HP’s Media Vault is like a clumsy, fat version of HP’s star-quarterbacking, marathon-running, leather-jacket-wearing MediaSmart Home Server. And that’s saying something, considering the MediaSmart EX475 is something of a middling performer. We can’t fault HP for trying to make a cheaper, simpler alternative to the Windows Home Server-based MediaSmart, but we’re certainly ready to take the company to task for releasing a product that doesn’t work as advertised.
The Media Vault should be called the Molasses Vault, as network transfers are akin to a sticky liquid traveling down an incline on a cold winter day. We’ve tested worse-performing NAS devices, but the Media Vault’s transfer speeds are nowhere near those of the top-performing QNAP TS-109 Pro. This makes the Media Vault a poor choice for backup scenarios, which could very well take more than 12 hours for a full 300GB drive.
The Media Vault comes in 300GB, 500GB, and 1TB models. HP sent us the smallest Media Vault for our review, and it simply isn’t large enough for a network-based device. You can increase its capacity by adding an additional drive to the device’s hot-swap drive bay. That’s if you don’t mind adding to your total purchase price, of course.
It’s possible for a product to balance sluggish speeds with jaw-dropping features, and the Media Vault comes close. Its built-in NTI backup software should become a staple of every external storage device created from this point forward—it’s just that straightforward an app, and it simplifies the process of backing up specific files and entire hard drives.
Setting up the Media Vault is as easy as transferring various bits and pieces of media to the device—a simple drag-and-drop in Windows Explorer. You don’t have to go network hunting to find the Media Vault since the included software maps the Media Vault’s various volumes as network drives. This is a far cry from other NAS devices we’ve tested, which practically require one to acquire a map, a parrot, and a sailing vessel to find shared folders.
As for its streaming capabilities, the Media Vault is incompatible with Windows Media Player 11 and the Xbox 360. And we’re not sure who to point our finger at—the Media Vault’s streaming technology is based on UPnP A/V. An Xbox 360 should be able to see the Media Vault on the network as if it were a normal Vista machine and play media files accordingly. It doesn’t. Neither does Windows Media Player 11, which, according to HP is a Media Player issue. HP offers a fix, but it is just a way to set up monitored folders, not a means of accessing the device as if it were a networked computer’s library.
The TS-109 Pro and other NAS devices we’ve tested are fully compatible with WMP 11 and the Xbox 360, so we’re not asking for the impossible when it comes to streaming compatibility. However, it’s not as if the Media Vault is completely incapable of streaming media—you can still browse and watch your media via Windows Explorer, which is a small consolation, we suppose. (See this month’s In the Lab for more on this issue.)
We remain at a loss as to what to do with a media server that doesn’t stream. We’d be consoled if the Media Vault were awesome for file backups, but its amazing software simply can’t compensate for the device’s subpar speeds. One can only hope that subsequent iterations in the Media Vault line address the issues of this good-on-paper, subpar-in-practice device.
Tiny included drive, slow transfer speeds, media streaming incompatibility issues (no iTunes either!).
PC to NAS
HP Media Vault
QNAP TS-109 Pro
NAS to PC
We used the CD contents of Maximum PC’s November 2007 CD for the “small” file testing, and a single 2.8GB file for the “large” testing. All scores were averages of three transfer trials. Scores for the QNAP TS-109 enclosure were obtained using a provided 750GB Seagate 7200.10 Barracuda drive.