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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.