Quick Look: HP's MediaSmart EX495 Home Server

Ultimately, It’s All About The MSS Software

The biggest changes from generation to generation of HP MSS models comes from the software. On that front, HP has apparently decided to keep improving its value-adds to the Windows Home Server environment with each new MSS generation.

HP has promised to upgrade the software for the EX47* and EX48* models to catch them up with what the EX49* models can do, specifically by permitting owners to purchase software upgrade DVDs ($25 in the US, 25€ in the EU). Originally, these updates were supposed to become available before the end of 2009, but HP announced the week before Christmas that the release date has slipped into February, 2010, due to some issues with PowerPack 3 and media streaming software that necessitated additional changes and testing as the DVD was being readied for release. This should put all of the various MediaSmart Servers on a more equal footing, except for the increased memory and processing power available to newer generations, and may once again shift the “best-buy” balance toward some truly great deals now available on older EX48* and EX47* models.

Given the increased capabilities and value of the EX49* models, and the relatively small price differences between the EX48* and EX49* servers, you’re probably better off buying the newest model, though, unless you opt for a used or a refurbished unit at even lower prices. We still use an EX475 on one or our home networks every day (upgraded to a dual-core BE-3250 CPU), and it has performed flawlessly for more than two years doing nightly system backups, streaming media, and offering a modest family Web site to friends and relatives.

All this raises an interesting question—namely “what new capabilities come with the newer software?” We'll address this one on the next page. But before we do that, let’s describe what the EX47* models provide, because they establish the foundation on which the newer EX48* and EX49* software add. Here’s a list of features and functions:

  • Backup and restore: HP captures and stores driver information on machines backed up to the MSS on the MSS. These can be used in tandem with generic boot media that HP also provides to perform bare-metal restores on any backed-up PCs. Other normal Windows backup and restore functions are also supported.
  • Access to public and private server folders: the WHS software is based on Windows Server 2003, and provides the same access controls to NTFS storage and the same kinds of support for user and group accounts as that server OS makes available.
  • Public Web site: with a UPnP-capable router and a modest domain name registration fee, MSS owners can establish a public Web presence at very little expense or additional effort. Any non-streaming files may be made publicly available, and the same account/password combinations used to log into MSS accounts may also be accessed remotely.
  • Media streaming and sharing: on the audio side, this means support for .wav, .mp3, and non-.aac iTunes music formats, plus native support for client-side iTunes and Windows Media Player. On the video side, this means support for .avi, .mov, .dvr-ms, .mpv, and unprotected DVD .vob (there's no support for protected DVDs, MPEG-1, -2, or -4, .mts, .avc (H.264), .mkv, and other video camera clip formats).
  • Media shares: music, video and images may be made available to users through shares of the same name.
  • Why title the last page "SFF DIY WHS Is Too Expensive" when you CLEARLY state that the price is basically the same with an extra drive? And for toppers, there are other choices that can be made in your HW list that would certainly save money (why spend $100 on the drive bays, when you can get the same thing for almost half that cost). We all know that running Mythbuntu would save $95 off the top AND come with more addons to boot!
  • I bought a re-certified 470 from newegg for $250 and added a 30 dollar 2GB stick of ram. A WHS server for under 300 (well under half the price of the newest model) was definitely a better buy as far as I'm concerned. Unless you absolutely need the faster processor (batch video editing or something) I don't really see the need for core duo in a whats basically a NAS.
  • gilahacker
    Some of us would use that dual-core processor for video transcoding (i.e. TVersity), which the lesser processors would struggle with. This allows streaming of practically any format of video to practically any web or DLNA capable device, rather than being restricted to only the video formats that Microsoft has allowed.
  • I have the ex495 and really like it. Is it a tad expensive? Probably but I didnt have to do anything but plug it in and install a bit of software. Custom builds always seem to be better, but that assumes you have the time and expertise to take that route (I know Tom's readers are savvy enough to do it). For me I have a busy job, family, etc and never have 1/2 a day free to be building a WHS.

    The HP iphone software is kinda nice too. A little slow but it works and is handy at work if there is some down time. The server also did a good job of converting all my movies to iphone streaming format.

    Worth the extra to get a (practically) turn key solution.
    Now I just need more upstream bandwidth.
  • JonathanDeane
    Hmm it looks interesting, probably a fair bit easier then my solution of using an older PC installed with FreeNAS (it will stream media too, but I have yet to master that part....)

    I would like to try one of these things out some day. (Premade VS something I cobbled together)
  • esotericjester
    "Build 2 includes two drives and a SATA drive cage, much like the one that HP uses in its MSS boxes. That price comes out $105 higher than the EX495 (albeit with twice as much storage), so it’s on par with the $475 that Amazon charges for the base unit, plus another $100 for the second drive. But again, it lacks the added software capability that HP bundles."

    The EX495 is listed at $629.99 on Amazon and Newegg right now making the DIY build cheaper. Where did you come up with $475?
  • Luscious
    You guys forget to mention that WHS works equally well on P3 and P4 machines. Got an old box lying around? You can grab a free download of WHS that's good for 120 days and experiment with it, BEFORE plunking down cash on a HP or build-it-yourself system. That's exactly what I did for several months last year before making my purchase.

    HP's systems are priced so well that it makes build-it-yourself and fix-it-yourself jobs just not worth it. Add the fact that you get full support and warranty from HP for software/hardware, a ton of useful WHS utilities, fast turnkey operation and the occasional e-coupon for $50 off - you would be a fool not to seriously consider one of them.

    I roam around town daily with a netbook and I can tell you, WHS has changed forever the way I work and play. Streaming media from any location and logging in to work remotely on my beefier work PC are just two of the things that make WHS a joy to use. With a HTPC installed I could also stream TV shows to my netbook as well. I've been blown away every time when using WHS on the road - it has turned my simple netbook into a feature-packed device with near-unlimited capability.
  • huron
    Interesting article - I've been wanting to install a home server and wondered about the OS - WHS seems like it might be a decent choice.

    I do like the additional items included, but I have to agree - building usually provides me with better parts and a better unit. I think the functionality provided by HP can be replaced by alternatives.
  • jasperjones
    as What_did_HP_give_you said: why would you spend $95 on WHS? So many superior linux-based options are out there. and top-notch front-ends are available as well: boxee, mythtv, xbmc, etc.
  • ossie
    While the usage as backup "server" is promoted, any commentary about the (lack of) redundancy offered by WH"S"?
    "It is highly recommended that you not use hardware RAID technologies for your home server." Are you really serious m$?
    Oh well, just another castrated m$ "o$" release...
    As for HP's "legendary" support, I wouldn't be too enthusiastic.
    In your calculations, don't add the 95 bucks for m$'s junk to the cost of a BIY. Firstly, HP pays far less, and, secondly, there are a lot of much better free offerings.

    ps: Don't call this toys "servers"... some wintarded micro$uxx lu$ers might even believe it.