Windows Home Server is quite possibly one of Microsoft's most unheralded operating systems. Many speak longingly of Windows XP, jokingly of Windows ME, disappointedly of Windows Vista, and hopefully of Windows 7. But seldom discussed is the little-known and little-used operating system designed to be installed on a home server and act as a central depository for serving media and other files, as well as a place to backup your home systems' files. For those who have used it, many praise Windows Home Server's functionality and performance--especially since Microsoft has made some significant updates to the OS recently. (Windows Home Server is actually based on Microsoft's Windows Server 2003.)
It is possible to purchase the Windows Home Server OS and install it yourself on your own rig: you can download or order a free 120-day trial of the OS from Microsoft here. Many users, however, choose to buy home servers with the Windows Home Server OS already installed. Hewlett-Packard (HP) was the first such vendor to provide a system with Windows Home Server pre-installed, with its MediaSmart Server series. HP was soon joined by a short list of other system vendors, including Niveus and Velocity Micro. A number of the existing Windows Home Server offerings are moderately priced, with several selling for well below $1,000. However, before HP's just-launched, $399.99 (MSRP) HP MediaSmart Server LX195, none of them filtered down to a mainstream budget price point.
HP presently offers three different HP MediaSmart Server options (its older models have been phased out). The two top models, the HP MediaSmart Server EX485 ($599.99 MSRP) and EX487 ($749.99 MSRP) both come with a total of four user-serviceable drive bays--these two models are identical to each other, with the exception that the EX485 comes with a single 750GB hard drive and the EX487 comes with two 750GB drives (for 1.5TB total storage). The LX195 uses a less-powerful processor, less RAM, only one (non-user-serviceable) drive bay with a 640GB hard drive, and a smaller form-factor than the EX series (the EX series also includes an eSATA port, which the LX195 lacks). The installed version of the software is also a bit different between the EX series and LX195--with the EX series having a bit more functionality than the LX195 (more on this a later).
Total storage capacity expandable up to:
Windows Home Server
1.6GHz Intel Atom 230
1 GB RAM
640GB 7200rpm SATA
10/100/1000 RJ-45 Gigabit Ethernet port; (4) USB 2.0 ports
Windows XP, Windows Vista, Mac OS X 10.5
HP MediaSmart Server, power adapter and cable, Ethernet cable, software installation disc, PC restore disc, server recovery disc, setup poster and HP support guides
The LX195 is fairly easy to setup and use, but the potential gotchas and myriad of configuration options are numerous. The included two-page MediaSmart Server Setup Poster provides minimal directions, with most of the setup conducted by the software installation wizard. While a 230-page, HP MediaSmart Server User's Guide exists, oddly it is not included on the installation CD; but you can download it from HP's site here (PDF).