The HP MediaSmart Server EX470 and Windows Home server should mean little effort or expertise is required to get the most from digital media from your PC system or home network.

If you have a plethora of digital media files in one or more PCs at home, Windows Home Server (WHS) might be for you. A variant of Windows Server 2003, this is Microsoft's brand new attempt to win over home users. It's designed to be as easy to use as possible, meaning that you can get on with using your files without having to worry about IP addresses, drive letters, backup utilities etc.

In essence, WHS means little effort or expertise is required to get some impressive results from your PC system or home network.

Hewlett-Packard has been a supporter of WHS since its early days, and its new HP MediaSmart Server EX470 is a good demonstration of what WHS might be able to do. In practice, it's rather like an enhanced network-attached storage (NAS) device with multiple hard drives. On top of this there's an extra layer in the form of WHS, plus a few useful little extra programs from HP itself.

The standard version HP MediaSmart Server EX470 comes with a 1.8GHz Sempron processor and 500GB of storage space, with four SATA drive bays (half of them taken up by the existing drives) for accommodating internal storage, and four USB 2.0 ports for additional external drives.

Microsoft promises and delivers an easy setup experience. To get started, we simply plugged tHP MediaSmart Server EX470 into an empty ethernet port on our Linksys router. Next we installed a small Windows Connector application on each home PC that we wanted to connect to the server. After rebooting the PCs, each one recognised the MediaSmart server, and we were up and running.

The HP MediaSmart Server EX470 itself doesn't support a monitor, keyboard or mouse – any management of the server can be done from a connected PC.

Microsoft fully supports up to 10 PCs running the Connector software per home server. Any PC beyond the maximum of 10 can link to your HP MediaSmart Server EX470 to upload and download files. However, if it doesn't have the Connector application running, it can't take advantage of advanced functions such as automatic backup, access to server maintenance tools, and remote desktop access.

One of the chief benefits of the HP MediaSmart Server EX470 is that all existing drives are merged into one centralised storage location – you no longer have to deal with drive letters, and each new drive just adds to the overall storage space.

In a typical multi-PC home, users want to share multimedia content - as opposed to spreadsheets in an office setting. HP has included some of its own tools for streamlining content sharing. Photo Webshare, for instance, lets you share photos with the outside world and, while this software lacks some of the features of, for instance, Flickr, not having to upload photos to a third-party service is a big bonus.

We did like the HP iTunes feature, that lets you create one large library from all of the iTunes libraries on the server. IN addition, WHS lets Xbox 360 users stream audio and video content directly from the HP MediaSmart Server EX470 rather than having to first download it.

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