Although the Windows Home Server operating system has been available since 2007, the TS Mini is Asus' first WHS PC. We looked at the 1TB version which is due to cost around £349, while a 500GB version will be available for around £299. Early prototypes of the server were mounted on a swivelling stand, had a front-mounted status display and had a built-in DVD writer, but these extraneous features have been removed from the final version.
The server is roughly the size of a large hardback book and is fairly quiet in operation. Its two 40mm fans may be audible in a very quiet room, but they’re not loud enough to be intrusive.
Although WHS is designed to run on standard PC hardware, Asus has used a slightly unusual design for the TS Mini. It's built around a FlexATX Asus-manufactured motherboard fitted with 2GB of laptop RAM and an embedded Atom N280 processor – this is a 2.5W, single-core, Hyper-Threaded CPU. There's an onboard Gigabit Ethernet port and four USB 2 ports for connecting external hard disks. The USB ports can be used to add more storage to your network, or their contents can simply be backed up to a shared folder.
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Some WHS PCs from other manufacturers have their hard disks mounted in easily-removable hard disk trays, but getting to the TS Mini's 1TB SATA 3Gbps disk is a tedious hassle. Removing the screw-on side panel is easy enough, but yanking out the caddy holding the 1TB disk takes considerable force. The caddy has space for one additional disk.
Examining the cage reveals a bizarre arrangement – the 1TB disk is connected to a SATA controller card that plugs into the PCI Express 1x slot on the FlexATX motherboard. This ungainly arrangement makes it extremely difficult to reassemble the TS Mini, since it's impossible to visually align the card to the slot during re-insertion thanks to the large plate of metal that the disk caddy is attached to. This is tricky enough, but at the same time as aligning the tiny connector while essentially blind, you have to slide the fixings for the hard disk caddy in place too.
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Although the TS Mini has support for two hard disks, WHS doesn't support RAID of any kind. It does have a feature roughly equivalent to RAID 1 (mirroring) called folder duplication, though. This will automatically mirror shared folders of your choice onto the other disk, which is actually more flexible than RAID 1.
Sharing a USB printer among your networked computers is a simple task for most NAS devices, but it's inexplicably not supported under WHS. However, it's easy enough to get around this since WHS is based on Windows Server 2003. Since the WHS Connector configuration program is actually nothing more than a customised Remote Desktop client, it's simple to connect to the TS Mini using the standard Remote Desktop Connection program from a normal PC.
This gives you access to the standard Windows desktop, so printer sharing can be set up from there. Other WHS PC manufacturers block this Remote Desktop trick and instead require you to use a plug-in.
Like other WHS hardware manufacturers, Asus has included some of its own plug-ins, adding extra features to the standard WHS Connector interface. The Xtor Manager file browser, slightly reminiscent of Norton Commander, allows files to be copied to and from USB disks. It supports incremental, but not scheduled or versioned backups, limiting its usefulness. A separate plug-in gives access to 10GB of online storage, but given WHS's integrated remote access capabilities and inability to schedule backups of shared folders to online storage, it’s fairly redundant.