And so it came to pass… I finally moved all of my files from an aging Windows Home Server v1 on to a new NAS device, the Synology DiskStation DS413 (you can read the review here). While I am very satisfied with the results, this whole exercise led to a cliffhanging question: What would be the fate of my HP Media Smart EX470.

I did have high hopes for the unit: To make it my Windows Server in which I could tinker with SharePoint, Dynamics CRM and SQL Server (i.e.: The tools I make a living with), but that seemed like a lot of hard work for an uncertain return on investment –  I would have to either buy or make a VGA cable for the unit, learn the steps on how to install another operating system on it (it is not that straightforward) and I couldn’t tell beforehand if the MediaSmart Server would perform as expected.

Today I am happy to say that I am a proud owner of an HP MediaSmart Server EX470 running Windows Server 2012 Essentials. And I am loving it! In this post I will be sharing with you the steps I took to install Windows Server 2012 Essentials on my EX470.

Requirements

The first step is to understand what is required for this project. You will need a custom VGA cable for the EX470, one USB drive with a capacity of at least 6 GB, the ISO image for the Windows Server 2012 Essentials install disk, and a tool for transferring files from the ISO image into the USB drive in a bootable way (such as the Windows 7 USB/DVD Download Tool).

VGA cable

You will require a VGA cable for the EX470 if you want to proceed with the Windows Server installation the way I did (the “orthodox way”). You could either buy the cable or make one yourself, which will involve acquiring the parts and tools necessary (which I did), which includes:

  • 1x VGA cable;
  • 15x 2 24-28AWG Crimp Connector Terminals. The terminals which you will attach to the other end of the cable (I got 20 just in case, example); and
  • 1x 26 position 2mm pitch Connector Housing. The housing for the terminals (which consists of 2 rows for 13 terminals, example), bearing in mind that the terminals and the housing must be compatible.

It is likely that you will also need a multimeter do to what is called a continuity test (any multimeter would do). For those who don’t know what this is, it’s quite simple. The VGA cable consists of about 15 small wires. Once you cut one of its ends, there is no way to know which end relates to what pin at the other end of the cable. So the continuity test consists of attaching one of the multimeter leads into the end of a stripped wire, then touching the pins of the VGA connector with the other multimeter lead until you hear a beep (i.e.: you closed the circuit) in order to identify which wire is which.

The instructions on how to build the cable can be found in the forums at mediasmartserver.net – these were posted by a fellow enthusiast who goes by the alias ymboc. You can also find a post about the parts there.

You’ll also need tools to attach those wires into the terminals. You can do this either with a crimper tool, with soldering, or with very small pliers (which I did, and I do not recommend). Whatever you do, you must make sure that wires from one terminal don’t touch the wires of another terminal (watch out for those thin wires) – failing to do so is likely to create a short circuit which could damage the monitor or the EX470.

There are alternatives to using a VGA cable, but I haven’t tested them so can’t recommend them. For example, you could initiate the first step of the installation, which just copies the setup files to your disk and makes it bootable, from another PC. Then you could move the disk into the EX470’s first drive bay, wait for the install to finish and then connect to the device using remote desktop (which is enabled during setup) and continue with the post-install part of the setup, including the creation of your Active Directory Domain.

USB thumb drive

Since the Windows Server 2012 Essentials installation files are a little over 4GB, you will need a drive that is larger (e.g.  6 GB, 8 GB, and so on). I used a small SanDisk microSD reader with a 8GB microSD card. Note that the contents of this drive will  be erased.

Windows Server 2012 Essentials ISO

You need to get your hands on an ISO image for the Windows Server 2012 Essentials installation DVD. If you purchased the media, you could easily make the ISO using a tool such as Power ISO, Nero, or the tool of your choice  Just make sure that the image file is an ISO file, and not a BIN/CUE, NRG or anything else.

Windows 7 USB/DVD Download Tool

Now you need a tool for making the USB thumb drive bootable with the Windows Server 2012 Essentials installation files. For that I used the official Windows 7 USB/DVD Download Tool (don’t worry about the name, it will work pretty much with any Windows setup disk, at least since Windows 7), which you can download from the Microsoft Store along with its manual. Alternatively you could use other 3rd party tools, but I haven’t tested any of these to make a Windows-based bootable USB drive.