Hewlett-Packard MediaSmart Server ex487
At a Glance
HP MediaSmart ex487
Windows Home Server blesses this highly capable unit with features, but curses it with unnecessary complexity.
The Hewlett-Packard MediaSmart Server ex487 stands tall, with four drive bays--two with a 750GB drive in each, and two available for user upgrades. The unit is the only one we looked at that uses Microsoft's feature-packed, but sometimes slow Windows Home Server software, which uses a process called folder duplication instead of RAID to span available disk storage across what you see as a single, redundant volume (in this case, for about 1.3GB of total usable storage).
The unit streamed media smoothly, including the high-definition video clips we threw at it. Unfortunately, when we tried to access several of the media types exposed via the unit's browser interface, we received expired certificate errors that we had to bypass before viewing anything. Even with this annoyance, the MediaSmart Server ex487 is a well-designed and versatile box. It has an iTunes server and remote access; but you can't use the remote access with a Windows Vista Home or Windows XP Home system. It can work with Macs on your network, but the initial setup has to be done on a PC.
The MediaSmart, the Synology Disk Station DS209+, and the Linksys by Cisco MediaHub 410 are the only NAS boxes we tested for a media-centric storage device roundup that will stream music and photos across the Web to a PC's browser.
This model was among the fastest network-attached storage devices we've tested in the PC World Test Center. It blazed through our tests, earning a score of Superior for its performance. For example, the MediaSmart required 231 seconds to copy 3GB of files and folders, and 194 seconds to search through 12GB of data (less than half the time required by the Linksys by Cisco MediaHub 410).
Because the MediaSmart uses Windows Home Server, to configure it you must use a client application installed on a local PC instead of your Web browser. While this shields the user from having to determine a NAS box's URL--a string such as 192.168.1.100--and type it into a browser, the client was very slow to connect, and it sat in the system tray (yet another marginally useful background app using up memory and CPU cycles).
Once you actually get to it, Windows Home Sever is visually attractive as well as intuitive--particularly for anyone who's already used to Windows. However, in spite of its Windows Home Server operating system, the MediaSmart offers no clear advantages over the other boxes, and it costs more than competitors, too. One major gripe: Upon opening after installation, the unit prompted us to install a McAfee security add-on to protect the MediaSmart. You can disable this rather intrusive marketing ploy, but we found it disingenuous nontheless.
--Jon L. Jacobi and Melissa J. Perenson