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HP MediaSmart Server LX195 review: HP MediaSmart Server LX195

HP MediaSmart Server LX195

Dong Ngo SF Labs Manager, Editor / Reviews
CNET editor Dong Ngo has been involved with technology since 2000, starting with testing gadgets and writing code for CNET Labs' benchmarks. He now manages CNET San Francisco Labs, reviews 3D printers, networking/storage devices, and also writes about other topics from online security to new gadgets and how technology impacts the life of people around the world.
Dong Ngo
9 min read

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.


HP MediaSmart Server LX195

The Good

The HP LX195 has fast throughput performance, powerful server software, and excellent backup for both PCs and Macs, as well as easily upgradable storage capacity. Also, it's aesthetically pleasing and quiet.

The Bad

The HP LX195 has no RAID, IP camera, or printer support. Also, it has no support for a simultaneous backup/restore function, and its TOZ remote connection incurs an annual cost after the first free year.

The Bottom Line

The HP MediaSmart Server LX195 is a great network storage and backup device for home users. The device offers stellar performance, and great backup and remote access options for a reasonable price.

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.

Storage and backup. The LX195 comes with a 640GB SATA hard drive. This hard drive can be replaced but the process will require some work with a screwdriver and the reinstallation of the operating system, which is time-consuming. The NAS server supports SATA hard drives of any capacity. However, you won't need to replace the hard drive to increase the device's storage, as you can add up to four USB external hard drives to the NAS server.

The NAS accepts external 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 be able to control on which hard drive your data is stored, 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 will need to use the backup mode. In this mode, the added drive will act as a separate volume and you can remove it later. However, you can only use this drive now as the destination to back up the NAS' internal hard drive.

One of the best features of the LX195 is Folder Duplication, which allows you to automatically duplicate any folder. Once this option is selected for a folder, the NAS will constantly keep two copies of this folder: one on the internal hard drive and the other on an external hard drive. This feature, of course, requires at least one external hard drive connected to the NAS as the extension of the internal hard drive. Nonetheless, it really negates the need for, and in some way is even better than, a RAID 1 configuration, which the LX195 lacks.

The LX195 also comes with excellent backup solutions.

For PCs, the NAS can silently pull backups from any network computer that has 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 necessary. 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 as you would do with an external hard drive. Unfortunately, the NAS doesn't allow for backing up one computer and restoring another simultaneously, so you if you have multiple machines in a network, you might run into a situation where you have to disable a backup that's in process before you can restore.

For Mac users, the LX195 comes with external-hard-drive emulation software that makes the NAS appear as an external hard drive to the computer, which helps it to work well with Mac OS 10.5's Time Machine.

All in all, we found that the LX195 offers one of the easiest to use and most comprehensive backup solution for a home network.

Remote access. The LX195's remote access features are some of the most comprehensive and intuitive we've experienced in a NAS server. Unlike other NAS servers, such as the WD My Book World Edition , which offers vendor-assisted remote access, the LX195 lets you customize the Web address using a dynamic DNS (DDNS) service. The NAS' default DDNS provider is TOZ, which is free for the first year but costs about $10 for each additional year. You can also choose to use Windows Live Domain, which is free. Other than that, you can't choose any other DDNS services.

One of the issues involved with using a DDNS service is the configuration. You have to configure the Web address and change the settings of the router to forward certain ports to the NAS server. Fortunately, as long as your router supports the UPnP standard, which most Wireless-N routers do, the LX195 takes care of this process automatically, including the reconfiguring.

We set up the remote connection in about 5 minutes, and after we could access the NAS remotely. The remote access has several options, including access to the above-mentioned HP Photo Publisher and HP Photo Viewer. Also included is the Web media streamer, where you can play content such as music or videos directly from the NAS, and Computer Access, which lets you access files stored on the NAS server and other share folders on the local network.

The LX195 allows you to download 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. You can even upload multiple files at a time as long as each file is no bigger than 2GB.

The Lx195 redefines "fast" among NAS servers. In our throughput test, it was consistently faster than every NAS server we've yet tested and even faster than most external hard drives, which are typically faster than NAS servers.

In the write test, the Lx195 scored 341.8Mbps, compared with the 256.3Mbps of our previous top performer, the Synology DS209+. The read test was even more impressive as the Lx195 scored 393.7Mbps, easily besting the 375.5Mbps of the Synology.

CNET Labs NAS Performance Scores (Via wired Gigabit Ethernet connection)
(Throughput in Megabit per second: longer bars indicate better performance)
Apple Time Capsule
Maxtor CentralAxis (Single Volume)

The LX195 is the fastest NAS server we've yet reviewed. It has raised our expectations of what to expect from NAS servers running the Atom CPU and Windows Home Server software. We were also very happy with the general performance of the NAS server. A couple of times, however, we did run into situations where the Windows Home Server Console application would pop up a confusing message, such as the fact the backup service was not working even though a backup was being made.

Service and support
Hewlett-Packard backs the LX195 with a rather short one-year warranty. The company offers free 24-7 technical phone support and server restore disks 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 think you'll get plenty of help if you run into trouble.


HP MediaSmart Server LX195

Score Breakdown

Setup 7Features 9Performance 9Support 7