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.

Create a new thread in the Streaming Video & TVs forum about this subject
This thread is closed for comments
Comment from the forums
    Your comment
  • Jakt
    The review of the Mediasmart server was good but missed the mark, specifically in failing to mention the community of enthusiasts who continuously develop new software to expand the machine's capabilities. There is so much more to it than just backups and NAS!

    The author also refers to the Mediasmart as having RAID, which it doesn't. It uses a somewhat different system of spanning multiple disks and making them appear as a single drive, but will make critical files redundant on multiple drives if a user wants.

    Sure, it's an expensive machine, but like anything, there are deals to be found if one looks for it.
  • Interlude
    While this article is an interesting and informative read, it veered off course badly in its conclusion when the author stated “For those with home networks, we think the HP EX475 (or its less powerful and costly EX470 cousin) make sense only for those with lots of PCs and devices to manage”.

    Every network, large or small, needs to provide a backup of important data. The HP MediaSmart Server does this often forgotten task automatically, through its daily backup of Client PC’s and Duplicate Folders on the server. The LaCie Ethernet Disk mini – Home Edition does not provide this capability, because it is an NAS, not a true Server, as evidenced by its lack of hard disk expansion, file redundancy, and Network Health monitoring, etc.

    The old adage, “You get what you pay for” is never more true than when you compare the HP MediaSmart Server to the LaCie Ethernet Disk mini – Home Edition! There is no comparison, and the price reflects that.
  • Anonymous
    While it might be convenient for basic Windows users to buy a solution like this from HP, an experienced user could get more mileage out of a low-end notebook computer with a decent hard drive and all of the hard disk expansion you might need with either USB, firewire, or eSATA drives externally. Several Linux-based server packages are available for media servers as well as Unison, rsync, or simple SMP or FTP for files and backup. Mac users can use Time Machine for a more elegant automatic backup. Mac & Linux users are not likely to want Windows Home Server packages.
  • alm
    Good article. I have a LaCie Ethernet Disk Mini Home Edition and I love it. The author made an error though when he said the LaCie has an embedded 900 MHz Marvell processor. In fact it only has a 400 MHz Marvell processor.

    As well, Interlude in his comment above made an error when he said 'The LaCie Ethernet Disk mini – Home Edition does not provide this capability'. The desktop applications which come with the LaCie does provide a Windows and Mac application for automated backups of data on my PCs to the HipServ OS on the LaCie drive. Its based on rsync and it works really well for me. It does folder and file backups, but thats all I need. To boot, the LaCie device fully supports both the Mac and Windows which I love. The Windows Home Server does not provide this capability - Microsoft says Windows Home Server supports the Mac, but when you read the fine print it only supports the Mac if you install Vista on it. That is NOT supporting the Mac. As well, Interlude was incorrect when he said that the LaCie is not a true server - the LaCie drive runs HipServ which uses as its base the RedHat Linus Enterprise Server 4 OS. The same server OS that many banks around the world depend on.

    The LaCie device even allows me to make a secondary backup to an attached USB hard drive through the HipServ MySafe feature. The LaCie may not have multiple drives, but it least that it will not corrupt my data... unlike the Windows Home Server does.