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Quick Look: HP's MediaSmart EX495 Home Server

Introduction

Since writing our last story in March of 2009 about hacking the first-generation AMD-based HP MediaSmart Servers—namely the EX470 and EX475—HP has released not one, but two more generations in this series of Windows Home Server products.

In this story, we fill you in on both of the newest server families—namely HP’s Celeron-based EX485/487 models and its Core 2 Duo-based EX490/95 models. We also examine some options for building your own small form factor server, thanks to an equipment loan from mini-ITX system builder Logic Supply, to compare what you can build these days versus what you can buy from HP.

As it hears from its users and understands that they want more power and capability to play back and transcode videos, as well as provide network backups, share photos and home videos, and establish a low-maintenance Web site for outside access, HP has steadily bolstered the specs of each new generation of its MediaSmart Servers. The following provides additional detail on the various HP MSS models.

ModelBest PriceCPUMemoryStoragePlatforms/Services Supported
EX470$250Sempron 3400+512MB PC2-5300500GBXP/Vista/Win7: backup, media, iTunes, NAS
EX475$300Sempron 3400+512MB PC2-53001TBXP/Vista/Win7: backup, media, iTunes, NAS
EX485$355Celeron 4402GB PC2-6400750GBXP/Vista/Win7: backup, media, iTunes, NAS MacOS (v10.5+): iTunes, backup, NAS
EX487$408Celeron 4402GB PC2-64001.5TBXP/Vista/Win7: backup, media, iTunes, NAS MacOS (v10.5+): iTunes, backup, NAS
EX490$467Celeron 4502GB PC2-6400750GBXP/Vista/Win7: backup, media, itunes, NAS MacOS (v10.5+): iTunes, backup, media, NAS
EX495$475Pentium E52002GB PC2-6400750GBXP/Vista/Win7: backup, media, itunes, NAS MacOS (v10.5+): iTunes, backup, media, NAS

Three Generations of HP MediaSmart Servers Compared

The differences between the 47* and 48* and 49* models are huge, starting with AMD-based processors in the 47* models versus Intel (Celeron 440 stock in 48* and Celeron 450 in EX490 and dual-core Pentium E5200 in EX495). Storage also increases from 500GB and 1TB in the 47* models to 750GB and 1.5TB for both 48* and 49* models, all using Seagate 7,200 RPM SATA 3 Gb/s drives. 

As you might expect from a piece of technology, prices have continued to fall on the older models as newer ones have emerged. Fortunately, prices on the newest models are surprisingly low for a pre-built appliance, especially compared to some of the NAS/SAN devices we've reviewed in the past. That makes choosing an EX49* model a no-brainer, as far as we’re concerned!

Two more things: First, both the EX47* and EX49* models support a port multiplier through their eSATA ports (which facilitates up to five more drives to be added to the server, given the proper interface). The EX48* models do not include this functionality. If four internal drive bays, three USB ports, and a single eSATA port don’t provide you with enough storage options (that's up to 16TB with 2TB drives in every port or bay), this should also steer you toward the EX49* models as well. Moreover, the PSU in the EX49* is also new, and is much quieter than its predecessors (it’s a compact Delta 200W model), making the newest MSS the quietest we've seen.

  • 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!
    Reply
  • 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.
    Reply
  • 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.
    Reply
  • 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.
    Reply
  • 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)
    Reply
  • 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?
    Reply
  • 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.
    Reply
  • 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.
    Reply
  • jasperjones
    as What_did_HP_give_you said: why would you spend $95 on WHS? So many superior linux-based options are out there. and top-notch front-ends are available as well: boxee, mythtv, xbmc, etc.
    Reply
  • ossie
    While the usage as backup "server" is promoted, any commentary about the (lack of) redundancy offered by WH"S"?
    "It is highly recommended that you not use hardware RAID technologies for your home server." Are you really serious m$?
    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.
    Reply