Editors' note: The HP MediaSmart Server EX495 has a very similar feature set to that of the already reviewed LX 195. For this reason, you might have a slight feeling of deja vu while reading the feature section of this review.
Priced at around $700, the HP MediaSmart Server EX495 is a great upgrade to the Editors' Choice winner, LX195.
The LX495 has 1.5TB of storage (as opposed to the 640GB of the LX 195), includes three empty bays, 4 USB ports, and one eSATA port, giving it a host of expansion options. The server offers great performance and a comprehensive set of networking features. Unfortunately, despite its four bays, the EX495 doesn't support any RAID configurations. Also, there's no support for IP cameras or USB printers.
Nonetheless, for homes or small offices, this is one of the best NAS servers on the market.
Design and setup
At its core, the EX495 is a Windows computer, powered by a Pentium dual-core processor, 2GB of RAM, running the Home version of Windows Server 2003. The only difference is that it doesn't include a video-out, nor does it have mouse and keyboard support. Windows Home Server has slowly become the standard for NAS server operating systems, over Linux. The benefits of this alternative include the fact that the server can be controlled like a Windows computer and, in case of hardware failure, the hard drives can be removed and put into any Windows computers to recover the data--something much harder to do with hard drives formatted using the Linux file system.
The HP MediaSmart Server EX495 is shaped like a mini tower computer. The four front-access hard-drive bays are stacked vertically with the bottom bay occupied by the server's included 1.5TB main hard drive. This drive contains the server's operating system, which will have to be installed during the setup process. Each bay comes with hard-drive tray that can be removed without tools, making installing or removing an existing hard drive an easy job. Aside from the drive that includes the OS, the rest can be swapped out on the fly, one at a time, without turning off the server.
The door of each bay incorporates a sleek-looking, color-changing LED that indicates the status of the hard drive. For example, blue indicates the drive is in good shape and ready, while red signifies there may be an error. Also, on the front are a USB port and three other LED lights that show the overall condition of the server, the network connection, and the power-on indicator.
On the back of the server are another three USB ports and an eSATA port. These ports are used solely for additional storage. They don't support anything else, such as a printer or USB camera. Also, on the back, is the on/off switch, which is so sensitive, you could accidentally turn the server off just by lightly touching on it.
The server comes with three DVDs, labeled "Software Installation Disc", "PC Restore Disc," and "Server Recovery Disc." The first covers installing the operating system onto the main hard drive. The second DVD restores a network computer from a backup image stored on the server. Finally, the third DVD is something you want to have, yet never want to have to use. It will recover the server from a backup if need be.
The process of getting the EX495 up and running is easy and straightforward. Just plug the server into your router and run the Software Installation Disc on any of the PCs connected to the network and follow the onscreen instruction. Note that this is a time-consuming process.
Once setup, the EX195 can be accessed via either the HP MediaSmart Server Control Center software, by browsing through Windows Explorer, or any network browsers. If you use Mac, the server will automatically appear on the Finder. To use the Server's support for Time Machine, you'll need to install the "HP MediaSmart Server" software included on the first DVD. We didn't run into any problems setting up on OSX 10.5, nor Windows, and were ready to go within about 30 minutes.
Like the LX195, the EX495 share the unique photo management feature of HP NAS servers, which is the Web-based PhotoPublisher application, which can be launched from the HP MediaSmart Server Control Center. The features allows for uploading photos stored on the NAS directly to popular photo-sharing sites including Snapfish, Flickr, Picasa, and Facebook.
This is very different from many NAS servers we've reviewed, such as the Synology DS209+, that comes with a photo-sharing service of its own and the photos are stored on the server itself. The PhotoPublisher is a useful feature as most people who are into sharing photos would likely have an account with one of those photo Web sites. The feature makes it easy to upload an entire album directly from the NAS. Just make sure there are photos in the "Photo" default share folder, log in to run PhotoPublisher, and the rest is very self-explanatory.
If you don't have an account with any of those Web sites, the NAS' photo-sharing service and HP Photo Viewer can be used to quickly organize photos and make them available online via the remote access connection mentioned below.
Other notable features of the EX495 include the following:
User account and share folders: Like any Windows machine, the EX495 features a standard user management setup. To create a new user, run the Windows Home Server Console and click on the tab called User Accounts. Here, you can create new users just like you would in a Windows computer, with one difference: you have the option of giving the user remote access to the NAS server. Once a user is created, the wizard will display a list of existing share folders that the new user can be given access to. Access privileges include Full (write and read), Read (read only), and None (no access).
Creating a new share folder is similar to creating a new user; simply click on the "Share Folder" tab and follow the wizard. Once a new folder has been created, the wizard allows you to assign access to that folder via a list of existing users. An unlimited number of share folders can be created.
The EX495 comes with seven default share folders. Five are media-related, including Photos, RecordTV, Music, Video, and Converted Videos. Files inside these folders will be streamed to any media server-compatible devices, including set top boxes, game consoles, iTunes, and other computers. The EX495 supports all media streaming standards, allowing you to stream media via a Web-based player and it works seamlessly with Windows Media Center. Also, the EX495 has the ability to automatically collect digital contents (photos, music, and videos) from network computers and convert video into formats for different types of players, including the iPod Touch and iPhone--a useful feature for media-streaming enthusiasts.