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About one-quarter the size of a Mac Pro, this glossy, little box fits into any corner.
You have media files: music, movies, pictures, and video. If your Macs are networked, the MediaSmart Server effectively shares these and other files. But there’s a bizarre catch--it requires a PC for setup and ongoing administration. Still, the server includes a few Mac-centric features: Time Machine backups and direct streaming to iTunes. We just wish the Macs could take advantage of all of the server’s features; in addition to basic administration, some extras are PC-only.
The MediaSmart Server is available in a couple configurations--with one or two 750GB drives--and two or three free drive bays to add your own storage. It can also connect to external USB and eSATA drives for more space. Instead of offering a redundant RAID array, which would mirror content across drives in case one fails, the server can make duplicate copies of items across multiple disks. Unlike a RAID, it’s easy to add new drives of different sizes and selectively pick which files to duplicate.
After running the installation disc on a Windows XP (and later a Windows Vista) PC, we accessed the server’s control console. The MediaSmart hardware runs Windows Media Server, so the configuration tools require a Windows system. From those PCs, we quickly added Windows PCs to an automated backup routine, activated the media sharing functions (including the iTunes software server), added users and shared folders, and otherwise got started. The server lets up to 10 PCs gain access.
On an unlimited number of Macs, the installer adds different tools, most notably Time Machine support over the network. Our Time Machine backups ran seamlessly after the sluggish, all-night initial transfer--this is network storage, after all. We also had to be patient when recovering old files, but still prefer storing backups on the network instead of a local hard drive. We never had trouble with this setup, but be aware that Apple doesn’t officially endorse any network Time Machine backup solutions that it doesn’t sell.
The server can run 24/7, go to sleep on a schedule, or be woken remotely from Macs or PCs. So it’s always ready--or nearly ready--to send and receive backups and files. It’ll even automate its own backups over the Internet, to Amazon’s S3 storage, for example.
On Macs, you can copy songs to the server’s Music folder, and it smartly broadcasts them to iTunes as a shared device. With these tunes centrally stored, all of our computers could play music from the server. While the MediaSmart Server will store and host other media files--even letting you stream home music across the Internet, for example--none of the other media types work as simply on local Macs. Shared pictures don’t appear in iPhoto, and movies don’t show up in iTunes. However, you can manually copy or stream these files to other Macs.
And it’s easy to send media to a PS3, Xbox 360, or other device with the bundled Twonky software tool. After activation, this program runs on the server, letting other media-savvy hardware recognize and receive streams. We even downloaded a third-party utility to stream video to a TiVo.
While the Time Machine options pleased us Mac fans, too many features are PC-only. All new media files added to Windows computers can be automatically copied and organized so they’re ready for streaming. Mac users have to manually transfer media to the shared folders. And in addition to the initial setup, only PCs can add new user accounts, enable new add-ins for third-party features, and otherwise configure the server. You can access the console through Boot Camp or a virtual machine, but it’s a hassle.
The MediaSmart Server EX485 is aimed at mixed home networks. Great media-sharing features and Time Machine backups will please Mac users, but administration--and a few cool features--requires Windows PCs.
MediaSmart Server EX485
PRICE: $599.99 (750GB); $749.99 for EX487 model (2x 750GB)
REQUIREMENTS: Windows XP or Vista for administration; wired, Ethernet network for server connection
SPECIFICATIONS: Intel Celeron 2.0GHz; 2GB DDR2 DRAM; 7,200 RPM SATA drives; 4 USB 2.0 ports; 1 eSATA port
Modular storage system easily expandable and offers redundancy. Works with Time Machine (although unsupported by Apple). Streams media files to local devices and across the Internet. Online backup and local duplication options. PCs automatically transfer new media files to the server.
Macs have to manually copy new media to the server. Administration tools require a PC.