Installing Windows Server 2016 Essentials (Part 1)

With Microsoft set to release Windows Server 2016 Essentials at the end of this month, I thought it would be a great time to take a look at platform. Those of you that have been running Windows Server 2012 Essentials or Windows Server 2012 R2 Essentials will be aware that Microsoft hasn’t done the best job of maintaining their “first server” platform. Support for Windows 10 clients, in particular, was slow to arrive and feature enhancements have been practically non-existent over the last few years.

So, the launch of Windows Server 2016 Essentials – alongside the Nano, Standard and Datacenter editions – gives the company the opportunity to start with a reasonably clean slate. In Part 1 of this series, we’ll get Windows Server 2016 Essentials installed (we’ll be using a preview edition for now) and then in subsequent posts, we’ll take a look at the features available.

If you want to install the platform yourself as we walk through the steps, head over to Microsoft Technet where you can find a free evaluation copy of Windows Server 2016 Essentials.

This walkthrough is part of our 625 page guide to Windows Server 2016 Essentials. Pick up a copy today!


System Requirements

Unlike with client editions of Windows, Microsoft do not publish “recommended” system requirements for Windows Server 2016 – given the breadth of environments and roles that are applicable to the platform (from headless nano servers, through prosumer or small business file servers up to datacenter applications and beyond) the recommended specs will vary wildly.

Instead, the company offers a minimum specification guideline with non-too-subtle hints that you’ll need to exceed these for a comfortable operation. Here’s what they have to say: 


Processor performance depends not only on the clock frequency of the processor, but also on the number of processor cores and the size of the processor cache. The following are the processor requirements for this product:


  • 1.4 GHz 64-bit processor
  • Compatible with x64 instruction set
  • Supports NX and DEP
  • Supports CMPXCHG16b, LAHF/SAHF, and PrefetchW
  • Supports Second Level Address Translation (EPT or NPT)

Coreinfo is a tool you can use to confirm which of these capabilities you CPU has.


The following are the estimated RAM requirements for this product:


  • 512 MB (2 GB for Server with Desktop Experience installation option)
  • ECC (Error Correcting Code) type or similar technology

Storage controller and disk space requirements

Computers that run Windows Server 2016 must include a storage adapter that is compliant with the PCI Express architecture specification. Persistent storage devices on servers classified as hard disk drives must not be PATA. Windows Server 2016 does not allow ATA/PATA/IDE/EIDE for boot, page, or data drives.

The following are the estimated minimum disk space requirements for the system partition.

Minimum: 32 GB

Network adapter requirements

Network adapters used with this release should include these features:


  • An Ethernet adapter capable of at least gigabit throughput
  • Compliant with the PCI Express architecture specification.
  • Supports Pre-boot Execution Environment (PXE).

A network adapter that supports network debugging (KDNet) is useful, but not a minimum requirement.

Other requirements

Computers running this release also must have the following:

  • DVD drive (if you intend to install the operating system from DVD media)

The following items are not strictly required, but are necessary for certain features:

  • UEFI 2.3.1c-based system and firmware that supports secure boot
  • Trusted Platform Module
  • Graphics device and monitor capable of Super VGA (1024 x 768) or higher-resolution
  • Keyboard and Microsoft® mouse (or other compatible pointing device)
  • Internet access (fees may apply)

You can, obviously, try out Windows Server 2016 Essentials  in a virtual machine before installing it on dedicated hardware. In fact, that’s an approach I recommend if you’re at all interested in checking out the platform. I’ve encountered various issues that have prevented me from installing Windows Server 2016 Essentials on my usual test hardware, but throwing up a test VM in Virtualbox worked just fine.

One note on the specifications listed above. I was slightly disconcerted to see that ECC (error checking) RAM was mandated in the minimum specifications. However, in the Test Preview 5 release I’m installing here, there doesn’t seem to be a hard stop if you go with standard RAM. That may chance in the final release, however. Otherwise, it’s all straightforward – I’d always recommend at least 4 GB RAM, preferably 8 GB+ for a Server Essentials configuration, with plenty of storage available, but you shouldn’t need to go crazy with an Intel Xeon CPU or similar unless you’ll be asking the server to do some serious processing. Even a modern dual or quad-core Intel Celeron should be sufficient for the basics.



  1. Do you know if there will there be an upgrade path from 2012R2? I guess I should clarify with “easy” or built in. MS hosed us on this the last time requiring a fresh install and “migration” which was quite the ordeal for “essentials” customers.

      1. I tried the upgrade path on a fully working Server Standard 2012 R2 with the Essentials role with a bunch of Win 10 anniversary edition clients… it took a handful of command lines to upgrade the Active Directory schema and the DC upgraded fine… however the Essentials Dashboard didn’t make the upgrade intact… it was completely empty, e.g., no clients showing (even though all the clients were still showing in ADUC), no users showing (there in ADUC too), and no shares showing (although they were certainly still active).

        Now I’ve started over with a clean install of Server Standard 2016 and turning on the Essentials role on the same hardware and most is working, but the Access Anywhere isn’t available from the outside (all is well in the router too – but that had to be hand configured – UPnP wasn’t offered in the set up this time). Another annoyance is that one of the clients now has an empty connector launchpad… what a painful upgrade this is becoming. 🙁

  2. Hi Terry,
    I tried to install Windows Server 2016 Essentials downloading from the evaluation site and using the Product Key on the site under Pre-Install information (Product Key on the site: R9N79-etc.. etc.. … -C36WX). It seems that the product key does not work. After several failed “unattended” attempts, I tried on an old computer and I realized the problem was with this product key on the site (I kept getting the message “This product key didn’t work…”). Did you get a special key? where did you download the software from with a proper key? I didn’t find any way to contact anybody on the site above.

    1. No special site – it was Microsoft’s download site. Now that the product has reached RTM, MS may well have updated the trial keys. The key mentioned in this post is for the Test Preview 5 release.

      1. Thanks for your quick reply. I’m trying to install it on my old HP EX487. I will put a message on the forum.

          1. K… I can confirm that after correcting the Product Key I’m a ‘happy’ user of Windows Server 2016 on my HP EX487. I was able to successfully install using the headlessunattend.xml example from the ISO download (don’t forget to rename to autounattend.xml as I did!). I was running in less than 30 minutes! I decided to set up the partitions after installation using Disk Management as I didn’t want to play much with the original headlessunattend.xml and run into other problems.

          2. Hi, I’ve got a DataVault X311, could you let me know where I can find the unattended file, and possibly some instructions too? Thanks!

          3. Hi,
            I’m trying to do a fresh install to an ex490 (to debug, I’m doing it before on an old computer). When using unattend it stuck on the key, but without unattend on the old computer with a screen the same key is accepted without question.

            An idea about that? Can you give your autounattend file? I use also the one provided in iso image in support\samples\headlessunattend.xml.


  3. Has anyone tried installing Server Essentials 2016 WITHOUT ECC RAM? I would hate to see that I can’t upgrade just because my hardware is consumer-based… ASUS H97-M motherboard, i3 CPU and “regular” RAM…

    1. My install has been to a machine to non-ECC…can’t say it’s been fully successful at this point. See my earlier comments in this thread…

  4. I have enjoyed this article, as I have considered 2016 Server Essentials as a replacement for my WHS 2011 backup system. I am, however, a bit confused as to the beginning info on system requirements. In the memory, it is stated that: ECC (Error Correcting Code) type or similar technology is required. My motherboard on my existing server does not support ECC…. so does this mean I have to make major hardware replacement? I don’t know what is meant by “or similar technology”? So can someone please elaborate?

  5. If you were to pick one reason to upgrade from 2012 R2 essentials to 2016 Essentials for a home server solution what would it be?

    1. Well, it certainly won’t be “enhanced media options”. The stand-alone installation of Media features does not work on 2016. I had to go with Plex instead, even though all I needed was a bit of light DLNA sharing.

      For me the reason to upgrade was better integration with newer Microsoft products and Azure services. But YMMV off course.

  6. I’m running two HP MS Gen8, one as Client Backup and File Server with WS 2012 Essentials and one as a media vault with the even older WHS 2011. What do you think, does it make sense performance wise to upgrade the WS2012E to WS2016E?

  7. HDD requirements of 32GB are not sufficient to install 2016 Essentials. Your text applies to the regualr version of Server 2016.

  8. I’m a proud home user of 2012R2 Essentials and would like to upgrade to 2016 Essentials. But I can’t find any information about the cost to upgrade anywhere. Is it free like the Windows 10 upgrade? Or do you have to buy completely new license?

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