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Memory Upgrade

Hacking The HP EX470/475 MediaSmart Servers
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When it comes to performing a memory upgrade, the obvious options are to go from 512 MB to either 1.0 GB or 2.0 GB. But because HP’s new units include 2.0 GB, I skipped 1.0 GB entirely, and instead benchmarked the upgraded systems following a 2.0 GB and a much more costly 4.0 GB upgrade. Because you can buy a 2.0 GB module of the right kind for about $20-$30 and all 4.0 GB modules cost over $100—when you can find them—any cost/benefit analysis of the benchmark results comes down heavily in favor of the cheaper, lower-capacity 2.0 GB module. I had to ask for help from Micron/Crucial to lay hands on a $150 module it offers, which had to be shipped to the United States from Scotland because it wasn't available in the United States.

Next, let’s take an HP EX475 apart so you can access the memory socket to remove the 512 MB module and replace it with its 2.0 GB counterpart. Each step along the way is illustrated with a photo. Here’s a list of tools you’ll want to have on hand (and purchase, if necessary):

  • Small Magnetic tip Phillips screwdriver (or telescoping magnetic pick-up tool, readily available at car-parts stores for $3-$4).
  • #0 Precision Phillips Screwdriver (if you can’t find one locally, here’s a modestly-priced $4.65 model from Electronic City). I used the smallest Phillips screwdriver from a cheap set of hardened steel jeweler’s tools I purchased at Fry’s for $5.
  • (Optional) pair of small needlenose pliers (useful for slipping modular connectors out of their receptacles when a finger grip isn’t good enough to do the job).

A small, hardened Phillips head screwdriver is a must for this jobA small, hardened Phillips head screwdriver is a must for this job

Step 1: Remove Front Door and Top Panel Cover from Unit

I usually place the unit on top of a towel when working on a desktop or other furniture surface. While the EX47* and EX48* have nice black rubber feet underneath them, these might mark up light-colored or polished surfaces without some kind of protective layer beneath the unit.

Top cover of EX475 inverted to show slide-in clipsTop cover of EX475 inverted to show slide-in clips

To remove the door, swing it open. A small plastic pivot point on the upper hinge is all that holds the door onto the case. Push down on the door with your right thumb near the hinge, and it should pop out and swing away from the case. Lift the bottom pivot point out of its holder, and the door is off. Please be gentle throughout this process. HP did a great job of engineering this hardware but it hasn’t been built for constant tinkering as a stock PC usually is.

To remove the top panel, which is made of sturdy silver plastic with a sheet metal inside liner, grab the front edge firmly with your right hand, and push from the back with your left hand. The panel is held in place by four steel clips, which you must slide forward about 0.5" to release. This will take a bit of force to accomplish, and is the only time you’ll use any real muscle in working with this unit (reassembly is much easier and takes far less effort). If you push down a little with your left hand while also pushing forward and pull with the fingers of your right hand, you’ll find this helps to loosen the top from its usual anchor points.

Step 2: Remove the Drive Trays (and Drives)

Stack drives and trays carefully as you goStack drives and trays carefully as you go

The HP MediaSmart Server cares a great deal about physical drive arrangement and order. When you take the drive trays out of the unit, remove the top one first. Lift the latch at the center of the tray, then pull gently on the A-arm at the bottom of the tray. Once you get the first tray out, if you encounter resistance in removing other trays, you can reach inside the enclosure and grab the rear edge of the drive for a gentle pull forward. I worried about the plastic trays being too flimsy, and got into this habit pretty quickly. As you remove each tray from the top town, stack it on top of the preceding trays (I rotate mine 90° between layers, to make the stack more stable). When you finish, the bottom (system) drive should be on top of the stack.

Step 3: Loosen the Backplane Cables and Unlock the Latches

As shown in the initial photos, a pair of (four-pin) fan cables in black, yellow, and blue and a 10-pin control cable connector plug into the top of the SATA backplane at the rear of the enclosure. You’ll want to gently remove the fan cables and the 10-pin connector from their mountings. It’s pretty safe to grab these cables by the connector or the wires just as they enter the connector and gently remove them from their mounts. The fan cables should slide right out (I marked mine L and R for left and right to make sure they went back into the right pin blocks). You may have to gently rock the 10-pin connector side to side to get it to let go.

Remove both fan cables and the 10-pin control cable from the backplaneRemove both fan cables and the 10-pin control cable from the backplaneLatches moved into the unlocked position Latches moved into the unlocked position

Finally, you’ll want to swing the two latches down that lock the SATA card into place. From the front, the left-hand side latch swings left, and the right-hand side latch swings right. Swing both 90° so that the handles are parallel to the sides of the case.

Step 4: Remove the Backplane from the Motherboard

The green circuit card with an edge that is flush with the back opening in the case is a modular four-port SATA backplane that plugs into a special socket in the motherboard below. It’s where each of the four internal SATA drives that the HP MediaSmart Servers accommodate plug in for motherboard access. You must lift this card up to undock it from the motherboard. The easiest way to do this is to reach inside the drive bays, then stick one or two fingers through one or two of the holes in that circuit board. If you gently lift the card just a little in this way, it should lift free from the motherboard. It’s attached to the drive cage on four metal guides, two along each side edge. To remove the card from the case, slide the card up gently until the metal guides line up with the slots in the card itself. Then you can easily remove the card from the case without difficulty.

A gentle lift is usually enough to separate backplane and motherboardA gentle lift is usually enough to separate backplane and motherboardBackplane removed from server, SATA connectors downBackplane removed from server, SATA connectors down

Step 5: Remove the Front Cage Cover

Note the two tiny screws at the edge of the cage. Be careful!Note the two tiny screws at the edge of the cage. Be careful!This is where a small, precision, hardened tip screwdriver is absolutely essential. Two miniscule machine screws hold this cover in place at the top and bottom right as shown in the photo. You must be careful when loosening or tightening these screws because they are small enough to be extraordinarily susceptible to damage (stripped threads or chewed out crosspoints).

That’s why I and other MediaSmart hackers recommend spending a few dollars to purchase the right kind of screwdriver for this task. Once the screws are removed, rotate the cage cover to the left, and you can slip it free from the latching metal tabs on the left edge to detach the cage. Finally, you must remove the modular connector that powers the status LEDs for this device to free the cage completely. You can now see the motherboard at the bottom of the case, ready to be removed.

After freeing the cage from the case you must still remove the modular connector at the lower center in this photoAfter freeing the cage from the case you must still remove the modular connector at the lower center in this photo

Step 6: Remove the Motherboard Tray

Loosen the two screws pointed out to free the motherboard tray from the case Loosen the two screws pointed out to free the motherboard tray from the case The motherboard tray is secured by two normal-sized PC machine screws at the lower left and inside on the lower right. Make sure to identify the screws that attach to the white metal motherboard tray (other screws are nearby, but loosening them won’t free the motherboard). Remove these screws and you’re ready to slide the motherboard out. In the photo, I’ve positioned a screwdriver on one screw and the magnetic grabber on the other, which are your targets.

Notice the power supply cable at the upper right. You may need to push this down slightly to enable the motherboard to slide forward. Please be gentle: there are lots of soldered parts (three big capacitors at front left for example) that you should try to leave untouched if at all possible.

Push down on the cable bundle at the upper right to ease removal of the motherboard trayPush down on the cable bundle at the upper right to ease removal of the motherboard tray

Step 7: Switch the Memory Module

Loosen the clips, then lift up the old DIMM to remove itLoosen the clips, then lift up the old DIMM to remove itWith the motherboard tray out, it’s absurdly easy to switch the memory modules. Loosen the clips to the right and left of the module holder, then remove the old 512 MB module. Slide the new module into the holder (and make sure the center divider lines up properly so the module will seat correctly), then push  the clips on each side to lock the module into place.

Congratulations! You’ve finished the first task! Before we go on to the second task, let’s take a look at some benchmark results from the EX475 with 0.5, 2.0, and 4.0 GB of RAM and the stock Sempron 3400+ CPU.

Replacement module locked into position Replacement module locked into position

Check prices for HP's MediaSmart EX475

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  • 1 Hide
    neiroatopelcc , March 11, 2009 10:19 AM
    Seems like a nice do-it-yourself guide. I don't own such a nas, so I can't tell if something's missing. But it's nice to see something like this on toms. Too rarely do we get such a treat.
    Now tell us how we can convert a zyxel router into a storage system, or how we can mod a sata controller into a sas controller, or whatever else can be done to hardware if you know how.

    ps. it's a bit wierd that you describe how to unplug an atx power cable ... I would expect people who'd dare take their working nas apart would know, or figure that out, on their own.
  • 0 Hide
    DiscoDuck , March 11, 2009 12:37 PM
    Has anyone run performance numbers on single versus dual core on a homebrew WHS? IS it possible the small gains on the HP dual core setup are a limitation of the motherboard?
  • 1 Hide
    FrustratedRhino , March 11, 2009 1:07 PM
    It is a computer... no matter how evil it is inside, since the compaqs of the late 80s/early 90s every computers is very easy to upgrade. To say that a HTPC knockoff needed a whole guide, to upgrade it, is rather silly.

    Slow news day I guess.
  • 1 Hide
    deredita , March 11, 2009 2:17 PM
    Excellent write-up. I been thinking about the HP MediaSmart servers, and what would be involved to mod one.
  • -2 Hide
    etittel , March 11, 2009 9:20 PM
    DiscoDuckHas anyone run performance numbers on single versus dual core on a homebrew WHS? IS it possible the small gains on the HP dual core setup are a limitation of the motherboard?


    Good Question! I didn't think to tackle this within the scope of the current story, but it certainly would make fertile ground for a look at WHS in general. Having built numerous (more than 20) AMD AM2 systems and benchmarked them all, I didn't get the sense that we were dealing with motherboard limitations. Tim Higgins at SmallNetBuilder gives the EX470/475 models pretty high marks in head-to-head comparisons with other NASes so I don't think this box is hampered by inherent performance problems. But comparing it to other builds/set-ups is a good idea, and I will see if my editor is interested in a follow-up.
    Thanks!
    --Ed--

    PS to neiroatopelcc: I wish I knew how to convert a zyxel router into a NAS/SAN, or how to mode SATA into SAS controllers. Both are things I too would like to know how to do.
  • 0 Hide
    MoUsE-WiZ , March 11, 2009 9:21 PM
    FrustratedRhinoIt is a computer... no matter how evil it is inside, since the compaqs of the late 80s/early 90s every computers is very easy to upgrade. To say that a HTPC knockoff needed a whole guide, to upgrade it, is rather silly.Slow news day I guess.

    Yeah, that. Glancing through the guide, anybody who's ever done any sort of hardware upgrade on any machine should be able to figure all of this out, changing the BIOS is probably the only bit that requires any extra knowledge.

    Next up; guide to fitting square peg in square hole?
  • 0 Hide
    etittel , March 11, 2009 9:36 PM
    To all:

    I'd like to thank HP and Micron/Crucial for their support of this article. Micron actually overnighted me a 4GB DDR2-667 SDRAM module when I was unable to buy one anywhere in the US, on very short notice.

    I'd also like to thank the following terrific HP MediaSmart sites that helped me learn what I needed to know to write this story:
    1. Alex Kuretz: www.mediasmartserver.net
    2. Capable Networks MediaSmart Home (May be MS sponsored, hard to tell, still useful tho)
    3. Terry Walsh We Got Served
    4. Andrew Edney Using Windows Home Server
    5. Donavon West Home Server Hacks
    6. Microsoft WHS Team Homeserver Blog

    There may be more, but these are the most useful such sites I found. If you know of any please add them here.

    --Ed--
  • 0 Hide
    etittel , March 11, 2009 9:39 PM
    Drivers for EX47* Servers

    I recently blogged on my own Vista site to list all of the latest workable drivers for the EX470/EX475 MediaSmart Servers. Anybody interested in making sure they're current on drivers should find this useful. I include the link to download.com for some less-than-brand-new drivers (which SiS has since updated, but which don't work on the EX47* models) because SiS doesn't keep an archive of older drivers (at least, not where I could find them).

    HTH,
    --Ed--
  • 0 Hide
    etittel , March 11, 2009 9:40 PM
    Sorry forgot the driver link URL: http://viztaview.wordpress.com/2009/03/05/drivers-for-hp-ex-47-mediasmart-servers/. My apologies.
    --Ed--
  • 4 Hide
    cruiseoveride , March 11, 2009 10:38 PM
    So basically, you buy an over priced media center "PC" and then upgrade it?
    okaaaaay
  • 1 Hide
    NoCaDrummer , March 11, 2009 10:38 PM
    Huh?
    Wouldn't it have made more sense to start with a new case & power supply, an inexpensive AM2/AM2+ motherboard, a low-end AMD dual-core processor with cooling, disk/disc drives and memory? If required, a second ethernet or modem (how quaint!) card could be installed. Then download any one of a handful of Linux distributions (OpenSUSE/Novell, Ubuntu, Fedora/Red Hat, etc.) and install the new OS on the machine? The whole thing would be less than the cost of the low-end HP server. Let's see, $50 for motherboard, $60 for processor, $60 for case (you don't have an old one laying around?), $50/drive, $30 for 2GB memory, $30 for DVD drive, that's $230 so far. Let's throw in a second HD to be $280. That's still $100 less than the HP - WITHOUT upgrades. And those are not rock-bottom prices for each component either.
    Plus (with Linux) it would be less prone to virus infections, have software RAID support, and would be a snap to be a file server for the Mac. It's also easier to upgrade the hardware than the HP would be. Granted, the HP plug board for the drives is a nice feature, but would it really kill anyone to have to unplug a SATA cable should a drive go out? I don't think so.
    Nice story, but I just built that myself, for less money than I noted above. My partner's Mac talks easily to my server, and I can talk to it as well. I can "serve" multimedia files and can be a print server. Oh, and wireless card in my Linux box communicates just fine with the router three floors down. And, contrary to the fear mongers out there, I didn't need to take any classes to get it all to work, nor hire a "professional" to do it either.
  • 0 Hide
    etittel , March 12, 2009 12:13 AM
    The MediaSmart Server has engendered lots of interest and enthusiasm, and plenty of buyers. I agree that cheaper options are available, especially for those inclined to build their own media servers/NASes from scratch. If NoCaDrummer wants to write up such a story, I encourage him to contact the Tom's Editor and pitch such a story. I'd like to read it, and so would many others. This particular story appealed to me because the hacks were fun, and the work involved was pretty minimal. My HP MediaSmart EX475 now has 2.5 TB of storage, backsup 5 PCs for me every night, plays my recorded TV, ripped DVDs, and music on demand. It works for me, and for lots of other people, too. Check out those Websites I mentioned in my thankyou note posted earlier. You'll see there are thousands upon thousands of users enjoying the box, too.
    Thanks for the feedback,
    --Ed--
  • -1 Hide
    Desertlax , March 12, 2009 1:59 AM
    good article I really enjoyed reading it.

    Like some have said cheaper options may be out there but information like this is always useful. It was well written and didn't seem to skip over some of those simple-yet-crucial steps (haven't treid it, but seems complete).

    I think future articles about how to upgrade/modify/tinker with common gadgets and products would be great, as many people have stuff laying around that they'd like to breath new life into, or simply set up with a different purpose. Repurposing an old PC into a media server seems to be really popular right now, but finding the right parts to replace to reduce power, noise, footprint, etc. can be tricky, and consolidation of that information to one spot is wonderful (sure most of the information in this article is out there on the internet, but having a guide makes things so much easier).
  • 0 Hide
    Desertlax , March 12, 2009 2:00 AM
    good article I really enjoyed reading it.

    Like some have said cheaper options may be out there but information like this is always useful. It was well written and didn't seem to skip over some of those simple-yet-crucial steps (haven't treid it, but seems complete).

    I think future articles about how to upgrade/modify/tinker with common gadgets and products would be great, as many people have stuff laying around that they'd like to breath new life into, or simply set up with a different purpose. Repurposing an old PC into a media server seems to be really popular right now, but finding the right parts to replace to reduce power, noise, footprint, etc. can be tricky, and consolidation of that information to one spot is wonderful (sure most of the information in this article is out there on the internet, but having a guide makes things so much easier).
  • 0 Hide
    neiroatopelcc , March 12, 2009 7:24 AM
    NoCaDrummerHuh?Wouldn't it have made more sense to start with a new case & power supply, an inexpensive AM2/AM2+ motherboard, a low-end AMD dual-core processor with cooling, disk/disc drives and memory? If required, a second ethernet or modem (how quaint!) card could be installed. Then download any one of a handful of Linux distributions (OpenSUSE/Novell, Ubuntu, Fedora/Red Hat, etc.) and install the new OS on the machine? The whole thing would be less than the cost of the low-end HP server. Let's see, $50 for motherboard, $60 for processor, $60 for case (you don't have an old one laying around?), $50/drive, $30 for 2GB memory, $30 for DVD drive, that's $230 so far. Let's throw in a second HD to be $280. That's still $100 less than the HP - WITHOUT upgrades. And those are not rock-bottom prices for each component either. Plus (with Linux) it would be less prone to virus infections, have software RAID support, and would be a snap to be a file server for the Mac. It's also easier to upgrade the hardware than the HP would be. Granted, the HP plug board for the drives is a nice feature, but would it really kill anyone to have to unplug a SATA cable should a drive go out? I don't think so.Nice story, but I just built that myself, for less money than I noted above. My partner's Mac talks easily to my server, and I can talk to it as well. I can "serve" multimedia files and can be a print server. Oh, and wireless card in my Linux box communicates just fine with the router three floors down. And, contrary to the fear mongers out there, I didn't need to take any classes to get it all to work, nor hire a "professional" to do it either.

    I would imagine a lot of people would prefer to buy a prebuilt system that just works, instead of having to think and hope that what they brew up at home does. Also, if you're forced to use a linux distro to keep the price down, it means you'll have to spend time figuring out stuff about linux. The same problem would exist if you need to install a windows server from scratch, but with prebuilt systems you don't have to.
    Therefore these types of hardware are 'worth' $100 more than the parts alone. It's no different from other branches really. Even expert car tuners use turn-key engines from time to time - not because they can't assemble their own, but because it's easier and faster.
  • 1 Hide
    mxmaster , March 12, 2009 7:40 AM
    Im sorry, but I am confused.

    New EX470 $380,-
    Refurbished EX485 $600,-

    Price Difference: $220,-
    Parts Price: $140,-

    Profit: $80,-

    What's the point in putting some time and effort in obtaining a refurbished EX470 (don't tell me they are as readily available as the new units) for this small price difference?

    What's the point in again putting time and effort in taking apart a refurbished box for this small price difference?

    What about the warranty? Excuse me if I am wrong, but I suspect it must be less then the warranty on a new EX.

    Don't get me wrong. I love hacks. I have overclocked the good old Celeron 300A in the old days, hacked alcatel modems, hacked com21 cable modems, in the past and recently overclocked gfx cards and cpu's of my and other people's different systems, hacked routers and so on. Heck, I even did the pencil trick on a few Athlon CPU's. The point I am trying to make here is this: Above hacks al saved me a lot of bucks one way or the other.

    If i look at the article, I can't help feeling that obtaining the refurbished box, taking it apart and reassembling it takes more time and effort then the $80,- profit is good for. On top of that you probably get less warranty. If a new car costs $10.000,- , will you guys pay $9000,- for a used one? Even when you leave the CPU and 4 GB of Ram that don't give any benefits out, the price difference isn't enough in my opinion.

    IMHO, placing 2 GB of Ram and 1.5T of hd space in a EX470 one already has, is a good idea. In that way the article is well written and might give a lot of people who don't have a lot of experience with this kind of stuff a good start. But excuse if I am missing the bargain here.
  • 0 Hide
    Orville , March 12, 2009 10:17 AM
    Will the modified EX470 serve Blu-ray and DVD movies across a home LAN? If yes, to what client? This is the only question that I have. I like music, but you can buy any number of inexpensive music servers, so playing music isn't important. Music doesn't need TB of storage. But Blu-ray is a different story, altogether. At 25TB per movie these TB servers come into their own. At 40 Blu-rays per TB it becomes obvious that 4 drives x 1.5TB per drive would store only about 250 movies. As far as I am concerned, the main things that matter to a home LAN are client data backup and Blu-ray movie serving to my TV. Will you comment, please.
  • 1 Hide
    Orville , March 12, 2009 10:19 AM
    Will the modified EX470 serve Blu-ray and DVD movies across a home LAN? If yes, to what client? This is the only question that I have. I like music, but you can buy any number of inexpensive music servers, so playing music isn't important. Music doesn't need TB of storage. But Blu-ray is a different story, altogether. At 25TB per movie these TB servers come into their own. At 40 Blu-rays per TB it becomes obvious that 4 drives x 1.5TB per drive would store only about 250 movies. As far as I am concerned, the main things that matter to a home LAN are client data backup and Blu-ray movie serving to my TV. Will you comment, please.
  • 1 Hide
    etittel , March 12, 2009 12:24 PM
    Response to mxmaster:

    If you want to question the basic premise of the story--namely, that some people might find this worth doing because of modest price savings and an interesting project to complete--that's your prerogative. Others, including myself, do feel otherwise, and some may very well take this path. Also, if you read the benchmarks carefully, you'll see that the CPU upgrade really is discretionary (or more bluntly, unnecessary) so that the real price bump is $100.

    You are of course free to disagree, but personally I found the notion of modifying a refurb system for relatively low out-of-pocket cost so that I could match most of the functionality of the latest generation (you don't get Mac backup out of the EX47* models, though I do read rumors that HP is planning a software upgrade that will confer this capability on the older models, too, I have yet to see any signs of reliable confirmation of this directly from HP itself) for less money.

    To people like me, it's not the gross amount that counts, it's the notion that I can *do* something interesting AND save (a little) money that appeals.

    If you don't like the idea, or the savings, or the discussion, why not just invest in something else? It's your privilege!

    HTH,
    --Ed--
  • 0 Hide
    etittel , March 12, 2009 12:32 PM
    To Orville:

    If you use a tool like AnyDVD HD to rip Blu-ray and/or DVD contents into ISO or other playable file formats, then indeed the HP EX47* and EX48* models will happily serve up such media for your delectation. If you look around on the various sites I provide links for in an earlier posting here, you'll find specifics on the add-ons available for this purpose. I use one called PV Connect that confers complete DLNA media server compatibility on the HP MediaSmart (you can download if from WeGotServed if you'd like to try it out).

    HTH,
    --Ed--
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