Ranging between $375 and $399, the 640GB HP MediaSmart Server LX195 is the best sub-$400 NAS server you can find in terms of value, performance, and features. It comes with a great set of features and a remote connection that's easy to set up and use. The server can automatically pull backups from network computers and offers a comprehensive remote access solution. On the downside, the LX195 is a single hard-drive NAS, meaning there's no redundant storage option. It doesn't support printers or IP cameras, and the remote connection incurs a small yearly cost. Nonetheless, it's one of the best home user NAS servers we've reviewed so far.
Design and setup
The HP MediaSmart Server LX195 is trapezium-shaped with a simple, metallic, aesthetically pleasing look. Unfortunately, it's housed in a cheaply made plastic chassis, which is painted to make it look expensive. On the front are three color-changing LEDs: one each for power, disk actability, and overall system health status.
On the back are four USB 2.0 ports for external storage, a Gigabit Ethernet port, and an on/off power button. The power button is located too close to the USB ports, and during testing there were several occurrences where we accidentally pressed it, turning the machine off. A slider design for the power button would have been most welcome.
At its core, the LX195 is a Windows computer running the Home version of Windows Server 2003, lacking only video out and mouse and keyboard support. It's more common for NAS servers to run Linux, but over the next few years this might change because this offers NAS vendors a standard platform to work on.
The LX195 is powered by an Intel Atom 1.6Ghz processor--normally found in Netbooks--and 1GB of DDR2 RAM, which is a regular desktop RAM that can be replaced by users. The LX195 supports up to 3GB of RAM. Though the Atom is a low-power and relatively low-performance CPU, it's currently the most powerful processor used in a home NAS server. Other NAS servers generally run non-Intel chips with a 1Ghz clock speed or less.
After installing the included software containing Windows Home Server Console and HP MediaSmart Server Control Center applications, we were guided step by step through a straightforward, albeit time-consuming, process. Once set up, the LX195 can be accessed via the HP MediaSmart Server Control Center software, or by browsing through Windows Explorer or any network browsers if you use Mac or other platforms. We recommend using the HP MediaSmart software since it points you directly to the default share folders you'd want, such as Photos, Music, or Videos. Using the software also allows for quickly accessing tools to further customize the NAS server and quick access to the support section, in case you want to learn more or need to troubleshoot the LX195. Though the setup process was rather time-consuming--we had to wait for the device to apply changes--it was easy and straightforward. We got the LX195 up and running in about 20 minutes out of the box.
The most unique feature of the LX195 is the Web-based Photo Publisher application, which can be launched from the HP MediaSmart Server Cotrol Center application. The features allows for uploading photos stored on the NAS directly to popular photo-sharing sites, including Snapfish, Flickr, Picassa, and Facebook.
This is very different from many NAS servers we've reviewed, such as the Synology DS209+, which comes with a photo-sharing service of its own. However, we found this to be a great feature since most people who are into sharing photos would likely have an account with one of those photo Web sites. This feature makes it easy for them to upload an entire album directly from the NAS. We tried this with a Picassa account, and it worked very well. All you need is to have photos in the "Photo" default share folder and then log in to run Photo Publisher. The rest is very self-explanatory.
If you don't have an account with any of those Web sites, you then can use the NAS' photo-sharing service called HP Photo Viewer. Here you can very quickly organize photos and make them available online via the remote access connection mentioned below.
In addition to the Photo Publisher application, the LX195 has some other notable features:
User account and share folders. Like any windows machine, the LX195 features a standard user management setup. To create a new user, you need to run the Windows Home Server Console and click on the User Accounts tab. Here, you can create new users just as you would in a Windows computer, with one difference: you have the option of giving the user remote access to the NAS server. Once a user is created, the wizard will display a list of existing share folders to which you can give the new user access. Access privileges include Full (write and read), Read (read only), and None (no access).
Creating a new share folder is similar to creating a new user; simply click on the "Share Folder" tab and follow the wizard. Once a new folder has been created, the wizard gives you the list of the existing users to assign them access to that folder. An unlimited number of share folders can be created, and you can customize them with different options.
Nonetheless, out of the box the LX195 comes with seven default share folders. Four are media-related, including Photos, RecordTV, Music, and Video. Files inside this folder will be streamed to any media-server-compatible device, including set-top boxes, game consoles, iTunes, and other computers. The LX195 supports all media streaming standards, allows you to stream media from it via a Web-based player, and works seamlessly with Windows Media Center. We tried out a few of these features and they worked well.
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 contains add-ins for the server.
Add-ins can be anything from antivirus programs or any other third-party programs designed to work specifically with the Home version of Windows Server.