Despite its consumer-friendly name, the HP Media Vault is essentially a network-attached storage (NAS) drive with media-streaming capabilities. The drive is available in two capacities: the 300GB Media Vault MV2010 costs AU$599, and the 500GB MV2020 costs AU$799. We tested the MV2020 model. Both drives ship with a single hard drive and an empty bay to add a second drive for more capacity or a RAID 1 array. The Media Vault can stream audio and video to any UPnP-compliant digital media adaptor and comes with backup and restore software, a pre-installed full-length movie, and two free movie downloads from CinemaNow. Though both Media Vault models represent a reasonable per-gigabyte price, the Buffalo TeraStation is slightly less expensive per GB, with a 1TB drive retailing for about AU$1999, and there are larger sizes available. Still, since the HP Media Vault lets you choose what drive to put in the second bay, you could easily create a 1TB drive for less than AU$2000 by finding a good deal on a hard drive. And even better, the HP Media Vault is quick with data transfers, making it an excellent option for the networked home user with tons of digital data and the desire to share it.
The silver-and-black Media Vault looks a lot like HP's own Slimline desktops. Its design is spare: on the front is a series of lights for power, network connection, disk activity and a single USB 2.0 port. A black-plastic door conceals the empty drive bay, and a lone power button graces the bottom of the device's face. On the back are two additional USB 2.0 ports, a Gigabit Ethernet port, and a power port. The built-in print server lets you network any compliant printer using the USB ports -- as many as three printers. Alternatively, you can use the USB ports to attach additional external hard drives.
You can add a second SATA drive to the empty drive bay -- IDE drives are not supported -- to increase your capacity or to set up a RAID 1 array. RAID 1 simply copies what's saved to the first drive to the second, so you have redundancy but not increased write-speed. Should one drive fail, you have everything copied onto the second drive. Keep in mind, though, file errors and bugs are also copied, so while RAID 1 is better than nothing, it's not the most secure solution either. (RAID 1 also reduces your overall capacity.) The Buffalo TeraStation Home Server offers RAID 5 capability, which is better for data security, though transfer times take a hit. The maximum capacity for the Media Vault, including secondary SATA drives and external USB hard drives, is 1.2TB.
Installing the Media Vault is a simple process: Plug the drive in and connect it to one of your router's LAN ports using an Ethernet cable. Power it up and wait to see that the power and network lights are properly lit. Then install the backup and restore software and the Media Vault utility from the included CD. During the installation process, you'll be prompted to map a drive letter to each of the shared folders on the Media Vault. (If you choose to skip this step, you can also map the drives later using Windows XP.) There are a couple of things to keep in mind for a successful installation. First, the DHCP server on your router needs to be enabled. Second, you may need to turn off any software firewalls on your PC. HP's support documentation indicates a known problem with Norton's firewall, but we ran into the same problem using a PC-cillin firewall. We turned off the software firewall to finish installation, then turned it back on once we were done. With the PC-cillin firewall turned on, the Media Vault utility couldn't find the drive again, although we were still able to access it because we had mapped the folders on the drive. In order to continue using the MV utility, we had to leave the PC-cillin firewall off (though our router's firewall was still up and running).
Once the Media Vault is installed, you can access it a couple of different ways. If you chose to map the drives, you'll find the mapped drives under Network Drives in My Computer. Alternately, you can double-click the Media Vault utility icon on your desktop, and click the Start Browsing Your HP Media Vault link. Each PC on your network should be able to see the Media Vault folders on the network. You can either manually map the folders on each PC or install the MV utility. The Media Vault comes with four preset folders: Backup, FileShare, MediaShare, and CinemaNow. You can rename or delete any of these folders and add any number of additional folders and subfolders, but HP warns against changing the names of the preset folders if you want to use them as HP intends. The Backup folder is where file/folder and disk backups are stored. FileShare is intended for any files you want to share across your network. MediaShare is a repository for audio, video, or picture files. (More on CinemaNow later.)
Using the MV configuration utility, you can set backups, change user permissions, format disks, set up a mirror, and change network settings, among other options. As the administrator, you can determine permissions for each user on the network: they can have access to all, some, or none of the folders, as well as read-only or read/write access. For example, it would probably be prudent to not give your less tech-savvy family members access to backup files, lest they be deleted. Using the config utility, you can also change features of each folder; for example, whether the contents of a folder can be streamed. Only audio, video, and picture files can be streamed, which is why HP recommends keeping all of that content in the MediaShare folder.
HP bundles NTI Shadow for file backups. Using the MV utility, you can set up simple or custom backups. If you choose simple backup, the utility prompts to you to choose one, several, or all of the following folders: My Music, My Pictures, My Videos, My Documents, or My Desktop. If you go with the custom backup, you can pick individual files or folders and set the program to do a continuous backup (which means that every time you make a change to a file in a folder that is backed up to the Media Vault, the corresponding file on the Media Vault will also be changed), save every X minutes, or to back up at a predetermined time or day. NTI Shadow is simple to use and intuitive. You can even choose to have the Media Vault give you progress reports after each backup. There's no point to backing up if you can't restore. The bundled NTI Drive BackUp helps restore a drive or partition -- simply click Restore Your Entire Drive in the MV utility and choose the backup file you want to use. (To restore your system disk, you'll need to use the included PC restore disk.)
Aside from serving as a repository for files and backups, the HP Media Vault can also stream media files to other PCs in your household or to any UPnP-compliant digital media adaptor. For example, you could stream music to a stereo and videos and movies to your TV simultaneously. As mentioned above, only certain file types can be streamed. The CinemaNow folder comes preloaded with a full-length version of The Bourne Identity, and Media Vault customers receive a username and password to access CinemaNow to download two additional free movies. The Media Vault isn't tied to CinemaNow for movies either. You can purchase downloadable movies from any site that offers them, then store them here, as well.
Even with all of these features, the Media Vault wouldn't be as compelling a product if it were slow. Happily, it's not. In fact, the Media Vault is quite a speed demon at both reading and writing. In the CNET Labs' tests, it averaged 15 minutes, 12 seconds to write a 5GB folder of mixed file types from the PC to the Media Vault. It read the same folder back in 13 minutes, 25 seconds. None of the other NAS units we've tested beat the Media Vault's read or write times.
HP backs the Media Vault with a standard one-year warranty. Toll-free tech support is available 24/7, as is online chat with a technician. You can also e-mail queries to tech support. HP's site provides FAQs/knowledgebase, software download, and user guides.
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