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Plex server, storage and client hardware recommendations please

Homemovielover

Novice Member
Hi All,

Looking to the future I want to rip my collection of blurays and dvd's (including many TV boxsets) to a central server that's accessible to my (future build) cinema room with 1080P projector, my 50" Panasonic Plasma in the lounge, at least one of the bedroom TV's and a couple of the kids ipads.

I'm trying to formulate a hardware solution that's man enough to do the above successfully. Ive just started reading up on the whole topic of options and im pretty sure Plex is for me. However there does appear to be an issue of transcoding or more so, the muscle required to achieve multiple 1080p streams.

The house is in a good way, connectivity wise. Ive got Cat 5e to all the TV's running.

I already bought 3 Intel NUC's with 1TB Samsung SSD's and 8gb ram but fear I may have moved too soon with these i.e. before I actually understood how Plex worked and where it did the transcoding and therefore needed it muscle. Result is, they are probably overkill for the client ends but as I have them I'll either use them or if really not suitable for any other reason, sell them on and buy a cheaper solution.

I'm figuring I'll need a decent i5, i7 or xeon based server for transcoding duties? From my initial reading it seems that something that can manage three HD streams should be sufficient for my needs (around 6000 passmarks) but I do like a little overhead.

Then, where do I store the movies? On a Synology NAS or build the above i5, i7 or xeon server into a rackmount chassis with hot swap drives/bays? What's best and how should it be configured so that the Server does the transcoding, the NAS is just for storage and the clients are there just to display whats sent... or is my understanding of the hardware components involved not right? Happy to be educated. :)
 

KamSandhu44

Established Member
Plex does not necessarily need to transcode anything.

Currently I run Plex on a Synology NAS with no transcoding and the TV displays everything. If you encode your collection in the right format, then there will be no need for any transcoding at all.

Your NUC should be more than capable of handling anything you throw at it.

I am not an expert, someone with more knowledge might be able to give you more info.
 

Downinja

Distinguished Member
Why transcode?

If the players are capable of playing the native files then wouldn't you do that?

The synology can just store the files.

Additional stuff like transcoding for mobile/tablet playback maybe
 

Homemovielover

Novice Member
I want the highest quality possible - from reading up most say it needs to transcode if its going to a mix of x84 client and ios...? I'm all ears to get this right though guys.
 

kerbys

Established Member
first off the bat.. unfortunately you have gone MASSIVELY overboard with the nucs...

You can keep them (however would sell the ssd's or utilize else-ware!) to use them as htpc's. When using a full fledged pc as the player plex will not do any transcoding, the files will be bit streamed.

For the server you have a couple of options. Go with a pre built nas.. This will give you reliable storage, however will be very limited on transcode. So if you do stream to say 2 ipads you will have problems. Sync will also take longer to convert if you do have files in the wrong format.

I have a massively overpowered server as i share with friends, transcode to all types of devices, sync for offline etc.

Personally if money wasnt too much of an issue i would have
1) High end nas (keeps things simple) just run shares and odd service off of here
2) decent spec nuc with ssd as the Plex server (fast transcodes, quicker access to metadata)
3) whatever clients you want.
 

Homemovielover

Novice Member
first off the bat.. unfortunately you have gone MASSIVELY overboard with the nucs...

You can keep them (however would sell the ssd's or utilize else-ware!) to use them as htpc's. When using a full fledged pc as the player plex will not do any transcoding, the files will be bit streamed.

For the server you have a couple of options. Go with a pre built nas.. This will give you reliable storage, however will be very limited on transcode. So if you do stream to say 2 ipads you will have problems. Sync will also take longer to convert if you do have files in the wrong format.

I have a massively overpowered server as i share with friends, transcode to all types of devices, sync for offline etc.

Personally if money wasnt too much of an issue i would have
1) High end nas (keeps things simple) just run shares and odd service off of here
2) decent spec nuc with ssd as the Plex server (fast transcodes, quicker access to metadata)
3) whatever clients you want.
Great info, thank you. Ok, so get shot of two of the i7 NUCs and 1TB SSD's, keep one for the server... get some funds back on those two and spend that on a Synology Nas? Sound like a plan?

When you say metadata - is that things like the cover art etc? (sorry don't know phrases fully yet, still a newbie!)

And whatever clients? Whats the best bet or isn't it that simple? Do the ipads just run the Plex client app? I need a Roku or similar for the (non smart) TV's?
 

kerbys

Established Member
Metadata - yes is stuff like coverart and descriptions. SSD really helps. Also now you have options of the server going through your media and getting video preview thumbnails. (so you can see what happening when you skip through) not necessary but looks nice. also takes up ALOT of space on big librarys.

whats your budget? ill work out the best kit. Im currently testing out an nvidea sheild for my cinema (ease of use) pc's can be a pain when switching inputs.
 

Homemovielover

Novice Member
Metadata - yes is stuff like coverart and descriptions. SSD really helps. Also now you have options of the server going through your media and getting video preview thumbnails. (so you can see what happening when you skip through) not necessary but looks nice. also takes up ALOT of space on big librarys.

whats your budget? ill work out the best kit. Im currently testing out an nvidea sheild for my cinema (ease of use) pc's can be a pain when switching inputs.
Hey, thanks again. Budget wise I'm fairly flexible. I'd just like to get it right and not have to revisit it for a couple of years. I'm not rich but I'm determined to spend the money in the right areas as this is something I've been thinking of doing (I kid you not) for three + years! Nas wise; something like a 716+ with 2x 4TB av drives perhaps? With the option of adding on the synology expansion module at a later date? I've already got the i7 nuc with Samsung EVO 850 1tb drive and then there's the client end to sort which I have no idea on as there seems to be so many options!

One ripping/streaming question I do have. The new projector build room setup is hopefully going to be configured for 7.1.2 (atmos) so will the encoding and streaming via Plex keep this sound format if the original disk has the data or is there a limitation with Plex or the hardware at the client end?
 

AndySee

Established Member
I agree with kerbys and you're right about transcoding, it really depends on the end client capability and the quality of the source. I did read a couple of very good threads on the Plex site which you've probably read as well which calculated bit rates, number of streams, and number of transcoding streams and determined how much CPU power you need.

I have an Asustor NAS AS202TE which manages to serve 720p to my Chrome dongle successfully, (and remotely to my son's house) but some 1080p does buffer a bit. ( I know it depends on bit rate as well as pixel density.) The processor is the bottleneck, but I didn't want to spend a lot in upgrading the NAS, they get expensive, and my needs are more of an intellectual interest in the tech rather than a large collection of movies and a movie theatre. And I have a low budget.

So for my beefier server for any transcoding requirements a passmark of 2000 - 2500 was about OK. I also wanted a laptop, for size, power saving etc. I have managed to buy a cheap (under £60) Thinkpad T420 laptop with a CPU passmark of 3500. I think it might stretch to 2 transcoding streams.
I intend to install Plex server on the laptop (on a Linux Mint distro) and leave the source files on the NAS. Then the NAS does it's main purpose, serving files, and the laptop/server will do it's purpose, managing the Plex database and transcoding when called for.
The laptop will be set up and managed remotely, just like the NAS.
The bonus may be to be able to upgrade the Plex server version more timely than the Asustor releases.
So my set up will be:
1) low end value NAS
2) decent spec cheap laptop
3) minimal clients
 

kerbys

Established Member
I wouldnt get a 2 bay nas.. think it would be pointless..

Spend your money on a custom build (pc with unraid etc) or get a bigger nas.
 

rhino2k

Distinguished Member
All you really need is a reasonable pc (so you can do all the ripping/storage in one place) and some form of media player for your HC.

I have the new fire tv for my main setup and a firestick upstairs, works perfectly with plex. Or you can probably get an app for the tv but they are not that fast at reading a large library from experience and feel sluggish.

Ipads ect can just use the plex app. I would not recommend the firetv for a HC as there are issues with 5.1, Not sure if this will change at some point. It does not bother me as I do not use the surround sound for plex viewing, It mainly gets used for my girls films anyway.
 

Plasma Dan

Prominent Member
I switched over to using Raspberry Pis, with Openelec a while back, best thing I ever did. So simple to use, and cheap enough to have one for each TV in the house.

No need to transcode anything, Kodi (Openelec) can playback just about any format you can imagine. There is also an android version of Kodi for use on mobile / tablet. My collection is mostly MKV / AVI 1080p, some 3D content too (SBS), they all play perfectly. I have an Intel quad (4 gigabit) NUC in the file-server, and a RAID 5 setup with enterprise class Western Digital Red storage drives. It's been running smoothly for just over a year (24/7). :smashin:

Server holds 24TB of data (so far), excluding backups.

2015-11-14%2016.41.39_zpsj4wh89pv.jpg~original


My server could probably do transcoding; since it has a newer 4GHz quad AMD APU, but the only device in the house that requires transcoding to playback media is the xbox, and frankly playing anything via the xbox is just redundant these days with such cheap media players (Raspberry Pis) available.

If you are going to go down the custom build route, use hardware RAID. Never trust software RAID, or UNRAID for that matter, they work great when they work, but you lose data when they stop working. :censored: Most good RAID cards can be replaced if they fail; and the new unit will simply detect the existing RAID configuration. I've had both cheap and expensive RAID cards, so I can tell you, the expensive ones are worth it. :censored: They don't just perform better, they look after your data better; with daily integrity checks etc. :smashin:

Dan.
 

AndySee

Established Member
I wouldnt get a 2 bay nas.. think it would be pointless..

um, I already did, thought it would be fine for starters, and to be fair, it has. As I said, my media streaming needs are not vast. I needed music (for Sonos), photos and backup too. So it's a bit of jack of all trades.

pointless depends on what you need, it was fair value for me. I've upgraded the disks once, and now have 2 x2 TB reds, so not a lot of media and not growing that quickly either, but I do look longingly at the step up in devices. Playing with the laptop server may help me decide.
 

AndySee

Established Member
I don't have enough experience to fully argue one way or the other, client vs server side processing and transcode vs decode, ease of use etc, this link had some good points and a bit of reasonable discussion:
Plex vs Kodi - The Ultimate Comparison Guide for Beginners

I thought about raspberry pi too, but didn't want another TV site box, I'm happy with casting from phone to Chromecast. Although, a Pi does interest me for a play.
 

plexwasps

Established Member
I am currently running plex on my Mac and have all my storgate on my hp54nl. Love the thing but starting to think about a bigger server as already have 14tb but running out of room. For my players I am using an Xbox one and PS3 and a new Apple TV. The Apple TV has had no problems playing anything and even via wifi. So couldn't be happier
 

Homemovielover

Novice Member
So for the client hardware it looks as though either the raspberry pi or the newest Apple tv? My preference would be the apple tv's purely from an aesthetic viewpoint plus I could make use of them for other functions with the iPads etc.

I still think something like a synology 713+ would be a good starting point - a mirrored 4-6TB two drive setup would get me started and then would allow expansion with the DX513 5 bay add on. I could then drop in a further 4 x 4TB drives and gain another 8TB of mirrored storage giving me 12TB of mirrored with a spare bay as a back up in case of a mirroring failure. Food for thought but pleas keep any further ideas coming. :)

Cabling wise I'm presuming cat 6 isn't necessary as I already have cat 5e running at 1 gig throughout the house?
 
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sounddog

Prominent Member
If you are going to go down the custom build route, use hardware RAID. Never trust software RAID, or UNRAID for that matter, they work great when they work, but you lose data when they stop working. :censored: Most good RAID cards can be replaced if they fail; and the new unit will simply detect the existing RAID configuration. I've had both cheap and expensive RAID cards, so I can tell you, the expensive ones are worth it. :censored: They don't just perform better, they look after your data better; with daily integrity checks etc. :smashin:
Many IT professionals would disagree with that assessment and suggest that recovering from problems with software RAID is much easier than hardware RAID. I don't intend to start an argument on this only to say that Dan's is only one view and other views would contradict him.

By software RAID I am referring to systems such as ZFS. Also note that most dedicated NAS devices use software RAID.

One thing though ... Don't try to rely on RAID5 with larger (4TB+ drives). The likelihood of a second drive failing while you are rebuilding the first failed drive.

Finally RAID is not a substitute for a backup so consider how you plan to back up your ripped DVDs.
 

Plasma Dan

Prominent Member
Many IT professionals would disagree with that assessment and suggest that recovering from problems with software RAID is much easier than hardware RAID. I don't intend to start an argument on this only to say that Dan's is only one view and other views would contradict him.

By software RAID I am referring to systems such as ZFS. Also note that most dedicated NAS devices use software RAID.

One thing though ... Don't try to rely on RAID5 with larger (4TB+ drives). The likelihood of a second drive failing while you are rebuilding the first failed drive.

Finally RAID is not a substitute for a backup so consider how you plan to back up your ripped DVDs.

Well to be fair I don't really trust RAID of any type, that's why I have a bunch of 6TB drives for backups. These are kept stand-alone / non-RAID in-case something bad happens. :censored:

Before I upped my server hardware budget last year, I had my main array fail (8x 3TB Seagate). I was lucky to be able to recover the data at all. Serves me right for using cheap Seagate drives in a RAID setup. :(

You live & learn. :rolleyes:
You get what you pay for. :rolleyes:
...(insert more generic idioms here).

Dan.
 

sounddog

Prominent Member
So for the client hardware it looks as though either the raspberry pi or the newest Apple tv? My preference would be the apple tv's purely from an aesthetic viewpoint plus I could make use of them for other functions with the iPads etc.
I'm not sure the answer to this, but does the Apple TV 4 support HD audio codecs? Not sure if that's going to be important to you either. IIRC the AppleTV will require the Plex server to transcode everything to H264 if not already in that format

I still think something like a synology 713+ would be a good starting point - a mirrored 4-6TB two drive setup would get me started and then would allow expansion with the DX513 5 bay add on. I could then drop in a further 4 x 4TB drives and gain another 8TB of mirrored storage giving me 12TB of mirrored with a spare bay as a back up in case of a mirroring failure. Food for thought but pleas keep any further ideas coming. :)
Another option... Get a HP micro server gen 8 and run Linux or FreeBSD / FreeNAS. It's Celeron processor should do you if no transcoding is needed and if necessary you can replace its processor with a Xeon.

Cabling wise I'm presuming cat 6 isn't necessary as I already have cat 5e running at 1 gig throughout the house?
No need to change cabling.
 
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sounddog

Prominent Member
Well to be fair I don't really trust RAID of any type, that's why I have a bunch of 6TB drives for backups. These are kept stand-alone / non-RAID in-case something bad happens. :censored:
Good policy / backup strategy.

You live & learn. :rolleyes:
You get what you pay for. :rolleyes:
...(insert more generic idioms here).
You pays your money and makes your choice.

For my next Plex server I'm debating (with myself) over a ZFS RAID vs a bunch of individual drives backed up externally. Individual drives have the advantage of being able to add extra drives easily, then have multiple folders but manually organised - Movies.a-h; Movies.i-s; Movies.t-z; TV-Shows.a-k; TV-shows.l-z; Documentaries; etc. as needed.
 

Plasma Dan

Prominent Member
For my next Plex server I'm debating (with myself) over a ZFS RAID vs a bunch of individual drives backed up externally. Individual drives have the advantage of being able to add extra drives easily, then have multiple folders but manually organised - Movies.a-h; Movies.i-s; Movies.t-z; TV-Shows.a-k; TV-shows.l-z; Documentaries; etc. as needed.

I would never go back to individual drives. :censored: I used to do that with movies & TV shows. You inevitably end-up running out of space on one or more drives and thinking "how am I gonna re-arrange things to make them fit?". I like being able to keep everything in one place. I keep about 6TB of free space on the main array. By the time I fill that I'll probably want a new setup anyway. :rolleyes:

Dan.
 

Homemovielover

Novice Member
I'm not sure the answer to this, but does the Apple TV 4 support HD audio codecs? Not sure if that's going to be important to you either. IIRC the AppleTV will require the Plex server to transcode everything to H264 if not already in that format


Another option... Get a HP micro server gen 8 and run Linux or FreeBSD / FreeNAS. It's Celeron processor should do you if no transcoding is needed and if necessary you can replace its processor with a Xeon.


No need to change cabling.
Thanks SoundDog - on the Apple TV front, according to Apple (so who really knows!)...
Video Formats
H.264 video up to 1080p, 60 frames per second, High or Main Profile level 4.2 or lower

H.264 Baseline Profile level 3.0 or lower with AAC-LC audio up to 160 Kbps per channel, 48kHz, stereo audio in .m4v, .mp4 and .mov file formats

MPEG-4 video up to 2.5 Mbps, 640x480 pixels, 30 frames per second, Simple Profile with AAC-LC audio up to 160 Kbps, 48kHz, stereo audio in .m4v, .mp4 and .mov file formats

Audio Formats
HE‑AAC (V1), AAC (16 to 320 Kbps), protected AAC (from iTunes Store), MP3 (16 to 320 Kbps), MP3 VBR, Audible (formats 2, 3 and 4), Apple Lossless, AIFF and WAV; Dolby Digital 5.1 and Dolby Digital Plus 7.1

I did also think along the HP micro server route - the only thing really stopping me is that I have zero knowledge of Linux based os's although im guessing setting up one of these would be fairly straightforward and theres probably lots of 'how to's' floating around so it could be an option I guess. All this info is great btw, its going into the big melting pot of ideas so thanks to all contributors so far. :)
 

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