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

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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
TotalRow 6 - Cell 1 $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
TotalRow 15 - Cell 1 $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.

  • 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.