Archive for October, 2012

How to build a Home Server with Windows 8

Saying that Windows 8 is a major shift in strategy for Microsoft is pretty obvious at this point. Between the Metro interface, complete dismissal of the start menu, focus on touch screen devices, and myriad other changes; this is not the Windows of the Bill Gates era. One change which hasn’t received much discussion is the idea of Windows 8 being Microsoft’s next iteration for not only Windows 7, but for Windows Home Server.

If you haven’t heard, Windows Home Server has been discontinued by Microsoft. For those not familiar with the Windows Home Server product line to begin with, it was designed to be the central hub of your home network; providing easy access to large amounts of easily expandable storage, simple backups, media functionality, and synchronization of usernames and passwords throughout your home network. The good news is that Windows 8 provides much of the same functionality previously found only in Windows Home Server.

Our in-depth guide here will show you everything you’ll need to build a Windows 8 home server

Configuring Storage

Windows 8 offers some new tools which make it easy to create large amounts of redundant storage that may seem familiar if you’ve used Windows Home Server in the past. The storage spaces feature lets you group multiple physical hard drives together into a single storage pool and even provides options for redundancy. Storage spaces are probably a good idea even if you only have a single drive at the moment due to the ability to dynamically expand the size of your volume by adding more drives, much like the drive extender feature familiar to Windows Home Server users.
power user menu
Power users can quickly access a number of tools using this hidden menu.

To begin configuring storage spaces, you need to access the Control Panel, which can be a little tricky in Windows 8. The two easiest ways we’ve found to get there are:

1. Go to the Start Screen, type “Control Panel”, then click on the Control Panel shortcut.
2. Move your mouse cursor to the bottom left of the screen to bring up the Start Screen shortcut, right click on the shortcut, and choose the Control Panel option. (There are some other goodies here as well, so keep this trick in mind for later use.)

Once you’ve navigated to the Control Panel you can find Storage Spaces under the System and Security category. The first step in getting storage spaces up and running is to create a storage pool and add physical drives to the pool. One thing to know is that storage pools use the full capacity of your hard drive, so if you have existing data it needs to be copied off before you add the drive into a storage pool.

Storage Spaces
Storage spaces let you create RAID-like storage on the cheap.

Within the Storage Spaces applet in the Control Panel you should see a link that says Create a new pool and storage space. Click this link and confirm the user account control pop-up to begin adding drives to your storage pool. The next screen will ask you to choose the drives to use in your storage pool. Select the drive or drives you want to use and click the Create pool button at the bottom of the window. Notice you can use any combination of internal and external drives to create your storage pool (we’re using two 2TB Backup Plus Desk drives from Seagate connected over USB 3.0).

Once the storage pool is created we move on to creating a storage space. There are several options when creating a storage space, some of which require some additional explanation. The name and drive letter are probably obvious to Maximum PC readers, these configure how the storage space is displayed in File Explorer. You would think the pool size would be another obvious option, but storage spaces can be configured to be larger than the amount of physical storage you have available. To be clear this is not usable space, but it does allow you to create a large storage space and expand through new physical drives as needed.
Storage Space Config
Configuring a storage space is extremely simple.

Resiliency is probably the most confusing of the storage space options. A storage space can be built to protect against drive failure by storing a duplicate copy of your data on more than one drive in a mirroring configuration. The caveats to using resiliency are that you must have multiple drives in your storage pool and the maximum storage capacity is reduced because some of the drive space is being used for resiliency. A storage space can even be configured to store an additional copy of your data in a three-way mirror. Sadly you cannot add or change the resiliency configuration of a storage space simply by adding another drive at a later date. What you can do later is add additional drives, configure a new storage space with resiliency, and then move your files to the new storage space. Also keep in mind that you can have multiple storage spaces in a single storage pool. This means you could have a resilient storage space mirroring your important documents, and a second storage pool with no resiliency used for music or videos which you could recover through another method.

Sharing your Files

Microsoft introduced the HomeGroup feature in Windows 7, and it’s returned in Windows 8. The feature allows you to set up a relationship between the Windows PCs on your network and eases the process of sharing files and devices between computers. There are two parts to sharing files using HomeGroup on your network.
Home Group Password
HomeGroup creates a random password during the initial configuration.

First we need to create the HomeGroup and add computers. HomeGroup settings can be found in the Control Panel under the Network and Internet category. If there is already a HomeGroup on your network, you will be invited to join the existing HomeGroup, otherwise you will be prompted to create a new HomeGroup. There’s really not much to actually creating the HomeGroup itself. The system will generate a password which you must use to join other computers to the group. This password can be changed later to something you can remember.

Sharing files using a HomeGroup is most easily done by using Libraries. The HomeGroup Control Panel allows you to choose which libraries get shared with other users in the HomeGroup. If you want to simply share a single file it can be done by adding it to a shared library.

For our scenario, we’re looking to share entire folders within our new storage space. By creating Music, Video, and Pictures folders we can easily organize our media files. Additionally we can add these folders to the existing libraries by simply right clicking and choosing Include in library to start sharing them to the HomeGroup.

Sometimes we don’t want to do things exactly like Microsoft designed, so using the existing libraries isn’t always going to be a workable solution. Fortunately you can add libraries and then share them with the HomeGroup or simply share an individual folder without using the libraries. To test this, let’s create a Backup folder in our storage space. Once the folder is created, right click on the folder, choose Share with, and choose HomeGroup (view and edit).

Home Group
Libraries shared to the HomeGroup integrate directly into Windows Explorer.

Now that we’ve created our HomeGroup and shared all of our files open up File Explorer (this is another option in that power user menu we showed you earlier).  In the left panel of File Explorer you should now see a HomeGroup section with your username underneath. Expanding your username should show the computers you have access to, and should provide a list of shared folders on that computer.

Another feature of a HomeGroup is the ability to stream media over the network using DLNA. This can be configured using the Media streaming options in the Network and Sharing Center Control Panel. The Media streaming options will allow you to allow or disallow individual media devices on your network from accessing certain types of files.

Protecting your Data

One thing we can’t recommend highly enough is backing up your data. Few things are worse than losing years of pictures or documents because of a failed hard drive or accidental deletion. There are two aspects of data protection we want to take a look at, using your Windows 8 server as backup storage and backing up the storage volume itself.
Windows Backup
Windows Backup isn’t gone from Windows 8, it’s just hiding.

Using your Windows 8 server as backup storage is as simple as using the Backup folder we created earlier as your storage volume. This can be done with most backup tools, including Windows Backup and File History (which we’ll talk about in a minute). Interestingly, Windows Backup is a deprecated feature in Windows 8, which means two things. First, it’s hard to find. Second, it’s a feature that may disappear completely in future versions of Windows.

To use the traditional Windows Backup features in Windows 8 you need to go to File History in the System and Security category. Once there you will see an option for Windows 7 File Recovery in the bottom left corner of the window. Another option is to switch to the Control Panel’s icon view and find the Windows 7 File Recovery option there. Once you are in Windows Backup/Windows 7 File Recovery you can create a system image, back up your libraries, or choose individual folders to back up. These steps can be used to back up other computers to your central storage or to back up your centralized files and folders to another location.

File History
File History is a feature we wish we had before deleting that massive Word document.

Another option to back up critical files in Windows 8 is by using the File History feature. File History is primarily used for backing files up from other computers to your centralized storage, but it offers some increased flexibility over traditional backups. File History can be configured by simply choosing the backup location and turning the feature on. In addition to having a backup copy of your files you also have the ability to open a previous version of a file. This is particularly handy if you’ve accidentally deleted something contained in a file, such as paragraphs from a document or a slide from a presentation.


Windows 8 is certainly a shift from previous versions of Windows, but it’s not all about the new interface and the start screen. If you know where to look there are some sweet new features that open up new possibilities in how we use our computers on a daily basis.

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Gigabyte Force M7 ThorWhat happens when you transform Thor into a mouse? You end up with an ultra-sensitive 6000 DPI sensor instead of a mountain-crushing hammer to dispense with the competition. Gigabyte’s new Force M7 Thor is the company’s newest Force Series product and it’s aimed at gamers looking for a professional grade gaming mouse, whether you’re a left-handed or right-handed user.

Sporting an ambidextrous design, the Force M7 Thor resembles some of Razer’s earlier rodents, albeit with its own unique flair that Gigabyte claims is ergonomic.

“The Force M7 Thor is a new design from Gigabyte dedicated for gamers who are looking for a professional grade gaming mouse straightforward with reliability, solidity and great performance. Stronger focus on the fundamental needs of gamers, Gigabyte designed Force M7 Thor to bring out comfort and durability under intense gaming session,” Gigabyte explains.

Force M7 Thor Sideways

Gigabyte’s newest rodent boasts 12,000 FPS image processing capability, a 3-stage DPI adjustable switch with blue LED indicators, five programmable buttons with SIM software, large “gaming grade” feet pads, and an ultra-durable USB cable.

No word yet on price or availability.

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Siemens Enterprise Communications has published a study discussing the state of collaboration and other business productivity tools. Not surprisingly, the study showed virtual teams still rely on legacy tools such as email and phones, and they are frustrated by current collaboration technologies. The survey was based on a sample of 320 responses, with answers coming in from nine countries across North America, Latin America and Western Europe.

Forget the CD and install Windows 8 with your flash drive 

A guide? To install Windows? Slapping a new operating system on your desktop or laptop PC should be old hat by now, right? This is Windows 8, after all: Odds are pretty good that you, an astute and well-travelled Maximum PC reader, have been around the ol’ Windows installation block a few times before.

And unlike previous versions of the operating system, Windows 8 doesn’t even need that much babysitting. Once you’ve set the installer application running, it’s off to the races: You can sit back, enjoy a nice beverage or a fun sitcom, and let Microsoft’s fantastically efficient OS installation routine do all the work. By the time your Windows 8 OS needs your input, you’re practically finished – but a few short steps, if not minutes, away from the tiled joy that is Windows 8 proper.

So, er, what does that leave us to talk about?

Plenty. Ditch your discs; we’re going to show you how to install Windows 8 from a USB key. 

Installing Windows 8 from a USB key

If you shun DVDs, love speedier installations, have a digital download of Windows 8, or just plain don’t have an optical drive – or are too lazy to hook one up – then it’s going to be a USB-based installation for you. And that’s just fine; it’s a great, quick way to get an operating system onto your hard drive and extremely useful if you, say, keep your Windows installation disc tucked away as an .iso on your network drive instead of thrown in one of your desk drawers.

The easiest way to accomplish this process is to already have your hands on a copy of Windows 8’s downloadable .iso file – acquirable by purchasing it from Microsoft itself. If you have a flash drive of the appropriate size (at least four gigabytes or greater, depending on whatever file Microsoft lets you grab), you’re golden. Insert your flash drive into a USB slot on your system, and then go grab Microsoft’s Windows 7 USB/DVD Download Tool – don’t let the name dissuade you.

Install the app and run it. It’ll ask you to select an .iso file to be “burnt” onto your USB key. Go ahead and select your Windows 8 .iso file – the fact that it’s not the right operating system as the tool’s name has absolutely no bearing on what you’re doing. 

Yes, we know, it says “Windows 7” download tool, but you can just ignore that part.

On the next screen, you’ll be asked whether you’d like to create a “Windows 7 backup” – again, ignore the name – on a USB device or DVD. Pick the obvious answer, select your USB key from the drop-down menu.

Select your USB device

When you’re ready to let ‘er rip, click on “Begin copying!”  If the tool needs to format your USB key first, it’ll let you know.

Couldn’t be easier, right?

Sometimes, however, the Windows 7 USB/DVD Download Tool mucks up – it might tell you that the .iso file you’re looking to “burn” isn’t actually a recognizable .iso file. You know it is; the Windows tool disagrees. Problem.

While some have been able to get around this issue by changing the actual filesystem of the .iso file itself – to UDF, for example – you’re going to need a tool like PowerISO to do so. And that’s not freeware. The last thing you should have to do is pay for the right to get a working, bootable Windows 8 installation on your flash drive.

Our solution? Do what the Windows 7 USB/DVD Download Tool is doing… by yourself.

Manually Installing Windows 8 from a USB key

Start by using a freeware app like Virtual CloneDrive to mount your downloaded Windows 8 installation .iso to a virtual drive within your current Windows OS. You can also use the technique we’re about to describe to create a USB-based Windows 8 installation flash drive from a Windows 8 DVD – just pop it in your actual optical drive.

Insert your USB key. Fire up a Command Prompt as an Administrator. Within the Command Prompt, load Windows’ built-in Disk Partition utility by typing in “diskpart” and hitting Enter.

Within the Disk Partition utility, you’ll want to start out by typing in “list disk” and hitting Enter. From there, note the drive number that corresponds to your flash drive – you’ll be able to tell, as the capacity of the listed drive should match the capacity of your USB key. It’s that easy.

Next, type in “select disk #,” where the pound sign is the drive number of your USB key that you just took note of. Hit Enter; DiskPart will select the aforementioned drive. Now, type in “clean” and hit Enter to remove any existing partitions that might already be on your flash drive. Once the cleaning process is done, type in “create partition primary” and hit Enter to do just that. Type in “select partition 1” and hit Enter to select your new partition, type in “active” and hit Enter, and then then type in “format FS=NTFS quick” to quickly reformat your partition with the NTFS filesystem. Type “assign” and hit Enter, and you’ll have finished making your USB key bootable!

Now, it’s time to copy your Windows 8 installation files from their drive – virtual or real – to your USB key. Close diskpart by typing in “exit” and hitting Enter. From the Command Prompt, type this in (minus the quotes and the final period): “xcopy x:\*.* y:\ /e /f /h.” In our example, however, the “x:\” designation should actually represent the drive letter of your mounted Windows 8 installation .iso file or physical DVD. The “y:\” should be the actual drive letter of your USB key. Once you’ve made those subtle alterations, hit Enter and let ‘er rip — all of the Windows 8 files will start transferring over to your USB key.

Installing Windows 8 — Upgrade or Clean?

Once you’re ready to install Windows 8 from your USB key, you’ll want to restart your computer and either boot into your motherboard’s BIOS or hit the associated hotkey that allows you to access the “Boot Menu” during POST. Regardless of which way you go about it, you’ll want to make sure that your system is set to first boot off of your USB key instead of your existing hard drive. To note: If you’re ever thinking of installing Windows 8 from its DVD, you’ll also go about this process to select your optical drive as the primary boot device.

Be on the lookout if your motherboard requires you to actually hit a key – any key on your keyboard – to confirm that you want to boot to your USB drive. From there, the actual Windows 8 installation process should look a lot like that which you’re already used to, if you’ve previously had to install Windows 7 or Windows Vista.

And now’s as good a time as any to talk about upgrading versus starting from scratch, since you’re likely to be presented with both of these options at the very beginning of the Windows 8 installation process.

Simply put, upgrading will allow you to keep a large chunk of your existing Windows 7 settings, files, and applications — or for Windows XP or Windows Vista users, just your files. If you’re coming from Windows 7, you can even select whether you want the entire process previously described, or if you’d rather Windows 8 just keep your personal files intact during the upgrade (essentially, anything in your Windows 7 user folder).

The Windows 8 installation process will alert you to any compatibility issues between existing programs or drivers you might have installed within your current operating system and Windows 8 – like additional USB 3.0 drivers, for example, since Microsoft’s already baked these into Windows 8 proper. Once the Windows 8 installation finishes, you’ll be treated to a Start Screen that should be full of the programs you were used to seeing on (for example) good ol’ Windows 7. The drivers? Migrated. Most of your settings? Still set.

Still, resist the urge to do it.

By that, we mean – a clean install of an operating system is always the best way to go for a very specific reason. Right now, your computer is likely full of crap. Applications you once installed and left behind, an old driver version or two that you’ve forgotten about, and just general OS bloat that can hit a variety of points around your operating system (from your start menu to your registry). Consider the installation of a new operating system to be kind of like the equivalent of spring cleaning in the real world. It gives you, and your poor PC, a chance to start anew.

Just think of the space you’ll have saved on your hard drive! The speeds you’ll achieve with a clutter-free operating system! You might lose a little sanity with your driver installations and application reinstallations — which, really, isn’t all that bad of a process if you make use of a little tool called Ninite — but you’ll be able to experience Microsoft’s brand-new OS completely unblemished. At least, unblemished until you start filling it up with all kinds of apps.

Goodbye, pretty Start Screen. We hardly knew thee.

David Murphy has played around with Windows 8 more than he’s played with his cat, Colbert, over the last month or so. Poor guy.

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GSkill MemoryHistorically speaking, if there’s one thing memory chip makers could count on, it’s that a new operating system from Microsoft would lead to double-digit percentage increases in quarterly DRAM shipments. That is, until now. According to IHS iSuppli, Windows 8 will have a positive impact in DRAM shipments, but quarterly growth this time around is expected to stay in single-digit territory.

IHS iSuppli predicts an 8 percent rise in DRAM shipments during the fourth quarter compared to the third. That figure takes into account DRAM for PCs, smartphones, and tablets. Why the sudden change? Part of the reason is because Windows 8 isn’t a resource hog.

“The release of a new Microsoft OS traditionally has been accompanied by more advanced system requirements, which then fuels growth in the DRAM market as more bits are shipped,” said Clifford Leimbach, analyst for memory demand forecasting at IHS. “However, starting with Windows 7 and continuing with Windows 8, Microsoft has taken a leaner approach with its operating systems, maintaining the same DRAM requirements as before. Meanwhile, consumers are continuing to eschew new PC purchases in the fourth quarter, with Windows 8 not expected to change this situation.”

DRAM demand was at its highest when Microsoft released Windows 2000. At the time, DRAM shipments jumped 49 percent sequentially. That number has steadily dropped with each new OS. The launch of Windows XP propelled DRAM shipments by 41 percent, while Vista and Windows 7 saw DRAM shipments increase sequentially by around 24 percent and 18 percent, respectively. IHS iSuppli says the rate of growth in DRAM shipments in the fourth quarter will be the lowest it’s been among all operating systems dating back to Windows 3.1, covering a span of more than two decades.

GSkill RAM

“All told, PCs will not be as important to the overall DRAM market moving forward,” IHS iSuppli says. “PC share in the DRAM space dipped below 50 percent for the first time earlier this year, while alternative devices using DRAM—such as smartphones and media tablets—are raising their usage and DRAM market share.”

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