Help me build: Plex media server

Long story short, I had my Plex media server running on my gaming PC. I don't want to do that anymore. I tried using an older laptop I have but it sometimes struggles with 1080p content and buffering issues. I looked into a NAS plex server but I'm finding that if I want one that can actually play 1080p/4K content (future proofing), it's going to cost me a lot of money.

I know another option is building a PC and going that route. I'd like to think I know enough about building a gaming PC but really have no idea what to look for regarding media server hardware. I'd like to keep it around $600 if possible, is that being unrealistic?

If I could stash the PC in a closet or somewhere out of the way and just remote connect into it for Sonarr and whatever other apps I want to install, that would be perfect. I tried reading up on the Internet but there's so much information it's making my head spin.

i don't know about 4K content but depending on your storage needs an Intel NUC with 16gb of ram can be a pretty good Plex Server. Just make sure you get a i5 or better.

The Cloud option is ok if you are fine with somewhat lower bitstream quality 1080P feeds. It's limited in how many streams at once. But it's not a bad way to go on a budget.

Yeah the actual hardware itself is fairly low requirement, the storage is the key. I have run a Plex server for my family for years and how you plan to do storage (and how much storage you need) will dictate the rest of your build. For example do you just want like a 3TB external drive plugged in with USB? This is the easiest solution if you have a smaller collection, and then you can just get a nice small PC like a NUC or Mac Mini. Do you want internal storage instead so you can avoid the few seconds of wake up time and small performance hit of a USB drive? Do you have a lot of media and need multiple drives or want it in a RAID? How do you plan to do backups?

I have an external 3TB at the moment (Good guess Leaping!). It holds what I need for now (maybe 1TB of stuff, it's still a newer project) but obviously will need more storage going forward so expansion is something I want to plan for. I'm also thinking that I'd want an SSD for the main hard drive to speed up performance for Plex and whatever else I throw at it.

Regarding a NUC (Just looked it up, never heard of it before but love the idea), am I going to want to go with an i5? I guess I don't care quite as much about 4K streaming, that may be a ways off and I don't think I really have anything that streams in 4K at the moment anyway.

In a RAID, not a terrible idea once I get a reasonable media collection put together. I don't have any idea about backups or how to get an optimal raid setup. I wasn't sure even where to start with this other than the budget so am reaching out to you guys with more expertise than I have. I don't really care about a few seconds of startup time, especially if it becomes more cost prohibitive to gain that few seconds of startup.

My concern is just being able to play everything I throw at it. If it's a blu-ray image or, well, anything that requires a bit more power to play, I don't want it to buffer.

EDIT: As for streams, I am only playing one at a time. Situations may change where it could go up to 2 but I don't think I ever will need more than 2. That means that I possibly could get away with an i5 I think?

I will say, as someone who runs a Plex server and uses it to stream full quality rips of my Blu Ray collection... processor choice matters, at least to a point. I'm not sure where that line is.

The 2.2ghz dual core chip in my QNAP NAS chokes completely on 1080p rips if transcoding is necessary. Like two seconds in the client just says hey dummy, your server can't handle this. So my server is currently on the old i7-4790k that was the center of my gaming rig and that has handled it admirably so far. No 4k content on the Plex server yet though. Drives for the PC that will read UHD discs are still grossly overpriced and even if they weren't I don't think there's a good way to rip them for backups yet.

There is one way currently to avoid transcoding on the server, at least so far as I've seen. The Nvidia Shield TV plex client has, to date, played every single video I've put on my Plex server and not once has any transcoding been required. I can stream those Blu Ray rips at their full original bitrate with DTS:X and Dolby Atmos tracks included and they just... work. The only work the server is doing is just throwing all that data over the network. The CPU just kinda sits there, chilling. If I load up Plex on my tablet or my laptop though... then suddenly the server PC starts working pretty hard. Full quality Blu Ray rips are a lot of transcoding work to do on the fly.

The Shield TV has taken over basically all of my streaming services and local network Plex duty completely. It supports 4k and HDR both and plays them perfectly from Netflix and Amazon both. It's a brilliant little device. It is no contest the best streaming box on the market.

And using it spares my server a lot of grunt work.

You will be fine with an i5. In your shoes where I want to stick it in a closet or hide it somewhere and just have it be a dumb server, I would look at a NUC, either current gen or last gen, make sure it has at least two USB 3 ports (for expandability) and ethernet, and doesn't throttle under sustained load (look at reviews). Buy that, hook up your existing hard drive, and you're done and it should be in budget.

Nice to have would be to hook up a second external drive as a backup (have the one drive backup to the other) and if in the future you need more space you can just upgrade the external drive to a bigger one (I bought an 8TB Seagate for $160 recently).

Alternatively you could always go buy a cheap pre-built desktop from the usual suspects like Dell, HP, etc... whatever they have at your local Costco / Sams / Best Buy. As long as it is an i5 it will be fast enough for you, and you can stick with the external drive or go internal. Just be aware of the cheaper components. Or you could build a cheap desktop for less than $600 also, but it is more hassle. If you do go the full desktop route, just be aware it will use more power, more space, and probably run hotter and louder than a NUC. If you just want a dumb little server, the NUCs are hard to beat.

Darkhaund wrote:

Guys... what about this

https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B0...

https://www.reddit.com/r/PleX/commen...

So no 4K transcoding essentially, and you limit your number of h.265 streams. Probably no support for h.266 (whenever those go wild).

Yeah, it's okay. However, I'd probably go for some used desktop off of ebay for similar or less money. The main attractive feature of that one is the size.

I googled it.

I'm in the same situation; I'm using my (7yo) gaming PC as a plex server with a USB3.0 3TB WB external drive. I've been keeping it awake 24/7 for most of it's life.

I'm quite comfortable with 1080 reproduction. I've moved on from 264 onto H265, which might need some horse power when I finally decide to go beyond 1080.

-------------- EDIT --------------

It seems the nvidia tv shield pro is the way to go; play sH265 (10bit) with no problem.
at $224 USD, this may seem the easiet, cheapest choice (for me).

Yes.. the size is the main attractive!

Thin_J wrote:

I will say, as someone who runs a Plex server and uses it to stream full quality rips of my Blu Ray collection... processor choice matters, at least to a point. I'm not sure where that line is.

The 2.2ghz dual core chip in my QNAP NAS chokes completely on 1080p rips if transcoding is necessary. Like two seconds in the client just says hey dummy, your server can't handle this. So my server is currently on the old i7-4790k that was the center of my gaming rig and that has handled it admirably so far. No 4k content on the Plex server yet though. Drives for the PC that will read UHD discs are still grossly overpriced and even if they weren't I don't think there's a good way to rip them for backups yet.

There is one way currently to avoid transcoding on the server, at least so far as I've seen. The Nvidia Shield TV plex client has, to date, played every single video I've put on my Plex server and not once has any transcoding been required. I can stream those Blu Ray rips at their full original bitrate with DTS:X and Dolby Atmos tracks included and they just... work. The only work the server is doing is just throwing all that data over the network. The CPU just kinda sits there, chilling. If I load up Plex on my tablet or my laptop though... then suddenly the server PC starts working pretty hard. Full quality Blu Ray rips are a lot of transcoding work to do on the fly.

The Shield TV has taken over basically all of my streaming services and local network Plex duty completely. It supports 4k and HDR both and plays them perfectly from Netflix and Amazon both. It's a brilliant little device. It is no contest the best streaming box on the market.

And using it spares my server a lot of grunt work.

What specific model is your QNAP? For 1080p/4k, if you're not using some sort of hardware acceleration it's just not gonna fly.

A TS-453be is about $400.

https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B0...

Upgrading the RAM is easy, despite anything QNAP may try to say. It has an Intel processor, but you can still enable hardware acceleration for Blu-Ray level content.

You can also check Plex's NAS compatibility list:

https://support.plex.tv/articles/201...

You'll notice the spreadsheet is only guaranteeing up to 1080 h.264 decoding, even on high end hardware.

With the above NAS, there are some hoops to jump through to enable hardware accelerated decoding. But I think it's a decent option for your stated price range.

Another vote for the Shield TV, that's an excellent suggestion as well. That may even be a lower buy-in if you don't need the extra features of a full-on NAS (if ALL I did was Plex on mine, I'd probably go that route).

Plex can be a bit frustrating when dealing with high def content, hardware decoding, and multiple streams, so the above two options would be my choice since they have, from time to time, completely broken things like hardware acceleration and dealing with Plex quirks can be a job in and of itself. Adding a homebrew NAS on top of that could be just more time and energy than it's worth.

Whatever you pick, temper your expectations. Plex runs on so many platforms, you can easily run into issues that few, if any, other Plex users have encountered (and like many communities some of the more active participants are kind of assholes, even if they're employees in the forums). Getting 4K decoding to work is gonna run the gauntlet from how you rip/store/encode/decode your files themselves to your hardware to Plex itself, and unless you're really lucky you may not find the perfect setup for your needs right out of the gate.

I keep thinking I should see if I can sell on the Fire Stick 4k and Roku Ultra I have and go up to a Shield TV. We've been using the Roku as our primary media device, and it's fine except that it won't output HDR10+ or Dolby Vision, and app support for Atmos is patchy. It also runs surprisingly hot, with the F1TV app in particular popping the overheat warning unless I have the cabinet fans on and the door open.

Quality wise, the Roku Plex app hasn't had any problems playing anything I've thrown at it, including 4k stuff. I've got my server running on my desktop that's got an i7-47xx, and it seems to do fine transcoding regular HD stuff for remote users. I want to look into how well the Shield TV Pro does as a Plex server. I'd guess not great at transcoding, but maybe that's okay?

Chaz wrote:

I keep thinking I should see if I can sell on the Fire Stick 4k and Roku Ultra I have and go up to a Shield TV. We've been using the Roku as our primary media device, and it's fine except that it won't output HDR10+ or Dolby Vision, and app support for Atmos is patchy. It also runs surprisingly hot, with the F1TV app in particular popping the overheat warning unless I have the cabinet fans on and the door open.

Quality wise, the Roku Plex app hasn't had any problems playing anything I've thrown at it, including 4k stuff. I've got my server running on my desktop that's got an i7-47xx, and it seems to do fine transcoding regular HD stuff for remote users. I want to look into how well the Shield TV Pro does as a Plex server. I'd guess not great at transcoding, but maybe that's okay?

I think the Shield TV is an excellent device, and bargain.

That said... it's not as easy to use.

It can do so much for such a small and relatively affordable device, but I don't think it does any one thing elegantly. And the app selection to this day still has some holes compared to Roku and Fire TV.

You CAN sideload stuff, but it's such a pain in the ass that I've just moved away from any service it lacks.

Depending on how tech savvy your family is that small gap in usability (and I want to emphasize, it IS small) is why the Shield TV didn't become my go-to device until I moved into an apartment by myself. It was just never as easy for roommates/friends to pick up and operate as a Roku is. I'd NEVER give my parents a Shield, for example.

It has the menu/settings hell of any Android device, depending on your tolerance for that. But if you pinned all the most used stuff to the home page/screen/launcher thing, it'd probably be fine.

If possible, I'd recommend get the Shield TV first. Run them side-by-side. And if your family doesn't hate it, THEN sell the Roku/Fire Stick.

The Shield runs pretty hot too. It's got an Nvidia chip in there after all. I had a thumb drive permanently inserted into my Shield TV, and I'm pretty heat is why it eventually failed (likely my fault, I had everything set to never go into sleep mode and to never disable power to the USB ports). Just something to consider if you're gonna try and stick it into some poorly ventilated space too.

The Shield TV can do hardware transcoding AND has built-in support for some codecs that aren't universal, even for devices like Roku (like the various Dolby spinoffs), so performance should be pretty damn good.

https://support.plex.tv/articles/221...
https://shield.nvidia.com/blog/how-t...

I'm comfortable sideloading apps onto the Fire Stick, so I'm sure guessing stuff on the Shield won't be any more difficult. As long as I can pin the apps we use regularly, I'm sure we can manage the UI. I mean, we did use the Fire Stick for a while, and that UI is a hot mess.

Don't forget Apple TV as an option also. It has all the latest apps including HBO Max and Peacock that the others still don't have and streams from Plex flawlessly in my experience.

Ooooh this thread is still around!

I've learned a ton over the years and now have a successful Plex server running. I've got 9 people connected to it, I think a max of 4 streams at the same time (I'd have to double check this), and a Discord server created where people are able to request things they want. I'm up to 24TB of storage space available with around 8TB free.

What you need to consider is a few things. How many people do you expect to be connected? How much storage do you think you will need? What is your budget?

My setup is as follows:

IMAGE(https://i.imgur.com/7Kafro1.png)

With this, I have had no issues. I am running a headless server and have no video card in it at the moment. I've run into zero issues running on Windows 10. I know a lot of people utilize Docker for their setup but I haven't found the need.

I checked eeBay. The matched pair of chips you can get for $10 - $15. The motherboard is right around $100, the RAM runs around $20 - $30.

That means your base setup is around $150. You need a case, and depending on how much space you want, Fractal makes some good cases which allow for multiple hard drives in the case itself.

If you have any questions, please let me know. If you are on Windows 10, I can help you get everything up and running or answer any questions you have.

Chaz wrote:

I'm comfortable sideloading apps onto the Fire Stick, so I'm sure guessing stuff on the Shield won't be any more difficult. As long as I can pin the apps we use regularly, I'm sure we can manage the UI. I mean, we did use the Fire Stick for a while, and that UI is a hot mess.

The Fire TV ui is a lot more streamlined IMO. As long as your main content provider is Amazon, everything is front and center.

The Shield does so much more, there's just more settings for everything. And they're not always intuitive. Like for some reason they decided there should be an "Accessories" tab for Shield Accessories, AND a "Bluetooth" tab for Bluetooth connected accessories.

I'm fairly tech literate and I constantly forget which item I'm trying to find connects where at times. Is it an "accessory"? Is it "Bluetooth"? Why are some in both? Why aren't others? Stuff like that.

So someone less technical can easily end up in a menu where they're adjusting the color space and confused as hell, or a similarly deep Android settings area.

I also think any company that doesn't let you auto sort apps alphabetically without manually moving stuff around should have a designer flogged. Like Chrome OS, the Shield TV is no different in that regard.

The way you manually move the items also makes very little sense, in how the items will re-order themselves. On things like Roku the apps will "slide" over to make room for the app you're moving. On Shield TV it's more like one of those annoying puzzles with the sliding pieces. What you're moving *switches spots* with the item next to it. It's truly idiotic.

Powerful device, long-lasting support, and a one step forward, one step back approach to design in every release.

Apps for missing streaming services you've sideloaded also tend to crash. A lot of them are modified Fire TV APKs, because Amazon simply has apps Shield/Android TV doesn't. So you end up with these weird quirks like either A) they crash constantly or B) the subtitles will be microscopic or C) the navigation doesn't seem to work well with the Shield remote and seems to expect touch interface.

I would highly recommend double-checking what services/apps your family needs first, rather than to just assume you'll sideload later.

Or run them side-by-side for awhile, like I mentioned before.

That said, I do love having my Shield TV, and I don't know anything else that does as much in one little box, and lets you run a Sega Saturn emulator pretty seamlessly to boot. And it can even function as a Steam Link in a pinch.

ccoates wrote:

What specific model is your QNAP? For 1080p/4k, if you're not using some sort of hardware acceleration it's just not gonna fly.

I'm not sure, because it's back in a box in my closet to be honest. But that post was from 2017 so assume a model that's long since been replaced.

I may dig it back out as the house may soon have some need for just regular old generic NAS usage. It should be great as a general photo/file/etc storage.

My old i7-4790k system is still doing admirable Plex server work though. Pulled the dedicated GPU a while back, turned on the integrated, set everything to stock, turned on all the power saver settings, etc, and it all still just works.

That said, I've replaced all the streaming devices in the house. I have Shield TV's on my main projector setup, in my bedroom, and on my extra videogame/whatever TV for guests to use, so the server doesn't have to transcode anything for any commonly used display in the house anymore.

I've done a handful of full bitrate rips on 4k discs now (turns out the external USB regular blu ray drive I have reads them just fine... who knew) that also seem to play just fine on the Shield TV's, but if you try to watch them on a laptop or directly to a TV or any device without native support, the server can't deal with the transcode and it all chokes.

Also, pausing/resuming and scanning through or skipping chapters is at best fidgety on the 4k rips. I'm not sure what to do about that or even what specifically is the issue, or if it's fixable without better hardware.

Thin_J wrote:

Also, pausing/resuming and scanning through or skipping chapters is at best fidgety on the 4k rips. I'm not sure what to do about that or even what specifically is the issue, or if it's fixable without better hardware.

My solution was to keep a rip of the Blu-Ray discs backed up. And to stick with 1080p encodes for now since I don't have a 4K TV.

Unless all your devices are 4K or you *really* appreciate the difference of 4k vs 1080p, it doesn't seem worth "future proofing" the files in that regard. If you keep the discs/rips, you can always encode them again later once the hardware or your screens catch up.

ccoates wrote:

Unless all your devices are 4K or you *really* appreciate the difference of 4k vs 1080p, it doesn't seem worth "future proofing" the files in that regard. If you keep the discs/rips, you can always encode them again later once the hardware or your screens catch up.

All my devices are 4k, and the primary use for the plex server is playing those files through a projector on a 120 inch screen. It's not night and day but it is noticeable.

It can be surprising how good regular 1080p can still look at that size though. It depends on the content in question, like some regular blu rays I catch macroblocking in things like explosions, where they cheaped out on the bitrate for the video encode, but it's not super common.

The biggest fail as far as 4k goes that I've seen is Netflix and Amazon's 4k content. It can be running at absolute maximum bitrate the service offers and some scenes are still just a blocky mess when blown up to that size.