The HP MediaSmart Server EX470 and Windows Home server should mean little effort or expertise is required to get the most from digital media from your PC system or home network.

If you have a plethora of digital media files in one or more PCs at home, Windows Home Server (WHS) might be for you. A variant of Windows Server 2003, this is Microsoft's brand new attempt to win over home users. It's designed to be as easy to use as possible, meaning that you can get on with using your files without having to worry about IP addresses, drive letters, backup utilities etc.

In essence, WHS means little effort or expertise is required to get some impressive results from your PC system or home network.

Hewlett-Packard has been a supporter of WHS since its early days, and its new HP MediaSmart Server EX470 is a good demonstration of what WHS might be able to do. In practice, it's rather like an enhanced network-attached storage (NAS) device with multiple hard drives. On top of this there's an extra layer in the form of WHS, plus a few useful little extra programs from HP itself.

The standard version HP MediaSmart Server EX470 comes with a 1.8GHz Sempron processor and 500GB of storage space, with four SATA drive bays (half of them taken up by the existing drives) for accommodating internal storage, and four USB 2.0 ports for additional external drives.

Microsoft promises and delivers an easy setup experience. To get started, we simply plugged tHP MediaSmart Server EX470 into an empty ethernet port on our Linksys router. Next we installed a small Windows Connector application on each home PC that we wanted to connect to the server. After rebooting the PCs, each one recognised the MediaSmart server, and we were up and running.

The HP MediaSmart Server EX470 itself doesn't support a monitor, keyboard or mouse – any management of the server can be done from a connected PC.

Microsoft fully supports up to 10 PCs running the Connector software per home server. Any PC beyond the maximum of 10 can link to your HP MediaSmart Server EX470 to upload and download files. However, if it doesn't have the Connector application running, it can't take advantage of advanced functions such as automatic backup, access to server maintenance tools, and remote desktop access.

One of the chief benefits of the HP MediaSmart Server EX470 is that all existing drives are merged into one centralised storage location – you no longer have to deal with drive letters, and each new drive just adds to the overall storage space.

In a typical multi-PC home, users want to share multimedia content - as opposed to spreadsheets in an office setting. HP has included some of its own tools for streamlining content sharing. Photo Webshare, for instance, lets you share photos with the outside world and, while this software lacks some of the features of, for instance, Flickr, not having to upload photos to a third-party service is a big bonus.

We did like the HP iTunes feature, that lets you create one large library from all of the iTunes libraries on the server. IN addition, WHS lets Xbox 360 users stream audio and video content directly from the HP MediaSmart Server EX470 rather than having to first download it.

NEXT PAGE: remote access, backup, security and our expert verdict > >

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The HP MediaSmart Server EX470 and Windows Home server should mean little effort or expertise is required to get the most from digital media from your PC system or home network.

Remote access lets you connect remotely to your home server so that you can upload and download files, or access other PCs on the network via a built-in remote-desktop application. The HP MediaSmart Server EX470 takes you through this carefully, and the emphasis is always on making it as easy to set up as possible.

But WHS isn't just about making it easier to share files. We should all back up our files at regular intervals but, in practice, few of us do. The HP MediaSmart Server EX470 automatically backs up all machines connected to the server. Backups are stored, and if your PC crashes you can boot it up using a special Windows Home Server disc that connects the impaired PC to your server and restores your system to a previous, undamaged state.

The HP MediaSmart Server EX470 stores different images of your desktop so you can pick the oldest image or a newer one to restore to. You can also recover files from PCs that have been backed up, regardless of whether or not the target machine is still functional. It took us less than 20 minutes to return a notebook PC that we had intentionally corrupted back to a pristine previous state.

WHS can also keep tabs on the status of firewalls and antivirus software, and it's extremely easy to ensure that all PCs in the house are subject to the same internet controls - instead of checking each individual PC, Home Network Health pops up a message alerting you to potential problems.

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HP MediaSmart Server EX470: Specs

  • 1.8GHz AMD Sempron
  • Microsoft Windows Home Server
  • 512MB DDR2 RAM
  • 500GB
  • Four HDD Trays
  • 1 Gigabit Ethernet port
  • Four USB 2.0 ports
  • One eSATA port
  • 140x230x250mm
  • 1-year warranty
  • 1.8GHz AMD Sempron
  • Microsoft Windows Home Server
  • 512MB DDR2 RAM
  • 500GB
  • Four HDD Trays
  • 1 Gigabit Ethernet port
  • Four USB 2.0 ports
  • One eSATA port
  • 140x230x250mm
  • 1-year warranty

OUR VERDICT

It's early days yet for WHS, and it'll be interesting to see what HP's rivals can come up with. But as a first version the HP MediaSmart Server EX470 is extremely promising. It's a good match for a PC-using household, and delivers handsomely on its promise of offering easy-to-manage tools for protecting and sharing data in a multi-PC home.

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