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HP MediaSmart EX475 VGA Port Mod and Linux Install

Published on Sunday 19 February 2017
Categories: Electronics |

HP Media Smart Server VGA and Linux Upgrade

For many years we have used our old HP MediaSmart EX475 (WHS) Windows Home Server box as a secondary NAS drive on our home network to keep a backup from our main Synology Diskstation NAS drive.

The Synology has 4 x 4TB drives configured as a RAID 5 array and this stores all our personal and work files and our very large photo archive.

To keep a duplicate of the most important files we use our older HP MediaSmart EX475 Windows Home machine with 4 x 2TB drives as a secondary backup and we also use removable single drives for a third level of backup with our photos also being backed up to Amazon using our Amazon Prime account which gives unlimited photo storage. We are using around 2TB of photo space at the moment!

Ever since we had the direct lightning strike on our home which destroyed all the computers, network devices, TV's, connected household appliances and most of the mains electrical cables which resulted in a complete rewire for the house, we keep disconnected backup devices and off site backups for our critical data.

The HP MediaSmart server runs the Windows Home Server operating system and it has a maximum hard drive limit of 2TB per drive which we found after trying to upgrade the storage with new 3TB drives we had spare.

After finding that the new larger drives are not supported we researched different ways to use the larger drives and changing the operating system to Linux seemed to be the only way forward.

The MediaSmart server is built as a headless machine and doesn’t have any external display ports to allow us to access the BIOS to configure the boot devices so we could boot from a Linux install USB stick to setup the new operating system.

The server has an on-board flash storage device with 256MB of space with a simple recovery operating system installed for restoring the Windows Home Server operating system via the network. We investigated removing this device and replacing it with a larger capacity chip but we found forum posts from other people who had tried this and resulted in bricking the machine so we keep this in place on the board.

We found several blog posts which showed an internal connector which has VGA signals and PS2 ports for keyboards and mouse on the motherboard. The connector pinout is shown below.

VGA pin connectons to header CN2 (download PDF).

VGA pin connectons to header CN2

We ordered the correct connector and pins and a short cable was assembled using a screened cable to connect the motherboard to a VGA socket mounted on the back of the machine.

Connecting the VGA socket.

Connecting the VGA socket

The completed VGA connection cable and header

The completed VGA connection cable and header

As access to the motherboard is very restricted we decided to cut an access hole in the side of the case and cut a hole in the rear panel for the new VGA socket. The metal of the back of the machine had signs of rust on the fan vents even though the machine has always been operated indoors. We tried to cut the case on our milling machine but the cutter didnt like the thin metal and so we used cutting disks on our dremel to make the new access hole and VGA port hole.

The VGA socket hole in the back of the case.

The VGA socket hole in the back of the casee

Side access hole cut into the side of the case level with the motherboard when installed.

Side access hole

Once the new cable was assembled we tested the motherboard on the bench with an old VGA monitor with a keyboard/mouse combo connected and we could access the BIOS screen.

The new cable being tested with a monitor and keyboard connected.

The new cable being tested with a monitor and keyboard connected

The server was then reassembled and the SSD drive was mounted in to the space below the top cover.

The new VGA cable connected to the motherboard via the new side access cutout.

The new VGA cable connected

We planned to use an external SSD drive to install Linux onto and connect it via the ESATA port on the back of the machine but we soon found that the ESATA post does not supply any power for external connected drives requiring modifications to the ESATAp to SATA cable we had purchased from Amazon to use one of the rear USB ports to supply drive power.

The SSD drive installed in the top of the case connected via the ESATA cable.

The SSD drive installed in the top of the case

We later found that the BIOS doesn’t support booting via the ESATA drive and we then tried to install a bootloader on a USB stick to then boot the main operating system on the SSD drive but this would not work and so we had to change our plan to install the new operating system on one of the four internal hard drives and use the remaining three as a RAID array for storage. This leaves the external ESATA port free for us to add additional external storage as needed.

We tried several Linux distros to try to fine one which would boot on the external drive before using Ubuntu Server.

Linux on a HP MediaSmart Windows Home Server box.

Linux on a HP MediaSmart Windows Home Server box

Ubuntu Server was then installed onto one of the 3TB drives and this was partitioned with a 200Gb OS drive with the remaining space as a single network share and the other three hard drives setup as a software RAID drive which is shared on the network.

Now we no longer have the 2TB drive size limit on this NAS box we can upgrade it again in the future when we have spare larger hard drives.

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16 Comments


Ivan-B

29 June 2018 at 2:16 am

Which connector did you use? Like, is do you have a specific product number? Thanks!

Brian

29 June 2018 at 9:52 am

Ivan-B, I am sorry but I cant find the part we ordered for this mod.

Mark

13 October 2018 at 4:12 am

Hi Brian. VERY nicely done page w/ great info! Did you, by chance ever track down the PN's of the parts you used? Sounds like I'm not the only one that wants to tackle it.

Brian

13 October 2018 at 9:47 am

Mark, Sorry but we cant find the connector in our previous orders.

Joseph

09 November 2018 at 6:05 pm

This is amazing that the Home Server community is still active after all these years. I have been wanting to make a VGA cable to and your diagram is the first clear one I could find.

@Ivan-B and @Mark here are some products to make the header connector I bought from DigiKey that I found on another site-

https://www.digikey.com/product-detail/en/jst-sales-america-inc/PHDR-26VS/455-1178-ND/608619
https://www.digikey.com/product-detail/en/jst-sales-america-inc/SPHD-002T-P0.5/455-1313-1-ND/608809

Adam

31 December 2018 at 10:27 am

I managed to get Unraid running on mine as well as I have had Hackintosh running on it for a while.
I never found a HDD limitation I have I have 4TB drives in running the Windows Home Server OS (which might be a newer one) but I am planning on upgrading both to run Unraid (onsite and offsite) and upgrade them with bigger HDD's as I go, but I do like the option of having another HDD using the eSata port.

jim m

12 February 2019 at 1:15 pm

Can't we simply use one of the usb to hdmi dongles to get video without using the hack provided here? I used those dongles to add second and third monitors to computers in the past. Any thoughts ?? I'm getting ready to bring my HP out of the dust to setup a NAS / Server once again.

Brian

12 February 2019 at 4:18 pm

jim m, I am not sure if a USB to HDMI dongle would have driver support on the server operating system

Jim M

23 March 2019 at 4:20 pm

Well I can attest that a USB to HDMI / VGA adapter did not work for me. I really need just a super KISS (keep it simple stupid) way to install some kind of NAS software to my HP server without going through a bunch of technical crap so to speak. I can install on another pc then swap drived to the HP but without video on the HP it's just a big no-go for me.

Rado

02 April 2019 at 9:02 am

Hi fellows, I have a EX470 HP Mediasmart.
My 500 Gb "system" disk is dead. I put a new one and tried to recover the system from the ROM using the procedure from the manual. It didn't work. I think that I did a wrong format of the disk. Can you recommend me what type of format I should use. Thanks in advance.

Tom C.

30 May 2019 at 12:02 am

So, I picked up one of these at a Garage Sale over the weekend and got it working. That was fun. refreshing it was fun, but I got it to work once I got the right disk images. That was VERY difficult. Mine is an EX470. I just ordered some items from ebay in order to create my own VGA cable. In the chart up above, we're going to match color to color, correct? Not like I could go number to number as one has 26 pins and the other has 15..
Thanks for this article! Oh I'm also upgrading the memory on this one to 2GB and I ordered a faster processor as well. less than $10 for each of those..so...

Mitch S

07 June 2019 at 5:36 am

You could've ordered a 4GB stick, but the PC will only see and use 3GB. I did that on my ex470. I ordered a premade vga cable from eBay several years back. I just have it dangling out from under the top cover.

Also, I recently decided to stop using WHS because it will not restore 64bit systems, but it will back them up. So I bought a 500GB SSD and I'm in the process of installing Windows Server 2016.

Mine has been up and running since 2006 with the memory and cpu upgrade.

Steve

01 August 2019 at 6:06 pm

there are VGA and PS2 x2 cables for sale on eBay they work out more than building your own but are well-made item number on eBay is item 132005092582

Steve

01 August 2019 at 6:08 pm

hi does anyone know if someone has tried to install openmediavalt on an HP ex470

Bob

02 September 2019 at 2:31 pm

Wow I didn't know there were so many other HPMSS units still out there running!
I have an HP ex485 that I am running ubuntu 16.04 LTS server. I bought a breakout box several years ago (HP MediaSmart Server VGA/PS2/Serial Debug Board) which is no longer available. Good to know there are other cables available. I am not using RAID on my box just using two drives one for the OS and Programs and one for data backup. I had to replace the power supply once but it has been running since I bought it new.

Steve Norris

03 September 2019 at 4:19 pm

Hi
This site has given me a lot of insight into the conversion of the HP Home Media Server; I have a EX470 which I pick up on eBay earlier this year. Mainly because my World Book I had in service from 2009 till early this year when the power unit gave up, so time for something new. In comes a HP Media server which silly me thought I may be able to get it to work with W10. But no, so rethink, then I thought about Openmediavault. I read about the constant update the unit does and that the OS is on a flash Rom. I acquired a header cable from Germany very expensive, connected the SVG screen, keyboard and mouse. Then booted the gem up, I was surprised to find the IDE set up in the Cmos consisted of not only the four drives in the bays but, as follows:

IDE 0 Master
“ “ 0 Slave
“ “ 2 Master
“ “ 2 Slave
“ “ 3 Master
“ “3 Slave
Plus a 247 MiB USB Disk Serial No AA04012700036216 hiding somewhere in the box.
Anyway I was lead to understand that the uppermost disk was the primary Sata Disc, so after about 30 times of trying to load openmediavault on to the disc with no luck. When it came to the setup point were the primary disc is partitioned the setup could not find a disc in the top slot. So sitting down with a cup of tea and thinking about it, I decided to boot the box and move the disc about each boot cycle and I found the the bottom slot in the box was the IDE 2 Master next one up was the Slave, then third slot up was IDE 3 then top slot was IDE 3 Slave. I then booted the unit with 1Tb Drive in IDE 2 Master and still when it come to the system disc being formatted and portioned no go.
Then I decided to try something new, with a reconfiguration to the boot order I set 1 st boot USB external, 2nd boot HDD and all following boot devices disabled. With the Openmediavault setup disc in a CD Rom connected to the bottom USB socket I did a Cmos save and reboot after the post as the CD Rom started to spin I Hot Shoed the bottom Sata HDD into the bottom slot of the unit. And let it go. The part of the setup arrived at the HDD format and partitioning and there was the drive, I clicked continue and away it went to complete the install. When the install was completed I checked the drives in Openmediavault it showed the 1Tb HDD with the system on it and a USB Disk 247.50MiB disc which I did not mount in Openmediavault. I then Shut the system down and hoped it would reboot once I had fitted the other 3 Drives (3Tb HDD’s) into the unit. On reboot I once again checked the Cmos settings to make sure they had not reset, all was good, so on with the reboot. The system rebooted OK I then configured the 3 x 3TB drives as ext4 File system not a Raid 5 which I wanted to do but I would have lost to much room, I have since backed up all my movies and 20% of my TV Recordings a total of 1.5Tb. With Plex plug-in installed I can watch the films and TV recordings on my TV connected to the hard wire network. I have yet to upgrade the Memory chips to 4Gb from 2Gb the CPU seems fast enough no stream to the TV or any of the PC, Laptops or Tablets. To do this on any HP Media Server it is necessary to have a header cable the upload cannot be done without it unless you like a lot of frustration and hassle. The noticeable thing is, it has been running now for a few weeks, a number of times been rebooted and no time has it tried to update its self. On the boot into Linux it does show widows Vista in the background but nothing else. The Linux system has updated a few times but not Vista. It is still in the process of being loaded with data and is performing well with access the the filing system from windows desktop works well.

Will keep you updated

steve


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