Setup and Features
We covered what goes into the setup of a Windows Home Server unit when we covered the Acer easyStore H340. The same thing goes for setting this guy up, at least originally. Most Windows Server units support Apple’s OS X operating system only nominally; Mac users can access the network shares like any other regular network attached storage, but they can’t take advantage of some of the advanced features the burgeoning server OS offers. HP has really gone above and beyond to make these features available to Mac users; as such the LX195 can support Time Machine backups. It must be originally set up with a Windows machine, however, and there no way to get around it. The MediaSmart server isn’t really geared toward Mac-only households, but HP definitely wants to get it in to those places where the computing environment is a little more mixed, with both PCs and Macs clogging up the network. Mac users don’t get quite the same experience as Windows users — yet — but HP has done a lot of work to rectify the situation and even built a custom OS X application for accessing their servers.
Some of the other features found on the LX195 are pretty interesting, and unique to HP’s implementation of Redmond’s Home Server software. Users who are a little wary of drive failure (especially concerning since with its single drive setup, the LX195 is unable to redundantly store and protect users’ data without adding an external hard drive to the party) can sign in with an Amazon S3 account, and the MediaSmart will automatically upload the data to Amazon’s servers, where their distributed cloud storage system will protect any important files you might have. It’s easy to set up and an attractive feature. There’s also a photo publishing tool that can take all of the many photos stored on the server and automatically upload them to a user’s preferred photo sharing site.
HP decided that users might have trouble finding where all of their media is stored on different computers — pictures on this laptop, videos on that desktop, music on someone’s netbook, etc. To that end, they put in the HP Media Collector, which searches out files on various attached computers and aggregates them all in one place. Those users who worry about messing up their iTunes libraries by doing this don’t need to, since the LX195 also includes the ability to act as an iTunes server.
Relatedly, HP’s MediaSmart lines have an app available in the iTunes software store for the iPhone and iPod Touch. It allows users to have access and stream some of their media files to a remote location for playback on the device. The LX195 doesn’t yet support this function (though its older brothers do), but users can expect a software update this fall that will enable such functionality. For users who just want to access the files on a laptop or distant desktop, there’s a utility for a more powerful remote access setup.
Here’s the most relevant and arguably important part of any review that covers network attached storage. Performance. How fast can you access files across the network? Previous NAS units that we’ve had in, as well as Windows Home Server boxes are useful, but they aren’t necessarily the fastest horses in the barn. I was absolutely floored by the performance of the LX195. Close to SEVENTY megabytes per second write speeds, clocking in at an average of 65MB/s in our tests. Read speeds were slightly higher, coming in at around 67MB/s. This is far and away the fastest consumer networked storage unit we have ever tested. It’s frankly shocking. That’s faster than some slower local hard drives; you could probably even get away with doing network booting from this unit, even though it’s not designed to work like that. The outstanding speed is the biggest reason why the lack of an eSATA port is so frustrating! It would be great to expand the storage and maintain that high available throughput. That speed is sustained largely when writing big, singular files. When transferring a lot of small files, such as a large photo collections, the speed drops commensurately, clocking in closer to 15MB/s and 25MB/s for write and read speeds, respectively.
Power, Heat and Noise
The draw to having a dedicated server like this for file storage and media aggregation is that it typically uses significantly less power than a similarly-set up full-on desktop unit. In that fashion, the MediaSmart LX195 isn’t surprising at all. We found it use an average of 25 watts of electricity; based on an theoretical 13 cents per kilowatt-hour, leaving the unit on 24/7 for a month would only raise the electricity bill by $2.34 or so. A desktop unit that used an average of 80 watts of electricity would raise the bill by $7.49 when left on for a similar amount of time. That low power usage is due largely in part to the efficient Atom processor, which also means that the LX195 never got too hot in our tests. Since it’s low-heat, it also uses no fans. No fans means no noise.
Ultimately, HP set out to design a small, attractive box that is targeted toward a diverse group of individuals and is mostly easy to use. They largely succeeded; the MediaSmart LX195 is all of those things and more. At the same time, however, it has it’s flaws. No eSATA port means that expansion is limited to slow USB connections. Upgrading the hard drive is an option, but users will have to image that system drive to another drive first, which is a daunting prospect for computer novitiates. While the software update promised this fall that aims to increase the features available on the LX195 to reflect those currently on the EX models, it is expected to require a system wipe, rather than a mere update, which means users will need to find a temporary holding place for all of their data.
That’s the bad stuff. The good stuff, however, is really, really good. The LX195 is compact and stylish. It offers better Mac compatibility than other commercially available Windows Home Server units. It’s relatively low power and it offers pretty phenomenal write performances. In the end, HP’s newest storage offering will have its champions and its critics, but when all is said and done, it remains a pretty nifty little box. I just can’t help but feel it should be about a hundred dollars less.
- Fast access speeds
- Mac compatibility
- Limited upgradeability
- Comparatively high cost
- Only 640GB of storage