Tuesday, January 17, 2023

EX475 Update

Its early into 2023, so why am I posting about 15 year old technology? Well its bittersweet, in that I am finally saying good-bye to my HP Mediasmart Servers. They have served (no pun intended) me well, but I have obtained some newer hardware, which I will write about in the future. So before completely powering down these servers for the last time, I want to discuss the final, non documented upgrade I did to them.

Just so as to bring everyone up to speed... In 2008 Hewlett Packard released the "HP Mediasmart Server" line of home computer servers. A collaboration with Microsoft and it's Windows Home Server software to make servers available for the home consumer market, a somewhat failed venture that I believe was years ahead of the market. Regardless of my beliefs, over the years I managed to acquire 3 HP Mediasmart EX475 units, 2 of which are still working, and 1 that I keep around for spare parts. In addition to these I also have a non functioning HP Mediasmart EX485 which I have never gotten around to fixing. Along the same theme I also have a now retired Acer H340.
The problems with these servers, besides the obsolete software and 15 year old hardware, is that the power supply in these units is non standard, and replacement units are hard to come by and expensive (not really worth the investment).
I have already documented all the hardware upgrades I've made to my HP Medismart Servers in previous posts (which can be found following these links. Part 1, Part 2, Part 3 ).
As I mentioned earlier, Microsoft developed the Windows Home Server operating system based off their Windows Server 2008 business platform to exist in the home consumer market. Windows Home Server was a great introduction for PC enthusiasts and general consumers to store large amounts of personal data, but it just didn't seem to catch on. In 2011 the second and final installment of Windows Home Server was released. By 2013 Windows Home Server was dead.

While there are many operating systems which will install on the HP Mediasmart Servers (Linux, FreeBSD), for my recent install I decided to try Windows 11 on my HP Mediasmart Servers.  Please be aware if you're going to try this please obtain a VGA adapter, as it makes the installation process so much easier and possible. Also take into account that my servers have been upgraded so your mileage may vary, for those interested in trying this out. One last item to mention, when upgrading the operating system, installing anything other than Microsoft Home Server will cause all notification lights to stop reporting, a function you can no longer use.
I came across a project called PhoenixLiteOS that has a Windows 11 distribution that was stripped down so as to enhance performance, something the EX475 was going to need help with. I was surprised to see that it did in fact install, and it was quite responsive, considering it was running a modern operating system on such old hardware.
In addition to the PhoenixLite Windows installation I also installed Stablebit Drivepool, which is hard drive pooling software with data duplication that I have been using for years. For me it works much better than Microsoft's Storage Spaces. 
The last crucial bit of software I installed was TightVNC, a program which allows you remotely log in and control you server. Seeing as the EX475 runs as a headless unit, this software is a must to setup and maintain your server.
I have been running this setup for a number of months now, and everything works as it should. For those with HP Mediasmart servers still in operation, this might be a way to keep them going for a few more years. 

Also for those wondering, I also attempted this software upgrade on the much more underpowered Acer H340, with success, however while possible...I honestly wouldn't recommend this as a daily driver. While similar in hardware to HP's mediasmart server, Acer's 2GB ram maximum cripples this machine, which becomes abundantly clear when running a more modern operating system.

If you enjoyed this little update, let me know, and I will document my more modern equipment.

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