Now that Windows Home Server Codename “Vail” has been released to public beta, I’m sure there are several of you that would like to install the beta operating system onto the MediaSmart Server that you already own. While it is possible to install and run Vail on any MediaSmart Server, be aware that each model has its own unique requirements in order to successfully install.
If the MediaSmart Server is your only or primary Home server, I’d recommend that you instead use a spare 64-bit PC or purchase a low-cost test server to use.
Most importantly, be aware that this is a Beta Release, and as such you should not use the Beta as your only form of backup of your important files. Be sure that you have backups of your data, and only store on Vail data that you know is backed up elsewhere.
First, you’ll need to follow our guide on creating an unattended Vail Installer on a USB Flash Key. It’s important to setup the unattended “cfg.ini” file if you are performing the install without the benefit of a debug board that provides video and keyboard functionality to your MediaSmart Server.
Next, it is important to remove any partitions from the system drive because the MediaSmart Servers are configured to boot off of that hard drive if it has a bootable OS. In order to force the server to boot off of our flash key, we need to clean the drive.
Take the hard drive you have identified as your System (Operating System) drive, and delete any partitions that may be on it. NOTE that this will effectively erase the drive and remove any data you have stored on it. You can delete the partitions by attaching the drive to your PC, the easiest way is via a USB external drive enclosure. If you don’t own such an enclosure, you can connect the drive to one of the extra available motherboard connectors on your PC. Be sure to power off your PC first, connect the System drive, boot your PC, and delete the partitions from the drive via Disk Management. For the LX195, you’ll need to take apart the server in order to access the drive and remove it.
Insert the drive into the bottom slot of your MediaSmart Server, insert the USB key into the bottom rear port, and disconnect any other USB devices. LX195 owners will need to reinstall the system drive into the server chassis, and in my testing either bottom USB port worked successfully. Be sure to connect the server to your network so it can download any required updates during the setup process.
Installing Vail on the EX485, EX487, EX490, EX495, X510 DataVault, and LX195
After performing the pre-install steps, power on your server. It should boot off of the attached USB flash key, and automatically partition and format the hard drive, then uncompress the installation files and copy them to the drive. During this part of the process the Health LED will be blinking aqua/red. This part of the installation takes approximately 8 minutes on my EX495 and DataVault, and I expect a similar or slightly longer time for the EX490. The LX195 with it’s slower Atom processor took approximately 20 minutes. After this step completes the server should reboot itself.
The server will perform the rest of the installation automatically and the Health LED should be blinking solid aqua. You can see what that sequence of events looks like in our Vail Manual Installation guide. This part can take 20-30 minutes or more. On the slower LX195 this took up to 60 minutes! Be patient, and wait until you are able to access the server to perform the initial setup.
After the installation completes, you can begin the setup process by opening a browser and navigating to your server setup page at http://
Installing Vail on the EX470 and EX475
Note that Vail requires 1GB of RAM to install, and since the EX470 and EX475 shipped with only 512MB of RAM you will need to upgrade the memory in these servers before you can perform the install.
Installing Vail on the older models of MediaSmart server unfortunately is not as easy as it is on the newer models. This is due to the on-board USB recovery flash that the earlier servers used to perform the Server Recovery process. The boot order for these servers conflicts with the Vail installer and it will error out of the install process.
The easiest way to install Vail on these servers is to make or purchase a debug cable to provide keyboard, video, and mouse access to the server. However, fellow MVP Christoph Harding discovered that by changing the boot order in the BIOS he was able to allow the Vail installation to proceed. The following procedure should allow you to install Vail on your MediaSmart Server without a video connection, though it does require a USB keyboard.
- Set up the flash key and hard drives as described in the first part of this guide
- Make sure the Flash Key is in the bottom rear USB port
- Attach a USB keyboard to another USB port on the server
- Power on the server, and almost immediately begin pressing F12 repeatedly on the keyboard for approximately 10 seconds (too long won’t matter). This will gain you access to the boot list
- Press down on the keyboard 7 times, and then press Enter. This selects USB-CDRom as the boot source
- The unattended installation should continue at this point.
There are a few failure points that can occur and cause the Vail installation to not complete successfully. Unfortunately these are incredibly difficult to troubleshoot without having video and keyboard connected. Here are the top errors I encountered while installing Vail on the various MediaSmart Server systems.
- Server name collision:
- Invalid system partition size:
- Hardware requirements not met:
- System hard drive not clean:
The Vail installation will halt and prompt you to edit the unattended answer file if you have configured the server name the same as another system existing on your network. You are best off by making sure the name you pick for your server is unique.
The Vail installation will halt and require a restart if the unattended answer file has a value for the system partition that is not valid. Acceptable values are 20 to 60, or “Max” to use the entire drive.
Vail requires 1GB of RAM, and installation will fail on the EX470 and EX475 with their default 512MB of RAM. You’ll need to upgrade the memory in your server to at least 1GB before performing the installation.
If the System drive does not have all it’s partitions removed (due to not cleaning it off initially or because an installation aborted due to one of the above failures) the server will likely fail to boot from the USB flash key and Vail will not install.
Hopefully this guide has proven helpful to get you running Windows Home Server Vail on your HP MediaSmart Server. Post in the comments or forums to let us know if you were successful with performing your installation.