Microsoft

Want a home server? Buy one for less than $400

Scott Lowe likes Windows Home Server -- a lot. Although he's running his own HP MediaSmart EX475, HP's new LX195 hits a sweet spot. It's not as beefy as HP's higher-end MediaSmart servers, but it's also much less expensive and still provides many of the same benefits.

Unfortunately, Windows Home Server suffered early on from a serious data integrity problem. I believe that this flaw damaged the product's initial foray into the nascent home server market. Now with the release of Windows Home Server Power Pack 2, a slew of new devices based on the operating system are being released, including the HP LX195.

Priced at $390, the HP LX195 includes the following:

  • A 640 GB 7200 RPM SATA hard drive (which is upgradable to a larger size)
  • 1 GB RAM (which is also upgradable)
  • 1.6 GHz Atom processor
  • A very attractive, 4 inch wide x 8 inch tall x 8 inch deep case
  • 4 USB ports (which make it easy to add additional storage and to perform backups)
  • A gigabit Ethernet port
  • 28 W power consumption when the hard drive is in use
  • 3.5 W power consumption when the hard drive is asleep

At first glance, you might laugh at what appears to be ridiculously weak specifications for a server product, but it's important to bear in mind that this product targets the consumer market — hence, Windows "Home" Server.

As is the case with HP's original home servers (the EX470 and EX475), the LX195 boasts a ton of features that are bundled with Windows Home Server. And although the upgrade options with the LX195 are relatively limited, you can upgrade the RAM. With HP's original EX470/475, upgrading the RAM (the base was a paltry 512 MB) was extraordinarily difficult and not supported by HP.

Here are some of the features included in Windows Home Server:

  • Client backup and restore. I've performed a bare metal restore of a client using my EX475 Windows Home Server's backup and restore capability. The process simply couldn't have been easier.
  • Remote access. Windows Home Server includes complete remote access capability that lets you browse the file system and download files. Further, once logged in to your Windows Home Server remotely, you're able to use Remote Desktop to connect to any computer on your home network.
  • Media sharing. Windows Home Server supports any devices that use Windows Media Extenders, including PCs running Windows Media and Xbox 360s. I've made heavy use of this capability to watch movies and listen to music via my Xbox 360 that is stored on my home server.
  • Central file storage. My wife and I use five computers between the two of us — four Windows machines and one Mac — so being able to access files from a central location is really nice.

For some, $400 will still seem like too much to pay for what appears to be limited hardware. But I think that from a services and feature standpoint, a Windows Home Server is quickly becoming must have technology in multi-computer homes with users who want data security. Although the LX195 supports only a single hard drive, its ability to back up client computers and itself be backed up to an external USB drive (or to an Internet-based backup service) make it ideal.

As you can probably tell, I'm a huge fan of Windows Home Server, and I'm excited to see a new wave of devices being released. The LX195, with it's less than $400 pricetag, should be a hit. This product isn't directly targeted at technology pros; it's aimed at people who want some of the benefits of a high-end server without the cost and complexity that come with building their own.

About Scott Lowe

Since 1994, Scott Lowe has been providing technology solutions to a variety of organizations. After spending 10 years in multiple CIO roles, Scott is now an independent consultant, blogger, author, owner of The 1610 Group, and a Senior IT Executive w...

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