Windows Server: how to use as a desktop PC

Windows Server is an server operating system whose primary function is to run on server hardware, or serve content to users from a dedicated computer. While Windows Server might contain software and features specifically for business purposes, in the end it is still considered to be just another Windows desktop operating system. Albeit with a few limitations and differences.

Software compatibility

Some software designed for a regular Windows operating system may not work on Windows server. These kinds of software perform operating system checks during or after installion when opening the program. This used to be a problem back in the early days, but compatibility is starting to bear fruit as of the current version of Windows Server 2019.

Driver compatibility for desktop use

Depending on the computer that you own and how old it might be, the drivers that come with Windows Server may not work properly. It also may not be available for older devices. In this case, you will need to search online for drivers from the manufacturer’s website and install them manually.

Note: For Windows Server 2019/2016, you will need drivers for Windows 10. Windows Server 2012->Windows 8.1, etc.

Default configuration in Windows Server

By default, a lot of configuration options in Windows Server have either been disabled since they’re not needed in a server or optimized to serve content. Luckily, these can easily be fixed with just a few tweaks which we will be covering a little later in this guide.

Installation

For installation, it’s best if you refer to my previous guide right here. Instructions are included as well as where to download Windows Server 2019 which is what we’ll be using in this guide. Once you’re done installing Windows Server 2019, come back here to continue.

Windows Server as a desktop and Windows audio

By default Windows Server doesn’t have working audio. At the bottom in the notifications area, you will notice a sound icon with an “x” mark right next to it. Right-click on it and select sounds.

You will then be asked if you want to enable the “Windows Audio Service”. Click “Yes”. The “Sounds” window will open up and your audio should be working at this point. If it isn’t working, then you may be missing some drivers and will need to install them manually. Most of the time your sound device is made by Realtek and their drivers can be download from here.

Background Processes

Windows Server by default prioritizes programs that are running in the background, while leaving the ones in the foreground(web browser, etc) to be throttled. On a high-end system this may not be noticeable, unless you do plan on running intensive tasks such as gaming or rendering. In order to change the priority, right-click on the Start Menu and click “Search”.

Type in “Control Panel” and click on it at the top. You will then need to click on “System”.

Click on “Advanced system settings” to the left.

Under the “Performance” section, click “Settings…”.

The “Performance Options” window will open up. Under the “Visual Effects” tab, select “Adjust for best performance”. This allows us a much smoother experience and reducing resource consumption.

Next, click on the “Advanced” tab.

Under “Processor scheduling” select “Programs”. Now Windows Server will always prioritize programs running in the foreground.

After, click on the “Data Execution Prevention” tab.

We will then select “Turn on DEP for essential Windows programs and services only”. This will help prevent any unnecessary complications when running our desktop software.

Click “Apply” at the bottom, and then click “OK”.

Remove CTRL+ALT+DEL at login

Those who have no need for the this or are bothered by it can simply disable it through “Group Policy”. Group Policy gives us more flexibility when it comes to configuring our Windows installation. For now, go to Start Menu->Run. Type in “gpedit.msc” in the box and click “OK”.

You should now be in the “Local Group Policy Editor”. Here you can configure tons of policies(in other words settings) for Windows. Under the left navigation pane click on Computer Configuration-> Windows Settings->Security Settings->Local Policies->Security Options.

It should look something like this:

As you can see where it says “Interactive logon: Do not require CTRL+ALT+DEL, double-click on it.

You are now at the properties window for this particular policy. To understand more about it, you can click the “Explain” tab for a detailed explanation. By clicking the “Enabled” option below in the “Local Security Setting” tab, you will no longer be required to press CTRL+ALT+DEL when logging into your Windows Server computer.

Click “Apply”, and then “OK” to exit properties.

Shutdown Event Tracker

Windows Server includes a feature called “Shutdown Event Tracker”. When a shutdown is initiated on your PC, you will be prompted to specify a reason why you are doing it. This can be a nuisance if you plan on using Windows Server as a desktop. In order to disable this notification at shutdown, we will be doing it once more through Group Policy.

For this one, we are going into Computer Configuration->Administrative Templates->System. From there, we are going to scroll down to the bottom until it looks like this:

Double-click on “Display Shutdown Event Tracker”.

The properties window will now open. It looks different from our CTRL+ALT+DEL configuration. The “Options” section will only be available upon click “Enabled” at the top which opens up additional parameters for this policy. We are going to be selecting “Disabled”, therefore the notification will not be displayed anymore when shutting down your computer. Click “Apply” and “OK” to close.

Turn off IE Enhanced Security Configuration

This setting prevents you from surfing the internet. In order to disable it, you will need to open “Server Manager” from the Start Menu and click “Local Server” on the navigation pane to the left. You are at the server properties section. Look for the following on the right-hand side:

Click on the word “On” right next to “IE Enhanced Security Configuration”.

Click on “Off” for both “Administrators” and “Users”. This should only act as a temporary solution until you install a different web browser. It is recommended that you turn it back on afterwards, unless you have applications that depend on Internet Explorer functionality.

Memory Compression

This feature has been introduced in more recent versions of Windows. It allows for memory to be compressed and stored within RAM instead of the hard drive, which improves overall performance. In order to take advantage of this feature, right-click on the Start Menu->Search. Type in the word “Powershell”, right-click on “Windows Powershell” and select “Run as administrator”.

Once you’re there, type in the following:

Enable-MMAgent -MemoryCompression

Press enter to execute the command. Then right-click on the Start Menu->Task Manager. Click on “More details” if you haven’t used it yet and select the “Performance” tab. You will then click on the “Memory” section. Where it says “In use”, it should also say (compressed) meaning that it has been successfully enabled.

Windows Photo Viewer

Windows Server 2019 does not have the standard Windows Photo Viewer enabled by default. While you can enable it by other means, there are also alternatives around that perform, if not better. One example would be IrfanView which is very easy to use while being versatile.

Prevent Server Manager loading at Windows startup

Last but not least, you can stop Server Manager from loading when logging into Windows Server.

Open up Server Manager and click “Manage” at the top and then “Server Manager Properties”.

Click on “Do not start Server Manager automatically at logon”, and click “OK” to close.

You have now successfully configured Windows Server for desktop use.

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