HP MediaSmart EX495
HP's MediaSmart EX495 proved to be the one of the fastest network-attached storage boxes we've ever tested. The EX495 offers a nice array of services, including backup and restore of network PCs; backup of the unit itself; and photo, music, iTunes, and video serving and sharing. But it does lack some esoteric features other like devices have implemented, such as video surveillance.
While the setup is quite PC-centric, the EX495 is suited for households with both PCs and Macs. You can use the EX495 on the Mac, but you'll have to jump through some hoops first. Because the EX495 runs Windows Home Server, the initial setup requires a Windows PC with an installation of Microsoft's Connector software. Many important features must first be configured on the PC administrator account before they can be used on the Mac, including Time Machine and remote access. After you've set up the EX495, you'll still need a Windows PC when you need to change many settings.
The directions to set up the EX495 for the Mac are intuitive, but only to a point. Installing the Mac software was simple, but actually using the device proved more difficult. First, you'll want to create an account with full privileges through the PC administrator because the standard "guest" account cannot be authorized to take advantage some of the higher-end features of the drive.
Once the account was set up, we still had difficulty initially viewing any of the features of the EX495 on the Mac. The problem appears to be due to a compatibility issue with Safari in 64-bit mode. Once we switched to Firefox, the problems disappear, but this means that the Mac's preferred Web browser in 64-bit mode is incompatible with the EX495.
Once you've created an account on the PC and authorized it to have full access, you can use the EX495 to its considerable abilities. The iTunes server worked without a hitch, and we encountered no problems backing up our iMac 3.06GHz to the EX495 through Time Machine.
The EX495 was particularly fast during virus scans and at finding files thanks to the indexing feature of its Windows Home Server operating system. The latest HP MediaSmart server offers improved accessibility and administrative controls for the Mac. Now, you can organize and stream your media files from the Mac browser controls. The unit is still a long ways away from being untethered to a PC, but it's a step in the right direction.
The EX495 ships with one 1.5TB drive, which means there's no possibility of data redundancy unless you add another drive. The EX495 has with four bays (three open) for internal storage expansion, as well as four USB ports and an eSATA port for external storage and printers. It's also one of the more attractive-looking units on the market (from a PC standpoint).
Macworld's buying advice
The speed and extensive features of the MediaSmart EX495 home media server makes it appealing it to a wide spectrum of users, but Mac audiences should be warned about the unfriendly Mac setup process. Best suited for a mixed PC and Mac environment, the EX495 is hard to endorse over more Mac friendly media servers out there.
[Chris Holt is a Macworld assistant editor. Freelance journalist Jon L. Jacobi contributed to this review.]