- Fast access speeds
- Mac compatibility
- Limited upgradeability
- Comparatively high cost
- Only 640GB of storage
When Microsoft first announced that they were going to build a stripped-down version of their server operating system for home user, it was rejected outright by many technology pundits. Now, Windows Home Server is finally being taken seriously as people realize its power and usefulness. HP was essentially the first OEM to start selling complete WHS systems to consumers; does the MediaSmart LX195 continue their trend of polished, accomplished products? Read on for our full review.
- Processor: Intel Atom 230 @ 1.6GHz
- Memory: 1GB DDR2 RAM
- Networking: Gigabit Ethernet
- Operating System: Windows Home Server (based on Windows Server 2003)
- Inputs: 4 USB2.0 ports
- Power supply: External
- Dimensions: 8 x 4 x 8 (LxWxH)
- Warranty: One-year limited warranty
The HP MediaSmart LX195 is available with a suggested retail price of $399.99 (though you can sometimes find it on sale from HP for $299.99; they also run specials when you purchase a full-on computer).
Build and Design
The design aspect of computers is an often underrated and sometimes entirely forgotten aspect of the system. Fortunately, HP has really stepped it up with the LX195. The server is very small, with a footprint of only thirty-two square inches. It’s also fantastically designed; the unit is very modern and high-tech looking, but there’s no huge buttons making everything ugly and complicated. The front of the device was completely clean, marked only with three icons and a Windows logo sticker. The three icons also serve as the status display; a gentle blue glow shines from behind the translucent plastic coating. The third icon also serves as a troubleshooting measure; it can blink or shine a sustained blue under normal operation, blink red if there’s a problem and blink purple when in recovery mode.
One of the reasons that the MediaSmart LX195 is so much smaller than most home servers is that HP decided to put the power supply on the outside. That’s a smart move, since the compact size is definitely a draw to this unit. Its diminutive size, however, does give way to its major drawback: the LX195 can only hold a single drive. That means that while you can add additional storage via USB, the only way to expand its fast access storage is by opening the unit up and swapping the hard drive out. Since the WHS server OS is stored on that hard drive, it’s a little more complicated than it might be otherwise, and probably a prospect too daunting for HP’s targeted audience.
That being said, HP definitely allows users to open the server up and upgrade the drive if they really want to, without voiding any part of the warranty. Fortunately opening the LX195 and changing the internals is surprisingly easy. Even though it looks like the unit is covered with a single shell, it does have a removable side panel. Once the two screws are loosened, the side tilts up instead of coming off completely. There’s a little plastic widget sticking out that keeps the panel sticking up.
Attached to the inside of the panel is a 3.5-inch 640GB hard drive. This again is the limiting factor in the system; one hard drive, not all that big, and no extra SATA ports. It’s really too bad, because apart from that the system feels very well built. The rest of the inside is taken up with the small Atom board and setup. The 1GB of RAM is upgradeable to 2GB if necessary, but there’s obviously only one memory slot available. The word ‘Boxter’ is emblazoned on the custom board (as in Porsche); it’s the codename that HP gave to the WHS unit.
Inputs and Expansion
The MediaSmart LX195, as mentioned before, is a bit of spartan unit. It’s got a very modern and simplistic design, and that includes a dearth of inputs. The only accessible input on the front of the server is a reset button that’s used to put the machine into a diagnostic and recovery state in case something needs to be reset. The rear of the machine features the power jack and Gigabit Ethernet networking jack, as well as the USB2.0 expansion ports. There are four ports, which means users could directly attach four external storage devices. There’s no real limit to the size that the expansion drives can be; HP figures on 1TB simply because that’s the mainstream largest size of drive available at the moment.
It’s too bad, however, that HP didn’t feel the need to put in an eSATA port or two. If they’d done that, the server could be expanded with storage that’s just as fast as the internal drive. Since it’s limited to the USB connection, the drives will end up being pretty slow when accessing them across the network; that speed will probably be no greater than twenty megabytes per second or so. Given the frankly astonishing network speeds that the LX195 is capable of, this is limiting and annoying. I suspect when USB3.0 becomes standard, the next revision of this little box will really be something to look at.