January 7, 2007 6:30 PM PST

HP pitches 'little iron' for the home

Hewlett-Packard is betting that the time has come to turn couch potatoes into server administrators.

The company unveiled its MediaSmart Server on Sunday evening in conjunction with the keynote address by Microsoft's Bill Gates at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. The server, to be based on a new edition of Windows called Windows Home Server, will let consumers share and back up their media collections on a home network.

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If it's January, and the PC industry is clogging up Las Vegas, that means it's time for another round of pitches about how PC technology is poised to take over the living room. Faced with maturing growth in developed economies, PC companies have been searching for ways to convince people to add second and third PCs to their homes as digital entertainment hubs.

Sales of PCs with Microsoft's Windows XP Media Center Edition have been brisk, but there's no evidence that outside of a small group of tech-savvy enthusiasts, those PCs are being used to access content from the outside world and stream it around the home.

What is happening, however, is that more traditional TV and movie studios are starting to offer their wares over the Internet through outlets like Apple Computer's iTunes Store or Amazon.com's Unbox service, or through their own Web sites. If people are ready to start buying video online, they're going to need to store and manage those videos somehow.

Enter the MediaSmart Server. Now, this isn't something that even remotely resembles the "big iron" servers that run corporations. And there's nothing new about the home server concept; people have been using desktop PCs as servers for years.

What is new is the promise that you don't need a training class in Windows server administration to run the MediaSmart Server, said Kathy Miner, a product manager with HP.

"There's some very elegant yet simple things that have been done" to make this product easy to use, Miner said. The server automatically backs up PCs connected to a home network, enables file-sharing between networked PCs and lets users access files remotely. That's pretty standard stuff for a server, and HP already has a product called MediaVault that does many of the same things. But HP believes that along with Microsoft, it has figured out a way to make this as painless as possible.

To find out, you'll need to fork over several hundred dollars. Pricing for the MediaSmart server has not been finalized, but it will cost more than HP's $599 MediaVault product when it arrives in the third quarter, Miner said. The MediaSmart server will come with Advanced Micro Devices' 1.8GHz Sempron processor and four hard drive bays, although HP has not determined exactly how much capacity will be available.

HP also introduced two new PCs at CES, the TouchSmart IQ770 PC and the Pavilion tx1000us notebook. The $1,799 IQ770 is an all-in-one design that HP envisions as a family hub, with an HP-designed calendar application that lets members of a household leave digital notes for each other without marking up the finish on the stainless-steel Sub-Zero fridge. It comes with a 19-inch touchscreen display.

The tx1000us notebook is HP's first Tablet PC for consumers and is designed as an entertainment option. Both notebooks will ship with Microsoft's Windows Vista Home Premium in the coming weeks.

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