Fresh off a momentous victory at Macworld, HP has started 2009 on a positive note. The company has a full line of new netbooks, larger Touchsmart all-in-one desktops, the TX2 notebook with touch control, and plenty of peripherals and gadgets to keep us busy here at Digital Trends. (They seem to have dropped out of the smartphone market, however.) The MediaSmart EX487, a server for home use that works just as well for small businesses, won the best-of-show award at Macworld, even though it runs a Windows OS product. As a second-generation update, the server is an ideal companion on the road to digital nirvana. It’s fast, has plenty of expansion options, is easy to configure, and runs reliably.
The previous version of the MediaSmart (the EX475) looks almost identical to the new EX487, which has 1TB of storage in two drive bays. (There’s also a EX485 that comes with 750GB of storage.) The first-gen model was just as compelling for network storage and back-up, but got off to a slow start when Microsoft announced early on that there was a very minor bug (one that is almost un-producible) in Windows Home Server that can deletes files at random, including MP3 and MPEG media. There’s nothing like a file deletion bug that can quell a new product line, but HP has rebounded just fine.
The EX487 runs the Power Pack 1 version of Windows Home Server. However, the real enhancement is a new user interface that runs on both Windows and Mac computers, and several key add-ons that make the EX487 a top pick for any kind of storage and back-up in the home or office.
Like the first-gen model, the EX487 looks exactly like an over-sized toaster. It has blue-gleaming lights on the front – you can adjust the intensity of the lights using software – and a snap-open front cover where you can access the drive bays. These drives are hot-swappable, so you can pull one out and stick in another without even turning off the home server. There’s one USB 2.0 port on the front and three on the back, along with an e-SATA port for those who want to connect even more drives. The EX487 runs whisper-quiet, so it could work well in a music or video studio where ambient noise is a no-no.
One minor complaint: the power button for the unit is hard to find, although that’s probably by design so no one mistakenly turns it off during a back-up of your entire Vin Diesel MPEG movie collection. HP did not report the weight for the test unit we own (it varies depending on the number of drives installed) but safe to say, it is a bit of a back-breaker, and heavier than any of the units in the Netgear or Buffalo Technology line of storage products, so it has a bigger footprint.
HP pulled out all the stops on the new control panel interface. It was required for Mac support, but also runs in Windows. It shows you just the icons you need, such as server configuration, photos, and videos. The EX487 comes with the client version of Windows Home Server for PC, so you can use that to configure many more options, such as remote access and add-ons. However, the HP control panel gets you to the same settings, so you can use either software agent. We had no problems setting up all of the features, including back-ups for computers on our home network, a remote access Web site, and even a setting where we could stream media to a Windows Mobile phone.
For those who care most about benchmarks, we found that the EX487 is a serious step-up in speed and reliability, having used it for a full month before reviewing it. A massive collection of 7,000 documents (about 40GB) took 1 hour and 5 min to copy, or about 30 minutes faster than a similar transfer to a Western Digital hard drive. Meanwhile, a photo collection of 4,242 files (1.8 GB worth in 25 folders) took 1 Min 5 seconds; the same test took 3 minutes 30 seconds to copy to a home-built Windows Home Server. A video transfer of 9 complete theatrical movies (8GB) took 2 min 30 seconds to copy, compared to 3 minutes 45 seconds to the home-built server. In fact, most tests we performed ran at least a minute faster compared to other servers and USB hard disk drives we tested.
We never lost any files or had any problems with back-ups, which generally took about four hours over a home network. The EX487 uses a Gigabit Ethernet port (we used a D-Link DIR-855 router with Gigabit ports for testing) and some “special sauce” from HP to speed up file transfers.
The unit we tested supports many other features – too many to mention – including an easy way to access files remotely (you just type in a simple URL on your remote computer, such as jb.hpmediasmart.com), a photo publishing component that lets you upload images to your social network site (such as Flickr or Facebook), Apple iTunes support so your music shows up as a media server, and streaming media support for UPnP devices like the PlayStation 3. The list just goes on and on: the EX487 even supports Amazon S3 for online server back-up, an automated media collection system that finds files across multiple computers and makes them available to everyone, and will even iron and fold your laundry while singing softly to itself in a minor key (not really).
Overall, the HP MediaSmart EX487 performed extremely well in a battery of tests, and is a highly recommended product for anyone who needs a place to keep their files. Yet, its major benefit is that you don’t have the keep the files on an island – remote access and streaming media options are plentiful here, and HP made it really easy to configure all of the extra options. It’s one of the best storage products we’ve tested, and one that will make it easy to stay afloat in the digital age.
- Very fast and reliable
- Works with a Mac network
- Streamlined setup process