Editor’s Note: Part 1 of the Build Your Own Home Media Server series can be read here.
Hi I’m Python Josh (happy now Cli3nt?). I got my first computer when I was 15. All it had was DOS. Twenty years later, I have numerous computers, one of which has 12 6-terabyte (TB) hard drives.
What helped me get into computers and networking was the old PlayStation 2. I still have it and it has a 500 gigabyte (GB) hard drive with 100 games on it with network capabilities.
Ever since my first computer, I have spent most of my time learning about them; learning about how to fix problems; learning how to make them bigger, better, and faster.
By the time I was 20, I was building computers from scratch. I am the designated tech support for all my friends and family.
I have been using Plex now for 3 years, since leaving XMBC (a software media player and entertainment hub for digital media) behind. In fact, everything The Cli3nt knows about Plex, he’s learned from me.
Plex will run on all operating systems (OS), so you can have a manufactured computer or one you built yourself.
RAM: Regardless of the OS you choose, Plex is not very dependent on memory (RAM), even 4GB is good. 2GB might not be enough due to the RAM requirements of the OS.
- Intel: Crucial Ballistix Sport LT 8GB (2x4GB) DDR4-2400 Buy on Amazon
- AMD: Crucial Ballistix Sport 8GB (2x4GB) DDR3-1600 Memory Buy on Amazon
CPU: The main thing to consider is the processor (CPU). Plex uses the CPU heavily for transcoding* video and audio. Plex’s transcoder is designed to use 100% of the CPU’s resources, for the best user experience. Regardless of your media sources and standards, it is up to the client whether it will transcode the video you are watching. It is good to keep your own video and audio codec* standards; but as clients progress, older codecs are no longer supported and result in transcoding. Audio transcoding is not as CPU-intensive as video transcoding and Plex does not utilize the video card (GPU) at all for transcoding. So it doesn’t matter what GPU you have–best or worst–it doesn’t affect Plex in any way. A quad core CPU (or more) is preferred for handling transcoding. The number of cores* is the single most important piece of hardware when it comes to choosing your Plex server.
- Intel:Intel Core i7-5820K 3.3GHz 6-Core Processor Buy on Amazon
- AMD: AMD FX-8320E 3.2GHz 8-Core Processor Buy on Amazon
Motherboard/Networking: The only real consideration for the motherboard is having an onboard gigabit network card. Having your Plex server on Wi-Fi is not recommended due to packet loss, slower streaming speeds, and Wi-Fi congestion. If Wi-Fi seriously is your only option, look into Powerline Adapters. They will run your network using the solid copper 110v (or 220v) power lines in your house. There are Wi-Fi modules too, but this is a good option to help you run network cable to your server rather than Wi-Fi. But if you must, must, must use Wi-Fi, use 5ghz with a short range. Always use gigabit network cards with Cat6 cable for best performance.
- Intel: MSI Extreme Gaming Intel X99 ATX Motherboard (X99A SLI Plus) Buy on Amazon
- AMD: Gigabyte GA-78LMT-USB3 Micro ATX AM3+ Motherboard Buy on Amazon
Hard Drives: This is where you are going to store everything. Logically, having everything on asolid-state drive (SSD) is the best. But with the limited and minimal sizes of an SSDcompared to their more archaic models of mechanical drives (spinners), it is still better to have a spinner or more for mass storage and a good sized SSD for the OS.
There aremultiple ways of using hard drives with a computer. We will go over each of the options here.
Internally: This is the best option as the hard drives are the closest to the CPU and today’s motherboards are capable of 3 gigabits per second (Gbit/s) to 6Gbit/s SATA* speeds.
- SSD: Sandisk Z400s 256GB 2.5″ Solid State Drive Buy on Amazon
- SATA: Seagate 6TB 3.5″ 7200RPM Internal Hard Drive Buy on Amazon
External: USB drives are possible but not optimal due to limitations of the USB interface. USB 2.0 is limited to 750kbps whereas USB 3.0 can handle as much as 3gbps! Please make sure your motherboard supports USB 3.0 (the blue USB ports) as well as your USB hard drive. External SATA (eSATA) drives are also capable of 3gbps while handling more simultaneous users than USB3.
- Seagate Backup Plus 8TB External Hard Drive Buy on Amazon
NAS: NAS devices are becoming more and more popular nowadays. There is a PlexNAS installer that you can put directly onto the NAS, or you can install Plex on your desktop and add libraries using a network path to the NAS share you want to use for a library. We’ll talk about NAS systems later in this series.
RAID: RAID (Random Array of Inexpensive Disks) is a nifty way of making the computer look at a bunch of hard drives as a single drive. There are various options with RAID that can give you a level of security in case of hard drive failure. RAID’s 0 and 1 are not optimal as they can result in loss of data and are not expandable. RAID is also the software used in NAS drives (typically in a RAID 5). Linux will handle RAID natively using MDADM or “soft RAID” as we call it. There are also hardware controlled RAID cards which makes it necessary to have internal RAID arrays in Windows and Mac as they do not natively support RAID.
- RAID 0: Uses 100% of all hard drives in the array. If one drive fails, you lose all data.
- RAID 1: Uses one drive as a mirror. All data is copied to both drives.
- RAID 5: Uses all hard drives -1 to use as parity*. Minimum of 2 drives. Just like RAID 1 it has one disk of safety.
- RAID 6: Same as RAID 5 but has 2 disks of parity. Minimum of 3 drives. With 2 hard drives of parity you can have 2 hard drives crash and still retain your data.
RAID Example: 2 drives of 4TB drives:
- RAID 0: 8TB
- RAID 1: 4TB
- Raid 5: 4TB
RAID Example: 3 Disks of 4TB drives:
- RAID 5: 8TB
- RAID 6: 4TB
Cooling: Heat is a very critical element to a computer. The case/tower needs to be sucking in as much clean and dust-free air as it is blowing out. But if it sucks a little more than it blows, you have a positive pressure in the case and this is great to keep dust to a minimum. But dust will build up regardless and this causes insulation and heat retention. This is very bad for everything. An overheated CPU can malfunction to being completely unusable. Hard drives can run warm, but they need to gradually warm/cool as with metals, rapid temperature change causes degradation.
The standard CPU has a fan and heat sink. The whole purpose is to take heat away from the CPU and disperse it into the atmosphere. Water Cooling is a more efficient method of dispersing heat. The idea of water cooling is not to make your components ice cold, but to normalize temperatures of the devices in the water system and disperse the heat into the atmosphere using one or more radiators. If you have issues keeping your temps normal on your hard drives, there is also HDD Water Blocks which are only for custom-made water cooled systems. Cooler temps help hardware components live longer, which postponesyour having to replace hardware as often.
- Corsair Hydro Series High Performance Liquid CPU Cooler H60 Buy on Amazon
Well, that’s it for part 2. Be sure to let us know how you enjoy each segment, and don’t hesitate to leave your questions and/or comments below! See you next week!
Transcoding: Transcoding is the direct analog-to-analog or digital-to-digital conversion of one encoding to another, such as for movie data files or audio files.
Codec: A codec is a device or computer program for encoding or decoding a digital data stream or signal.
Cores: A multi-core processor is a single computing component with two or more independent actual processing units (called “cores”), which are the units that read and execute program instructions.
SATA: Serial ATA (SATA, abbreviated from Serial AT Attachment) is a computer bus interface that connects host bus adapters to mass storage devices such as hard disk drives and optical drives.
Parity: Parity computations are used in RAID drive arrays for fault tolerance by calculating the data in two drives and storing the results on a third. The parity is computed by XOR’ing a bit from drive 1 with a bit from drive 2 and storing the result on drive 3 (to learn about XOR, see OR). After a failed drive is replaced, the RAID controller rebuilds the lost data from the other two drives. RAID systems often have a “hot” spare drive ready and waiting to replace a drive that fails.