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Thoughts on replacement NAS/Media PC?

Nuuki

Standard Member
My current setup is a Windows Home Server v1 as my storage solution, with a Revo running XBMC as my media PC.

This setup has served me well for many years, but I’m now looking to upgrade it. Firstly my WHS box is starting to run out of steam - it only support drives up to 2Tb, and is also starting to get a bit long in the tooth generally – it has been on 24/7 for about 5 years, so I can’t complain. Secondly I’d like a bit more choice at the client end. The Revo has been great, but I’d like a bit more flexibility in getting the content onto other screens, including remotely. I’m a tentative believer in the Chromecast, and being able to throw content around without relying on a fixed PC is pretty appealing.

I’ve had a play around with Plex and I quite like it – I miss some of the tuning I can do with XBMC, but out of the box it works well and is very easy.

One challenge in increasingly flexibility is codec support – most of my content is MKV, and that’s not generally going to be natively supported by a non media PC solution. I’ve toyed with transcoding in Plex, and whilst the works in theory, in practice its not really useable with HD content with my setup. As such my understanding is that I need to go with one of these options for any replacement:

1. Use a client device with proper codec support and the necessary grunt – a media PC in other words, same as I have today.
2. Transcode on the server. Maximum flexibility and least devices needed, but requires a decent CPU in the server.
3. Run a separate transcoding PC as well as server – no need for a separate media PC as such, as I can then throw it to a Chromecast, but replacing that with a PC for transcoding seems a it cumbersome.

I had been considering Synology as a replacement for WHS, but that’s not going to be any use for transcoding either, and to be fair, I don’t really expect a dedicated NAS to be that powerful, as its not its core function.

Is it practical to try to build a NAS / server with the power to do the transcoding, or do I realistically need to either give up on it completely, or else use a dedicated PC to handle that?

Any input or advice much appreciated...
 

volopasse

Established Member
What are you running your WHS on at the moment? If it's a decent rig, you can probably continue to use it on the back end of things. I'm running a 2.7Ghz Athlon 250 and it does a reasonably ok job at transcoding 1-2 streams of 720p or 1080p (albeit not from a super high bitrate source).

Second, you mention sending content to other screens - sounds like a job for the server, not the client. And if you're thinking along those lines, you'll need transcoding capability anyway, as most likely the devices you are going to stream to won't have native codec support. And for remote streaming you may be limited by upload bandwidth, which again leads to transcoding to a lower quality target.

I think splitting NAS and transcoding PC doesn't give any advantage, as both need to be on 24/7, the setup costs more and there's another box to maintain.
 

Andy_t

Standard Member
I've recently bought a Chromecast and can stream H264 MKVs to it from my Synology DS213j using the BubbleUPNP app. It's ideal for me as I wanted something for IPlayer and Netflix as well. Don't think the DS213j will transcode video (and I haven't needed to try), but I've read that some of the more expensive Synology NAS drives will. Mine transcodes audio files fine though.
 

next010

Distinguished Member
If going with a commercial NAS probably want to go for the Synology Play series (DS214Play or 414Play) or Asustor AS3 series those use the same chip which has hardware video transcoding built into it. The AS2 has this option disabled.

However Plex is not able to leverage the hardware transcoder only the stock DLNA media server does which means your bound to that if you have devices that need transcoded video, Synology DSVideo does work with Chromecast too.

Supposedly on Plex forums it was stated the Chromecast will play mkv natively as long as three conditions are met, no multiple audio tracks, no subtitles and only MP3 as the audio, your server has to transcode if those conditions aren't met. Even the DS213J can transcode audio so that isn't a problem.

The Play/AS3 both have a 1.6Ghz dual core Intel CPU (latest Atom series) so soft transcoding even without hardware acceleration is possible for some video media but not all as these are still lower power CPU's and no Core i3.
 

Nuuki

Standard Member
What are you running your WHS on at the moment? If it's a decent rig, you can probably continue to use it on the back end of things. I'm running a 2.7Ghz Athlon 250 and it does a reasonably ok job at transcoding 1-2 streams of 720p or 1080p (albeit not from a super high bitrate source).

Second, you mention sending content to other screens - sounds like a job for the server, not the client. And if you're thinking along those lines, you'll need transcoding capability anyway, as most likely the devices you are going to stream to won't have native codec support. And for remote streaming you may be limited by upload bandwidth, which again leads to transcoding to a lower quality target.

I think splitting NAS and transcoding PC doesn't give any advantage, as both need to be on 24/7, the setup costs more and there's another box to maintain.

My current server is a Tranquil SQA-5H, which has a pretty weedy Atom processor in it - great for running at low power, but not so good for anything heavy.

I agree that all things being equal, I'd prefer the server to do everything. One option to achieve that would be to build a server that has a decent CPU, and slap WHS2012 on it (for example), but that's somewhat more hassle than something off the shelf. I may need to decide between the simplicity of something like Synology, and the flexibility of something more powerful.
 

Nuuki

Standard Member
I've recently bought a Chromecast and can stream H264 MKVs to it from my Synology DS213j using the BubbleUPNP app. It's ideal for me as I wanted something for IPlayer and Netflix as well. Don't think the DS213j will transcode video (and I haven't needed to try), but I've read that some of the more expensive Synology NAS drives will. Mine transcodes audio files fine though.

Thanks. For straight streaming I'm pretty well covered. As you note transcoding is more challenging to throw in the mix - the Synology's sound like they can in theory, but as I think as next010 is pointing out, in practice I'm not sure its reliable.
 

razer1

Established Member
The Hp Microserver with Synology DSM on it for plex?

It really depends on how many simultaneous transcoding streams your likely to be running be it now or in the future? The N54L handles a couple reasonably well - Or atleast its handled everything I have thrown at it thusfar (6months Ive been running the setup!)

For multiple streams, a stronger CPU is needed to handle them then.
 

Nuuki

Standard Member
The Hp Microserver with Synology DSM on it for plex?

It really depends on how many simultaneous transcoding streams your likely to be running be it now or in the future? The N54L handles a couple reasonably well - Or atleast its handled everything I have thrown at it thusfar (6months Ive been running the setup!)

For multiple streams, a stronger CPU is needed to handle them then.

I'm only likely to need 1 transcoded stream at a time.

That HP server looks pretty cost effective. You refer to running DSM, but I thought that was only available on Synology hardware - am I getting confused?

Any idea how the CPU in the HP compares with that in the Synology? Whilst the H.264 hardware in the "play" series isn't supported today in Plex, it does provide some additional options, so if they have similar performance without it, I'd lean to having the hardware support for future options.
 

Nuuki

Standard Member
If going with a commercial NAS probably want to go for the Synology Play series (DS214Play or 414Play) or Asustor AS3 series those use the same chip which has hardware video transcoding built into it. The AS2 has this option disabled.

However Plex is not able to leverage the hardware transcoder only the stock DLNA media server does which means your bound to that if you have devices that need transcoded video, Synology DSVideo does work with Chromecast too.

Supposedly on Plex forums it was stated the Chromecast will play mkv natively as long as three conditions are met, no multiple audio tracks, no subtitles and only MP3 as the audio, your server has to transcode if those conditions aren't met. Even the DS213J can transcode audio so that isn't a problem.

The Play/AS3 both have a 1.6Ghz dual core Intel CPU (latest Atom series) so soft transcoding even without hardware acceleration is possible for some video media but not all as these are still lower power CPU's and no Core i3.

That's very useful - seeing those details on Chromecast transcoding is very handy, and that Asustor looks interesting.

I guess I could choose to keep my Revo for day to day normal streaming over Plex, and if I needed to transcode heavily I could use DSVideo?

Its not exactly seamless, but I guess its an option.
 

razer1

Established Member
The microserver depending on versions is a capable CPU. The N54L is a AMD turion 2.2ghz dual. And the newer gen8 model is a G1610T 2.3ghz AFAIK but others can confirm.

Regarding DSM, its synology based but as DSM is opensource, has been tweaked to run on non synology machines IE the Microserver. It is still very much experimental so things aren't always up to date as a full synology device is but it does have a big community over on Xpenology ( the official name for it.. )

With the Hp microserver, you should have no issues transcoding with Plex. I run it over gb ethernet to a raspberry pi with Rasplex. Runs fine apart from the pi lacking power sometimes. but the server handles it fine.

Commercial nas's are more file sharing rather than a media solution so lack the power to transcode but due to useage creep and demand on the little box's nowadays, they seem to be lacking for media duties for which 90% were never designed or built to handle.

Id give the microserver some thought. If your not happy using DSM, run Ubuntu or linux as the base O/s rather than whs or SE2012.. You can still run plex and file sharing on ubuntu or linux and be less prone to issues tbf due to its development being kept up.

Raz
 

Nuuki

Standard Member
The microserver depending on versions is a capable CPU. The N54L is a AMD turion 2.2ghz dual. And the newer gen8 model is a G1610T 2.3ghz AFAIK but others can confirm.

Regarding DSM, its synology based but as DSM is opensource, has been tweaked to run on non synology machines IE the Microserver. It is still very much experimental so things aren't always up to date as a full synology device is but it does have a big community over on Xpenology ( the official name for it.. )

With the Hp microserver, you should have no issues transcoding with Plex. I run it over gb ethernet to a raspberry pi with Rasplex. Runs fine apart from the pi lacking power sometimes. but the server handles it fine.

Commercial nas's are more file sharing rather than a media solution so lack the power to transcode but due to useage creep and demand on the little box's nowadays, they seem to be lacking for media duties for which 90% were never designed or built to handle.

Id give the microserver some thought. If your not happy using DSM, run Ubuntu or linux as the base O/s rather than whs or SE2012.. You can still run plex and file sharing on ubuntu or linux and be less prone to issues tbf due to its development being kept up.

Raz

Thanks for the advice. I've taken another look at the Microserver. They do a model with a G2020T as well, though any of them look to be plenty powerful enough to transcode a single 1080 stream.

I've not been able to find much on the power of the 214play's SoC - its not listed on PassMark that I could find. As such I'm not sure if it would have the power to transcode, setting aside its H264 hardware. I'm going to guess not for now, unless others know differently. That said its sounding like Synology will be adding the necessary support that would allow Plex to use its HW at some point, though no guarantees I guess. I'm also not interested in a 2 drive NAS...

So all things being equal, the raw CPU power of the Microserver somewhat wins me over at this point. They look solid, and I have a reasonable amount of faith in the brand. I like the idea of the HW engine in devices that run the CE5335 SoC, but without extensive support for it just yet it feels like a bit more of a gamble.

In terms of software, I don't object to running a Linux based system - I'm not a "nix" wiz, but I like to think I can get by if I need to. That said as I get older I'm increasingly a fan of things being nice and easy - I guess that's partly why the Synology appealed. I'm not sure how keen I am to leap into using something that's still experimental - I certainly applaud the endevour, but not sure I want to trust the storage of everything I have to something that's not fully proven yet. I was actually a big fan of WHSv1, and I've heard that Server2012 Essentials makes for a pretty decent storage server, so that's an option I guess, though with my TechNet lapsing it adds a big chunk to the cost...

If I wanted to run something free and robust (FreeNAS?), would I get all the features I know and love - single drive pool, flexible drive scaling, client backups, personal drives etc...?
 

razer1

Established Member
Beings your not so keen on experimental/Xpenology, I would go for the Microserver - spec it up with ram 8 or 16gb if you can and go with a Ubuntu desktop version as I believe everything can still be run on the desktop one that can be on the server. Difference being between the 2 is the server version isn't GUI based and command line based...

WinSE2012 is an option but is Very expensive compared to what its replaced (WHS2011). Freenas is an option but I found this awkward and lacked things I needed hence why started with Ubuntu then switched to Xpenology.

Ive got the 4.3 build running absolutely fine. Anything can be an issue with whatever O/s you use hence why regular backups are needed. Offsite too incase of fire or disaster that the server and house is destroyed!
 

Nuuki

Standard Member
Beings your not so keen on experimental/Xpenology, I would go for the Microserver - spec it up with ram 8 or 16gb if you can and go with a Ubuntu desktop version as I believe everything can still be run on the desktop one that can be on the server. Difference being between the 2 is the server version isn't GUI based and command line based...

WinSE2012 is an option but is Very expensive compared to what its replaced (WHS2011). Freenas is an option but I found this awkward and lacked things I needed hence why started with Ubuntu then switched to Xpenology.

Ive got the 4.3 build running absolutely fine. Anything can be an issue with whatever O/s you use hence why regular backups are needed. Offsite too incase of fire or disaster that the server and house is destroyed!

Right. Certainly an advantage of the Microserver is flexibility over the O/S. I'm tempted to install Xpenology on an old desktop PC to see how I get on with it. I see the CPU in the HP is upgradeable as well, so definitely some head room to add power if needed.

I already backup all critical data offsite as well, and would certainly continue to do so...
 

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