|Model:||SQA-5H Home Server||Manufacturer:||Tranquil PC|
|Website:||http://www.tranquilpc-shop.co.uk/||Price:||From £439 (ex VAT)|
Britain's Tranquil PC were the first manufacturer to release a home server to the general public in September 2007. Since then, the company have continued to release a range of home servers in a variety of single and multi-drive configurations. Their latest model, the SQA-5H, is their first home server with hot swappable drive bays and a few new additional hardware innovations which make using Windows Home Server even easier. Our review hardware arrived late last week and we spent the weekend taking a good look at what the Squash had to offer.
Tranquil PC offer two base configurations, both of which can be upgraded with additional options. Models and specifications are as follows:
|Processor||64 bit ready Intel Atom 330 (2×1.6GHz) Dual Core||64 bit ready Intel Atom 330 (2×1.6GHz) Dual Core|
|Memory||1Gb 1x DDR2 533/667MHz||2Gb 1x DDR2 533/667MHz|
|Storage||1 x 500Gb Western Digital Green Power Hard Drive||1 x 1Tb Western Digital Green Power Hard Drive|
|USB 2.0||4 Ports (Rear), 2 Ports (Front)||4 Ports (Rear), 2 Ports (Front)|
|eSATA||1 (Rear)||1 (Rear)|
|Power Consumption||29w (1 x Hard Drive)||29w (1 x Hard Drive)|
|Acoustics||23dB (1 x Hard Drive)||23dB (1 x Hard Drive)|
|Dimensions||213 (W) x 221 (D) x 195 (H)||213 (W) x 221 (D) x 195 (H)|
|Price||£439 (ex VAT)||£499 (ex VAT)|
The key differences between the units are the available memory and size of hard drives supplied. 1Gb is certainly sufficient for a basic home server, but if you want to take advantage of the wide range of add-ins now available for Windows Home Server, we'd recommend going for the 2Gb option.
Rarely for a home server, two colour options are also available – a piano black or high gloss white finish. I'll leave you to decide which looks better according to your individual tastes.
What's in the Box?
The SQA-5H arrives well protected in a branded carton – unless UPS decide to have an impromptu game of football with your home server, there should be very little risk of the unit being damaged in transit. In the box you'll find:
- The SQA-5H Home Server
- Power Cables for your country
- Ethernet Cable
- Software CDs (Home Server Connector, Home Computer Recovery and Home Server Recovery)
- USB Boot Key
- Quick Start Installation Guide
It's good to see Tranquil PC now bundling their home servers with ethernet cables – it's a small addition but one that makes a big difference to a new home server owner that may not have spare cables knocking around. The USB Boot Key is also a new addition (in it's credit-card sized format) to Tranquil PC's offering. More about that a little later.
As we're seeing increasingly nowadays, Tranquil PC do not offer a printed manual in the box (they quote waste reduction reasons, although I'm sure the print cost saving is also compelling) and instead offer a short printed quick start guide and an electronic manual on the Home Server Connector CD. The quick start guide does a very brief job of explaining how to set up your home server, which is fine for the geeks amongst us, but may leave a new home server user feeling a little unsupported. As Windows Home Server sits at the heart of your home network, new users may be a little nervous setting up and connecting the home server to their network – the installation of Windows Home Server is different to installing other devices in the home – as a result, I'm not a big fan of leaving the user to print off their own manual. Full installation and usage guidelines should be included in all new home servers – if Tranquil want to reduce waste, then at the very least, manual inclusion should be an option when placing the order.
Tranquil PC sent us the white version of the SQA-5H. It's a very compact, cube-shaped home server with five individual, hot swappable drive bays. The white chassis we received certainly creates a big statement, and if you're home server is going to be on show (perhaps surrounded by a lot of Apple gear) it looks the business.
Underneath the home server, you'll discover the Windows Home Server license key, plus a label explaining what the front LED combinations mean. This seems a slightly odd place to locate such a label (the rear panel would provide easier reference) but it does a good job explaining what's happening out front.
Around the Front
The front of the unit is a colourful affair, with multi-coloured drive bay latches attracting the eye, and a series of LEDs positioned at the bottom of the front plate. A power, manual backup and Mode button are also located at the bottom of the panel. Completing the front panel are 2 USB 2.0 ports which provide easy access for external hard drives used for additional storage or as home sever backup devices.
The drive trays themselves are of a decent quality with the coloured latch releasing an aluminium lever which is used to release the drive tray. All drive trays are screwless – to expand storage, you simply slot the hard drive into the tray, and the tray into the home server. Nice and easy.
Around the Back
The rear of the unit is dominated by a large fan which extracts heat from the unit, predominately cooling the hard drives (the processor itself is passively cooled with a heat sink). On the right hand side you'll find a eSATA port (with built in port multiplier), 4 USB 2.0 sockets for adding external storage, gigabit ethernet socket, a desk lock and a power cable input. A blanking plate covers mouse, keyboard and monitor ports, so if you wanted to attach these peripherals to the home server, you could.
Under the Hood
The SQA-5H is powered by a new dual core version of Intel's Atom processor, which is 64 bit ready and therefore ready to take on any future 64-bit version of Windows Home Server. The Atom replaces Tranquil's previous inclusion of VIA C7 processors, and offers strong performance at a low cost and with low power consumption. Tranquil PC quote a consumption of just 29W when running with a single hard drive. Adding additional drives will, of course, increase power consumption, which the company attempt to mitigate by the provision of Western Digital's Green Power drives. As stated above, we'd be tempted to spend the extra money on the 2Gb version of the Squash server – it may be overkill for today, but will provide plenty of grunt when running Windows Home Server with multiple add-ins, and, more to the point, upgrading the memory on this home server is no trivial matter.
Access to the SQA-5H's internals is relatively easy by removing a series of screws on the back plate and unscrewing the server's feet. However, from there, things get a little more complicated. Much like the HP Mediasmart Server, the compactness of the Squash's internal design means that accessing the motherboard is a matter of major surgery. If you're looking for opportunities to upgrade the server's memory and processor, then they won't come easily. Here's a few shots of the Squash's internals.
The Front Panel Explained
The SQA-5H's front panel looks a little complex at first, but is in fact pretty straightforward, providing a range of useful operating information about your home server at a glance.
The multi-coloured latches on each drive bay actually have a purpose beyond aesthetic appeal. Red tabs denote drive bays which are not hot swappable. Blue and green tabs are hot swappable drive trays.
Above each drive bay, a small green LED lights up when it contains a hard drive – so it's easy to see which bays you can use to extend your storage.
At the bottom of the front panel, the power light is self explanatory, whilst the Health light indicates the current health state of your home server. This light will switch to amber and red depending on your home server's status. The Boot light will flash red when the system is booting and then should remain green during operation. LEDs at the bottom of each bay replicate the LEDs above each bay denoting that a hard drive is installed in that bay. Should a drive fail, the corresponding LED will turn red.
To trigger a server backup, you can simply press the backup button on the front of the unit, and the server will be backed up either to an external drive, or to a dedicated backup drive inserted into the fifth drive bay. The Backup LED will flash yellow when a backup is in progress, turn green when the backup is completed and red should a backup fail.
The Mode button has two usages – pressing it once will toggle the brightness of the front panel LEDs, whereas if you hold it down, you will see a visual guide as to your current storage capacity. A solid red LED denotes 10% of your storage has been used, whereas a flashing red LED denotes 5% usage. So if you hold down the button and see two sold red LEDs and one flashing LED, that means 25% of your storage has been utilised. This is somewhat tricky to get your head around, but if you need to see your storage capacity displayed on the server itself, it can be done. I guess a VFD display would be an easier option in the future.
USB Boot Key
The credit card sized USB key enclosed with the SQA-5H is actually a Boot key, to be used in the event that the home server itself needs to be reinstalled. This places the Squash into a recovery mode, with reinstallation being completed over the network by placing the Home Server Recovery CD into one of your home computers and following the on screen wizard.
Easy Home Server Backup
Windows Home Server Power Pack 1 delivered a number of improvements to the platform, including the ability to create a manual backup of the home server itself – a useful function for those looking for true peace of mind. Usually, the home server is backed up to an External USB Hard Drive, offering the ability to take the backup off-site (in case of fire, flood or theft). Tranquil PC have built on this functionality by allowing the user to dedicate one of the five drive bays specifically for home server backups. This drive does become part of the overall storage pool, but is used purely for backups. The drive dedicated for backups is denoted on the Squash's front panel by an alternating green and yellow LED, so you can ensure you don't remove the wrong drive for safe keeping!
Home Server backups can be performed on an ad-hoc basis, simply by pressing the Backup button on the front panel – you then have the option to leave the drive in situ, if you just wish to protect against drive failure, or remove the drive for safe-keeping elsewhere. It's a great piece of hardware innovation that makes protecting your data simpler and, as internal hard drives are cheaper than their external cousins, more cost effective.
Using the SQA-5H
Tranquil make a point of not shipping systems with any bundled software, so you're provided with a sparkingly clean, vanilla Windows Home Server installation – as if you installed the software yourself on a home-built PC. So managing the home server and installing the Connector software on you home computers is as you'd expect – boot the home server, wait a few minutes for it to become ready (first boot is always a little longer as the home server needs to be prepared for use), then slip the home server connector CDs in each of your home computers and follow the on screen wizards. Nice and easy.
Configuring the backup drive (if you choose to use one) is simple – insert the drive into a free bay, and run Windows Home Server's “Add a Hard Drive” wizard. Let the system know you wish to use that drive as a backup drive, give it a name and then select which of your shared folders you wish to have backed up. Windows Home Server will recognise the drive each time it's inserted, and therefore future backups are very easy to perform, simply by pressing the backup button on the Squash's front panel. You'll see the drive LED flash yellow as the backup is performed, then green once it's completed, before switching off.
Swapping drives around is relatively straightforward, although there are a few guidelines to follow – Bays 1 & 2 are not configured as hot swappable bays, so your primary hard drive and any drive in Bay 2 are there for the duration. However, bays 3, 4 and 5 are fully hot swappable, so you can move drives around as you wish (remembering, of course, to let WHS know you're removing them through the server storage tab).
The combination of 2Gb of RAM and the Atom 330 processor ensured that the system is responsive out of the box, and thanks to the Western Digital GP drives, you'll find the system runs very quiet indeed.
If you're looking for additional storage (that is, if 7.5 Tb maximum storage isn't enough for you!) for your Squash server, Tranquil PC are also now selling the SQA-EX, a storage enclosure which uses the exact same chassis design as the SQA-5H. The EX connects to the the Squash via its eSATA port, and offers another five bays of storage goodness.
So, what's the verdict on the Tranquil PC SQA-5H? Well, as with most of Tranquil PC's servers, you won't find the SQA-5H in the bargain basement, and if you're looking for the best deal on a home server, there's cheaper options about. That said, the Squash's hardware specification is pretty strong – the 64-bit ready Atom 330 processor is quick enough for a home server and if you go for the 2Gb of RAM there will be very little need to upgrade the hardware for some time yet, so it's a decent investment.
The chassis is certainly Tranquil's best to date, and Tranquil PC do very good chassis design, so don't take this lightly – the Squash is well designed and finished, feeling like a high quality piece of kit. Five drive bays should keep all but the most heavy of users happy for quite some time, and the storage expansion options available via External USB hard drives and the optional SQA-EX will ensure you've always got plenty of storage available for your growing digital life.
It's great to see Tranquil PC continuing to innovate in their hardware design – the one-button manual backup feature builds nicely on new functionality provided in Windows Home Server Power Pack 1, and provides simple, convenient protection for your shared folders.
The SQA-5H is easily Tranquil PC's best home server to date – in fact, if you're looking for a compact, quiet, multi-drive home server with good looks, great performance and a myriad of expansion options, the Squash is just about perfect.
You can purchase the SQA-5H from Tranquil PC direct or a variety of online retailers including www.ripcaster.co.uk in the UK, www.domoq.it in Italy, and www.digitalsources.de in Germany. If you're in the Netherlands, visit www.degrund.nl