Windows Home Server First Impressions

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HP EX475 MediaSmart
ServerAfter pondering various options for media center related storage, Jenn and I happened to be walking through Fry’s this weekend and saw they had dropped prices on HP MediaSmart Servers quite a bit so we bit the bullet and got the 1TB model.

So far, I like it quite a bit.

The form factor really surprised me. It’s small. Like, so small we walked right past it in the store and didn’t even notice it. We ended up asking where they were and when we saw it we were surprised by the size. I expected a mini-tower; it’s really only about nine inches tall and five inches wide. The whole package is fairly aesthetically pleasing so if you don’t have a desk to put it under, it’s not going to look bad sitting in plain sight.

Setup went surprisingly smoothly, which is far better than I can say about most of the electronics purchases I make. I always find there’s something “special” about my environment, even though I try not to do anything too out of the ordinary, and it makes things that are supposed to be simple very difficult. The only hitch I ran into during the setup was something they warn you about several times in the guide: your firewall/antivirus software may cause the server not to be found from your network, so you may have to adjust accordingly. I shut it down long enough to connect to the home server and everything is peachy keen. (Of course, the Home Server detected I had the firewall shut down, so for a few minutes I couldn’t figure out why it kept telling me my “network health was critical.” Eventually I got things set up enough that it was able to tell me very clearly that the firewall was down. Putting it back up restored network health to normal.)

The server is headless, so you control it entirely through the “Windows Home Server Console,” a remote desktop style application. It’s very easy to use, not giving you so many thousands of configuration options that you don’t know what to click - it’s clear and concise, which is a huge relief. It removes the burden of finding the checkbox hidden 15 levels deep and “just works.”

Actually, the level of configuration reminded me of a game console. Like when you set up your Xbox 360 or Playstation 3 on the network and configure one or two things - you don’t have to deal with verifying the drivers are set up right, or tweaking the registry to get it to perform, or running command-line programs to register or configure things… it just works. It will even configure your router for you through UPnP if you want to expose your server on the internet so you can get to your media remotely. I’d never seen that before and I wonder why it’s not available in things like the Xbox 360, which requires certain ports to be open to connect to Xbox Live.

The only real complaint I have, if you could call it that, is that it’s so high-level that it doesn’t really reveal what some of the functionality is doing behind the scenes. For example, there’s an iTunes sharing function on it that I’d love to use instead of my multi-user iTunes hack, but I’m not sure how it works so I’m reluctant to start moving things around onto the server before I understand what it’s doing… but there’s nothing in the docs to explain what’s going on beyond explaining how to configure it.

Regardless, this solves my media storage problem, so at the very least I can start ripping DVDs in VIDEO_TS format and saving them here. My laptop has Vista Ultimate on it, and I have another license for it that I can put on my Windows XP desktop (once I’ve migrated the shared data off there - it’s my “file server” right now), so I can try out My Movies on one of those and see how it goes.