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How to build your own Windows Home Server rig

By Michael Brown
April 2, 2009 12:00 PM ET

No DVD drive? Installing WHS from a USB drive

If the machine on which you wish to run Windows Home Server lacks a DVD-ROM drive and you don't have a portable DVD drive that connects via USB, you can copy the installation disc to a bootable USB flash or hard drive and use that instead. You will need to reformat the drive you intend to boot from, so be sure to back up any data from the device before you proceed.

You'll need a PC running Windows Vista in order to do this with a USB flash drive, and the drive must have least 2GB of capacity. If you have access only to a PC running Windows XP, you'll need to use a USB hard drive because XP isn't capable of creating a bootable USB flash drive. (In truth, there are convoluted work-arounds for this limitation, but they are beyond the scope of this article.)

Whichever device and operating system you use, you'll need administrator access.

1. Click the Start menu, All Programs, Accessories and then right-click on Command Prompt to run the program as an administrator. A black-and-white command prompt window should now appear on your screen.

2. Type diskpart in this window and hit the Enter key. The command prompt should change to

DISKPART>

3. Type disk list at the command prompt and hit the Enter key. A list of all the disks connected to your computer should now appear. Make a note of the number assigned to the disk you wish to reformat. (You can identify the USB drive by its capacity, which will most likely be different from that of your other drives.) We will reformat that drive in the next step, erasing everything on it, so make sure you've selected the right drive before proceeding.

Find the drive you want to reformat
Find the drive you want to reformat
Click to view larger image

In this example, the USB drive we intend to use as a boot disk is identified as Disk 2. When you type the following commands, replace "2" with whatever number is assigned to the drive you're using.

4. At the DiskPart command prompt, type select disk 2 (again, it's critical that you use the correct number that's assigned to your drive) and hit the Enter key. The DiskPart program will respond with the message Disk 2 is now the selected disk.

5. Type clean and hit the Enter key. The DiskPart program will respond with the message DiskPart succeeded in cleaning the disk.

6. Type create partition primary and hit the Enter key. The DiskPart program will respond with the message DiskPart succeeded in creating the specified partition.

7. Type select partition 1 and hit Enter. The DiskPart program will respond with the message Partition 1 is now the selected partition.

Reformatting the USB drive
Steps for reformatting the USB drive
Click to view larger image

8. Type active and hit Enter. The DiskPart program will respond with the message DiskPart marked the current partition as active.

9. Type format fs=fat32 and hit Enter to instruct DiskPart to format the drive using the FAT32 file system. When the program has finished formatting the disk, it will respond with the message 100 percent completed. DiskPart successfully formatted the volume.

10. Type assign and hit Enter to instruct DiskPart to assign a drive letter to your disk. The program will respond with the message DiskPart successfully assigned the drive letter or mount point.

11. That was the last step in the disk-preparation process, so type exit and hit Enter to leave the DiskPart program. You can now close the command prompt window by typing exit and hitting Enter a second time.

12. Now copy the entire contents of the Windows Home Server installation disc to your portable drive. Grab a cup of coffee while this is happening, because it will take 20 to 30 minutes.

13. When it's finished, plug the USB drive into the machine you want to transform into your server, reboot it from that drive, and install the operating system just as you would from a DVD.

Michael Brown, a freelance journalist living in northern California, has been writing about computers and technology since 1987. He can be reached at brownmdj@gmail.com.

Read more about Data Center in Computerworld's Data Center Topic Center.



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