Review: HP EX490 MediaSmart Server [WHS]

  View Full Album   Overview The HP EX490 MediaSmart Server is a small, quiet server designed for home use. Its provides a great solution to the storage, backup...
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Overview

The HP EX490 MediaSmart Server is a small, quiet server designed for home use. Its provides a great solution to the storage, backup and streaming of media and documents around the home and across the web. First launching in the US a couple years ago, is finally available in Australia !

A lot of the features I’ll explain are available due to Microsoft’s Windows Home Server (WHS) Operating System, whilst some are custom-written by HP and only available buy purchasing a HP MediaSmart Server.

Features

Storage – Running Windows Home Server OS, it features a unique custom-raid that allows hard drives of different sizes, but internally and externally connected, to be pooled as one large storage drive. This allows you to divide up content just using folders rather than drives, which may sound like a small technicality, but actually makes a big difference. (e.g. You have a 1GB file to move, you don’t have to worry about which drive has enough remaining space to successfully copy).

Combining the 1TB drive that comes with the EX490 and a few drives I had lying around, I’ve already filled the internal drive bays with 1TB + 1TB + 750GB + 500GB. Add on the 1TB external drive and I’ve got just around 4 Terabytes (formatted).

Backup – There’s a saying that “unless data is in 2 places, it doesn’t exist”. I agree with this saying and in the past I have lost data as a result of not having an adequate backup solution. My previously solution was a 1TB WD External USB drive. This had a couple of problems, firstly it was slow, secondly I ran out of space. The EX490 has 4 internal drive bays, 3 USB and 1 eSATA port which means there’s plenty of room to grow.

Connector Software – The MediaSmart doesn’t have any video out ports on the back of the box, it’s not designed to be accessed directly. On each client you want to connect to the Home Server, you’ll need to install the connector software. Fire up your browser and head to http://mediasmart:55000/ (where mediasmart is the name of your server).

This is compatible with both Windows and Mac OS. The other way of accessing the server (not recommended) is using remote desktop. This is actually required to update to PowerPack 3 (more on this soon).

Streaming – Streaming from the MediaSmart arrives in a number of ways. Your media can be streamed to devices like your Xbox 360 and PS3, as well as your iPhone (see below) and also to your browser.

Remote Access – When you buy a home server, you also get a user-defined domain name. e.g. https://techAU.homeserver.com. This gives you access to your files from any internet connection in the world. Great if your travelling and leave an important document at home. Or maybe your bored in a lonely motel room and want to catch up on your latest video of the Big Bang Theory, well you can stream it through the web interface.

iPhone App – This provides access to your Pictures, Music and Video via your iPhone wherever you are. The free application works on 3G but is best used with Wi-Fi. Also remember if your going to stream any video, your really going to need to convert the video into an iPhone friendly format. Whilst technically it will scale a 720 video down to the iPhone screen, the bandwidth and processing required to do this makes for a poor timely experience.

iTunes Server – This allows users on the home network to fire up iTunes and stream the content on the Home Server. The downside to this method is that iTunes presents all media in one list, rather than separated out into music, podcasts etc, like your normal iTunes library.

MediaSmart iTunes Server

Addons

LED LightShow – Whilst the lights on the front of the EX490 MediaSmart are blue, they can be customised with the LightShow plugin. There’s a little trick to this Easter egg, once installed, you’ll need to jump into the Home Server Settings, click on MediaSmart Server from the left panel, then click the LEDs tab. While pressing Ctrl+Alt+Shift, left click on the Home Server icon, if you do it right, a Egg with a HP logo will appear.

Once activated, you can choose from a combination of light colours (Red, Blue, and Purple (which is actually closer to white) and sequences – Holiday Lights, Descending/Ascending chaser, Pulsing, Night Rider and Morse code credits. It seems the devs have sense of humour.

Overall one of my favourite plug-ins.

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TiVo Publisher

If you have a TiVo like myself, it’s likely your most used piece of electronics in your home entertainment setup (besides your TV). Given it’s always on, it makes sense that you’d be able to stream content to it, rather than fire up a dedicated device (i.e. X360 or PS3.

The way TiVo works mean it has to copy the video content has to be copied to the TiVo to be played. You can begin playback before the content has finished copying, the downside being that your taking up valuable space on your TiVo. As long as you remember to delete the content when done, it’s fine. The convenience is key here, yet another great plug-in.

For all Home Server Add-ins, check out the official WHS add-ins page. There’s plenty more like uTorrent, but the thought of torrenting right next to my critical data just didn’t sound like a good idea.

Price

All these features don’t come cheap, the EX490 costs A$899. In my mind, it’s worth every dollar. As with most consumer devices, I’d like to see the price come down to open the market to more home users. That said there is the less featured MediaSmart LX for those on a tighter budget.

One thing that’s not included in the price is security protection. With Windows Live Essentials on Windows7, many users are now used to having free security. Unfortunately, not many security products will run on Windows Home Server because the current version is built on Windows Server 2003. You do get a trial of McAfee Total Protection and there are trials of Avast and F-Secure, but ultimately, there’s no free security protection WHS.

Overall

Like many of you,
my storage needs have grown substantially over the past few years. I had a scattering of drives between internal and external, laptop, desktop, things were getting out of control. So personally I’d been waiting for the day these came on sale, naturally I jumped at the chance to finally own one. After having it for a little over a week, I’m incredibly happy with it today, and with additional powerpacks and add-ins that’ll only improve in the future.

If this sounds like something you want, head over to HP Australia’s online store.

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Creator of techAU, Jason has spent the dozen+ years covering technology in Australia and around the world. Bringing a background in multimedia and passion for technology to the job, Cartwright delivers detailed product reviews, event coverage and industry news on a daily basis.