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Hacking The HP EX470/475 MediaSmart Servers

Get Your Hack On

Although HP announced its second-generation EX485 and EX487 MediaSmart Servers in September 2008, they didn’t start shipping in volume in the United States until February 2, 2009. In fact, only a small number of users were able to obtain units in the UK and elsewhere overseas before Christmas 2008. In the meantime, the previous generation of HP MediaSmart Servers remains widely available, with HP offering refurbished units of its 500 GB EX470 server (otherwise identical to the HP EX475 except it only has a single Seagate 7200.11 500 GB hard disk) for $380 and 1.0 TB EX475 for $460.

Although the new generation of HP MediaSmart Servers offers more memory and a somewhat more powerful CPU, with bargain prices like those for refurb units readily available (not to mention even lower prices on used units), you can apply some modest hardware hacks to these older servers. You’ll wind up with a system that’s as good or better than the newer, more expensive models, while saving some money in the bargain. For a more complete review of the EX470/475 units, see last year's The Triumph of Streaming Media.

Table 1 Summarizes the capabilities and components of the two MediaSmart Server generations available from HP:

Table 1: MediaSmart EX47* and EX48* Models Compared                                                                                                                                   

ModelBest $$$CPUMemoryStoragePlatforms/ Services Supported
EX470$380Sempron 3400+512 MB PC2-5300500 GBXP/Vista: backup, media, itunes, NAS
EX475$460Sempron 3400+512 MB PC2-53001.0 TBXP/Vista: backup, media, itunes, NAS
EX485$600Celeron 4402.0 GB PC2-6400750 GBXP/Vista: backup, media, itunes, NASMacOS (v10.5+): itunes, backup, NAS
EX487$750Celeron 4402.0 GB PC2-64001.5 TBXP/Vista: backup, media, itunes, NASMacOS (v10.5+):itunes, backup, NAS

The big differences between the EX47* and EX48* generations are as follows:

  • A shift from a 90 nm 1.8 GHz Sempron 3400+ to a 65 nm 2.0 GHz Celeron 440 processor.
  • A bump from 512 MB of PC2-5300 RAM to 2.0 GB of PC2-6400 RAM (Alex Kuretz at Mediasmartserver.net indicates the BIOS on the 48* models can handle speeds up to 1,066 MHz).
  • A boost in storage elements from Seagate 7200.11 500GB drives (one for EX470, two for EX475) to 750 GB drives in the same series (one for EX485, two for EX487).
  • Support is added for Macintosh clients, along with Windows Vista and XP clients, and includes support for TimeMachine backup as well as shared folder access through Control Center.

Comparing refurb to new prices, it costs about $220 to move up from an EX470 to an EX485 and $290 to move up from an EX475 to an EX487. What I aim to describe in this review is how you can add 750 GB of storage, a more powerful CPU, and upgrade the memory yourself, for between $140 and $155, thereby obtaining performance that is at least on par with newer units for less cost.

Check prices for HP's MediaSmart EX475

  • neiroatopelcc
    Seems like a nice do-it-yourself guide. I don't own such a nas, so I can't tell if something's missing. But it's nice to see something like this on toms. Too rarely do we get such a treat.
    Now tell us how we can convert a zyxel router into a storage system, or how we can mod a sata controller into a sas controller, or whatever else can be done to hardware if you know how.

    ps. it's a bit wierd that you describe how to unplug an atx power cable ... I would expect people who'd dare take their working nas apart would know, or figure that out, on their own.
    Reply
  • DiscoDuck
    Has anyone run performance numbers on single versus dual core on a homebrew WHS? IS it possible the small gains on the HP dual core setup are a limitation of the motherboard?
    Reply
  • FrustratedRhino
    It is a computer... no matter how evil it is inside, since the compaqs of the late 80s/early 90s every computers is very easy to upgrade. To say that a HTPC knockoff needed a whole guide, to upgrade it, is rather silly.

    Slow news day I guess.
    Reply
  • deredita
    Excellent write-up. I been thinking about the HP MediaSmart servers, and what would be involved to mod one.
    Reply
  • etittel
    DiscoDuckHas anyone run performance numbers on single versus dual core on a homebrew WHS? IS it possible the small gains on the HP dual core setup are a limitation of the motherboard?
    Good Question! I didn't think to tackle this within the scope of the current story, but it certainly would make fertile ground for a look at WHS in general. Having built numerous (more than 20) AMD AM2 systems and benchmarked them all, I didn't get the sense that we were dealing with motherboard limitations. Tim Higgins at SmallNetBuilder gives the EX470/475 models pretty high marks in head-to-head comparisons with other NASes so I don't think this box is hampered by inherent performance problems. But comparing it to other builds/set-ups is a good idea, and I will see if my editor is interested in a follow-up.
    Thanks!
    --Ed--

    PS to neiroatopelcc: I wish I knew how to convert a zyxel router into a NAS/SAN, or how to mode SATA into SAS controllers. Both are things I too would like to know how to do.
    Reply
  • MoUsE-WiZ
    FrustratedRhinoIt is a computer... no matter how evil it is inside, since the compaqs of the late 80s/early 90s every computers is very easy to upgrade. To say that a HTPC knockoff needed a whole guide, to upgrade it, is rather silly.Slow news day I guess.Yeah, that. Glancing through the guide, anybody who's ever done any sort of hardware upgrade on any machine should be able to figure all of this out, changing the BIOS is probably the only bit that requires any extra knowledge.

    Next up; guide to fitting square peg in square hole?
    Reply
  • etittel
    To all:

    I'd like to thank HP and Micron/Crucial for their support of this article. Micron actually overnighted me a 4GB DDR2-667 SDRAM module when I was unable to buy one anywhere in the US, on very short notice.

    I'd also like to thank the following terrific HP MediaSmart sites that helped me learn what I needed to know to write this story:
    1. Alex Kuretz: www.mediasmartserver.net
    2. Capable Networks MediaSmart Home (May be MS sponsored, hard to tell, still useful tho)
    3. Terry Walsh We Got Served4. Andrew Edney Using Windows Home Server5. Donavon West Home Server Hacks6. Microsoft WHS Team Homeserver Blog
    There may be more, but these are the most useful such sites I found. If you know of any please add them here.

    --Ed--
    Reply
  • etittel
    Drivers for EX47* Servers

    I recently blogged on my own Vista site to list all of the latest workable drivers for the EX470/EX475 MediaSmart Servers. Anybody interested in making sure they're current on drivers should find this useful. I include the link to download.com for some less-than-brand-new drivers (which SiS has since updated, but which don't work on the EX47* models) because SiS doesn't keep an archive of older drivers (at least, not where I could find them).

    HTH,
    --Ed--
    Reply
  • etittel
    Sorry forgot the driver link URL: http://viztaview.wordpress.com/2009/03/05/drivers-for-hp-ex-47-mediasmart-servers/. My apologies.
    --Ed--
    Reply
  • cruiseoveride
    So basically, you buy an over priced media center "PC" and then upgrade it?
    okaaaaay
    Reply