I’m a huge fan of Microsoft's Windows Home Server OS, the very capable and easy-to-use consumer server software. But the only Windows Home Server-based hardware I’ve had a chance to play around with is the HP MediaSmart Server EX470, which contains just one 500GB hard drive and costs a whopping $599. The MediaSmart, essentially a minicomputer powered by a 1.8GHz AMD Sempron processor and 512MD of RAM, is an awesome product. For those who can afford it.
For those who can’t, the February issue of Popular Mechanics has a barebones article on how to build your own Windows Home Server. The gist is that, since the hardware requirements are so low, you can use most any old PC to create your own home server. Once you set it up, the headless device won’t require a keyboard or monitor, so you can tuck it away (or as away as it can get when connected to your router via Ethernet).
The article also suggests that intrepid do-it-yourselfers can build a server from scratch, and more cheaply by using Ubuntu rather than the Windows OS. I wouldn’t go that route, however, because the Windows OS is surprisingly robust and easy to use—one of the few Windows OSs that is great right out of the box, on the first try. And many people have an old PC and parts laying around.
I have a seven-year-old Dell Dimension tower that works well but never gets any love, thanks to my newer Vista and Mac notebooks. So I’m thinking of building my own Windows Home Server. I checked Newegg.com, and I found Western Digital Caviar 500GB Ultra ATA hard drives for $105 each, and the Windows Home Server OS for $170. Any good home server should have two hard drives (unlike the MediaSmart EX470, which has only one 500GB drive), so two drives would set me back $210. Add the cost of the OS, and I could build my own for $380. By comparison, a dual 500GB drive server from HP, the HP MediaSmart Server EX475, costs almost twice as much at $749.99.
Granted, it won’t look as slick as HP’s MediaSmart devices, but it should work just as well. And as DIY projects go, it’s pretty straightforward.