The Shared Folders tab is probably the most interesting of the bunch. This has a series of pre-created shared folders dedicated to music, photos and videos, for instance. This lets you enjoy these files on your PC, or you can stream multimedia to media devices on your home network, such as a Media Center Extender or Xbox 360 console. HP includes a photo sharing application, a program that lets you share your iTunes collection with other PCs, and we expect other cool apps to arrive on Windows Home Server in due course.
In terms of storage, the Media Smart Server has four internal SATA drive bays, which let you have up to 4TB of storage using today's drives. It also has four USB ports and an eSATA port so you can connect additional storage. Up to 9TB of storage can be handled by the device. Best of all, the storage is dynamic, which means you can remove a drive that's near capacity and replace it with a larger one simply by yanking them in and out of the drive sleds.
Servers are usually noisy, large, unfriendly-looking things, but the Media Smart Server is different -- to an extent. We like the fact it looks like an upturned Shuttle Media Center PC, and the glossy black panel and blue LEDs are nice to look at. But that's only in the daytime. When night falls, the Media Smart Server becomes a bit of a monster.
The bright lights are very distracting, and the internal cooling fans are far too noisy. This could have been helped if the device had a wireless adaptor and could be installed in a loft or basement, but as it stands, the Media Smart Server isn't something we particularly want in our living rooms, let alone our bedrooms.
Most of the world will love the fact you can access the Media Smart Server over the Internet, but Mac and Linux users have cause for concern. It's only possible to do so using Microsoft Internet Explorer. This seems like a very petty limitation on the part of Microsoft -- we doubt Firefox or Safari are incapable of showing the Web-based interface.
Our final gripe concerns the price. The Media Smart Server is expensive compared to an ordinary network-attached storage device. OK, so NAS boxes don't offer as much functionality, but if all you want is a central repository for your files, then you could save yourself a couple of hundred pounds and opt for something like a Buffalo LinkStation Live.
The home server idea is a good one, and it has been implemented well here by HP. It's a great way of making your data accessible to yourself, your friends and family regardless of location, and it's surprisingly easy to use given the fact it's a server product. It's let down slightly by its price and the incessant hum of the cooling fans, but if you're partially deaf or don't mind an extra soundtrack in your house, then this is a fantastic product.
Edited by Jason Jenkins
Additional editing by Shannon Doubleday