HP’s MediaSmart is probably the world’s most misunderstood PC. For a start, it isn’t really a PC in the traditional sense. Instead, it’s the first box that’s been specifically designed to work with Microsoft’s Windows HomeServer.

But what does this mean for your computing life? Potentially, a lot. The idea is that the MediaSmart will sit at the centre of your home network and act as a file repository for everything else that’s connected, just like your servers at work.

But it also has a remit for fun – copy over all your music, movies and videos to its hard drive, and you can access them from anywhere in the world.

A brilliant idea

The first thing that strikes you about the HP MediaSmart Server is that it’s a lot smaller and better looking in the flesh than it is in photographs. Roughly the size of two medium loaves of Hovis stacked on top of each other, it actually cuts quite a dashing jib with its pastel LED lights and meshed front door.

Lord knows what it’s made of, though. Weighing somewhere between cannonball and Shetland pony, HP must have constructed it from the dense heart of the sun itself.

Intelligent back-up

Maybe it’s all the content we’ve loaded onto the hard-drive. Not only will the MediaSmart feed all this intelligently to a PC, Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3 in the home, but it will also act as a secure webserver so that you can play from its libraries via the web at large.

It does have another slightly more prosaic use. Install the supplied software on your PCs, and it’ll back up all your documents and applications on a daily basis as well.

Low powered

Inside the piano black case is an AMD Sempron-based PC. It won’t blow you away with its cutting edge spec sheet, but it will do the job in hand without bothering your electricity meter too much.

Our review sample arrived with a single 500GB hard disk, which can be added to with three front loading drive bays and an eSATA connection round the back.

There are also three USB ports and – you’ll notice early on – nowhere to hook up a monitor. That’s because the MediaSmart is designed to be remotely controlled from another PC via straightforward and well-designed control panel.

Hack into it with Window’s Remote Desktop tool, though, and you can easily add abilities that aren’t in the manual – like turning it into a print server for every PC in your home too.

Needs more apps

Hopefully, more of these functions will be built into the next version of the Home Server software. At the moment, while we like it a lot, it’s hard to recommend buying it over, say, the Freecom Network Drive Pro. That’s a hard drive that plugs into your network and does almost everything the MediaServer does for a quarter of the price.

To justify its existence, it should be able to acquire movies and music for itself. It should have a TV card, from which it can record and stream shows around the house, and a BitTorrent client for downloading digital files too. Without these, it’s a glorified hard drive.


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HP MediaSmart Server review

The MediaSmart isn’t quite ready to take over your house, but it soon will be