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Hacking The HP EX470/475 MediaSmart Servers

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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 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