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, TVs, 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 set up the new operating system.

The server has an onboard 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 which 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 connections to header CN2 (download PDF).

VGA pin connections 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 the 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 on 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 didn't 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

A side access hole was 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 is 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 into the space below the top cover.

The new VGA cable is 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 externally 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 at the top of the case is 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 find one which would boot on the external drive before using Ubuntu Server.

Linux on an 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 set up 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.