Installing Windows Server 2016 Essentials (Part 1)

Downloading Windows Server 2016 Essentials

Head over to Microsoft Technet, where you should find evaluation editions of Windows Server 2016 available to download. As with the previous release, you can choose to download a dedicated version of Windows Server 2016 Essentials but if you wish to check out the Standard or Datacenter editions, you can subsequently install the Essentials Experience role at a later date.


Technical Preview 5 is the current (and final) preview release ahead of launch, but this will be replaced with the final bits later this month. Evaluation editions usually last for 180 days before expiry, giving you plenty of time to try out the features.

The download requires registration, after which you’ll be able to grab an ISO file.

Create Your Installation Media

You’re free to burn this ISO to a DVD, but it’s probably easier to install the software using a USB flash drive. Microsoft’s Windows USB/DVD Download Tool offers a quick and easy way to create a bootable USB drive with the operating system bundled. Download the tool, start the wizard, point at your ISO file, then your USB drive and it’ll do the rest for you. The same tool can be used to create an installation DVD, if you have an optical drive available.


Begin the Installation

With your trusty USB/DVD in hand, create your VM or, if you’re installing on dedicated hardware, slot in your media and power up the PC. I’ll be installing Windows Server 2016 Essentials in a Virtualbox VM (so I can grab screenshots of the installation process). I simply created a VM (using the Other Windows 64-bit option) with 4 GB RAM and a 120 GB hard drive – more than sufficient for a quick installation. Obviously, you can vary your own configuration to your needs.

You’ll see a brief loading status bar (that was too quick for me to capture) before a familiar looking panel appears. I left the defaults with US settings, but you can tailor language and other regional settings should you need to.


Just like in previous releases, you’ll be presented with a large Install now button, alongside an option to Repair your computer.


Click Install now and you’ll be greeted with a reassuring screen informing you that Setup is starting.


Your next job is to activate the software. On the Technet page you visited to download the software, you should have spotted an activation key for the evaluation release. If you didn’t, at the time of writing, it’s NYK9H-Y2FDB-2XKGC-F2XHK-WTT88 but expect that to change at some point.


You can choose to skip activation, but you will be required to enter a key at some point, so why not get the job done up front? Enter the key and hit Next.




  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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