HP MediaSmart Server: Time Machine Fine Print


I had pretty high hopes for my recent HP MediaSmart (EX485, ~$500) acquisition but, after a fun-filled day of disaster recovery, I’m second guessing my purchase. This Macworld Best of Show award winner supposedly offers multi-OS backup, including Time Machine support. It can also act as a central iTunes server, stream media to your Xbox 360 (Twonky), run SageTV, and even permit remote access. The EX485 sure looked like a good start in fulfilling my desire for a ‘personal cloud’.

To configure the Windows Home Server (based on Windows 2003), I went for convenience and used my Vista Ultimate (thanks, Ivan!) Boot Camp partition. Later, I hopped on over to OS X and installed the HP software. My first task was a full Time Machine backup, which went smoothly – taking only a couple hours over WiFi. That was Saturday. Yesterday (Sunday) is when it all unraveled.

Accessing the WHS console from Boot Camp sent my Macbook to a blue screen. Not terribly unusual in the Windows world, and I figured a reboot would clear it. Except there must have been some data corruption as the Mac would no longer boot, leaving me at a grey screen with the Ghostbusters logo. To add insult to injury, I couldn’t even boot my install CD to access the Disk Utility. A PRAM/NVRAM reset didn’t help. I thought I followed the directions to enter single-user mode, but I must have missed a key. Because when I hit the Apple Store (on Easter Sunday?!), The “genius” got it up. A disk repair didn’t improve the situation, so we were left with the nuclear option of a disk wipe and OS reinstall. No problem, right? I’ve got a full Time Machine backup at home. But you probably know where there story is going

Cutting to the chase: HP MediaSmart is only partially Time Machine compatible. Of course, their marketing material fails to make that distinction. In fact, most of the device news/blog coverage also fails to mention it. Digging deep on the HP site, after the fact, I found this:

the “Restore System from Backup” feature of Time Machine is not implemented.

As far as I’m concerned, that’s the primary reason to use Time Machine. (And exactly the functionality that WHS provides on the Windows side of the house.) There are plenty of other ways to backup and recover individual files. In fact, I used a few including Mozy and SugarSync. What I needed yesterday was complete disaster recovery. (Which, ironically, the MediaSmart server caused.) How HP can claim Time Machine integration, without this critical feature, is beyond me. In fact, Apple should probably smack them down to prevent others from learning what I did the hard way.

16 thoughts on “HP MediaSmart Server: Time Machine Fine Print”

  1. I had an older Time Machine backup from February on an external USB drive. I might have also been able to copy the HP Time Machine backup to another drive and performed an full restore. Given the times involved with copying large amounts of data, I decided to rebuild and restore documents/desktop, iPhoto pics, and iTunes. I got most of my apps installed and overnight copied over the remaining files. I’m about 80% recovered, though I’m sure there are things in the library I probably forgot/missed.

  2. I have been following the HP MediaSmart server very closely and this is the first that I have heard of it not being able to recover from time machine. I was actually about to buy the EX485 a couple of months ago. I might have to rethink how I want to organize my backup now. Even though it doesn’t offer the recover option the HP server still offers a lot over the OEM version of Home Server.

  3. So you’re saying an application (WHS console), running under Windows, on a Boot Camp partition, was able to trash your Mac’s boot area/Mac OS partition? I guess I’m either 1) skeptical or 2) glad I’ve never used Boot Camp. Was you Mac OS system partition mounted within Boot Camp? I just don’t see how a blue-screen crash could result in this.


  4. I think the restore from TM is coming, it was discussed as “not YET implemented back in January” but that it should be coming.

    There is a new release TODAY of all days, has anyone checked on what is added for it.

    I currently (as always) us a multi tiered approach to backup, and continue to like superduper for complete backups, and archiving of backups and restoring.

    I have the previous 475 version of the HP WHS, so am waiting for them to update the SW for the Gen 1 users and see how it works in my multi console environment.

  5. What a terrible story, but at least others can learn from your misfortunes.

    That being said, you should have known better than to not make a fresh backup before messing around with partitions etc. Or before changing to a new backup process.

    But to your point, normal users wouldn’t know this, so HP should be more clear.

  6. JVo, yep my Windows partition killed the drive. And the perceived safety of a separate partition is specifically why I was using Boot Camp versus running a VM in Parallels or Fusion (both of which I own). Basically, I think when Vista went down there was hard drive data corruption that prevented the system from rebooting into an OS. Formatting the drive and reinstalling the OS cleared it up, so I don’t think it’s a physical problem with the drive. I’ve never experienced this particular issue before, and I’ve been running Boot Camp since the beta days. (I saw one similar report yesterday on the Apple support forums.) But I have seen blue screens kill Windows installs on many occasions.

    jon, tivoboy, Will be interested to see if the upgrade includes real Time Machine support. Although I’m pretty skittish at the moment and headed out on an 8 day business trip. (Which is why I raced to recover. Of our multiple computers, this 13″ Macbook is my fave.)

    Ben, I didn’t make any partition changes or install anything new other than HP’s software – have been running that Vista partition at least three months. I do agree I was negligent in not having a more recent backup than that February one. Which is why I had bought this thing. ;)

  7. So how did it work with Windows? I have been looking at this for a while, but I am unsure if this is the route I want to go. I am not a Mac user so hopefully the integration with a Windows machine is much smoother. Currently, I am just using a western Digital World Book to access my media on any PC in my house but I am thinking this would make things easier and more expandable.

  8. Greg, I’ve got several pals who swear by WHS. But I didn’t manage to set much up. My immediate goal was to get it up, take some snapshopts, and then hit the road. The ultimate goals had been to backup all our computers, centralize my iTunes (not Melissa’s), and then I was going to run some SageTV experiments to see if I could use it as the hub of a whole-home DVR. I wasn’t planning on opening ports for remote access. There’s a certain amount of convenience in doing so, but Windows machines on the Internet are also nice targets.

  9. Dave, been having an issue with my EX485 and my Macs as well. My problem is I get a full (well as far as HP is concerned) backup via TM, however, it works two or three times, then my target backup disk goes missing, which means a purge of the backup data and a reinstall of the HP software and a fresh backup restart. Been on with HP support and they are confused…

    Now contemplating a separate Time Capsule for the Mac and leaving the Windows machines on WHS. Not optimal and really makes me wish I had not bought two EX485’s on the same day (one for work and one for home), given both are on mixed OS environments and missing the Time Machine portion really take a significant amount of the value out of the equation for me. Honestly never saw the fine print until you pointed out the TM integration…

    I will say the sharing features and iTunes server options are nice — great having all computers music libraries and the Sonos all running from the EX485, which wouldn’t work well my previous NAS. Still $550 plus 3 1.5TB drives is a lot of money for a music and video server that only backs up half of my machines in an appropriate manner.

    Next step installing TTG so I can centralize the Tivo content — although with TWC flagging as many channels as they do, not sure I will get much bang for my buck from that and i won’t even go on my rant about the Cisco Tuning Adapters for SDV…but that’s a whole different post.

    P.S. – the new HP firmware with better TM integration is not live yet, just announced (at least it wasn’t as of this morning when I checked)

  10. Time for hackintosh + atom box. Set everything to time machine back to that. Then I just run itivo/pytivox/twonky for all my media serving goodness. itivo’s been dumping into dropbox so when im at work I can just drag and drop some video to my phone before heading home on the bus!

  11. Part of the problem is Apple itself. If they would fix bugs with Samba, enabling flawless Time Machine backups from the Restore Assistant… it wouldn’t be an issue.

    Still, as I noted in the article you linked, there is a simple workaround that we’ve found. By moving the .sparseimage backup from the MediaSmart server to a Mac-formatted hard drive, you can use the Restore Assistant to get a full restore completed.

    The data is all on your MediaSmart server, you just need a man-in-the-middle (a Mac-format USB drive) to get the job done.

  12. Great discussion folks. I’m glad I read this story and all your feedback. I’m buying a EX487 right now. I have a Mac and three PC’s at the house, plus I suspect I’ll be assisting the in-laws with backups to my server as well. I’ll make sure I have backups of backups before I start messing around with this thing. I’m a programmer; never messed much with hardware. Crossing my fingers…

  13. What a sad story!!! I totally understand what you went through. My external HDD was once damaged but luckily I was using SafeCopy backup (www.safecopybackup.com). Which really saved my life. It’s easy to use, I can even backup my external HDD and my USB now as well. I can also share files over 1GB easily.

    Plus I can use one account for all my computers. And has many more functionality that I couldn’t find on other online backup providers. Give it a try, it’s Great!

  14. This information is obsolete, according to HP. They have now built a Time Machine bare metal recover process into the mediasmart servers.


    A. Unique to the HP MediaSmart Server, the improved bare metal recovery process for Macs will recover the O/S, applications, and files in one step. The customer will pre-prepare (prior to a hard drive crash) a USB flash drive which contains the recovery commands for the system. After replacing the Macs HDD, just plug in the USB flash drive and reboot the Mac from the OSX System disk. Type the first command and the one step recovery will proceed.

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