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Question Off the shelf or self build server for a media centre

freeflyer

Established Member
I am looking for a server to act as a media server for several Plex clients (or Emby).

Initially I was looking at a NAS but it appears you get more power and flexibility with a server ?

Someone suggested something like a Lenovo TS140 Thinkserver rather than a NAS like a
Synology DS216+II or QNAP TS-251+.

Then I came across a self build server as shown in the link below, but I was put off when I saw all the ventilation and fans he had put in the cupboard to keep it cool !

Choosing the components for a media server

I got the impression that building your own server gives you more performance/works out cheaper than buying an off the shelf server ?

Can anyone recommend an off the shelf sever or a self build components that will meet my requirements ?

I was hoping that I could also use the server for Time Machine backups of my Mac Book Pro over WIFI.

My media setup is shown below and all devices are connected via wired ethernet (Cat5). The living room TV has a surround sound system so it will need to be compatible with DD, DTS etc:
  • Samsung TV - living room (UE37C6000)
    • Amazon Fire TV (Plex client)
    • Denon AVRX3300W
    • Dali Zensor 3 (fronts)
    • Dali Zensor 1 (rears)
    • Dali Zensor Vokal (center)
    • XTZ 12.7 (sub)
  • Samsung Smart TV running Plex client (UE26EH4510)
  • Samsung Smart TV running Plex client (UE32K5500)
 

cjed

Prominent Member
... Can anyone recommend an off the shelf sever or a self build components that will meet my requirements ? ...

It might be helpful to list more in the way of requirements. You've mentioned that you want to run Plex server on it, and mentioned which Plex clients you have, and that you also want to do Time Machine backups. However, there's nothing about how much storage space you need, what format(s) you store the media in and if transcoding will be required (and how many clients will be running simultaneously). Have you any existing drives you want to use in the server, or will you be buying new storage?

The link you give is *very* old - the launch date for the CPU mentioned was the start of 2008. Unless you want something very much out of the ordinary, I'd suggest getting a basic server, such as the HP ML10 Gen 9, HP Microserver Gen 8, or Dell T20. These are all very low power (when idle) and shouldn't require much in the way of additional cooling. If you need Plex to transcode, then going for a Xeon based version with more CPU performance might be a good idea. You'll also need to choose and install/configure an OS - this is where most of the tinkering can be done.
 

freeflyer

Established Member
Thanks cjed

I thought the link might be old as I struggled to find some of the components, they appeared to be obsolete.

I am not sure about any other requirements as this is all new to me so Im still learning.

I am currently using a 2TB portable WD Passport HDD connected to the USB port on the Samsung TV in the living room. I expect I will have to purchase new HDDs especially as I have recently started downloading films with DD/DTS surround sound encoding to take advantage of the Denon AVR setup.

I still dont fully understand transcoding, am I right in saying that transcoding depends on the client ? I have tried using my Mac Book Pro as the Plex server (with the portable HDD drive connected to the USB on the Mac) and with the few films I tested the Plex server showed that the Amazon Fire TV was direct play but the Samsung Smart TVs were transcoding.

I am only likely to be running 2 Plex clients simultaneously. The most important one is the living room TV (with the Amazon Fire TV) as this is hooked up to the Denon AVR. The other two TVs are smaller bedroom TVs.

My media format varies from mkv, mp4, avi, divx, vob etc.
 
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maf1970

Prominent Member
Transcoding, at a high level, is taking already-compressed (or encoded) content, decompressing (decoding) it, and then somehow altering and recompressing it. As an example, you might change the audio and/or video format (codec) from one to another, such as converting from an MPEG2 source (commonly used in broadcast television) to H.264 video and AAC audio (the most popular codecs for streaming).
 

Sloppy Bob

Distinguished Member
Have you looked at Kodi instead of Plex?

Both have plus points and minuses but offer a similar solution. Kodi doesn't require a powerful server (or any server necessarily) as the Kodi streamer does all the hard work rather than in the case of Plex, the server does all the hard work.
 

freeflyer

Established Member
Thanks guys

I've heard of Kodi but havent looked into it. I was hoping to use a server so that I can also perform Time Machine backups of my Mac Book Pro over wifi.

I get the impression that the Lenovo Thinkserver TS140 is obsolete ? Has it been replaced by the TS150 ?

I found this TS140, would this be suitable....

Lenovo ThinkServer TS140 Intel Xeon E3-1225 V3 1x4GB DVDRW 4x3.5" DC SATA - 70A5000KUK

1. Would the 1TB HDD it comes with be used for the OS ?
2. What would be a suitable OS, is Ubuntu suitable (for Plex and Time Machine) and is it free ?
3. I assume I would have to purchase additional HDD(s) to store the media and for Time Machine backups ?
4. To start with could I just plug my portable USB HDD into the USB port of the server and play media from that ?
5. I planned to run the server headless as it will be kept in the cupboard under the stairs, so how would I connect to the server using my Mac Book Pro ?
 

mickevh

Distinguished Member
Isn't Time Machine proprietary to Apple - ie it doesn't run on anything but Apple's kit...?

A TB of disc is much more than an operating system needs for itself. Just how much the OS requires depends on the OS you choose - some OS's have plenty of "bloat" in them.
 
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next010

Distinguished Member
TimeMachine support is built into most commercial NAS. However Time Machine on Windows or Ubuntu I'm not so sure about but it's do-able in linux.

I think if your a beginner your better off starting with a commercial NAS, it's a lot easier to setup and maintain. DIY computers as servers is jumping into the deeper end of the pool.

Alternatively you could buy a second hand Mac Mini and use that as your server, your familiar with Mac OSX so there's no issues there, buy a USB HDD enclosure for storage, use Teamviewer to remote manage the mini and you can also use the Mini as a storage target for Time Machine.
 

cjed

Prominent Member
You can run a Time Machine backup to a Windows (SMB) share - google for instructions. As you can create SMB shares on Linux distributions (Samba), they should work as well. But I personally haven't tried this myself (I don't have any Mac kit).

There are remote desktop solutions that allow headless operation for most OSes, as I use Windows Servers and Windows client PCs, I use Remote Desktop. XRDP provides much of the same functionality for Linux Servers.

The TS140 is a good server box (I run two), but it is in the process of being superseded by the TS150. Lenovo sometimes do cashback offers on their servers, but I haven't seen any offers recently.

I would advise against running external USB drives from your server, unless it's just a temporary step. Using internal SATA disks is much more reliable.
 

freeflyer

Established Member
Thanks all for the replies, but now Im totally confused !

Im no IT expert but I am an electronics/embedded software engineer and have the skills just not the knowledge or experience. As long as I have some guidance I feel fairly confident about setting up a server even though I have never done it before.

I did look at the Mac Mini but I want at least 4TB of storage (6 or 8TB would be nice) and the highest offered by the Mac Mini is 1TB and being Apple its not upgradable. Using a portable USB HDD connected to the Mac Mini does not sound like a good solution ?

I have no idea how or if a server (such as the Lenovo Thinkserver) would be able to perform Time Machine backups and I get the impression it could be complicated to setup which puts me off. I also have no idea about an OS for a server, is there a free OS that would do the job or would I have to purchase an OS and if so how much would an OS cost and would I need a Windows, Linux, Unix, Mac OS etc ?

So I stared looking at a NAS again but this transcoding still confuses me. I have a few thousand files (films and TV series) and although I doubt all of them would need re-encoding but I would prefer not to have to re-encode them to avoid the need for transcoding. But then I get the impression that the smaller smart TVs using the Plex app will need transcoding for a large majority of my media. On the other hand Ive read that the quality of on the fly transcoding is not be as good as re-encoding the media to start with. I'm less concerned about quality of the smaller smart TVs (which are in bedrooms) so long as the media will play. But I want the larger TV (which uses the Amazon Fire TV) to be good quality as its connected to the Denon AVR surround sound.

The Synology website for the DS216+II states:

"Powered by a hardware-accelerated transcoding engine, DS216+II allows you to transcode H.264 4K videos to 1080p and stream them to high-definition TVs, digital media players, mobile handsets, and computers in the required format, making it easy to watch videos without having to install a 3rd party player"

But then when I search further I read that the NAS is not able to transcode, or it 'might' be able to transcode 720p but definitely not 1080p or 4k. So I just dont understand this contradiction ! Is it something to do with it not being able to transcode using Plex, but it can transcode using the built in server (Video Station, DS video or Media Server) ? Then I get the impression that the built in media servers are not as good as Plex etc. In addition to that I get the impression that you get a lot more for your buck (especially in terms of processing power and flexibility) with a server rather than a NAS.

My head hurts and I just seem to be going round in circles....
 

Sloppy Bob

Distinguished Member
Solution would be what I said earlier. Don't use Plex. You can still use the NAS/Server to store and stream your media, just you can buy a lower powered one as it doesn't need to transcode.

Then install Kodi on your FireTV.

Why not install it anyway and give it a try?
 
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jaipal2004

Prominent Member
Solution would be what I said earlier. Don't use Plex. You can still use the NAS/Server to store and stream our media, just you can buy a lower powered one as it doesn't need to transcode.

Then install Kodi on your FireTV.

Why not install it anyway and give it a try?
Trouble with Kodi is that it requires something to install to (by that I mean another device etc). I prefer Plex for the simple reason that a lot of TVs now have the client on their respective app stores
 

mickevh

Distinguished Member
I also have no idea about an OS for a server, is there a free OS that would do the job or would I have to purchase an OS and if so how much would an OS cost and would I need a Windows, Linux, Unix, Mac OS etc ?

Windows is almost always chargeable (unless you get it OEM as part of a machine.)

MacOS in not installable on anything but a Mac and hence you cannot purchase it as an installable "box copy" OS. Apple won't allow MacOS to run on anything but a Mac.

There are plenty of free (as in "free beer") Linux distributions available. There's a list somewhere at AVF of a whole bunch of them.

There are also some (free) installable NAS OS's available (which in the main are customised Linux distributions.) E.G. FreeNAS et al.

Pretty much all of the mainstream OS's made in the last 20 years can do basic network sharing (CIFS/SMB AKA Samba in the Linux world and Linux usually provides NFS also.)
 
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freeflyer

Established Member
I just tried to download Kodi onto the Samsung smart TVs (UE26EH4510 and UE32K5500) but it doesn't appear when I search for the Kodi app, so I assume its not available for these TVs ?
 

Sloppy Bob

Distinguished Member
No, it works on your FireTV.

You might have to spend a little on boxes to work with your TV's but if you're going to buy a NAS rather than a server you'll save a bit on it by not having to buy such a powerful one to run Plex on to transcode your media.

Personally I much prefer Kodi over Plex, it's more configurable, you can change the way it looks completely with different skins, there are loads of useful add-ons for it (don't bother with the dodgy ones giving you "free" pirate streams)
I wouldn't say it's better than Plex, it's just different and suits my needs and wants more than Plex does.

I'm not saying it's definitively the right solution for you, but you have a FireTV so can try it.
You can even install in onto your Mac or PC and have a play with it there which I found a bit easier to get started with as it had a keyboard.
 
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wormvortex

Distinguished Member
Plex only transcodes if the client cannot stream the file format naively. Though I'd also rate kodi far higher than plex and I use both, though only plex on my phone/ipad when out as have kodi at home
 

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