Can a Magic, Do-It-All Windows Home Server Be Created at a Reasonable Price?

hp mediasmart serverI was just reading over many of the new comments added to Charlie Owen’s request (reported yesterday) for input on Microsoft’s Connected Home Strategy and found that a good portion of those were in regard to beefing up Windows Home Server (WHS) into an always-on, magic platform that will handle network PC backups, network PC media aggregation, home automation tasks, live TV distribution + recording, and media content streaming to extenders and networked Windows PC through a light-weight MCE front-end. In essence, people want to see MCE (including TV tuner support) merged into WHS and have one box handle all the workload.

Sounds good, right? But what does that translate to hardware wise? Let’s see you’re talking a minimum of 1-2TB of storage, at least 4GB of RAM, a multi-core processor (or possibly a dual multi-core processor board for the sheer computing power needed – especially if HD video is being streamed throughout the house), and then the most stable version of Windows ever created. Whew, now that’s a monumental task!

Now, the next question: If this magic WHS/MCE box were given the green light, who would make it and at what price point would you be willing to pay for it?

My 2-cents: Pricing would start at around $3,500 (3 to 4 times higher than the current HP MediaSmart with 1TB of storage [Amazon]) and go up from there if the customer wanted CableCARD (and hopefully DIRECTV) support.

I know it won’t happen, but I’d love to see Microsoft create their own box, similar to the Xbox strategy, to help subsidize the cost and provide a consistent experience and upgrade path for all owners.

UPDATE 1: From the first two comments posted, I want to make it clear that I’m not coming down on the idea of a do-it-all box, quite the opposite. I’d love to see a device like this for $2,000 on store shelves tomorrow. I’m just being realistic at estimating the price of such a device.

UPDATE 2: Chris Lanier weighs in with his post, “Would You Really Buy a Media Center Server?

Filed in: Digital Media Servers

5 Reactions to “Can a Magic, Do-It-All Windows Home Server Be Created at a Reasonable Price?”

  1. harddrive41 says:

    On your 2-cents:

    1 box that costs $3500 that does the job of 3 PC’s, Media Server, HTPC, Gaming/Home PC? Well then, that’s a bargin. There is a reason why the industry is pusing mult-core, virtualization etc. A PC/Workstation/Server that can do multiple tasks at once..etc.

    The issue is not the hardware, my friend, it’s the software that converages all these technologies together. You may think that this strategy would hurt MS, however, what MS isn’t seeing here is where the tech industry is going. End-users want convergance of multiple technologies into single devices, IE Smartphones where you had to have a Laptop, phone, mp3 player etc to handle all the tasks that a single smartphone can do today.

    That IS the light at the end of the tunnel. It’s the same with home pc users. They don’t want 3 different machines nor do they need them to accomplish the kind of functionality that they want.

  2. Mike Sheehan says:

    Let’s face it, consumers already spend thousands of dollars on computer hardware. I disagree this magical box would cost $3500 unless inteset or lifeware ran with the idea. In that case the cost you mention might well be a bargain by their standards.

    A cheap media center already costs $1500 and with a MediaSmart server, you’re already over 2k. What you don’t get for your money is an integrated solution. Need 2 more tuners for your house? Plan on dropping another $1500 and the cost of a technet subscription to figure out how to get the two boxes to share information.

    Running MCE as an app on a workstation is also a mistake. A workstation is good at doing a lot of things fairly well. A server tends to be geared toward accomplishing a more focused set of tasks, more reliable and scalable.

    With hardware continuing to come down in price, it isn’t far fetched to see a 1-2TB drive on the system. Multi-core processors are standard on most desktops. A WHS box wouldn’t likely be performing every possible task at once. Backups can run nightly when video streaming is not clogging the network. If video was an issue, GeForce cards are dirt cheap. Pair a couple 8000 series with SLI and you’ve got quite a bit of power at a very reasonable price.

    Clearly, there would be obstacles to overcome but I don’t think that is reason enough to reject the idea of convergence. The reality is that it is only a matter of when before this type of system emerges in the marketplace for the home. I would like to see MS be the first ones to get there.

  3. I hope I didn’t sound like I was coming down on a do-it-all box, I’m not. I want convergence! I suggested this idea for WHS back in January of this year and the general concept as early as Feburary of 2006. I completely agree that that’s where the industry — specifically Intel and AMD — would like to take us. In fact, it makes more sense to have that kind of computing power in a server unit than a PC that typically won’t take full advantage of its processing horsepower.

    My only issue is the price (and, of course, seeing if Microsoft is willing to create such a software platform — Note: WHS is not built on top of Vista).

    How much would you be willing to spend for such a device and with what baseline features (assuming you couldn’t build one of your own)? Also consider which tasks the device will most likely be handling under your ideal connected home scenario.

    One major stumbling block that I can think of right off the bat is the processing power required for multiple live HD video streams to be fed to various TV extenders in the house, as well as, record programming all at the same time. This task alone is a major feat, in my opinion. I’m not saying it’s impossible, but it’s a feature that would shoot the price up considerably.

  4. bobbo33 says:

    Isn’t the SageTV Home Server for Windows Home Server announced earlier this week exactly this solution? I know it’s not Microsoft-centric (gasp), but now that SageTV has QAM support, it almost does everything that MCE does today.

    The only exception is cable-card for premium channels, but until the bugs are worked out of OCUR support in MCE, that won’t be widespread anyway. (And it seems that DirectTV support is vaporware at this point.)

    Personally, I use BeyondTV at home and love it. All this debate over hardware extenders is rendered moot when a software extender is available. As soon as BTV announces official support for WHS, I’m making the leap. Headless WHS, 4 HD tuners, terabytes of storage, software extenders (HP Pavilion Slimline) in every room…

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