Windows Server in a house of Macs?

Hello all!

We’re a house of Macs and Apple devices with one lone Windows laptop which we decommissioned but has some life left.

I was hoping to convert it to a home server but did not know if it was possible, compatible and if yes, how do I begin.

It’s a 2017 i5 1.7 GHz, 8GB RAM and 1TB HDD (happy to upgrade individual components if it makes sense).

Now, the purpose of creating a file server is the need for simplicity for -

→ Backing up two MacBooks (both with carbon copy cloner but backups are a mess)
→ Run a small plex server, mostly of home videos and photos
→ centralized file repository

We also have a messy external disks situation, with 1 Samsung T7 1TB SSD, 1 WD 3TB powered HDD and one 4TB Toshiba HDD. the Samsung holds the data and the other two are backup drives.

I only have Wifi access at the moment (no ethernet), and not interested in investing in a NAS or a new Mac Mini for a server.

My questions are -

  1. How can I simplify my setup?
  2. Is a Windows-based file server possible in a house of Macs?

Kindly advise. Appreciate the communities’ feedback as always.


Yes. When Apple abandoned the Xserve I switched over to Windows Servers and none of my Mac users noticed a thing.

I did have to tell them not to use special characters in their file and folder names (see below), but it was never a major problem. When someone forgot I logged into the server and corrected the file name.

Set up shared folders for your Macs the same as you do for Windows users.

  < (less than)
  > (greater than)
  : (colon - sometimes works, but is actually NTFS Alternate Data Streams)
  " (double quote)
  / (forward slash)
  \ (backslash)
  | (vertical bar or pipe)
  ? (question mark)
  * (asterisk)

Don’t use Windows for a server. Put Linux on that machine and you will be much better off.


Did you purely you this method for files/documents? Are Mac backups possible with this setup?

And how did you setup the file server? Could you point me to resources/guides to achieve this?


If you are willing to play and learn then Linux is probably a better solution.

A starting point could be TrueNAS (used to be called FreeNAS). Info


I would compare the power consumption of this laptop with, e.g. the consumption of a Raspberry Pi.
It might that you can serve some power, and therefore costs, if you go with a Raspberry instead as a server solution, and maybe even sell the laptop to gain the money to build that server.

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I’d 3rd putting linux on it. Ubuntu 20.04 (or 22.04) server would work very well on this device.
If you want to quickly run Plex and other apps maybe think of putting those in Docker containers and run them from there? (or put ProxMox on it and run them in VM’s)

for backup: SyncThing or Duplicati
for Movies: Plex or Jellyfin
file repo: Nextcloud

(I’d always suggest running the OS from an SSD btw)


Yes. We had other Windows/Linux/Unix servers and an IBM midrange handling voice, email, etc. The Xserve/Xserve RAID was just for serving files.

If you prefer to learn Linux, it can be used to set up an excellent file server. But, if your Windows computer is currently running OK and is attached to your network you can create a shared folder and see if it will work for you, as is.

The instructions you need to share a folder start at 5:15 into the video. And end at 6:20. Everything after 7:00 really doesn’t apply to a laptop. (And no, don’t factory reset your laptop. Once you become proficient you can decide if you want to do that.)

Sharing external drives is basically the same as sharing folders on your C: drive, but I suggest you start with a folder on C: Then copy some files from a Mac to your PC. Then copy them back to your Mac, make a couple of edits, and repeat the process to prove to yourself that everything is working as expected.

If this works for you, think about uninstalling any software you will no longer be using.

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If you’re most comfortable with Windows, it’s perfectly fine to accomplish what you want in Windows.

That’s exactly what I do and then some. I have shared folders and backup 2 mac notebooks using Arq. I also run homebridge, a VM for jitsi, plex, and Docker for other containers.

As many have mentioned Linux or a Nas OS (Truenas, unraid, OMV), might be a more proper way. I dabbled in Unraid, but it didn’t quite do what I needed, plus I still play games.


you can also consider which is a basic Freenas of old before it got way too complicated . also a stright samba server in linux will be fine .
updated macos systems will talk with windows systems without a problem . legacy mac systems and adobe suite can be problemtic and you will need to use AFP protocols .

My suggestion would be to see if Windows can do the things you want it to do before going too nuts, unless you want a little project to work on.

I am reasonably comfortable with linux, but after having set up a home server before I have realized that even if I can, I don’t want to tend to a server very much. The novelty wears off quickly. This time I went with UnRaid, which is linux but set up to be a headless server with an absolute minimum of fuss. I’m very happy with it.


For Plex, Wi-Fi is not enough. Large files will take forever for backups too.

When I accidentally disconnect my Plex server from Ethernet it buffers and stutters playing 1080p with ‘connection problems’, especially with high quality files.

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Me neither. I did that for 25 years and now keep 90% of my data in the cloud.

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That has been my approach, but at times having a local copy, especially personal media is extremely valuable to me.


I’m a big fan of unRAID, having been running it for about 2.5 years now for exactly what you’re wanting to do. I originally had a Synology and it was unbearably slow and once in a while just would fail to connect etc. That was even when running locally on ethernet at both the Synology NAS and at the endpoint computers. Didn’t help that I had one of the cheaper units they sold at the time but it was so atrociously bad yet still pretty darn pricey even without drives that there was no way I was going that route again. Got fed up and decided to spin up an old laptop with linux and use that. That works very well but of course a lot of initial setup/config on your part. Before switching back to macOS I was running linux as my primary desktop so no learning curve needed on my end but YMMV.

Eventually I stumbled upon unRAID and decided to give it a go. Have not looked back. It just works and updates are pretty rare (to the base OS). I’ll go into it once in a while and update the docker-based Plex but that’s about it.

One caveat - even though there are ways to expose an unRAID server to the public/internet, and the unRAID devs are now offering functionality to enable that and looks like they are going to head more into that direction, if you need to be able to access it remotely aside from enabling Plex for remote access then I’d look at something else. But if backups, file sharing/storage locally, plex, and some other use cases are what you’re looking for then it’s ideal. I believe it’s $59 for a lifetime license. Runs on a USB key and is blazing fast and really not difficult to setup at all.

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