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Closing Thoughts

Editorial note from Tim Higgins:
Some people took issue with our original review because they felt I didn't give the MSS credit for features that are supported by the underlying Windows Home Server operating system, such as print serving, which are not exposed in the MSS user interface. And I have already seen grumping about my statement in the New To the Charts article that states that the new MSS doesn't support jumbo frames, although they can be enabled if you Remote Desktop into the MSS and change the network adapter properties.

So let me preface the wrapup with a reminder that this is a review of HP's MediaSmart Server, which uses a Windows Home Server SP1 operating system, and not a review of Windows Home Server.

HP and Microsoft have chosen to not expose all of the wonderfulness of WHS in the Windows Home Server Console and have even implemented an add-in mechanism to enhance the product without requiring RDPing into the WHS desktop. So we're treating RDPing into WHS as we would having root access to a Linux-based NASes.

We're noting whether it can be done (it can) and that it can be used to enhance the capabilities of the product (it can). But since HP neither documents nor supports RDP management of its product, we don't consider any features accessible solely via RDP to be part of the MSS.

The second generation EX485 and EX487 MediaSmart Servers are a welcome improvement and definitely advance the ball toward a less Windows-centric and more general purpose home server. The Mac OS support is a definite plus, as is the significant performance improvement.

It's also nice to see someone finally incorporate backup to an online service directly into a NAS, instead of just bundling it as an application that must be run on a networked desktop as Iomega is doing with MozyHome. And the TwonkyMedia server and McAfee server anti-virus add-ins, remote music and photo access and power-saving schedulable shutdown and startup all further sweeten the pot.

But many of our criticisms of the first generation MSS still remain. There is still no print server or FTP and client backup is still very inflexible, both in frequency and control of what is backed up. Flash drives (or USB-connected digital cameras) still aren't even recognized, let alone able to be automatically or push-buttoned copied to the MSS. And while it's good to see the ability to back up the server itself to external drives, this feature needs to be schedulable and expanded to include backup and/or mirroring to other local shares.

As for remote media access, the Linksys Media Hub, while not perfect, definitely beats the MSS from the simplicity of its remote access setup to its attractive interfaces for music, photos and video access that look and feel the same whether accessed from the LAN or WAN. For example, on the Linksys, all data is collected and stored by computer name, but it's aggregated so that you can view all of your photos through their UI. On the HP, however, if you click on Photos in the control center, you get a file view, not an aggregated media view. And to get an aggregated date view, you have to log onto the MediaSmart with a web browser.

The Linksys media collection solution is also superior to HP's. While the server-based HP media collector requires the same configuration for all client systems, the Linksys allows each client to control the folders that are scanned.

I also find the combination of browser and application based (Windows Home Server Console) management unnecessarily confusing and redundant. Why do you need two UIs? I would have preferred to access everything via a browser. This would not only make the MSS more OS neutral, but would leverage the security of the SSL certificates installed for Remote Access for both local and remote access.

But let's say that you're sold on the MSS but wonder if it is competitively priced. Compared to the NETGEAR ReadyNAS Pro (RNDP6350 - 3 x 500GB) at $1522, the 1.5 TB EX487 is a steal at at $553.99 with free shipping (use the link in the Pricegrabber box at the bottom of the page). The other NASes that were compared earlier price out at $470 for the 3 bay Thecus M3800 and $1025 for the five-bay Synology DS508—both without any drives.

We can also use the new Price vs. Performance view that has been added to the Charts. Figure 26 shows all products with 1000 Mbps Write data in the NAS Chart database. The EX487 is the "HP" point all by itself near the top right, which is compressing the plot performance scale. The NETGEAR ReadyNAS Pro is the "N" point midway up and to the right. The chart shows that as long as you're willing to pay the price, the EX487 is the best deal in terms of 1000 Mbps Average Write Performance.

Price vs. Performance - 1000 Mbps Average Write

Figure 26: Price vs. Performance - 1000 Mbps Average Write

A price vs. performance chart for 1000 Mbps Average Read (Figure 27) is less compressed because cache effects are lessened. The MSS and ReadyNAS Pro are the two points above all the rest.

Price vs. Performance - 1000 Mbps Average Read

Figure 27: Price vs. Performance - 1000 Mbps Average Read

I ran these plots quickly without applying any of the filters that can be used to limit the products displayed. For a truer price comparison, BYOD (driveless) products should have been filtered out, which is currently not possible. You can explore NAS Price vs. Performance further if you wish.

Some might argue that comparing the ReadyNAS Pro and MSS is apples and oranges. But consider that both don't use standard RAID (the ReadyNAS uses NETGEAR's proprietary X-RAID2), provide flexible storage expansion that doesn't require deleting and restoring data, provide "root" access (the MSS via Windows RDP), can be enhanced via "add-ins" that have very active developer communities (NETGEAR here and WHS here) and have comparable performance (the MSS actually has the edge at some file sizes).

So would I buy the second generation MediaSmart Server?  Quite possibly.  The performance is very good and the pricing doesn't look like there is too much of a WHS "tax". But what tips the scales for me is being able to add features to my NAS / server. I'm enough of a tinkerer that I would probably Remote Desktop in and explore the possibilities available with direct administrator console control of WHS. 

I'd also probably enhance the functionality of my MSS with add-ins to supplement the Amazon S3 online backup, TwonkyMedia server and McAfee AV (disabled by default) add-ins bundled by HP. There are both commercial and community-supplied add-ins, including Torrent download, WHS Console enhancements, and support for Firefly, Sage TV and TiVo Publisher. Check the "official" HP MediaSmart site and the WeGotServed Forums Add-Ins section for add-in listings and for tips and tutorials on enhancing your MSS.

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