Hardware Compatibility for Windows Server 2012 Essentials

Following on from my spate of posts relating to Windows Server 2012 Essentials, I am working hard to test my configurations in a Hyper-V 3.0 VM on my desktop to ensure that I can migrate to Windows Server 2012 Essentials successfully without any hiccups.

Migrating my data on the current Windows Home Server 2011 is the biggest task, but not the biggest challenge. For me, ensuring that my hardware will work as I need is the biggest challenge because of my extremely bespoke build.

The first item on the agenda is the CPU. The system requirements from TechNet state that a 1.4GHz single core or a 1.3GHz dual core is required. Lucky, as I have a 1.6GHz dual core AMD E-350 Hudson processor. I’m a long way from the recommended 3.1GHz multi-core processor, but my primary target is still energy efficiency, so the E-350 processor exactly achieves that with an 18W TDP. If I find over time that CPU is my bottleneck then I will need to consider using slightly more watts and upgrade to something like the 35W TDP Intel i5 Mobile chipset but that will need a new motherboard too, so would cost a load to upgrade.

Next up is the memory; I currently have 4GB of the stuff. The minimum is 2GB but the recommended is 8GB. I know based of my current usage that my Windows Home Server 2011 machine that I am using about 70% of the physical memory, and with Windows Server 2012 being of more modern gravy, it is designed around lower I/O and more memory (as memory is super cheap these days), so I’ve decided to upgrade to 8GB, replacing my 2 x 2GB 1066MHz Corsair Value Select with 2 x 4GB 1600MHz Corsair XMS3. This new memory is faster than my current as at build time, Corsair didn’t sell the Value Select memory in anything above 1066MHz, and because the XMS3 memory is designed for gamers and overclockers, features like variable voltage, improved CAS latency and builtin heat spreaders should all help improve overall system performance and stability.

Next up is the network. This one could be interesting. I wrote a post back in August 2011 when I first built the new home server around circumventing the fact that the Intel drivers wouldn’t install on Windows Home Server 2011 (based on Windows Server 2008 R2) because I am using one of the older generation PCI-X cards which were discontinued. The driver physically works in Windows Server 2008 R2, shows as WHQL in Device Manager and all of the ANS features work too, but the .msi blocks it. I’m betting on the fact that by using the updated version Intel driver, designed for Windows and Windows Server 2012 that the same hack will work. In Windows Server 2012, I won’t be using the Intel ANS teaming driver for creating my 2Gbps SLA team though, but I will be using the native features in Windows Server 2012 which is one of the amazing new features. If that fails, then I will be using the onboard Realtek 1Gbps NIC for the short term while I acquire a replacement, more modern PCI-E dual port Intel NIC to replace my PCI-X one which run for about £40-£60 on eBay these days.

The final and most pivotal part of the build, the one which could ruin it all is the Leaf Computer JMicron JMB36x based SATA RAID controller. In Windows Server 2012 Essentials, I am re-modelling my storage architecture. This is the primary reason for my move to Windows Server 2012 Essentials so that I can take advantage of Storage Pools and Storage Spaces. After some debate and discussion with @LupoLoopy at work surrounding SATA IOPS and protection levels for data, we both agree my current setup of RAID10 for the data volumes is seriously wasting two of my 2TB disks and I am arguably wasting another two of them on the OS volume. I will be posting in full later to discuss and expose my storage strategy.

Back to the controller though, using my Windows Server 2012 Essentials Hyper-V 3.0 VM, I installed the driver using the Install Legacy Hardware option in Device Manager, and the latest driver version from the JMicron site installed successfully, without warning and still bears the WHQL mark even though it is a Windows Server 2008 R2 driver.

Am I happy? Very. With the exception of possibly the Intel NIC if my hack for the .msi restrictions doesn’t work and I need to buy a new one (although secretly, I would like to replace it with a PCIe one at some stage anyway), all of my hardware looks set and happy for Windows Server 2012 Essentials. So much more to do before I can start any work, but progress is progress after all.


Richard works as a Cloud Consultant for Fordway Solution where his primary focus is to help customers understand, adopt and develop with Microsoft Azure, Office 365 and System Center. Richard Green is an IT Pro with over 15 years' of experience in all things Microsoft including System Center and Office 365. He has previously worked as a System Center consultant and as an internal solutions architect across many verticals. Outside of work, he loves motorbikes and is part of the orange army, marshaling for NGRRC, British Superbikes and MotoGP. He is also an Assistant Cub Scout Leader.