settings.

Step 2: From the device options page select "Adjust power settings".

Step 3: On the if you want to leave it on say you want to turn if off.

Step 4: Depending on your device you will either have 1 or 2 buttons to turn it on/off. You will specify that here, and what we will be modifying is when we turn it on.

Step 5: On what turns your device on/off select that it requires more than one command and press next.

Step 6: This will bring you back to the same page, but now under "I don't have the original remote, but I know the commands that are used" there will be 2 drop downs. For the first one select "PowerToggle", "PowerOn", or something similar. For the second one select a different input that what your Revo is set to.

Finish: Keep pressing Next until you are done with the walkthrough. Then update your device and what should happen is all your devices will turn on and your receiver will first switch to the input you had specified and then it will turn to the correct input for your Revo which should solve your HDCP issues.

Filed under: Revo, Tutorial 3 Comments