Media Center plus Windows Home Server on one machine

Paul Young has an interesting description of his experiment running Windows Home Server in a virtual machine on a system that’s also serving as a full-time Media Center. It’s an experiment I’ve been wanting to do for a long time and seems like a logical idea to combine two functions onto one physical machine.

Paul’s biggest mistake, in my opinion, was starting with weak physical hardware. This is a three-year-old PC that wasn’t exactly a top gun when it was new, and it is clearly straining a bit to handle Media Center duties. Asking it to take over Home Server chores is a little much. It also sounds like he had some flaky hardware, which affected performance and reliability.

For what it’s worth, I’ve been running Windows Home Server in a Hyper-V virtual machine under Windows Server 2008 for the last six months or so. The hardware is a $500 Dell Inspiron 530 with a Q6600 quad-core CPU with hardware virtualization enabled, and WHS barely breaks a sweat running in the Hyper-V environment. Performance is very good, and I’ve configured the system to use a virtual disk that occupies 100% of the space on a physical disk. Works great. Here’s the CPU load on this physical machine as the virtual Home Server performs a backup of one of its client PCs:


Hardware virtualization and the quad-core CPU really make the virtual task easy, don’t they?

A few tips for anyone thinking of doing this:

  • If you’re using x86, be conscious of memory limitations. I would install a full 4GB on that system, even though you only get to use 3.3GB of it. For this task, the extra 300MB is meaningful.
  • Set aside 768MB of RAM on the virtual machine. That should be sufficient for all native Home Server tasks plus a couple of add-ins.
  • There’s no need to configure separate virtual disks as Paul has done (and as I did originally); I recommend putting the OS and data on a single virtual hard disk (VHD) with no duplication. Just back up the VHD file along with the rest of the server and you’ll be protected from any damage to the VM and its data.
  • If you do have multiple virtual disks, install Home Server on the largest one. That sounds counterintuitive, but it is in fact the way to get best performance. (The same advice is valid if you’re using physical disks, by the way.)
  • You don’t need USB support on the virtualized Home Server. If you want to add a USB hard disk, add it to the physical machine, create a VHD on it, and add that virtual disk to your Home Server installation.

Unfortunately, Hyper-V doesn’t run on Windows Vista, so I can’t replicate this setup on a system that’s also handling Media Center duties. I suspect that on a similar system running Vista Ultimate, VMWare Workstation would run just as well. It’s on my “Science projects I’ll tackle someday” list, but isn’t likely to happen anytime soon. Not with Windows 7 Inside Out at the top of the stack.

Is anyone else out there thinking of doing this? The Media Center/WHS combox is certainly an unconventional configuration and fits the very definition of “edge case,” but I think in 3-5 years it could be a mainstream product.

(via Philip Churchill)

14 thoughts on “Media Center plus Windows Home Server on one machine

  1. Ed, why don’t you also run Windows Vista on a VM? Would it be to much to have the Media Center on a VM running under the hyper-v along with the Home Server on a different VM?

  2. @Diego… THATS exactly what I was going to ask Ed about?! I really want to do that identical kind of setup, but didn’t know if a Hyper-V Media Center could “see” the hardware such as the AverMedia TV adapter… any clues? I have a Dell 530 on its way soon (couldn’t resist the price) and want to put Hyper-V server (not Windows Server w/Hyper-V) to reduce the footprint & run multiple OS’ w/8GB of ram. Home Server & Media Center & Win7 beta when available…

  3. Hmmm…..Timely post………..Just recieved my copy of Windows home server today………..original plan was a seperate box, then I thought about a laptop with a bad lcd……Now, I may try to use Virtual PC and give it a shot………if so will let you know……

    So many Christmas Projects so little time…………

  4. Interesting project. But it sure would be easier to use the SageTV HTPC software that actually works on Windows Home Server natively without any messing around. Lots of very happy WHS people using it to run their SageTV HTPC systems…

  5. Ed, can you collaborate at bit more on the backup solution you have?
    Is’nt the point of WHS to distribute the storage over multiple (physical) HDs, so you can trust it?
    Are you managing the VHD backup manually?

    I would like to try the same setup with (the free) VMWare ESXi, but need to figure out the disk layout first…

  6. I have my WHS rig running vista under vmware server. The primary function is for the vista instance to service a couple 360 extenders while allowing me centralizer my storage.
    I can’t say it’s worked out real well though, the box is a bit hardware light for what’s being asked to do (only 1 gig of memory). Some times it works ok once the 360 loads the blade but that seems to take way longer then it normally should. The extenders have a lot of trouble accessing data through vista on the home server. I have gotten the weird share voodoo permissions working right, but the next time the extenders load everything breaks again.

    So here is to hoping that win7 either has the WHS integrated in or that media center component can come to WHS, SOON :), damit I want my chocolate and peanut butter together, dare to own the garage MS.

  7. Why WHS and MediaCenter are not combined already are beyond me. Someone needs to come out with a device that does just that. HP? Dell? Anyone?

  8. With Vista running as a virtual machine under Hyper-V do you still get all the pretty aero features? I can see WMC not running nicely through the virtual machine because it is fairly graphics intensive. Along with the issue that Ed brought up about direct access to the TV-tuners.

  9. Nick, no Aero under Hyper-V (or indeed under any current virtualization software). I think this issue will resolve itself in about 3-5 years when the next round of processors are 10 times more powerful than the current crop.

    Christer, the point of having multiple hard drives on a physical WHS box is to protect yourself from failure of the physical drive. With virtual drives, that’s not an issue, and you can just back up the VHD file to get the same effect.

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