Installing WHS 2011 on a HP MediaSmart EX475

Although I have been very pleased with Windows Home Server (WHS) on my trusty HP MediaSmart EX475, I have been eagerly awaiting the final release of Windows Home Server 2011 after I discovered that the lowly 1.8GHz AMD Sempron processor in the MediaSmart is 64-bit capable.

This article describes the steps you will need to take to upgrade your MediaSmart to Windows Home Server 2011 (hereafter referred to as WHS2011) based on my own experiences.

Note that as there is no offical upgrade path for migrating from WHS to WHS2011 it is  necessary to install WHS2011 on an empty disk and manually move the data from your original WHS disks afterwards.  Migrating your data will be covered in a future article.

What you will need

  • A HP MediaSmart EX470/EX475 Home Server
  • A Minimum of 1Gb of RAM in your MediaSmart*
  • A WHS2011 installation disk or ISO
  • A USB drive with a capacity of 4GB or more
  • A USB Keyboard

*The MediaSmart EX470 and EX475 shipped with only 512Mb of RAM, whereas WHS2011 requires a minimum of 1Gb. If you haven’t already, you will need to upgrade the memory in your MediaSmart Server.

Creating a bootable USB drive

Firstly, copy all the files from the WHS2011 installation disk over to the root folder of your USB drive (or extract them from the ISO using a tool such as 7Zip).

Now we need to make the USB drive bootable. The easiest way to do this is by using the bootsect utility included on the WHS2011 installation disk. Open a command prompt with elevated privilegesand then run bootsect as follows, assuming your USB drive is E::

E:\boot\bootsect.exe /nt60 E: /force

If you are using Windows Vista or Windows 7 then you will need to open a  command prompt with elevated privileges. The easiest way to do this is to open the Start menu, navigate to All programs > Accessories, right click on Command Prompt and choose Run as Administrator from the menu that appears.

Configuring an unattended installation of WHS2011

Unfortunately, the MediaSmart doesn’t have a monitor port and so we need to perform an unattended installation of WHS2011. This is a simple matter of  preparing a configuration file containing all the necessary information that the installer requires.

Copy and paste the following into a text editor and save it as a file called cfg.ini in the root of your USB drive. You can change the ServerName and PlainTextPassword fields to suit your installation, but leave the WindowsPartitionSize at 61440.

[WinPE]
InstallSKU=SERVERHOMEPREMIUM
WindowsPartitionSize=61440
CheckReqs=0
ConfigDisk=1

[InitialConfiguration]
AcceptEula=true
ServerName=MyServer
PlainTextPassword=MyHomeServer2011
PasswordHint=Password Hint
Settings=All

More information about the options available in the cfg.ini file can be found on the Microsoft Windows Home Server website. For example, there are additional parameters that may be provided to change language and region settings.

Note: All Windows Server installations require a secure password that must be a minimum of eight characters long and contain three out of the four of the character classes listed below. When choosing your password, keep in mind that the keyboard map will initially be for the US and so characters such as ‘@’ may be in different places that those marked on your keyboard, so it’s best to avoid using symbols to begin with (and you can always change the keyboard map and password once you’ve finished the installation).

  • Upper case characters
  • Lower case characters
  • Numbers
  • Symbols

Performing the installation

Before we start it’s worth thinking about how you will protect your data during the upgrade. My recommendation  is to take all of your existing drives out of the MediaSmart and put them somewhere safe. (remember to label the drives as you take them out so that you will know which drive bay they came from).

You should then place a new, empty hard disk into the bottom drive bay on which to install WHS2011 on. This will give you the ability to revert back to your original WHS installation at any time  simply by powering down the MediaSmart and putting the original disks back in.

Note that the OS drive will be partitioned during the install with a Master Boot Record (MBR) which restricts the total amount of addressable space to 2Tb (if  you were to use a larger drive any space beyond 2Tb willbe lost).

This restriction only applies to the OS drive and larger capacity drives can be placed in the other drive bays and partitioned as GPT disks (see the Windows and GPT FAQ for more details).

Now that we have considered how to protect our existing installation in case of problems and have our unattended installation media ready, it’s time to move on to performing the actual install on the MediaServer.

    1. Power down the server, remove the existing disks and put them somewhere very safe place as recommended above.
    2. Disconnect any  peripherals from your server.
    3. Load an empty disk on which you want to install WHS2011  into the bottom drive bay (note that the drive must be empty of all partitions otherwise the server will attempt to boot from it).
    4. Insert the USB drive into the bottom USB port on the rear of the  server.
    5. Attach a USB keyboard to any other USB port on the server
    6. Power on the server and immediately begin pressing the F12 repeatedly on the keyboard for at least 10 seconds to gain access to the boot menu. While doing this, you should notice that the USB drive light flashes for a few seconds – but continue pressing F12 until the 10 seconds are up (too long won’t matter)
    7. Press the down arrow on the keyboard 7 times, and then press ENTER (this is exactly the number of key presses needed to select the USB key as the boot source).After a pause of a couple of seconds, you should see the  activity light on the USB drive start to flash. This indicates that the system is booting from the USB drive successfully. Continue to watch the activity light –  after a minute or so it will pause flashing, then start again a minute or two later. If the activity light isn’t flashing after 10 minutes or so from when your pressed ENTER then it is likely that the installation has failed (see the common problems below).
    8. After approximately 20 minutes the activity light on the USB drive should have stopped and the first part of the installation will be complete. If it’s still flashing, then continue to wait.At this point, the server will respond with a login screen if you attempt to connect via Remote Desktop but it will not accept the password that you entered into the cfg.ini file.  This is because the installation is not yet complete.
    9. On your desktop or laptop, enter the server name or IP address of your MediaSmart into a web browser (for example, this would be http://MyServer/ if you used the cfg.ini settings from earlier). You should see a button to download and run the setup wizard.
Setup Wizard

Launching the Setup Wizard

  1. Click on the button to launch the setup wizard and it should open another webpage displaying the progress of the final part of the install. This will take approximately 40 minutes.

The install is now complete, and you should install the WHS2011 connector on your PC (remember to uninstall the old connector software first if it’s installed). This can be downloaded from your MediaSmart server by opening the following page in a web browser  (substituting the name you gave your server as appropriate).

http://MyServer/Connect

Once installed you will be able to launch the Dashboard to continue configuring the server, such as adding users  and  shared folders.

WHS2011 Dashboard

WHS2011 Dashboard

You can also access your WHS2011 MediaSmart Server via remote desktop (logon as Administrator using the password that you specified in the cfg.ini file).

Online resources

Acknowledgements

The steps to run an unattended installation of WHS2011 on the MediaSmart are based upon an article for installing the beta version, written by Alex Kuretz over at MediaSmartServer.net. The instructions for booting the MediaSmart from a USB drive were discovered/documented by Christoph Harding.

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  • Rob Goddard

    I’ve spent a few days trying to get this sorted now, following the steps outlined above, but had 3 differences between what is described here and what I had to do. I found this out by plugging the HDD I was using into a spare PC and running the install from there and noting the new steps.

    Please note I am using an OEM version of Vail – not too sure if that makes a difference to needing/not needing the cfg.ini

    Firstly, the cfg.ini file I was using caused a problem. I found the install failed immediatley if I included the cfg.ini file at all. The content of my file is below, and yes, there is a chance I got somethign wrong here:

    [WinPE]

    InstallSKU=SERVERHOMEPREMIUM
    ConfigDisk=1
    CheckReqs=0
    WindowsPartitionSize=50

    [InitialConfiguration]
    AcceptEula=true
    ServerName=VAIL
    PlainTextPassword=passw0rd!
    PasswordHint=Default
    Settings=All

    I have just noticed that I followed an instruction saying the WindowsPartitionSize should be between 20 and 60, whereas other sites say to put the size in MB rather than GB. That may have been the issue. In my succesfull instal, I deleted the cfg.ini file from the USB and it worked fine

    The second (and third) steps which I had to do differently was that I was getting 2 extra prompts when installing. Oddly, despite having a completely clean HDD, the installer was asking whether I wanted to do a clean install or a repair, and after that I had a confirmation prompt where I had to check a tickbox and click continue. In order to get around this, I did the following:

    1. Follow the steps above up to step 7.
    2. Once the install has started, the installer starts by loading the startup files required for setup. I allowed my hardware (the default EX475 with 2GB ram upgrade) about 15 minutes to do this.
    3. In order to get past the first prompt (clean install or repair) click ‘Enter’
    4. The installer then moves to the confirmation prompt. This happened immediatly, but I still allowed 5 minutes to be safe. In order to check the tickbox, click ‘CTRL’ + ‘U’, then click ‘Enter’
    5. I then left the installer to run overnight and first thing in the morning (as I right this) I went to http://192.168.0.2/Setup/Launch.aspx and continued the install. I found the IP by looking in the network on another PC. The server just shows up as a server called ‘Server’ at this point. Right click, properties, will reveal the IP to use.

    If any of you had the same problems I did, then I hope this helps. Apologies if all of this is obvious and I’m teaching you to suck eggs – you never kow!

    Good luck!

  • Evan

    I just installed WHS 2011 using a external DVD-ROM drive.
    I had to spend a few hours to find the correct method to start the CD drive.
    I followed Rob’s instructions on getting the USB drive to manually work.

    To install WHS with a CD drive:
    1) Format your drive using another computer (already covered)…
    2) Attach your USB DVD drive to the bottom USB port on your HP MediaSmart Server (just like a USB thumbdrive)
    3) Follow the same bios instructions (F12 for ten seconds) Seven down arrows and Enter.
    4) Rob’s instructions above will guide you through the rest!

    I did have to push the spacebar and enter key a few extra times to get everything to finally work!
    I didn’t have a monitor attached or special configuration INI file when I did this setup.

  • Robbi

    Sweet! This worked for me. Between the guide and Rob’s advice was everything I needed. Needed to press enter and CRTL + U. Time to geek it up!! :)

    Thanks!!

  • Ryan

    Banged my head against the wall trying to upgrade. I finally plugged the hard drive into another computer and used these instructions:
    http://blogs.technet.com/b/brucecowper/archive/2011/10/30/converting-to-windows-home-server-2011.aspx
    My usb boot didn’t do everything automatically, so I had to hit some keys and had to see what I was doing. Even then, you have to be quick and unplug the drive while the temporary computer is off. Then it worked. Still had some problems, but at least I could see (through Remote Desktop) what I was doing. Totally worth it though!

  • http://www.tedi.es Tedi

    Is there any chance to have it installed without formatting the target hard disk? I don’t have another PC or an external case at home to format it before starting the process.

    • Robert Taylor

      I guess you could add it to the server before you attempt the installation of WHS2011 and then very carefully format the drive using WHS v1 (just make sure you select the right drive!)

  • Bert

    I upgraded last week. I had many problems since I was using the existing system disk that I formatted and WHS 2011 would just not install whatever I did. I then bought a clean 500Gb disk and installed using the CD method. It worked fine and my server is now running as it used to. I purchased Stable bit Drive pool and have now a virtual pool. My Movies did not install because of a failing SQL Server installation but that is not a real issue. I can live without it.
    The lesson; Install on a clean disk!

  • http://twitter.com/D3FSE Rusty Shackleford

    Have you thought about installing Windows Server 2012 Essentials? I’m thinking about doing this on my 475EX.

    • rztaylor

      I upgraded my EX475 for a Proliant Microserver, but it would certainly be an interesting project. The use of storage pools alone would make it worth it (there’s a tutorial from MS at http://go.microsoft.com/?linkid=9806473).

      The only downsides I can see are losing the remote file web-access capability and the automatic backups for connected devices that allow you to do a bare-metal restore. I’m sure there are workarounds for these though.