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Quick Look: HP's MediaSmart EX495 Home Server

SFF DIY WHS Is Too Expensive

You can buy an OEM copy of WHS for about $95 these days, so we put together two different configurations using that OS and some mini-ITX and micro-ATX hardware to see how such systems compared to the HP EX49* models (the HPs all use industrial mini-ITX motherboards: the EX47*s  from Mitec, and the EX48*s and EX49*s from Wistron). All you have to do is compare the resulting prices to see that HP wins this contest hands-down.

A Tale of Two DIY WHS Boxes

Build 1
CaseApex TX-0381$28
MoboMSI G31TM-P21$47
CPUIntel dual-core Pentium E5300$60
MemoryA-DATA 2GB DDR2-800 RAM$45
DrivesSamsung EcoGreen F2 1.5TB HD$100
OSMicrosoft WHS OEM$95
Total$375
Build 2
CaseRosewill R1056-P Black Micro-ATX$25
MoboAsus P5KPL-CM G31 Micro-ATX$55
CPUIntel dual-core Pentium E5300$60
MemoryA-DATA 2GB DDR2-800 RAM$45
Drives2 x Samsung EcoGreen F2 1.5TB HD$200
Modular Drive CageAMS DS-31415588K SATA 4-in-3 Module$100
OSMicrosoft WHS OEM$95
Total$580

As specified, Build 1 matches the capability of an EX490 as HP ships it, but this configuration lacks the plug-in SATA drive cage that makes the MSS so easy to work with, especially when it comes to adding and removing storage. It weighs in at about $90 less than the EX490, but also doesn't include the many and useful value-adds that HP includes as part of the MediaSmart Server 3.0 software.

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.

Our bottom line: with HP MSS prices reasonably-low, it’s simply not worth building a DIY media server unless you can use spare parts you have laying around, and the total cost comes in at least $100 less than an equivalent HP MSS model.

HP Really Keeps On Rockin’

Ironically, just as we were going to press, HP announced another generation of MediaSmart Servers. In early December, Microsoft unveiled a new home server initiative. As part of that initiative, Microsoft mentions offerings from Acer, Asus, Lenovo, Niveus, and Velocity Micro (in addition to HP), and greatly expands the ready-made Windows Home Server playing field at the same time. In a future story, we hope to lay hands on these units to compare them to what HP has to offer. But unless those other companies have added value to Windows Home Server, as HP has in its MediaSmart Server software, we suspect that the comparison between other third-party offerings and the HP product will be very much like what we observed in working with the mini-ITX systems we built for this story.

We’re not yet completely sure how the other vendors who are part of Microsoft's media center push are going to compete against HP's MSS. The Asus, Lenovo, and Acer models all use Atom processors and include only 1GB RAM, and most are in the same price range as the EX49* models. The Niveus units start at $8,499, a more comparable Velocity Micro model goes for $899 (but includes an Intel dual-core Pentium E2180 and only 1GB RAM, along with only 500GB of disk space). At least at first blush, nobody else is in the same league as HP with regard to price or performance.