A Plex Media Server makes it easy to stream or share your movie and music collection the same way that you stream Netflix or Hulu. No hassle, no fuss, just dump all your media in the server and stream it to any device. But setting up a Plex server is easier said than done, especially when there are so many different devices that can function as a Plex server.
We’re going to go through all the products that you need to set up a Plex server, including a lot of the optional stuff. But this is only a product guide. Those who need help setting up the Plex software should check out theor read the at our sister site, How-To Geek.
. Windows and macOS-based servers offer similar performance to Linux-based servers, so if you aren’t comfortable with Linux, don’t bother using it. That said, Linux is ideal because it requires little maintenance and is very power efficient. If you’re familiar with Linux, try using a distro without a GUI to save computer resources and maximize performance.
NAS solutions are a bit tricky. Some people use a NAS device to hold and manage media alongside their Plex server, while others run the entire operation, server and all, on a single NAS device. Consolidating everything into a NAS device makes your Plex server smaller and easier to manage, but NAS devices that are powerful enough to keep up with Plex’s demands are a little expensive.
, which call for an i3 processor and 2GB of RAM. Of course, you’ll enjoy better performance on a more powerful system, and most Plex enthustiasts suggest using an i5 processor and 4GB of RAM (or better). A beefier system is ideal for 4K streaming, simultaneous multi-device streaming, or remote streaming outside of your home.
These hardware requirements get a little fuzzy when you build a Plex server from a NAS device, a Raspberry Pi, or any other non-traditional solution. If you plan to run your Plex server on a NAS device, check the detailedto find one that’s powerful enough for your needs. Both the and can stream Plex in 4K, so stick to those products if you want a small, cheap, non-PC Plex server.
or . These devices are 4K-capable and extremely popular, so there are plenty of resources to help you set everything up. Plus, the Pi 4 and NVIDIA Shield TV Pro are very easy to repurpose or resell if you lose interest in Plex.
A PC-based Plex server offers more flexibility and power than a Rasberry Pi, NVIDIA Shield, or NAS device, especially if said PC has upgradeable components. Again, you can use any PC that fits the Plex hardware requirements, but mini PCs like theare the gold standard thanks to their small footprint, power efficiency, and low price.
Intel NUC devices don’t come with RAM or an OS, which most enthusiasts prefer, as aftermarket RAM isn’t that expensive and Linux operating systems are free. But if you aren’t comfortable using Linux or shoving components into a motherboard, then pre-built Windows 10 devices like theor are probably your best bet.
But what if you want to run everything off of a NAS device? While NAS devices don’t have the horsepower or reusability of PCs, they’re incredibly power efficient and can help you achieve a clean setup. Also, a NAS device makes it easy to back up multiple copies of your Plex library—that’s kinda what they’re made for.
If Plex endorses a NAS device in its, then it should fulfill all your needs. I just have one quick tip—don’t buy a NAS device with only one or two drive bays. A NAS device with four or more drive bays, like the , can hold multiple copies of your media library, increasing security and maximizing the available space in your drives. Check out to see how a few extra drive bays can make your NAS-based Plex server a lot more useful.
The Intel NUC is a barebones mini-PC that’s perfect for Plex. Add some RAM, throw on your favorite Linux distro, and enjoy the ride.
NVIDIA Shield TV Pro
The four-bay Synology DiskStation DS920+ has enough horsepower to run a reliable Plex server, and can accommodate four drives for maximum storage and security.
Unless your chosen Plex server has a ton of onboard storage, you’re gonna need an external drive to house your movies, shows, music, and other media files. Thankfully, you don’t need an expensive SSD to handle this task. A cheaper HDD is fine for storing Plex media and won’t impact the quality of your streaming.
for your Plex setup (or any other server setup) because NAS HDDs run slower and therefore have a longer lifespan than regular HDDs. The reduced speed will not affect streaming quality, as the drive’s only job is to retrieve media files for your Plex server.
Unfortunately, you’ll also need anto connect this kind of HDD to your Plex server via USB (unless your server is a PC with open drive bays or a NAS device).
If you don’t want to pay extra for a NAS HDD and external drive enclosure, you could use a consumer-grade external HDD like theinstead. Just keep in mind that it’ll die sooner and consume more power than a NAS HDD.
. (If you’re using a Raspberry Pi or NVIDIA Shield device, don’t worry about it, your device boots from flash storage).
, or achieve the same results on Linux with .
NAS devices are purpose-built for RAID backups, and as I mentioned earlier, a NAS device with four drive bays is much more secure and provides more usable storage space than a device with just two drive bays. You should play with theto find a setup that’s right for you.
WD Red Plus Internal HDD
A Plex server is useless without a media library. In a perfect world, you could buy movies and shows from the Plex app and download them directly to your Plex media server. But we don’t live in a perfect world, so you have to source your video files from a couple of DRM-free distributors, DVDs, and Blu-Ray discs.
Plex servers are a popular solution for streaming music, but because downloading andis such an easy task , we aren’t going to cover it here.
from most media files, but it’s a pain in the butt. Plus, paying a company for DRM-protected files is frustrating, as the company clearly doesn’t respect your right to own the things you pay for.
The only notable platforms that sell DRM-free movies are, , and some small . But these distributors mostly sell indie films, so you’re gonna have to rip mainstream movies from DVDs and Blu-Rays. If you’re looking for something that’s in the public domain, you can probably download it for free on the . Good luck finding DRM-free movie downloads anywhere else.
or that plugs into your computer’s USB port. Once that’s plugged in, you need software to rip the movie from your discs. I suggest using HandBrake to preserve the quality of your ripped files. is pretty easy, but the process for ripping Blu-Rays can be a little complicated, so be sure to read our detailed over at How-To Geek.
, then you shouldn’t run into lag or transcoding buffer during normal use. That said, problems may arise if you stream to multiple devices that require video transcoding at the same time.
If your Plex server doesn’t have a lot of horsepower, you can avoid video transcoding entirely by converting all of your media files to MP4, which is the “universal” file format. Bear in mind that transcoding issues are rare during regular streaming, and for what it’s worth, Plex enthusiasts suggest using the MKV file format to retain the quality of movies ripped from Blu-Ray.
I should point out that theunlocks an exclusive hardware transcoding setting, which utilizes your computer’s GPU (as opposed to the CPU) to transcode video. Those who plan to do a ton of remote streaming, which requires video transcoding to reduce the stream’s bandwidth, should consider using this hardware transcoding setting to take a load off their server’s CPU. Integrated graphics in Intel chips is fine for this task, as are cheap graphics cards like the .
Rioddas External DVD Drive
MthsTec External Blu-Ray Drive
Plex is free to download, but it isn’t free to use. You either have to pay a one-time fee for each device registered with Plex, or pay a monthly fee for the. But the benefit of Plex Pass isn’t that you get to skip the device registration fee, it’s that you unlock exclusive features like live TV and DVR, offline downloads for mobile devices, hardware transcoding, and optional content restrictions to keep your kids from seeing R-rated content on their Plex account.
So, should you pay for Plex Pass? If you plan to stream to just one or two devices, the answer is probably no. But if you want to share your library with family and friends, then Plex Pass is essential. Hardware transcoding can take a huge load off your server, and Plex Pass’ expanded functionality for families makes the service feel like a serious streaming platform.
A month of Plex Pass is just $5, which is the same price that you usually pay to register a device with Plex. I think that it’s worth giving the service a test run, even if you don’t expect to use it all that much.