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Maximum PC Staff Feb 04, 2010

HP MediaSmart EX495

At A Glance

Scrooge McDuck

Dual-core processor; improved front-end software; cheaper than last year's model.

Flintheart Glomgold

Still not cheaper than building your own WHS; only four drive bays.

Last year's chassis, packed with major under-the-hood upgrades

Last year, HP impressed us with its MediaSmart EX487 (February 2009), a Windows Home Server that shipped with proprietary software we actually found useful. The EX495, this year’s follow-up, is focused on improving accessibility and addressing user requests. This third-generation Windows Home Server isn’t so much an overhaul of last year’s machine as it is a calculated iteration; the same unassuming case packs significant hardware and software upgrades that are the most compelling reasons yet to adopt the Home Server platform.

First, the hardware in this box looks more like a desktop PC than a bare-bones backup device. Instead of an Atom or Celeron processor, the EX495 is powered by a Pentium Dual Core CPU running at 2.5GHz—an upgrade that speeds up video processing and opens the door to real-time transcoding. Even with the increased horsepower, the machine maintained low power consumption during backups and idle states, and pulled far less than 100W during heavy load.


The improvements HP made to its flagship Windows Home Server are a direct response to feature requests made by consumers--including us.

Performance tests clearly demonstrated the advantages of a dual-core processor. File transfer speeds outpaced those of Atom-based severs, and matched the dual-core Home Server we built in our November issue. We were also able to transcode and stream video in real time with TVersity and PS3 Media Streamer—though source videos larger than 720p required some buffering.

The rig also comes with the same 1.5TB of included storage as the EX487, but that’s thankfully now on just one hard drive, leaving three open bays for expansion. The eSATA port now works as a port multiplier (for up to five drives), which was a disappointing omission from last year’s model.

The new MediaSmart 3.0 software is equally impressive. Accessibility is improved with a simple local webpage where your mom and pop can perform manual backups and access media without using the Home Server Console (which has also been tweaked to be more user-friendly). The Console now has advanced options for the Media Collect and Video Conversion tools, which let you specify exactly how to monitor, extract, and process your files into network shares. Video settings, for example, now include custom profiles for choosing specific source folders, output resolution, frame rate, and audio and video bitrate. These robust settings are a godsend for automatically converting downloaded video for multiple mobile devices, like the Zune and iPhone.

For Mac users, the 3.0 software grants improved compatibility with OS X, now letting you access your server’s settings and status (with remote desktop or the webpage interface) and run Media Collector on connected Macs. The EX495 can also perform a Time Machine–based hard disk restore with a bootable flash drive—yet another feature that many MediaSmart users requested. The best news for early adopters, though, is that HP is planning to release the MediaSmart 3.0 software as a free upgrade in the near future.

Finally, the EX495 is actually $100 cheaper than its predecessor—though still almost twice as expensive as Atom-based Home Servers. If you own an EX4xx series model, it’s not worth upgrading to new hardware since you can upgrade to MediaSmart 3.0. But if you’re buying your first Home Server, no other solution on the market comes close to matching the EX495’s performance, feature set, and ease of use.
Benchmarks

MediaSmart EX495
Custom WHS
Small Files Upload (sec)
9.0
10.8
Large File Upload (sec)
4.0 3.9
Small Files Download (sec)
8.99.0
Large File Download (sec)
4.13.8

Best scores are bolded. To measure transfer speeds, we copy a 695MB folder and a 263MB video file from a desktop machine hardwired to the server and back using the Windows browser.

THE VERDICT

HP MediaSmart EX495

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