HP & LaCie/Axentra Media Servers

If there is a "killer app" that can justify home networking these days, it has to be streaming digital media. With endless digital TV recordings, mountains of digital photos, burgeoning digital music collections and digital home movies galore, many households have more digital media than they know what to do with. As all of these media files are often in need of storage space, intelligent organization and access from multiple PCs and home entertainment systems, a network makes a great delivery system. What’s missing in many cases, and what our review subjects provide (albeit in different forms and with vastly different capabilities), are centralized servers that can house, organize and deliver digital media on demand wherever in the house it may be needed. Or rather, wherever the home network goes, so also goes digital media.

That said, there are many big differences between the two servers we chose for this review. The HP EX475 MediaSmart comes in a mini-PC tower with two 500-GB drives (and includes empty bays for two more internal SATA 150 drives), uses a standard if low-powered PC CPU, offers numerous expansion ports and runs on Windows Home Server software. In addition to providing plenty of storage, shared media bins for photos, music, videos and automatic support for iTunes music files, the MediaSmart also offers ample SMB-based storage for files of all kinds, handles automated backup for Windows Vista and XP systems on your network and also monitors network health as well. It also costs $700 and up.

The LaCie Ethernet Disk mini – Home Edition is essentially a 500 GB external hard disk that includes a network interface, along with an embedded 900 MHz Marvell processor that runs Linux, and supports pretty comprehensive media management services (also including automatic support for iTunes). But there’s no client image-level backup nor network health (you can however, backup the whole server easily, and snapshot client directories), and no real expansion capability, either. But at prices ranging from $150 to $200, the Ethernet Disk mini may be a lot more affordable for many households.

hp lacie media HP and LaCie media servers side by side

The EX475 MediaSmart dwarfs the LaCie Ethernet Disk mini in size, capability and cost.

In the sections that follow next, we’ll cover these two media servers separately, starting with the HP EX475 MediaSmart, followed by the LaCie Ethernet Disk mini – Home Edition. At the end of this article, we’ll compare and contrast these two devices, and recommend situations for which each one may be suitable.