Hands-On: Leo Computer Piranha Home Server
Model: Piranha Home Server Manufacturer: LEO Computer
Website: http://www.leo-computer.de/ Price: TBC

leo_piranha 

Whilst Windows Home Server may very much be a product of the United States (supported by some of their friends over at Microsoft China), it has been Europe that has led the way developing and launching hardware systems for the platform. Within Europe, the UK and Germany are front and centre in releasing home server systems, with companies such as Tranquil PC, Fujitsu-Siemens and Medion having released, or about to release hardware to the marketplace.

Back in November 2007, Microsoft announced a series of new partnerships with OEMs, and tucked amongst them was an agreement with German OEM, LEO Computer, who were set to release their Piranha Home Server in Germany towards the end of 2007. I’m pleased to say that LEO agreed to ship one of their home server’s across Europe to the UK, so your good friends at We Got Served could take a look.

A Little About LEO

LEO Computerhas been around for about 15 years, selling a range of business and consumer oriented PCs directly to the trade market in Germany, Austria and Holland. Their systems sell under the Delphin (Business) and Piranha (Consumer) brands, across a variety of hardware resellers in the three countries mentioned. They do have a history in selling servers to business under the Delphin brand, and, as you would imagine, this is their first home server to hit the market. Here’s how we got on with it.

What’s In the Box?

Leo Computer Piranha Home Server 001 (1024x768) Leo Computer Piranha Home Server 003 (1024x768) Leo Computer Piranha Home Server 005 (1024x768) Leo Computer Piranha Home Server 008 (1024x768) Leo Computer Piranha Home Server 009 (1024x768) Leo Computer Piranha Home Server 010 (1024x768)

Interestingly, the system we were sent from Germany was shipped in an Aopen G325 box, which is a dead giveaway of where the chassis has come from. The G325 is a multi-purpose chassis that Leo have used for their Piranha Home Server – whilst this means that you’re blessed with a variety of connectivity choices (see later), don’t be fooled that this is a dedicated server chassis, so matter how it may look in the photos.

The package I received was an extremely spartan affair – the system was well packaged and protected, and came with a German OEM edition of Windows Home Server, plus a copy of the G325’s driver CD, which is always extremely useful. However, that was it. No power cable, no ethernet cable, no instructions. Now, it may be that LEO’s partnership agreements mandate the reseller to provide these extras – let’s hope so, because if a beginner buys one if these machines packaged in this way, well, they may struggle to get up and running. So far, so basic. In our last hardware review of Tranquil PC’s T2-WHS-A3 I was left unimpressed with the quality of the enclosed manual, but at least they’ve had a go at providing documentation!

First Looks

Leo Computer Piranha Home Server 012 (1024x768) Leo Computer Piranha Home Server 015 (1024x768) Leo Computer Piranha Home Server 017 (1024x768)

The Piranha Home Server is a pretty good looking system – the Aopen G325 chassis is not the smallest of units, but it’s square form factor suits its purpose well as a home server. The chassis itself is metallic, but the grab handles at the top are made of plastic  – whilst they’re very handy for moving the system around, they do feel quitye cheap each time you pick the unit up. The very good news is that the unit wasn’t the silver and red boy-racer design as shown on the box, and better still, does not have the badly sized Windows Home Server logo you see on Piranha’s press shots (see top of page).

On the front of the unit are 3 pull-down plastic flaps, which hide (from top to bottom) a DVD-RW drive, 15 in 1 card reader (for SD/ Compact Flash cards etc) and at the bottom. a microphone and headphone socket, two front USB ports and a blanked off firewire port. Whoever wrote the Windows Home Server logo requirements would be decidedly gloomy if they saw this unit, as a headless, refined home server specification this isn’t. Whilst on first looks,. the added connectivity seems like a bonus, this is all kit that you’re paying for in the list price, which you probably won’t ever use.

The front panel is finished by a silver DVD Eject button, a central power button and three cool blue edge lit lights which illuminates the front of the unit when powered on. Bizarrely though, there are no hard drive access lights. All in all, a great looking, but oddly configured chassis for a home server.

Around the Back

When you get around the back, you realise how they’ve managed to keep the unit looking pretty tidy from the front. It’s because the PSU isn’t actually in the main chassis, but is hanging off the back like some bizarre growth!

Leo Computer Piranha Home Server 018 (1024x768) Leo Computer Piranha Home Server 020 (1024x768) Leo Computer Piranha Home Server 028 (1024x768)

Now, I know this is a home server, and, in many cases, will hide under the stairs but in this case it really needs to. This is one server with a big backside 🙂 There will be those that tell you (mainly marketers from AOpen, I guess) that hanging the PSU off in this way is deliberately designed to reduce heat and improve ventilation – and, to be fair, the system runs relatively cool with not too much noise. That’s pretty remarkable as other than the fan sitting atop of the processor’s heatsink, the only other fan in the Piranha Home Server is the PSU fan, so it has a lot of work to do to keep things cool – it looks like Piranha specced a decent fan, so good job there – but you’re going to want to look at this server from the front, on an ongoing basis. Thankfully, cooling is helped by a series of large perforations on each side of the unit, which therefore leads to a little more noise, but it’s not distracting.

Leo Computer Piranha Home Server 024 (1024x768) Leo Computer Piranha Home Server 026 (768x1024) 

Connectivity opens are as a standard, basic desktop at the rear. Once again, forget all pretence of being headless, and let’s have a Parallel port, PS2 mouse and keyboard ports, a VGA monitor port, 3.5mm microphone, and audio sockets four USB ports (at last, something useful) and an ethernet socket. For expansion, there’s also 4 PCI slots available, if you fancied popping in a few expansion cards. No attempt is made to conceal any of these sockets like we’ve seen on other units – this is a desktop system through and through which has been re-purposed for home server usage. Whether it succeeds or not depends on what’s inside.

Under the Hood

 Leo Computer Piranha Home Server 032 (1024x768) Leo Computer Piranha Home Server 033 (1024x768) Leo Computer Piranha Home Server 034 (768x1024) Leo Computer Piranha Home Server 038 (768x1024)Leo Computer Piranha Home Server 039 (768x1024)

If you open up the chassis, you won’t find a lot of room in there, as there’s a lot packed in to a smallish space. The build itself is relatively neat, with cables all appropriately cable tied to keep everything tidy. Let’s take a look at the specs:

Minimum Spec MS Recommended Spec Piranha Home Server WGS View
Processor      
1 GHz Intel Pentium 3 (or equivalent) 64-bit Compatible Intel Pentium 4, AMD x64 or newer Intel Celeron 430 (1.8GHz, 512KB, Conroe)

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RAM      
512 Mb 512Mb 2x 512MB DDRII PC667

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Hard Drives      
1 x 70Gb Internal (ATA, SATA or SCSI) 2 x Internal with a 300Gb primary hard drive 2 x 250GB Seagate Barracuda ES ST3250620NS

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Network      
100 Mbps Ethernet 100 Mbps Ethernet or faster 100 Mbps Ethernet

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Motherboard      
N/A N/A Foxconn 45CM-S V+A+L
  • 1 x PCIe 16x
  • 1 x PCIe 1x
  • 2 x PCI 32-Bit
  • 2 x DDRII 667/533/400MHz / max. 2GB Dual Channel
  • 1 x Parallel
  • 1 x Serial
  • 4 x SATA
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    USB 2.0 Ports      
    N/A N/A 2 x Front & 4 x Rear

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    eSATA      
    N/A N/A

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    The Piranha Home Server is based on the Foxconn 45CM-S motherboard, which is a great value Socket 775 Micro ATX board for Intel processors. It’s compatible with a wide range of processors, from the older Pentium 4 and Pentium D chips through the fitted Celeron class, all the way up to the more powerful Core 2 Duo range, so you have future upgrade options available to you if you need a little more grunt in the future.

    We’re seeing an increasing number of home servers being fitted with the Celeron processor, and the 1.8GHz Celeron 430 should be absolutely fine for all of your home server needs, including media serving to home computers and DMRs around the house. Resellers may offer upgrade options, but at this point, they shouldn’t really be needed.

    The Foxconn board comes fitted with 1 Gb of RAM, which increasingly we think is the minimum recommended for the comfortable running of Windows Home Server. Once again, going forward, you have the option of upgrading the memory right up to 2Gb if required.

    Storage comes via two 250Gb Seagate Barracuda hard drives, which gives the average user a great starting point for backing up their hard drives. It’s great to see the selection of two drives, rather than one 500Gb drive, as it means that the user can take advantage of Windows Home Server’s Folder Duplication technology right out of the box. There are two spare SATA sockets on the board, and whilst internal space for additional drives would be a challenge, adding extra internal hard drives is theoretically possible. Switching to 500Gb/1Tb drives is probably a better bet if you need extra in the future, or you can utilise one of the six (2 x Front, 4 x Rear) USB sockets available for external hard drives.

    The lack of Gigabit Ethernet will annoy most power users running their networks with a Gigabit router and switches – I generally have little trouble running my network on 10/100 Ethernet, with audio and video streaming working well. If you’re planning to be streaming a lot of HD video, however, you may need to consider this carefully, although spare PCI slots are available for a Gigabit network card if you want to upgrade.

    The Piranha is not a silent server – the provision of a single fan helps keep noise down, but this is offset by a lot of ventilation holes punched into the sides of the chassis – bear in mind this is basically a desktop computer re-purposed as a server, and as such, it sounds like a desktop when running. Definitely not distracting if you’re using it in a room with other computers, but if it’s on its own, you’ll certainly know it’s there.

    In all, the Piranha provides an ideal starter specification to run Windows Home Server well, with reasonable options for future expansion across all areas of the hardware.

    Running Windows Home Server

    As mentioned, the system is packaged with the German OEM edition of Windows Home Server. On first boot, the Piranha has to self-install a couple of drivers for the Foxconn board which requires a server reboot, but once that’s done, you can install the Home Server Connector in the usual way on yout home computers around the house. As the system has USB and VGA ports on board, you can connect a keyboard, mouse and monitor if you want direct access to the home server. If you do this, you’ll see the server’s system clock is strangely set to GMT -12, but this corrects as soon as you install the Conncector CD on your home computers and the server is able to access the internet.

    One thing I’d like to see corrected is that the server ships without the Windows Home Server November Update installed, meaning that the user has to apply these updates manually – I’m all for OEMs keeping their WHS builds bang up to date, so this is a point knocked off for laziness 🙂 

    As mentioned earlier, Piranha do not supply any additional information in terms of a manual or user guidance on installing, configuring or using Windows Home Server, so if you’re a beginner who is looking for more detailed documentation on using WHS, then it’s a good idea to pick up a Windows Home Server book as well as the home server itself, as Piranha aren’t likely to do the job for you.

    Verdict

    If you’re a European (German/Austrian/Dutch) user seeking a well specified (if a little quirky) home server, with good future expansion options and are happy to dive into to using the server without too much support, then the Piranha Home Server is a well-built, carefully considered system that ticks most boxes. It gives all the feel of a self-build home server, without any of the workload. Just position it carefully so you don’t have to look it from the rear! 

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    5 comments

    1. Hey! That’s my server! Hah! I beat Leo to the punch! 😉
      I live in Japan and bought a new PC last year. When I bought the PC, I got the 120 day evaluation thrown in. Rather than let it go to waste I decided to pop down to my local electronic store and pick up a little OS free PC to test out WHS. And the Leo desktop PC is what I went for! The specs are almost identical, except that it came with 2GB of RAM and only 1 500GB HDD, and no OS of course – all for just under 200 pounds. Every thing else looks identical to me. You’re right about the noise, but I have it hidden away so it doesn’t bother me too much…but I know it’s there.
      The only problem I have had with it is the Network Warning – Hard disk failing. Scary seeing as it’s new. This warning vanishes when I reboot the server. The HDD in my box is a Samsung. I’ve bought the OEM now and hopefully that will get rid of this error. Fingers crossed. Doesn’t seem to be a rel problem, but it is irritating.
      And a bit of a warning, mine came with a big sticker plastered on the box “The fins on the top of this PC are for decorative purposes only and should not be used for lifting” They look like handles to me! Maybe they’ve strengthened the design…but I’d be wary of using them to move the wee fella about! That back end IS as heavy as it looks.

    2. Not the best WHS box I have seen. With the units foot print I can imagine it being diffucuilt to place in the home, in say a cupboard / unit. Why did they only include a 10/100 Nic? These days surely any new system would have 10/100/1000 Nic.

      RB

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