How to Guides, Windows Home Server

Get Started: Install and Configure Windows Home Server


Now that you have your home server hardware built, it’s time to install and then configure the Windows Home Server hardware. As we discussed in Part 1 of this Get Started guide, you can purchase a copy of Windows Home Server design specifically for “system builders” (a system builder can be a company who sell home servers, or an individual just like you) from online dealers such as Newegg in the USA, or Komplett, Misco and the like in Europe.

The software package you receive will contain three discs:

  • Windows Home Server Installation DVD
  • Windows Home Server Connector CD
  • Windows Home Server Restore CD

We’ll be using the Installation DVD first of all to install the Windows Home Server operating system on to the home server hardware, and once that’s completed, we’ll use the Connector CD to then install the Windows Home Server Console (the dashboard software used to manage your home server) on to one of your home computers.

Note: This walkthrough is intended for those installing Windows Home Server on a self-built machine – pre-installed home servers from manufacturers such as HP and Acer will have a different configuration procedure, although some parts will be similar.

Okay, let’s get started!

Step 1: Ensure you have a keyboard, mouse, monitor and Ethernet cable available and plugged into your home server

Windows Home Server is designed to be run as a “headless” unit – i.e. it doesn’t need a keyboard, mouse and monitor. It’s just a server, with electricity and a network connection. That’s okay for day to day use, but to install Windows Home Server on your hardware, you need to see what you’re doing and be able to tell the server what you want to do! So, find yourself a USB or PS/2 keyboard and mouse and plug those in (borrow them from one of your desktop PCs – you’ll only need it for a short while), plug in a monitor and then plug your server into your broadband router, using an Ethernet (RJ-45) cable.

Note: Make sure you don’t have any USB or Firewire external hard drives plugged in at this point, or else WHS will refuse to install. You can plug these in after you’ve installed Windows Home Server.

Power it all on, and we’re ready to go!

It’s alive!

Step 2: BIOS Settings

I’m not going to spend a huge amount of time on this one – when you switch on the server, you’ll see it tells you to press one of the Function buttons e.g. F12 for “Setup” – do this, and you’ll enter the BIOS settings. This is where you control things like fan speeds, power management settings, which drives/disks the server should boot from etc. All a bit technical for the average user, but interesting enough to have a play with. If you’ve built your own server, check your motherboard manual for the BIOS settings you’ll need. Ensure that all of your hard drives and DVD drive are listed in the BIOS settings. Choose “Save and Exit” and your server will restart.

Step 3: Insert the “Windows Server Installation DVD” into your DVD drive

Open the DVD drive and pop in the Windows Home Server Installation DVD . You may be asked to “Press any key to boot from the DVD drive” – if so, do so! After a short pause, you’ll see a message that “Windows is loading files” and a grey progress bar filling up across the screen from left to right.

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If everything’s going to plan, you’ll get the familiar Windows style progress bar:

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Before long, the Welcome Screen will appear, and we can start the installation.

Step 4: The Welcome Screen

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First of all, let’s tell Windows Home Server where we are and which keyboard region we’d like to use.


You’ll be shown a list of hard drives detected by Windows Home Server – make sure all of your drives are listed – if you have drives missing, it’s more than likely due to missing drivers. In this case, make sure you have your SATA drivers available on a USB key or CD, and click Load Drivers to get them installed.


At this point, select “New Installation” and click “Next”. Remember, if you’re re-using a hard drive from an old machine, it will be reformatted as part of the installation process, so everything will be wiped. If you need the data on this drive, don’t install Windows Home Server on to it.

Step 5: End User License Agreement

The EULA pops up – I always feel sorry for the lawyers who write EULAs. No-one ever reads them, but they look like they’re lots of work. Do that guy a favour and have a quick read through. Once you’re done, select “I accept the agreement” then “Next”.


Step 6: License Agreement

License agreement time – you’ll find a license key printed somewhere on your Windows Home Server DVD case. Type it into the relevant box on the screen and press “Next”.


Step 7: Give Your Home Server a Name

Your next task is to give your home server a unique name – this can be whatever you wish as long as it’s 15 characters maximum, and a combination of letters, numbers and hyphens only.


Okay, next up, WHS tells you it’s going to format your drives – as this point you realise your 500Gb hard drive is actually only worth 465 Gb. Hmmm…. anyway, acknowledge that you’re happy to wipe and format these drives, and select Next.


You’ll be asked if you’re really, really sure you happy to format these drives. Select Yes to continue.


Step 8: Ready to Install

A dialog box pops up that tells you that WHS is ready to install. Select “Start” to begin the installation. At this point, you can basically leave the computer to do its thing, and do something less boring instead. Depending on your setup, installation could take anywhere from 45 mins to a couple of hours. Mine took about an hour.


Step 9: Enjoy the Show

If, like me, you have nothing better to do then sit back and learn a little about the features and benefits of Windows Home Server! Watch those reboots. Then watch a few more of those great features and benefits screens….

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Step 10: WHS Installation Complete

After a couple more reboots, you see that the Windows Home Server installation is complete.


But wait! You’re not yet done….

Step 11: Set a Server Password


When you select “Finish”, you’ll be asked to set yourself an administrator’s password. It’s important that this password is secure, and kept safe so Microsoft have a couple of specific requirements on the password format. It needs to be at least 7 characters and combine uppercase, lowercase letters, numbers and symbols!

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Next up follows three pieces of admin – select whether you wish to switch on automatic updates (very highly recommended), join Microsoft’s Customer Experience Improvement Program and Windows Error Reporting programmes.

The first one is essential to ensure you receive any urgent bug fixes and improvements from Microsoft automatically as soon as they’re released. The second two are very useful to Microsoft – the CEIP anonymously reports a range of usage data to Microsoft (for example, how many hard drives you have, how much data you have stored on your home server) over time which the WHS team use to understand what users are doing with their home servers. This helps them plan future versions of the product – all data they look at is completely anonymous and aggregated. Windows Error Reporting automatically sends log files from your home server to Microsoft if any issues are detected – Microsoft are then able to easily spot that thousands of users are having a problem with X, understand why it’s happening, and make any necessary changes in a future Windows Update.


With that, you’re finished – congratulations, you’ve just installed Windows Home Server. But before you go, there’s a couple of things you must remember to do!

Step 12: Install Your Drivers

Your hardware will have come with a Drivers CD, which contains the software which controls the various components on your home server. You must install these drivers before continuing. Open the DVD drive, swap the Installation DVD for the drivers CD that came with your server hardware, and follow the instructions to install the drivers. Reboot the server as required.

Step 13: Remove the keyboard, monitor, and mouse

You’re ready to go headless – unplug and remove the keyboard, monitor, and mouse. From now on, you’ll be accessing the server from your home computers via the Windows Home Server console, which you’ll install from the Windows Home Server Connector CD. Some computers can be a bit funny about booting without a mouse, keyboard or monitor installed – if yours is, you should be able to switch a setting in the BIOS to allow booting to happen without firing any alerts, errors or other interruptions.

Congratulations, you’ve successfully installed Windows Home Server! You can now log into the home server, or go and install the Windows Home Server Connector on the rest of your home computers. Don’t worry, you don’t have to go through the entire setup and configuration wizard on every computer!

In the next part of our Get Started guide, we’ll install the Windows Home Server Connector on a home computer.

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Terry Walsh is the founder of We Got Served. He started the community in February 2007 with a mission to help families, tech enthusiasts everywhere figure out the technology needed to run the modern home and small business. He's the author of a number of guides to Windows, Windows Server and OS X Server and runs his own successful publishing business. Born and raised in Liverpool, England, Terry has been awarded Microsoft's prestigious Most Valuable Professional Award each year since 2008 for his work on We Got Served.
  • Tim

    I prefer the slipstream USB install myself 🙂

    • Terry Walsh

      You may not be our intended target reader for this article, Tim 😉

  • Greg

    I may be a bit unusual, but I actually didn’t remove the monitor and keyboard/mouse from my WHS box. ElToro (my WHS box — all my computers are named after wooden roller coasters – Raven, Jackrabbit, Aska, Voyage, Phoenix, Thunderbolt, and ElToro 🙂 ) is stashed away in a cool dry corner of my basement, with an ancient otherwise-obsolete 14″ LCD monitor. So it’s not eating up any extra space or tying up a monitor I have a better use for.

    Of course, I’m probably not the intended target audience of this simple guide either 🙂

    • Terry Walsh

      Hi Greg

      Think you’re not alone there – but certainly the intent is for WHS to be accessed headlessly via the WHS Console. Easier then to put it away in a cupboard etc out of the way.

  • A link at the beginning of these articles to the pervious installments might be a good idea.

    Can't remember from memory whether you illustrated the differences between a fresh install on a 2 hard drive machine or a 3+ hard drive machine. I know the reference materials for WHS say make the first HDD the largest, which isn't necessarily the best use of space in a 3+ HDD machine. My Home build WHS machine has a 160gb HDD as the main drive and 2 x 500gb HDD as secondary drives, therefore all that is stored on the primary drive in the data partition is 4kb tombstones pointing to the real data on the secondary drives. Where as in a 2 hdd system, I am pretty sure tombstones are not actually used, therefore the primary drive being the largest is more critical.

    • Good call on the links at the start of the article – will drop in…

  • orlando

    I'm new here – but thank you for the guide. I'm looking forward to the next parts.

    I'm probably not your intended audience either. I am running "headless" but I'm on a Mac Mini (as a media center). I've instead WHS on a VMWare Fusion partition – with min 70GB – running on wifi instead of hard-wired to ethernet. If it all works out, I may put in a larger hard drive in and connect via ethernet.

    • Welcome to WGS, Orland0 – sounds like a very different kind of home server you have there. Very cool!

  • Jacko

    Hi, i'm new here too and have just installed WHS eval edition on my rig at home, although not really played around with it yet.
    Is it fair to say that all the disasterous problems with WHS in the start where it would lose/wipe data and kill raid arrays is a thing of the past? I'm assuming service packs etc have sorted these issues out?
    Back in the day, everyone i spoke to regarding WHS said "don't touch it with a bargepole!"
    Is it better now?
    Thanks for your efforts on bringing info to the masses. 🙂

    • Hi Jacko

      Yes, as of Windows Home Server Power Pack 1, any data corruption issues (which apprently only affected a handful of people) were completely sorted out. We're now on Power Pack 2…

      Your data is absolutely fine.

      Enjoy the eval!

  • lujo

    Hi Terry,

    Is it still important to use largest harddrive to install WHS on it. I have heard that with Power Pack 1 things have been changed and that this isn't important more?

    Can I now modify files in \serverdata for example. So that I don't get corruption error?

  • Brian

    I didn't have a DVD drive in my server, so I installed WinXP and then copied the files from the WHS DVD onto a flash drive and ran /SVR_2003/setup.exe. It installed WHS but it seems that the home server part of it isn't there as I can't connect to it with the connector. It just seems to act like a Windows 2003 server with WHS branding. I wasn't able to boot off the flash drive. Does anyone know how to install WHS using this method? Thanks a lot!

  • Gary Clarke (UK)

    HI There.

    I'm new here too. Have just dived into the WHS world with the 120day evlauation copy. Looking forward to using your site for real in the next few days/weeks/months/etc. Has been a great source of info for getting ready. The biggest problem I had installing the Eval copy was converting the ISO file to a bootable DVD. Whilst various sites advised in one line what to do. It took 2.5hrs and a number of coasters to get there. WIndows, Nero and various other Burners didn't do what I wanted. Used Alcohol 120% in the end and it was done in 2mins. Simple when you use the right tools. A "Installing the Eval copy" thread might be nice, other than that am rubbing my hands with excitment…. 🙂

  • ady c

    hi.. may be a stupid question but i have a windows laptop, desktop but also a mac… will the mac fit in with whs and can you access the whs from the mac?

    • frosty

      you can now

  • ravi

    my server doesnt have a CD or DVD drive. Is there any other way to install Linux centOS on it. I bought it second hand. Also, how can I look for the BIOS Flash. thx

  • msss

    I bought a Dell XPS system to use as my server and I am getting BSOD after copying files over. I have looked all over for the workaround and the drivers for my HD are on an application not just .inf file. Any help appreciated!!

  • philip

    I have a question regarding the article. Do you have to use WHS 2011 "headless"? Does WHS support the use of a mouse and keyboard?

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