The EX495 comes with seven default share folders. Five are media-related, including Photos, RecordTV, Music, Video, and Converted Videos. Files inside these folders will be streamed to any media server-compatible devices, including set top boxes, game consoles, iTunes, and other computers. The EX495 supports all media streaming standards, allowing you to stream media via a Web-based player and it works seamlessly with Windows Media Center. Also, the EX495 has the ability to automatically collect digital contents (photos, music, and videos) from network computers and convert video into formats for different types of players, including the iPod Touch and iPhone--a useful feature for media-streaming enthusiasts.
The other three folders include Mac, Users, and Software. Mac is for use with Mac computers using Apple Time Machine; Users contains private folders for each user account; and Software that has add-ins for the server. Add-ins can be anything from antivirus or any other third party programs designed to work specifically with the Home version of Windows Server.
Storage and backup: The EX495 comes with 1.5TB of storage and three empty bays for another three SATA hard drives. Unfortunately you can't set them up in any RAID configurations. While the server comes with a great feature called Folder Duplication that redundantly spreads data over multiple disks for protection, this doesn't offer any protection against the failure of the main hard drive, which houses the server's operating system. It would be great if the server supported RAID 1 and allowed the main hard drive to be mirrored to another one. For now, if this hard drive fails, you'll need to do a server recovery or reinstall the server from the beginning. Should this happen, data in folders that have been chosen to be duplicated will be safe.
Folder Duplication is easy to use and offers protection at the folder level. Once turned on, the folders will be protected against single disk failure. When a new hard drive is installed, it will automatically rebuild the copies of data that have been lost. You can use this feature with any shared folders of your choosing; however, you'll need at least an additional hard drive installed. This hard drive can be internal or external (connected via the USB or eSATA connections).
The NAS accepts extra hard drives in two modes: extension and backup. In extension mode, the added drives will be the extension of the internal hard drive with their storage blended together. You won't have control over which hard drive your data is stored in, unless you use the duplication feature mentioned below. In this mode, the NAS will format the drive before you can use it, meaning you won't be able to use a hard drive with existing data on it. In order to add a drive that already contains data, you'll need to use the backup mode. In this mode, the added drive will act as a separate volume that can be removed later. You can only use this drive to be the destination to back up the NAS' internal hard drives. This is also useful, as it allows for backing up the server's main hard drive for recovery in case it fails.
The EX495 also comes with excellent backup solutions.
For PCs, the NAS can silently pull backups from any network computers with Windows Home Server Console installed without any interaction from the user. The NAS can even automatically wake the computer from standby mode to do the backup if need be. Restoring files is made simple, thanks to the interface. When viewing a backup file, the NAS will convert it into a virtual drive. Then, you can just browse for files and copy them over using Windows Explorer just like you would do with an external hard drive.
Unfortunately, the NAS doesn't allow for backing up one PC and restoring another simultaneously, so you if you have multiple machines in a network, you might run into situation where you have to disable a backup that's in process before you can restore.
For Mac users, the EX495 comes with external hard drive emulation software called HP MediaSmart Server that makes the NAS appear as an external hard drive to the computer, which helps it work well with Time Machine (available in OS X 10.5 or later.). Once installed, the software allows for allocating an amount of storage on the server for Time Machine. Pick this number carefully, as once a backup has been made, you can't change the size of this storage without losing the backup data.
All in all, we found the EX495 offers one of the easiest-to-use and most comprehensive backup solutions for a home network.
Remote access: The EX495's remote access features are some of the most comprehensive and intuitive we've experienced in NAS servers. Unlike other NAS servers, such as the WD My Book World Edition, which offers vendor-assisted remote access, the EX495 lets you customize the Web address using a dynamic DNS (DDNS) service provided by TOZ. The service is free for the first year and costs only about $10 for each additional year. You can also use Windows Live Custom domain service, which is free but would have no support from HP.
Also if you choose to use TOZ, and if you use a router that supports UPnP standard, which most Wireless-N routers do nowadays, the EX495 will take care of the configuration, which includes forwarding certain ports to the NAS server.
We set up the remote connection in about 5 minutes and could then access the NAS remotely. The remote access has several options, including access to the aforementioned HP Photo Publisher and HP Photo Viewer. Also included is the Web media streamer, where you can play content such as music or videos direct from the NAS. Computer Access lets you access files stored on the NAS server and other shared folders on the local network.
The EX495 allows for downloading files and entire folders to the remote computer. If you choose to download a folder, you have the option of downloading that folder in the form of a ZIP file or an executable file that will decompress the downloaded content for you. You can also upload files from the remote computer directly onto the NAS server.
The EX495 performed very well in our testing, though not as well as the LX195. In our throughput test, it was consistently faster than most NAS servers we've tested and is comparable to most USB external hard drives. This is impressive as typically direct-attached external hard drives are faster than any network storage devices.
In the write test, the EX495 scored 279.6Mbps, compared to the 256.3Mbps of the Synology DS209+. The read test was even better, as the EX495 scored 380.4Mbps, again besting the 375.5Mbps of the Synology. These scores, however, are still lower than those of the LX195, which registered 279.6Mbps for the write test and 380.4 for the read test. Nonetheless, so far the EX495 is the second fastest NAS server we've reviewed.
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Service and support
As with the LX195, HP backs the EX495 with a rather short one-year warranty. The company offers free 24-7 technical phone support and server restore discs in case the server software itself becomes corrupt. There is no standalone support application included, as you'd find on HP desktops, but there are many links in the Home Server software itself explaining the ins and outs. Other than the short warranty, we feel you will get plenty of help when you run into trouble.