Quick Look: HP's MediaSmart EX495 Home Server

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.

Best Price
Platforms/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.

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  • 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.
  • chesterman
    jasperjonesas 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.

    i agree. while these servers may be attractive to casual user who want to have a few new toys to play, power users will be much more comfortables (and will spend less money) with a linux-box
  • cdillon
    ossieWhile 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.

    While I'm not a fan of MS, maybe you should get your facts straight first so that you don't look like a fool. WHS supports share-level redundancy that spreads all files inside that share across more than one drive. Other shares can have no redundancy at all if you would rather not waste the space.
  • radaray58
    These do sound like good units, but it depends on the file formats you need to have supported. I keep all my music files in FLAC, trusting to this open source lossless format. It is not supported. Also, a number of key video file types are not supported, ie. H264 and MPEG2 and 4. For those of us not sold on Microsoft and iTunes formats, these units have unworkable shortcomings.
  • ossie
    cdillonWHS supports share-level redundancy that spreads all files inside that share across more than one drive.

    I see you quickly extended your vocabulary with new non-sense...
    Redundancy means that if a component fails, the whole (equipment) still works further. As HDDs are most prone to failure, RAID is usually the entry level in redundancy.
    Just m$ has the audacity to think otherwise... Well, unRAID is similar junk (somewhat better, having lower overhead with one parity drive), even if based on slack, but heavily castrated. Catchy names don't mean everything.
    The new m$ "innovation" is just BS, to cover the castration of the 2k3 o$. A better naming would, eventually, be file level "mirroring". Just that it doesn't apply to back-ups... and who knows what other hidden "features, not bugs" it still has. That's not redundancy.
  • etittel
    One massive reply to lots of prior posts from an author

    1. To "What did HP give you?"
    I observe that while there may be cost parity, there is by no means funtional parity. Having now worked with all three versions of the MSS hardware and software, as well as unadorned WHS implementations, I believe that--as I stated in the story--the HP software has sufficient value and capability to warrant buying it if what it does interests you. Feel free to think and act otherwise: I was just trying to be completely transparent about what conclusion I reached and why, not simply to act as a shill for HP, but also to help you conclude otherwise if you so chose. As for the DIY hardware configurations chosen, you are correct that hot-swapping may not be necessary for many buyers, but I figured it would be nice to include a configuration that matched that capability (which HP also supports) to permit more equal comparison.

    2. To ReadMyMind
    Glad to see that what I worked through (and also did myself, with numerous replacement CPU) works for somebody else in practice as well as in theory. When the MSS 3.0 software becomes available for the EX47* and EX48* models in February, I'll be eager to see if my BE-2350 dual core CPU offers more and better performance once I'm able to take advantage of advanced transcoding and media streaming capabilities.

    3. To GilaHacker
    Improved transcoding and ripping performance are the biggest advantages that using multicore CPUs on the MSS provide. Some people even tried a quad core model and a dual-core Xeon server model on the EX48* and EX49* models and observed some pretty nice performance boosts for that kind of workload. I wish I could find a set of standard benchmarks that addressed that sort of thing more directly: NASPT doesn't really seem to do this justice. Maybe we should make something up?


    4. To IAmTheGasman

    You are absolutely on-target, and probably represent the very center of HP's target demographic in offering the MSS to the marketplace. With each new version they've done a better job of making things work without too much muss or fuss. I can't wait to see if the new software for the older units provides a "backward port" for those funcitonality improvements that came later rather than sooner.


    5. To JonathanDeane:
    Keep your eyes peeled at Amazon, NewEgg, and even eBay for older discounted (new or refurbished) units. I've seen plenty of EX47* models for under $300 now, which can be made pretty capable for under $60 (cost of a low-end, low-power dual core proc and a 2 GB DDR2-533 or better RAM stick). You can get your curiosity satisfied for a relatively modest sum, if you so choose. You'll find some great enthusiast sites out there, too (the best of which I cite in the story, with many others out there as well).


    6. To EsotericJester
    At the time I wrote the story (about two weeks ago) that was the price from Amazon, believe it or not. I just went back to look there again, and the price is currently at $629.99. I have to guess these promotions will come and go, so timing (and luck) do play a role. You can still pick up the EX490 for $492 at Amazon, and pay $60 to replace the Celeron 440 with a Pentium E5200, and beat the other price by $70! That's probably what I would do, if I couldn't do even better on a refurb unit from HP itself.


    7. To Lucious
    Thanks for pointing out the "recycled WHS" scenario, which I mentioned only in passing at the end of the DIY section of the story. I'm glad you took that route and still agree the MSS is worth it. Independent verification is always nice! Thanks again,

    8. To Huron
    Inveterate DIYers will always want to take the route you describe in your posting. If you are willing to cobble together all the bits and pieces that HP integrates for you, you will probably enjoy your home-built WHS environment as much as most MSS owners enjoy their home servers (me included). More power to you!

    Best wishes,

    9. To JasperJones
    If you have the time and energy to pull the many various pieces and parts together to create an alternate Linux-based system, go for it. As another poster observed, the pressures of job, family, and householding can sometimes limit the amount of tinkering that certain technophiles can exert in building a perfect beast. If you have more time than money, and can find your way around the many terrific Linux distros and add-ons (I'm pretty fond of MythTV myself) it will be a cheaper and more powerful solution. But it will also take more time to put together and to maintain, so that's a tradeoff individual buyers can make when they choose what's right for them. I was just trying to observe what made the HP interesting and potentially compelling, rather than trying to exhort any and all readers to do things in one particular way, or to tout the MSS as a "one platform fits all needs" kind of solution. I wasn't and it's not!

    Thanks for helping to drive that point home. Ditto to ChesterMan as well.


    10. To RadaRay58
    You are absolutely correct, and that's why I tried to provide a complete list of what formats and capabilities were supported. Lots of others have made the same choices as you, and I can definitely respect that. I've become fond of a UK package called AnyDVD that lets me bridge such gaps more or less at will, but also at some cost (for the software, and then for the time required for transcoding).

    11. To Ossie and Cdillon:
    The MSS will never compete with real fault-tolerant NAS or SAN boxes, nor was it meant to do so. It offers modest replication that can be combined with backup to ensure continued access to files in the event of a drive or device failure, but not without some effort. That said, I've been able to regain access to files within an hour or two any time I've provoked or accidentally caused an MSS failure of some kind. For me as a home user, that's entirely acceptable.

  • zelannii
    hrm... waiting on 2K8 based WHS edition. Hate to build a box that might not be compatible, also hate to buy one (which is apparently the better deal), until I see what can and can't be upgraded to it.

    I've got WHS as part of my Action Pack subscription, so i need not buy a copy, and I have a spare box I could put it on now aside from the drives and a memory upgrade, but it;s not much more powerful than the 48x model, and uses a tom more energy amd makes a lot more noise, so I've been holding out.

    What I'd REALLY like to see is a comparrison between the HP's latest model, and a 2 or 4 bay qNap NAS device, which in addition to a lot of the same functions, has some true server potential, and also hooks up with 2 or more IP cameras as an added bonus, plus it;s native RAID 6 with online capacity expansion, much better than the hacked together file system microsoft is calling "redundant".
  • godwhomismike
    I wish HP would do an AMD Quad-Core MediaSmart Server. The price difference between the Pentium E5200 and the AMD Athlon II X4 620 Propus 2.6GHz are fairly minimal. EX495 = $475, and they could likely to a EX500 with the AMD X4 620 for ~$500-$510.
    If it's because of power consumption they won't use a CPU like that, then they could use an AMD Phenom X4 9350e Agena 2.0GHz Socket AM2+ 65W Quad-Core Processor, which costs around the same price as the AMD X4 620.
  • morgan383
    I built my first WHS machine around an Intel mini-ITX Atom based MOBO, 2GB Ram, 1TB HD, and put it all in a shoebox size case. This config worked just fine but I have since moved on to the HP EX485 that I got for $450 last August. I wish I had waited for the EX49X since it has a port multiplier feature for expanding storage to an external SATA stack. I think HP did a nice job with the MediaSmart hardware and that the Home Media Server concept makes a lot of sense. People should keep in mind that these boxes were never intended to be CPU powerhouses and that stuffing big processors in the tiny units would be a waste. I use mine to provide daily backups for the PCs I have running at home and to provide internet access to some media files that I use when traveling. I have used the PC recovery feature to recover one machine I have and it worked flawlessly.
  • sqrat
    I wonder what the costs would be for the end user if they have to do repairs such as a motherboard or power supply replacement? That is an additional cost that should have been addressed in the article....
  • etittel
    Dear Sqrat:

    I'm not sure you can buy the EX4** motherboards on the open market. As far as I know, they're only available to OEMs. But if they were available, and perhaps some source could be located, I'd guesstimate them into a range of $100 to $200. Posters have written to various enthusiast sites about replacing the PSU, usually in a range of $50-75.


    PS: Morgan383 shows a firm grasp of the market niche that HP is trying to address with their MSS products. Thanks to everyone else for their helpful comments and posts. I'm still expecting the MSS 3.0 software to hit for the EX48* and EX47* models in February: with its eminent upgradability (I've got a BE-2350 in mine) and support for a port multipllier on the eSATA port, and prices well under $300 now, the EX470 or EX475 models could be a killer value with the new software installed (which will cost $25 as well, and will probably hit the last week of Feb, if recent delays and announcements are any indicator).
  • jvoytko
    I was given an ex490 for free, no drives in it, server key on the bottom, and upgraded the crappy celeron to a Core 2 Duo e8400 3Ghz and it's working like a champ! Can't beat free!!!! :)