By Toby Digby and Ed Tittel
It isn't often we get the chance to cover a brand-new product in the Holiday Buyer's Guide, but as we were putting our product list together this year, HP's MediaSmart Server percolated to the top of our list for many reasons. First, it's a usable home networking system that combines the best of network-attached storage services, automated network backup, and media streaming for the whole household. Second, it's affordable and reasonably speedy: a 500 GB version goes for around $550, and a 1 TB version for around $710. Third, it's the first OEM product on the street - in North America anyway - to showcase Microsoft's brand-new Windows Home Server offering, perhaps better known as WHS.
The product didn't ship until after the photo shoot with Sarah, so sadly she's missing from this snap.
Essentially, the MediaSmart Server offers a central location for a whole family's multimedia and data files. In addition to its storage capabilities, it also offers one of the easiest backup solutions around. This box handles up to ten individual user accounts, each with its own set of file access privileges (set at the shared folder level, these include Read/Write, Read Only, or No Access). Install the client software on every machine on your network, and it is backed up automatically every night. Should you need to recover any system, that too is a breeze: simply use the recovery disk provided with the unit to boot the PC, and the MediaSmart Server performs a complete, bare-metal recovery across the network.
When it comes to managing media, the MediaSmart Server really excels. It works with many systems to stream media to suitable devices for watching and/or listening, as long as they can interact using the Intel-based digital media adapter (DNA) architecture, supported as part of Intel's Digital Living Network Alliance (DLNA). The kinds of devices that support this architecture are many and legion, and include not only Intel ViiV and Windows Media Center, but a great many networked media devices from other companies as well. This includes Linksys, Netgear, D-Link and Slingbox on the streaming side, as well as lots of HDTV sets, DVD players, A/V receivers and so forth. Briefly stated, the MediaSmart Server slides seamlessly into the home multimedia environment, and acts as a repository for all kinds of static and dynamic media on a home network.
The MediaSmart Server comes in a compact, black case lit with blue LEDs on the front. Brightness is adjustable, for those who don't want other devices distracting from their home theater environments. It has a PC-like look, but with dimensions of 5.5" x 9.8" x 9.2" (14 cm x 25 cm x 23 cm), it's about half the size of a mid-tower case. Under the hood, a 1.8 GHz 64-bit Sempron processor with 512 MB of DDR2 memory powers the MediaSmart Server, which utilizes either 1 or 2 500 GB SATA drives, depending on which model you select. The EX470 is the 500 GB version, while the EX475 is the 1 TB version.
The device also offers three unoccupied drive bays that can accommodate more internal storage, and includes an E-SATA and four USB ports. Using 500 GB drives, this gives the MediaSmart Server a maximum storage capacity of 4 TB, according to HP.
This could be the perfect Christmas gift for a networked family that's ready to take the next step forward in home networking, by introducing a server to organize, protect and manage its systems, multimedia and file collections.
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