A closer look at the new MediaSmart Server hardware

by Alex Kuretz on January 11, 2009 · 5 comments

in Guides

HP MediaSmart Server EX487

HP MediaSmart Server EX487

I covered in good detail most of the features of the new HP MediaSmart Server EX485 and EX487 in my initial review. I’ve since had the server in pieces on my test bench, took a bunch of pictures, figured out how to unlock the BIOS, reassembled the unit, and done some investigation into the functionality and behavior of the new hardware. I’ll be referring to the server as the EX487, but keep in mind that the only differentiator from the EX485 is an additional Seagate 7200.11 750GB 16MB cache hard drive.

Those new, larger drives reside in slightly modified drive trays that now feature a more visible red button used to unlock the drive removal arm. Other than that change I saw no observable differences from the drive trays used in the EX47x series servers.

EX487 Hard Drive Trays

EX487 Hard Drive Trays

The change from the AMD platform of the EX470/EX475 to the Intel platform of the EX485/EX487 affects much more than just a simple CPU change. The CPU is a Celeron 440 running at 2.0Ghz under full load, and underclocked to 1.2Ghz when idle by stepping down the frequency multiplier from 10x to 6x.

CPU-Z output with no CPU load

CPU-Z output with no CPU load

CPU-Z output with CPU under full load with Prime95

CPU-Z output with CPU under full load with Prime95

Changing the CPU from AMD to Intel also requires changing the chipset used in the system, and HP has gone with the Intel G33 Express Chipset.

CPU-Z Mainboard Tab with chipset info

CPU-Z Mainboard Tab with chipset info

Reading the specs on this chipset seem quite impressive, in fact it would appear to be possible to install a dual-core processor. However since at this time they are all 65watt or greater processors versus the 35watt stock Celeron it would likely be very difficult to keep cool, may consume too much power for the system, and may not even be supported in the BIOS (though now that I’ve seen into the BIOS this may be possible). I’m sure it’s only a matter of time before someone (probably on these forums :D ) tries to see what exactly is possible to run in the EX487.

Not only has the stock memory increased from 512MB to 2GB of RAM, but the speed has also increased from 667Mhz to 800Mhz. As I mentioned in the BIOS discussion the memory settings tab indicates that the system may support faster 1067Mhz memory as well, possibly providing a small performance improvement.

CPU-Z Memory Tab

CPU-Z Memory Tab

After investigating the hardware from within Windows and researching on the web, I decided to take the server apart for a closer look. If you’ve had your EX470 apart then this process will be familiar, as the EX487 is dismantled in exactly the same manner. As I mentioned in my review, the tiny screws used to attach the front inner grill have been upgraded to a stronger part that, while still tiny, is much less likely to be damaged in the course of taking the server apart.

The motherboard dimensions and basic structure are the same as the EX470, though the layout has changed a bit with the new platform. Also, the power supply appears to be the same as well. As mentioned previously the system includes a single 2GB stick of Micron DDR2 800Mhz RAM.

EX487 Motherboard

EX487 Motherboard

EX487 Backplane

EX487 Backplane

EX487 Memory

EX487 Memory

I removed the CPU heat sink, and not too surprisingly it was drowning in thermal paste, so much so that it had oozed out onto the CPU socket. I cleaned all this off and replaced it with some Arctic Silver.

EX487 CPU Heatsink with thermal paste

EX487 CPU Heatsink with thermal paste

EX487 CPU Socket with thermal paste

EX487 CPU Socket with thermal paste

EX487 CPU

EX487 CPU

I removed the smaller heatsink from the Northbridge chipset and found that it used some form of Thermal Interface Material (TIM) that had fused to the surface of the chipset. I eventually managed to remove the material from both heatsink and chip surface, verified that the chipset was the Intel G33, and replace the TIM with some more Arctic Silver.

EX487 Northbridge Heatsink

EX487 Northbridge Heatsink

EX487 Northbridge Chipset

EX487 Northbridge Chipset

Cleaning the chips and heatsinks wasn’t a bad idea while I was in there anyway, but I have not observed much change in operating temperatures from the process. Before cleaning the CPU I found that idle temperature was approximately 44C and loaded temperature was approximately 64C. After cleaning and replacing with Arctic Silver, the idle temperature is approximately 42C and loaded temperature is 62C. As a comparison, my EX475 has never had the heatsinks removed or cleaned, and it’s idle temperature is 29C and loaded temperature is approximately 44C. In the BIOS settings I found that the thermal policy could be controlled, and the default ramp-up speed for the case fans was 62C which is much higher than the EX470 settings, so it seems that HP was planning for a higher thermal load with the EX487. This did not translate into a more noisy server, if anything the EX487 seems a little more quiet than my EX475, but some of that could be due to age as my original MediaSmart Server is now well over a year old.

While reviewing and testing the EX487 I found that the eSATA port was not port-multiplier aware, which would allow it to only see a single HDD connected to the port and not allow users with large storage needs to connect an external eSATA enclosure. While exploring the EX487 file system I found that the Intel Matrix Storage driver has a console to view the connected drives. The console shows the apparent possibility for six drives, and the BIOS settings show the ability to choose between a four or six drive configuration.

Intel Matrix Storage Console

Intel Matrix Storage Console

The documentation for the Intel G33 and ICH9R chipsets used in the EX487 seem to indicate that it can support port multipliers.

Intel® Matrix Storage Technology4 (when configured with ICH9R I/O controller): Native support of external SATA* ports (eSATA), combined with Intel Matrix Storage Technology (Intel® MST), provides the flexibility to add an external drive for increased data storage with up to 6 times faster performance than USB* 2.0 or Firewire* 4005. Support for eSATA enables the full SATA interface speed of up to 3 Gb/s outside the chassis. The Advanced Host Controller Interface (AHCI) provides easier expandability with support for eSATA devices and native hot plug, while boosting boot and multi-tasking performance with Native Command Queuing (NCQ). In addition, support for Command Based Port Multipliers, and RAID levels 0, 1, 5, and 10 enable greater reliability for personal data, or maximum storage performance for intensive applications.

In discussions with forum member and hardware guru “ymboc”, he noted that many port multiplier enclosures are using FIS Switching rather than the Command Switching mentioned above. I’m doing some further investigation into BIOS settings and chipset drivers to see if if any progress can be made, and will report my findings in another blog post.

This wraps up my look at the internal parts to the MediaSmart Server EX487. If you have specific questions about any of the components please let me know. Check back for additional follow-on articles where I look in more depth at the performance of the server and the inner workings of it’s hardware, software, and drivers.





Article by

I'm Alex Kuretz, and I'm the founder of MediaSmartServer.net. I was the Lead Test and Integration Engineer at HP for the MediaSmart Server until April 2008 when I moved on to other opportunities outside HP. I've kept active in the Windows Home Server community, creating several add-ins and helping users make the most of their Home Servers.


{ 5 comments }

George January 12, 2009 at 3:28 am

Alex,
Thank you very much for this additional work and information. In regards to the port multiplier issue, I will follow (with great interest) your further investigation of the possibilities with the BIOS settings and chipset drivers. I think this may have some bearing on the problems in am having with my external 5 bay eSATA enclosure, an AMS Venus T5 unit (my eSATA tower may use FIS Switching rather that Command Switching and that could be my problem) even though I have the EX47x series instead of the EX48x series you are discussing here.

Excellent and very good details! Thanks to your work explaining the inner workings of the EX48x series and the work of others on this forum, I may actually start to understand how the internals of the MSS work. My patience runs out way to early to contibute much to your ongoing efforts, I am afraid. :-) But I sure benefit from those efforts and appreciate them.

Ernie Tirado January 12, 2009 at 12:20 pm

Thanks Alex, I just ordered a new 485(750 drive) because I believe I briked my new EX475 this weekend while upgrading it’s memory…What a kluts…My question is in two parts: 1-I could not get the the bricked system to go into a factory reset so how do you reflash the bios if during that process you coruppt it.
2. how would you ever be able to fix such a problem without having to send it back to HP.
It seem if it breaks down it becomes a throw away product

Diehard January 12, 2009 at 4:49 pm

George, I don’t know as much as Alex, but I did read that some people are have problems with port mulitpliers on the EX470 if it has more than 4 drive. You can search the forums here to find out what I’m writing about.

Ernie, there is a post in the forum about someone messing up their BIOS and trying to recover, not sure if this is your problem. To make sure your server goes into a factory reset mode, you can start the machine without any hard drives in the unit, then after about 10 seconds slide the drive in the bottom tray while the power is on. Then run the Recovery CD. It should find the server.

option 2 you can always purchase the VGA cable from Charles in the Marketplace forum to see what’s happening. This cable should also work in the new EX48x

Pooh November 27, 2009 at 11:37 pm

Is the Celeron CPU in the EX48x 64bit or 32bit?

Alex Kuretz November 28, 2009 at 1:17 am

All versions of the EX4xx servers use 64bit processors.

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