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At Home with the MediaSmart Server Family

HP has your computer's back and then some

By Michael Antonoff

Even if you have a home network with broadband access, you may not recognize the benefits that you and household members can enjoy with the addition of a home server. The network-attached storage device provides a variety of functions, but its primary task is to back up the files on all the computers in your home, providing an extra measure of protection in case a computer goes down or a notebook or netbook is lost. It also makes it easy to transfer files when you replace or add a computer. The server's corollary mission is to empower users with the ability to retrieve whatever documents, photos, videos, or songs that are stored on it from any room in the house or any Internet-connected computer on Earth.

Recognizing that my home network lacked a server, I auditioned three members of HP's MediaSmart Server family: the trapezoidal LX195 (seen in a corner of my living room above) with 640 Gigabytes of storage and the rectangular EX485 and EX487 models. The former comes with 750GB; the latter, 1.5 Terabytes. Though all leverage the Windows Home Server software for Windows-based computers, each MediaSmart server is compatible with Macs running OS 10.5 or above and can be used as a Time Machine backup drive.

Setup is straightforward. You plug the MediaSmart Server into your router with the included Ethernet cable and then run the installation software on a computer attached to the same network. The first time you install the software, you'll be prompted to backup content on the computer to the server. Backup can be subsequently done automatically at timed intervals. Your computer needs to be using the NTFS file system for auto backup. If the drive is partitioned using the older FAT32 system, you'll have to perform backups manually.

After the first install is completed, you can add other computers on your network. Though the MediaSmart Server must be wired to your router, your computers and even a TV-attached media receiver (such as an Xbox 360 with a wireless adapter) can wirelessly access the server using your router's Wi-Fi capabilities.

You can add new users to the MediaSmart Server with each having their own passwords and remote access to it. HP will even set up a URL for you. I called mine

One of the included programs is the HP Media Collector. If you're a Windows user, you've likely already put your photos in the My Pictures folder; songs in My Music, and videos in My Videos on your computer. The HP Media Collector will automatically scan the folders and copy newly added content to the MediaSmart Server.

Once content is copied to the server, using the MediaSmart Server Control Center (above) from a computer on your home network is the easiest way to browse and experience all the digital media in your home. You can launch a slide show, play music, or watch videos. Clicking the Photos icon, for example, brings up the recognizable Windows Explorer interface. I had filled a folder that I called Museum Pixs with photographs shot in and around the roof garden atop New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art. Upon selecting it, thumbnails appeared (see below), and I was a click away from viewing the slideshow. Going back to the Control Center (above), you can use the HP Photo Publisher option to publish your photos on Snapfish, Facebook, Flickr, or Picasa Web Albums.

The same familiar Windows interface shows up whether you're drilling into your music or video directories. By default, the Windows Media Player loads when you click on one of these types of files. However, you can easily assign other players. For a stack of B&H podcasts, I linked the Quicktime player. For a decades-old Super 8 movie I recently digitized and copied to the server, I assigned the popular VLC media player, an open source program.

One of the cool things you can do outside the realm of productivity is to dim or brighten the LEDs on the server using the slider in the server settings on your computer screen. (See below.) You could, for example, manually thrum a beat while listening to a rock riff, though I wish HP would automate the light show for me.

I was able to retrieve files from the MediaSmart Server via the Internet using a computer in my office some 20 miles away. I could as easily have been accessing the server from another hemisphere. You can also upload files to your server from anywhere. So, suppose you want to back up some photos you just took while running with the bulls in Pamplona. As long as you have Internet access, you can salt away your pictures at home after leaving home. The same easy access applies to your music. If you forgot your iPod or are simply bored with the tunes you do have in your pocket, you can still call up your music library on the MediaSmart Server back at the ranch. You can stream or download content.

Though the software experience is mainly the same no matter which MediaSmart model you choose, there are expandability differences between the LX195 and EX485/487 equipment. Besides having less internal storage, the LX195 can only be expanded using external USB hard drives you plug into its four USB ports. The EX models can be expanded that way, too, but also by attaching an eSATA drive or sliding drives into the chassis. The front of the cabinet of the EX models open to reveal four drive bays. The EX485 comes with one occupied; the EX487, two. So, there's plenty of room for another terabyte or more. (Closed and open views of the EX cabinets appear below.)

There are a few other differences. The LX195 runs with an Intel Atom 1.6 Gigahertz process; the EX487 uses an Intel Celeron 2 Gigahertz 64-bit process. The LX195 comes with 1 Gigabyte of DRAM; the EX487 with 2 Gigabytes. If you're deep into making home videos or downloading video or storing TV shows from a Media Center PC, you'll want the EX487.

No matter which model you choose, installing a storage device dedicated to backing up everything digital in your life is insurance you pay for once; but the benefits last. And it's especially liberating to be able to reclaim your media from any room on your home network or anyplace in the world. So, whether you choose the LX195 or one of the EX models, you're making a smart choice.

Meet the MediaSmart Server Family

  LX195 EX485 EX487
Included Storage 640GB 750GB 1.5TB (2 x 750GB)
Drive Bays 0 4 4
USB ports 4 4 4
eSATA ports 0 1 1

Intel Atom1.6GHz

Intel Celeron 2GHz 64- bit

Operating System Windows Home Server
Memory 1GB of DDR2 DRAM 2GB DRAM

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