Tranquil T7-HSA review

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For a product with such ambitious scope, we’ve been impressed by Windows Home Server so far. Based on the Windows Server 2003 R2 codebase, it’s Microsoft’s attempt to capitalise on the alleged 40+ million households globally with more than one PC. By centralising backup, storage and media hosting, as well as providing a web interface for remote file and PC access, Redmond is optimistic about its prospects – as are many of the manufacturers that plan to incorporate it into their products.

Tranquil T7-HSA review

We’ve been following the software closely since its announcement at CES in January 2007 (web ID: 110679, 115852), and it must be said that it’s shockingly easy to use and contains some interesting and innovative behind-the-scenes features, as well as being very stable. In particular, the dynamic storage system (christened Drive Extender) that eliminates individual volumes and drive letters, as well as ensuring specified folders are duplicated over several drives where present – something we’d love to see in Windows client versions, as it happens.

Now, just over a month after RC1 (the first release candidate), Windows Home Server has been released to manufacturing, with OEMs looking to get products out in the autumn. Big names such as HP, Fujitsu Siemens and Sony have been bandied about, but the very first Home Server device has come from UK-based Tranquil – a company well known at PC Pro for its commitment to low-power, low-noise PCs, which are often engineered from the ground up to ensure they’re both silent and cool-running.

With its size and looks, there’s nothing “standard PC” about the T7-HSA. Its pleasingly monolithic bulk is interrupted by nothing but a piercing (perhaps too much so) blue LED power light, with a discreet power button and disk activity indicator sitting next to it. The only other break in the steel and aluminium chassis is at the rear, with the mini-ITX motherboard revealing its ports through holes cut into the casing. Given its intended use as a headless device (no monitor, keyboard or mouse), many of these ports – the S-Video, composite and audio outs – are surplus to requirements, as is the serial port: we suspect future versions will use tidier, more specialised boards.

In the event of the system failing, you’d need a USB optical drive to reinstall the OS (although Tranquil is still considering how to implement support for this in the BIOS). The four USB ports are otherwise there to increase the available storage via external hard disks. As it stands, you get a decent 500GB (resulting in 354GB of usable space) via the internal hard disk, but since there’s only a single drive there’s no provision for folder duplication, so one of Home Server’s best features is left unused. Given how easy (and cheap) it is to add a USB disk – around £80 inc VAT for 500GB – it’s the first upgrade we’d make.

Although it’s running tantamount to a full-blown version of Windows, the T7-HSA actually has a very modest specification, based around a VIA C7processor running at 1.3GHz. That’s not comparable with the likes of a Core 2 Duo at this frequency, but with the OS minimum requirements reaching all the way down to a lowly Pentium III, neither is it a problem. And while we’d like to have seen 1GB of RAM rather than 512MB (32MB of which is used unnecessarily by the integrated graphics chip), we didn’t experience any performance issues when the T7-HSA was in use. The only other bottleneck – the use of 10/100 rather than Gigabit Ethernet – isn’t a real-world issue, either. We ran three simultaneous 720p HD video streams to different clients (plus a stream of music for good measure), and were pleased that everything continued running without any issues.

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