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How to: Install Windows Server 2012 Essentials on the HP MediaSmart Server

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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.

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Pedro is an enterprise consultant working mainly with Microsoft Dynamics CRM, Microsoft SharePoint and Business Intelligence. When not around clients, he likes to spend time fidgeting with gadgets, reading, writing and worshiping the band Rush.
  • Kris Butler

    I’m looking at upgrading my HP microserver from WHS2011 to SE2012. Strangely enough, just sold my Ex470 last week to a work colleague. SE2012 looks a lot better than whs2011. I moved both my scaleo/e4420 and hpex470 to WHS2011 from WHS v1, but I’ve never really liked it compared to the old WHS…

    • pmdci

      Between you and me and the rest of the Internetz, I reckon that WHS2011 was a mistake (and yes, all because of Drive Extender).

      • Ron Miller

        Well, I agree that it was a mistake to leave Drive Extender out. All MS had to do was wait for Storage Spaces, incorporate that, and call the OS “Windows Home Server 2012.” That said, it’s hard to call WHS2011, itself, a mistake because Drive Pool seems to work so well. WHS 2011 costs US$50 and Drive Pool costs US$20. Compare that to the US$400+ for WS2012E, and it becomes rather difficult for me to justify the latter.
        And WHS2011 is way better than WHS in one critical area — its Restore CD can easily boot all of my modern 64-bit computers. After agonizing hours and days of attempts to modify the WHS Restore CD to do that, I could never get it to work. I rather like WHS2011. Nevertheless, if MS ever decides to make a home version of WS2012E (they could dumb it down to handle no more than 10 clients, for example) with a significantly lower price, I’d certainly reconsider.

    • Gary

      Hmmm. I was also looking for options to migrate from WHS1 on an HP X510. (Headless) install on the X510 was a breeze but unfortunately, it seems that the Client connector wants to connect via a Windows Domain. This renders SE2012 pretty much useless for those of us with PCs hooked into a corporate domain looking for an easy way to set up shares and do client backups :(

      I’m sure I’m not the only one in this predicament.

  • gmurray81

    If you want to try without the cable I have a guide for getting windows8 installed on the Ex47x: http://grahammurray.wordpress.com/2012/09/23/doing-an-unattended-install-of-windows-8-pro-on-the-hp-mediasmart-server-ex470/

    I assume you may need to extend it with a few additional configuration options that Essentials 2012 may require though. I’ve only tried the above with Windows 8.

  • Boopy

    You can’t have the system drive on software raid 5. After all, if something happened to a drive, how could windows boot to rebuild the array? :-)
    You would need a hardware raid adapter for this.
    Thanks for sharing your experience with Essentials.

    • pmdci

      Thanks for confirming it. It seems that I can do a mirror, however.

      So I have two options here:

      * Resiliency for my entire Windows 2012 install: Make a mirror between the system disks and a second disk. Third disk would have no resiliency so I might as well add it into my Synology DiskStation for now. I would then get 500GB and I could proceed to install SQL Seerver and other applications on this RAID.

      * Resiliency on the two extra disks: Leave the system disk out of it, then create a storage pool between the two extra disks. When installing SQL Server, make sure the data directory for my SQL instances is located in this storage pool. If the system disk fails, I will have to install Windows Server 2012 all over again, plus the applications. But at least my data would have resiliency.

      That’s like Sophie’s choice in a Sheldon Cooper’s sort of way… Thoughts anyone?

      • James Stephen Edge

        Can you not do both? shrink the boot partition to slightly more than what’s needed, mirror it to drive 2, then add the unused space on both drives plus the 3rd disk to a storage pool.

  • Stephen

    No offence but while it may be necessary to go through extra hoops with the old EX47X models (I don’t know), there were other HP MediaSmart servers. There is no reason at all to go through all of the hardware hassle with the EX49X and presumably EX48X. Copy the headlessunattend.xml file out of the samples folder (under support folder) on thumbdrive being used for installation; fill in the necessary blanks in notepad; rename the file autounattend.xml and paste it into the root directory of the thumbdrive; wipe the target drive for OS installation and temporarily pull any other drives as a precaution; plug the thumbdrive into the lower USB port on the back; turn the computer on; and then just wait until the server shows up on your network. As soon as it is visible, you can RDP to it and further customize the installation. It probably took 30 minutes to have it completely up and running with my EX490.

    • pmdci

      No offence taken, on the contrary. I did mention that my method was the orthodox way of installing the OS. For that you DO need a cable as I wouldn’t like to suggest people to just go on pressing a sequence of keys without being able to look at the screen output.

      I would’t dare to attempt an unattended install at first without looking at my screen because I was afraid I could miss an important attribute in the xml file and end up with the installation waiting for an input, and being incapable of seeing what was going on (meaning, I wouldn’t like to be a guinea pig without a VGA cable in case things go wrong).

      • Stephen

        I understand what you are saying and it is certainly not worth arguing. By the same token though, you are not describing the orthodox way of installing a server OS on a headless server. The orthodox way is to use the headlessunattend.xml file – that is why it is there. You also can hardly do any harm. All you fill in are answers to a few simple questions (your name, a password, installation language, product key etc..), all of which are clearly identified as fill ins in the original file. Again, once the server pops up as visible to the router, one can also RDP to it and then run the rest of the installation as one would any other OS installation if you like. I appreciate the instructions and that there is a hardware approach to do something, but it really is not the orthodox way. Your way comes with disclaimers about damaging components and short circuiting the board. Using headlessunattend.xml simply has you answer the questions in advance that you would be prompted to answer during an installation with a monitor and keyboard.

        • http://www.facebook.com/huw.jones.54390 Huw Jones

          Stephen – I’m attempting to install Server essentials on an old x510, but I’m actually not clear on the step in which the headlessunattend.xml file is altered. I can see that there seem to be placeholders in the file that need to be amended, but I still don’t know if it’a a matter of replacing text or adding something in another line. Is there an idiot-proof guide that you could point me at?

          • pmdci

            Hi Huw,

            If you really want to go the unattended path, I recommend you checking the technet library at technet.microsoft.com.

    • al

      Aye that’s how we do it 2012 if your SCVMM is bust :-)

    • Gary

      I’d like to go this route with an HP X510 running WHS1. Couple of questions :
      1) I have 3 USB ports on the back of the box, can I pluf the bootbale USB drive into any one of the three ?
      2) (Silly question maybe) How do I wipe the target drive prior to installation ?

      Thanks!

      • Gary

        Got it to work quite easily. This is definitely the way to go (headless).

    • Stratton Penberthy

      very nice to know, I’m just checking out upgrading my WHSv1 on EX495 to Win2012 Essent. Let me read throug the files and figure it out. I use a external USB drive to backup now, will this quickly restore to the new win2012 system easily?
      thanks,

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1116447673 Ian Smith

    Hello the EX470 that you installed WSE2012 onto, was it the standard
    spec as brought new, with just a 2gig ram upgrade or had you also
    changed the processor on it?

    And should I not want to make the VGA lead do you know where I can buy one from?

    • pmdci

      Hi Ian,

      I added 2GB of RAM to the EX470. I really don’t think that 512MB would be enough because even the WHS v1 as it was used to be a bit sluggish with the original spec.

      Since I got the RAM upgrade, we now have 4GB SIMMS available for the unit, so I would go with that.

      As for the CPU: Yes I did upgrade it recently (last year) to a dual core CPU which I ordered from eBay. But another user from mediasmartserver.net did install WS2012E with the original CPU and he said it works ok. But if you plan to install other application servers, such as SQL Server, then I believe the original CPU would be a significant drawback.

      As for the VGA cable, there is a user from http://www.mediasmartserver.net who is selling the cable, but let me tell you that it isn’t cheap.

      You could also go for the unnatended setup path as described by @e83be47d7e07715532468ada3518dc2d:disqus . However remember that the system disk must be wiped out otherwise the EX470 will not boot the USB.

    • Charles

      The exact link to the guy selling cables is here:
      http://www.mediasmartserver.net/forums/viewtopic.php?t=8066

  • Phil Sweet

    Any HP driver for the flashing lights on the panel?

    • pmdci

      Phil,

      Unfortunately NOT for the EX470… :(

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1116447673 Ian Smith

      Phil, I have unplugged the cable that feeds the lights on the front, however there is one drawback in doing that, not a big one really but the front USB port will not work after doing that.

  • Bill Macchione

    I did a processor upgrade about 2 years ago, but it was still a single core. What processor did you use? Also do you have the link for the 4 GB ram now?

    • pmdci

      I will have to run a CPU ID to tell you that. I will post an update here as soon as I can

      • lauratanor

        I would also like to know what 4GB SIMMS (?) you suggest.

        • pmdci

          Hi there,

          I don’t have any particular product code in mind. I am yet to do the 4GB upgrade (not a priority for me at the moment).

          I recommend you go to the forum at http://www.mediasmartserver.net and check the recommendations there. Any compatible memory module from one of the big three (Kingston, Crucial, Corsair) should do the trick (I’m a Crucial kind of guy though).

    • pmdci

      Bill, the CPU I got is a ADJ6850IAA5DO which I got from a Hong Kong seller at eBay. Its been working for about a year.

  • Rob Halligan

    You mention installing SharePoint on Server 2012 Windows Essentials. Is that supported? I googled/binged and didn’t find many/any other references to people using them together. I don’t know much but thought Essentials wasn’t an app server.

    • pmdci

      Hi,

      I haven’t done it yet but I will be doing it soon, even if it is just SharePoint Foundation, even if I have to hack it.

      FYI, I installed SQL Server 2012 Enterprise and I’ve been playing around with some SSRS and Analytics. So I assume SharePoint would install.

      • Rob Halligan

        Thanks. I’ll be interested in following your progress.

  • adam

    There is a much easier way then making a cable. Just buy a converter cable to go from x16 to x1. Then use any video card you have. Less then $4 and it will save you a lot of time / headache.

    http://www.amazon.com/BestDealUSA-Ribbon-Extension-Extender-Adapter/dp/B006DQRUZ8/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1350761123&sr=8-1&keywords=pcie+16x+to+1x

    • pmdci

      Is there a way to connect such cable to the EX470 motherboard? If so, then this is a viable option.

      But what if the user doesn’t have a spare PCIe video card?

      • adam

        You just need a free pci-e slot, which I believe the EX470 has. I have a Acer H340 and used this cable with its free x4 pci-e to get a video signal, which I then installed 2012 essentials on.

        Any pci-e video card would do as long as it fits in the slot. If you dont, then making a cable might be your best option. Most people can pull a video card from another machine though just temporarily to get the software installed.

        • Thomas Kotowski

          So – you installed 2012 Essentials on an Acer H340? I’d like to know more. I am still running WHS v1.0 on my H340 and have been looking to breathe new life into it.

          • adam

            Yes, installation went fine. All drivers were detected by Windows (just the drive lights on the front right dont light up anymore, of course).

            What i did was buy 2 new hard drives and took the WHS ones out (just in case i wanted to roll back). I used the x16 cable above to get video (and had the debug jumper on) and just installed Essentials with a USB keyboard, mouse, and usb memory stick as you normally would. Once i moved my data and was happy, i just added my old WHS hard drives to a storage spaces pool was good to go.

  • RR101

    Here is a much easier way to run Windows Server 2012 Essential on an HP MediaSmart Server. This is very fast and painless way.

    1. Install Windows Server 2012 on the drive you want to be the primary drive by plugging this drive to any PC (could be an Intel or AMD PC). After the installation you can do the updates and all.

    2. Take out the drive from the PC and put it in the MediaSmart Server drive 1. Plug in and connect the network cable.

    3. Now from the PC you can RDP. The MediaSmart Server will be up and running.

    4.You can now add any additional drives you may want to the MediaSmart Server.

    5. Install the connector software on the PC to connect to the Server. By using your browser typing http:///Connect, and then press ENTER. Here the Server name is what you called your server.

    You don’t need any cables or pressing any keys to do the Server 2012 Server install. I have tried to use the same drive on an EX470 and EX485 MediaSmart Server and it works on both with now changes.

    Enjoy.

    • pmdci

      Hi,

      I DID mention this method in the article. But not everybody has a spare PC to through this path.

  • Prof B

    You could mirror the system drive and then add a fourth drive to mirror with the third drive, you could then install SQL/Sharepoint on the new mirrored drive to help performance.

    • pmdci

      Thanks, but the whole point was to get a feasible solution with the 3 disks only. :)

  • Joe

    Although I have not tried this on my MediaSmart server, I have installed the RTM version of WSE2012 onto a test box. The only problem I have is I cannot get my WDTV Live Hub to see the the server as a Windows Share. I believe part of the problem is that the server is in a Domain environment. I have tried different things and the WDTV will not “see” the server. Does anyone have any ideas on how to get it to present itself to the WDTV?

  • Charles

    For those who feel adventurous, building your own cable can be done here:
    http://www.mediasmartserver.net/forums/viewtopic.php?f=2&t=622

    For those who don’t have the time or tools, a pre-made cable can be purchased here:
    http://www.mediasmartserver.net/forums/viewtopic.php?t=8066

  • lauratanor

    Thanks a ton for this write-up. I’ve been trying to decide what to replace the old ex470 with, but I think I’ll see if I can breath a little life into her. I’ve got 2gb RAM and an LE1640 in my unit, but I’ll want to upgrade to 4gb and a dual core cpu.

    Would anyone happen to know a quality tutorial for upgrading to a dual core? I’ll probably want to use the CPU the author uses. From what little I understand I have to do a BIOS hack. That makes me nervous, but I’ll try anything once.

  • Kai B.

    I setup SE2012 on my beloved HP EX475 and have a problem I don’t really know how to tackle. Problem is that all four of my my HDDs (WDC EARS/EADS) are recognized as RAID-Drives. Bus-Drive that is. Now, I’m pretty sure that those Drives are not on a RAID Controller – how could they.

    Anybody else ran into this – and maybe knows what’s causing the problem?

  • wgraves

    I get the following error…. “We couldn’t create a new partition or locate an existing one. For more information, see the Setup log files.”

    • Jenn

      I’m having this exact same problem. Did you figure out how to get around it?

  • pmdci

    Warning for those looking to upgrade from Windows Server 2012 Essentials to Windows Server 2012 R2 Essentials:

    * Upgrade is not possible (must do a clean install – doh!?)
    * StoragePool will be read-only and offline. You must run PowerShell commands in order to:

    a) remove read-only flag
    b) upgrade to R2 storage pool
    c) bring the volume online

  • Jeroen Mies

    I just upgraded my HP MediaSmart to SE2012R2. What bugs me is the blinking light (the right one). Does anyone know how to turn that blinking off (Link to a driver perhaps?)

  • BayArea Metal

    I have two HP EX470’s both coming up with the same error when I try to Install Server2012 R2. I get to the install screen where you select the drive. The error I get is Windows could no create the partition or find the partition. I have tried two different drives a 1TB and the original 500GB and both fail in the same spot. I have reformatted and deleted the drives and nothing. I have also tried multiple combinations of settings in the bios, but haven’t found the winning combo. I think it might be drivers but couldn’t find any. Did anyone have this same issue and if so how did you get past it.

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