HP Media Vault 2100 Linux Server Reviewed: One Kick-Ass Little Penguin

Why, in the midst of a major Windows Home Server push, would HP introduce a little Linux-based NAS at half the price? And why would HP make the US$300 Media Vault mv2120 so full featured and easy that its US$600-and-up MediaSmart Servers look
A) too bulky
B) too expensive
C) too overloaded
D) all of the above?
Is HP telling Microsoft there's no need for Windows Home Server, especially in light of its recent troubles? Or is HP saying that WHS is nice, but it'd be nicer if it was actually priced as an accessory? Whether the new Media Vault is a lurch away from Microsoft's gravitational pull, or whether it's a placeholder until Redmond can come up with a formula for US$300 WHS boxes, it's a pretty cool little machine.

See, one of the reasons I liked Windows Home Server so much is that after dealing with many NAS products from the storage companies and networking hardware makers, the MediaSmart server was easier to setup and had a lot of useful apps ready to go at the start. Maybe you like a clean drive, an empty warehouse on your network, but it's nice when some of the initiative is taken for you.

That's why I was relieved (though a bit startled) that the 500GB Media Vault—again half the price of the 500GB MediaSmart Server—was ready to do so much right out of the box.

I plugged it in, ran the Windows-only set up, and was immediately able to back stuff up, either using the super-simple screen for music, movies, etc., or the more comprehensive tool, where you can tell it what you want to back up and when you want it done.I did it on both Vista and XP machines, and was happy to be able to check out my contents afterwards on the PCs and even on my Mac. (WHS only lets you see your backups via a tedious drive emulator, one that obviously doesn't run on Macs.)Even though the US$299 version comes with just one fixed 500GB drive, it also has a bay so you can add another 3.5" SATA drive. I powered down the unit, dropped in a 500GB on that I had lying around, and fired it up again. The LED went purple to show that it saw the drive but needed a format. I went to the Media Vault control centre, picked the drive, formatted it (as a RAID 1 mirror of the first drive) and voila, in minutes, we were set and, on the unit itself, Drive 2's LED had turned blue.I haven't done any HD video streaming or anything like that yet, but with a gigabit ethernet connection, I don't think I'll have a problem. In fact, though HP says that the Media Vault can't do multiple simultaneous video streams like the WHS, I can't really figure out what I, personally, would miss if I kissed the WHS goodbye and stuck with the Media Vault. Here's how the comparison plays out:

What's not as good as MediaSmart Windows Home Server:
• Won't do multiple streams of video like WHS
• Only two drive bays (a fixed and a spare) instead of four
• Lets you backup multiple PCs, but only one at at time from the PC itself, not through a WHS-style master control

What's the same as MediaSmart Windows Home Server:
• iTunes music aggregation
&bull Photo webshare
• Remote access and web-based file browsing (1-year free)
• Connect via Mac for basic use as a shared drive

What's better than MediaSmart Windows Home Server:
• Web-based remote controls work great on Macs
• Quieter, with less drive noise on a regular basis
• Easy to back-up the server itself to a USB drive
• Easier to access Windows backups, especially from a Mac
• Probably does not share the same data corruption bug as WHS

In the end, this product isn't just another NAS, but a bold statement that HP is making, that it doesn't have to be saddled by the rough riders of Redmond when it can build (license?) its own practically identical box at a lower cost. Now I know that there are some things that you can only do with a PC-like server running a full OS, but honestly, what are they? I mean, do most people, even die-hard server-needers, give a crap? I want to know from you folks: Why bother with Windows Home Server when the Linux-based alternatives are on the surface equally friendly, equally powerful and—oh yeah—half the cost? [HP]

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