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Hacking The HP EX470/475 MediaSmart Servers

Hacking The HP EX470/475 MediaSmart Servers
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Although HP announced its second-generation EX485 and EX487 MediaSmart Servers in September 2008, they didn’t start shipping in volume in the United States until February 2, 2009. In fact, only a small number of users were able to obtain units in the UK and elsewhere overseas before Christmas 2008. In the meantime, the previous generation of HP MediaSmart Servers remains widely available, with HP offering refurbished units of its 500 GB EX470 server (otherwise identical to the HP EX475 except it only has a single Seagate 7200.11 500 GB hard disk) for $380 and 1.0 TB EX475 for $460.

Although the new generation of HP MediaSmart Servers offers more memory and a somewhat more powerful CPU, with bargain prices like those for refurb units readily available (not to mention even lower prices on used units), you can apply some modest hardware hacks to these older servers. You’ll wind up with a system that’s as good or better than the newer, more expensive models, while saving some money in the bargain. For a more complete review of the EX470/475 units, see last year's The Triumph of Streaming Media.


Table 1 Summarizes the capabilities and components of the two MediaSmart Server generations available from HP:

Table 1: MediaSmart EX47* and EX48* Models Compared                                                                                                                                   

Model
Best $$$
CPU
Memory
Storage
Platforms/ Services Supported
EX470
$380
Sempron 3400+
512 MB PC2-5300
500 GB
XP/Vista: backup, media, itunes, NAS
EX475
$460
Sempron 3400+
512 MB PC2-5300
1.0 TB
XP/Vista: backup, media, itunes, NAS
EX485
$600
Celeron 440
2.0 GB PC2-6400
750 GB
XP/Vista: backup, media, itunes, NAS
MacOS (v10.5+): itunes, backup, NAS
EX487
$750
Celeron 440
2.0 GB PC2-6400
1.5 TB
XP/Vista: backup, media, itunes, NAS
MacOS (v10.5+):itunes, backup, NAS


The big differences between the EX47* and EX48* generations are as follows:

  • A shift from a 90 nm 1.8 GHz Sempron 3400+ to a 65 nm 2.0 GHz Celeron 440 processor.
  • A bump from 512 MB of PC2-5300 RAM to 2.0 GB of PC2-6400 RAM (Alex Kuretz at Mediasmartserver.net indicates the BIOS on the 48* models can handle speeds up to 1,066 MHz).
  • A boost in storage elements from Seagate 7200.11 500GB drives (one for EX470, two for EX475) to 750 GB drives in the same series (one for EX485, two for EX487).
  • Support is added for Macintosh clients, along with Windows Vista and XP clients, and includes support for TimeMachine backup as well as shared folder access through Control Center.

Comparing refurb to new prices, it costs about $220 to move up from an EX470 to an EX485 and $290 to move up from an EX475 to an EX487. What I aim to describe in this review is how you can add 750 GB of storage, a more powerful CPU, and upgrade the memory yourself, for between $140 and $155, thereby obtaining performance that is at least on par with newer units for less cost.

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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