How many computers do you have in your house? Are you like most people and never backup your stuff? Or are you like me and have copies of everything on three or four different machines between work and home? Yes I have that many copies of everything because I have had hard drive failures before and let me tell you, it can ruin your day quickly.
You owe it to yourself to look in to a home server. Now don’t let the word server scare you off. Microsoft makes a product called Windows Home Server and it is some pretty cool stuff. First it is so easy to use you will wonder how you got along without it. The best part is it doesn’t take a machine with a lot of horse power to run it. Any old PC you might have retired could be up to the task since system requirements are low. All you need is a 1GHZ CPU with 512RAM and 80gig drive, high speed internet and a router, which if you have two or more PCs sharing an high speed internet connection you already have. Admittedly that will not do you much good for backup so a 500gig drive and 1gig of RAM would make for a better unit. As your storage needs grow you simply plug in a new drive, run the Add a Hard Drive Wizard and presto, more space. Or you can simply buy one from the likes of HP or others. If you are the adventurous type you can build one like some of the systems Donavan builds at Home Server Hacks.com.
I built my server out of an old PC I had laying around and upgraded the motherboard and CPU for a whopping 88 bucks including 1gig of RAM. Then just buy the software from some place like Newegg for cheap and you have a cheap Windows Home Server. I’ve got another whopping investment of $180 for more hard drive space. My system specs out now with a AMD64 2GHZ CPU, 3gig of RAM and 2.5TB of hard drive space. Once I decided this was worth more investment I even got a new home for the parts on Ebay cheap at 52 bucks. What can you do with this system? Well first and most obvious is it backs up all the PCs you have in your network nightly with no muss and no fuss. Literality set it and forgot it. Did you delete a file you wish you still had? Open up one of the backup files on the server and drag it back to your desktop. Have you ever been some place and wish you had a file on your PC at home? Log in to your server from any computer connected to the web and go get it. Want to share photos, videos or whatever with family and friends? Give them a user account and they can up/download files until there hearts content. All using just a web browser on any web connected PC. Have a hard drive go bad and need your PC up NOW? Install the new drive, put the restore DVD in the drive and in about an hour your PC is just like it was before the hard drive failure, right down to your desktop. It’s like the hard drive failure never happen. I’ve played around with all of these great features and have as yet to be disappointed in what it can do. The server can even back up the server, how cool is that? There is only one thing you can’t do. You can not back up a PC that is not in your network. In other words no off site PC.
The are plenty of other things you can do with free Add Ins to your WHS. Tired of all those DVD movies taking up space? Rip them to your server using that free ripping software in the first of my software posts. Then you can stream them either with and extender like an XBox. Or if you are like me via S-Video cable out of the video card of your PC to your TV, if you have that option. Of course with your sound system plugged into your PC you can have the full surround sound thing too. While I’m at work I stream music from my Home Server to my desktop at work then wirelessly to my sound system. I’m forever finding new things I can do with this system. This isn’t just a one trick pony either, Mac users can us it too.
Another one of the cool things about this system is it is headless, that is no monitor, keyboard or mouse. Once the system is up you can remove these items and put the server anywhere in your house that you can connect it wired to your router. After the system is up and you have the Connector software installed on your client system you control the server either with the connector software or by remote desktop connection. In fact the HP unit doesn’t even have a way to connect a monitor.
If any of this sounds interesting Microsoft will send you a trial copy that will run for 120 days so you can try it out for free and they even pay the shipping. Just fill out this form and it will show up in about a week. Or since you already know how to burn an ISO file from my other post you can download it and burn it to a DVD.
This is really a slick operating system. You owe it to yourself to check it out, if for no other reason for the backup power it has. It’s not just for home use either. This is perfect for a small business whether home based or a small office. As I said once you discover what all you can do with it you will wonder how you could get along with out it.
Update: I should add while no backup system is idiot proof this is the easiest and simplest way to help protect your digital life I have found. With WHS and off site backup locations or “cloud” storage services like Amazon.com you can really lower your risk of having a digital disaster day.