Plex rose to prominence as a media center. Originally, it was a sort of do-it-yourself (DIY) Netflix and Spotify allowing for remote access of videos, music, and pictures.
However, since its inception, Plex added plugins for streaming content, podcast support, and connectivity with antennas for live TV and DVR. As such, Plex is a cord cutter’s dream.
Ready to build your own Plex server? Check out the top Plex servers on the market, from pre-built and DIY options to Plex NAS hardware.
What Is Plex?
Like Emby, Plex is a media center software option which boasts loads of features some native, some added via Plex plugins. Where Plex differs from Kodi is its onus on streaming media from the server rather than local media playback.
Since Plex relies on a media server, you’ll need to determine your needs. Your main considerations when picking out a Plex server:
- The number of concurrent streams, or simultaneous client devices streaming from your server
- What type of Plex apps (i.e. Android, iOS, Roku) will be connecting
- Whether content is accessed locally or remote
- File resolution
- Whether you’ll stream many videos with subtitles
For local use, Plex rarely transcodes. Most Plex client apps, however, do necessitate transcoding. While in-home streaming likely won’t require transcoding, remote access probably will. Subtitles burned into the videos you’re streaming also increase CPU use.
Generally, Plex recommends about a 2000 PassMark rating for a single 1080p stream. A 720p stream requires about a 1500 PassMark. 4K SDR requires around a 12000 PassMark, and a solitary 4K HDR stream needs about a 17000 PassMark.
As outlined in its support section, Plex suggests an Intel Core i3 3.0GHz CPU for one 720p transcode. An Intel Core i5 3.0GHz CPU should handle a sole 1080p transcode. For a solitary 4K transcode, you should be able to get by with an Intel Core i7 3.2GHz processor.
But you’ll need to multiply that PassMark by the number of concurrent streams. Streaming three 1080p videos which require transcoding means you’ll need a PassMark of about 6000.
Best Plex Server: Pre-Built and DIY Options
From enterprise workstations to streaming devices and DIY PCs, these are the top Plex servers you can buy.
The Nvidia Shield TV Pro is easily the best streaming box on the market, and Android TV device overall. Its hardware is capable of streaming in 4K from a variety of providers including Netflix. Using the optional Samsung SmartThings Link, the Shield transforms into a smart home hub.
Plus, it’s engineered for gaming, running Android games as well retro emulators including PlayStation Portable, Nintendo 64, Gamecube, and Wii titles. You can stream games from your PC to the Shield TV using Nvidia GameStream provided you’ve got a compatible GPU.
The Nvidia Shield TV doubles as a Plex server and client. Its hardware handles around two or three simultaneous transcodes. You can mount USB drives and microSD cards as removable storage, but there’s only one writable file from within which slightly limits storage.
However, you’ll be able to mount network shares.
Several antenna options connect with the Shield TV for DVR and live TV in Plex. If you’re using your Shield TV as a Plex server, I suggest opting for the 500GB Pro variant. Even that hard drive is likely to fill up quickly though.
Because of its versatility as a Plex server and client, along with gaming, smart home, and media streaming functionality, the Nvidia Shield TV Pro is the best overall Plex server you can buy.
It’s my Plex client option of choice, and I use my Nvidia Shield TV as a smart home hub, game console, and streaming set-top box.
- Doubles as a Plex client
- Capable of 2-3 simultaneous transcodes
- 500GB hard drive on the Pro model
- Optional Samsung SmartThings smart home hub
- Game streaming and retro gaming features
- Better transcoding devices are available
- 500GB hard drive fills up fast
For my dedicated Plex server, I run a Lenovo ThinkServer TS140 with a Xeon E3-1225 v3 CPU. It easily handles three concurrent 1080p streams. The Dell PowerEdge T30 rocks a similar processor to mine in the Xeon E3-1225 v5. You’ll benefit from a 7833 PassMark which should handle just shy of four simultaneous 1080p transcodes.
As configured, it supports four hard drives, but you can add up to six for tons of storage options. The T130 plays well with Linux too making it the ideal dedicated Plex server. Its 280W PSU means you can run the T30 as an always-on server and it sips power.
- Handles about 4 simultaneous 1080p transcodes
- Up to 6 hard drive bays
- Energy efficient
- Large footprint
Although it’s certainly not the most powerful device available, a Raspberry Pi 3 B+ makes for an inexpensive Plex server. It’s best for users planning on streaming in-home only, or for a travel Plex server. Try installing Kodi as well for a home theater PC (HTPC) combined with Plex media server functionality.
You might consider an Odroid XU4 as an alternative. I suggest using a Raspberry Pi 3 B+ since its stock speed is about that of an overclocked Raspberry Pi 3.
- Tiny footprint
- Low power draw
- Not suited to transcoding
Check out Intel’s NUC lineup for small, capable Plex server hardware. The NUC7i5BNH rocks a space-saving design. But the i5-7260U offers a decent PassMark rating just shy of 6000. With VESA mounting bracket compatibility, you can hook this to the back of a TV or monitor.
Unfortunately, storage options are limited to a single 2.5-inch SATA drive or SSD. If you require a ton of storage space, this isn’t the device for you. Moreover, unlike a modular desktop, you can’t upgrade the CPU, just the hard drive and RAM.
As such, it’s not future proof. Nevertheless, it’s a solid option for those seeking an HTPC Plex server, Intel NUCs are small, powerful, and energy efficient. As an alternative, you might consider the Mac Mini or the System76 Meerkat.
- Small footprint
- Low power draw
- HTPC/Plex server form factor
- Easy to configure
- Limited storage options
- No upgradeable CPU
Best NAS for Plex Options: Plex NAS Devices
While the best Plex server devices come in pre-built and DIY packages, you might consider a Plex NAS set up instead. A NAS (network attached storage device) differs from a server in that it’s intended as a centralized location for data storage on a network.
Customization and settings are usually more basic than on the average server. Plex NAS options come pre-configured—just add hard drives.
The QNAP TVS-471-i3 four-bay Plex NAS comes complete with 4GB of RAM and an Intel Core i3 3.5GHz CPU. It’s pretty pricey, but masters 1080p transcoding and 4K video playback.
Onboard, you’ll find a 10Gb Ethernet port and support for the likes of VMware and Hyper-V. RAM is upgradeable to 16GB, and you can add up to 64TB of hard drives for tons of storage space. An HDMI output with XBMC makes this the ultimate Plex NAS device.
Unfortunately, all of this awesomeness comes at a major premium. The QNAP TVS-471-i3 is pretty pricey. For the price of this NAS without hard drives, you can snag a far more powerful server with a 10TB drive.
If you’re in the market for a NAS for Plex, this is the best choice hands-down though. As an alternative, check out the AMD-powered QNAP TS-473-4G-US.
- Up to 64TB
- Upgradeable to 16GB of RAM
- i3 dual-core processor
- HDMI output
- Better hardware available for the money
Synology’s DS218play delivers excellent value with a tiny footprint. At its core, there’s a quad-core processor capable of handling 4K video playback at 30 frames per second. There’s an Ethernet port, two USB 3.0 ports, and 1GB of DDR3 RAM.
It’s a decent entry-level Plex NAS, but you won’t win any benchmarking tests with its processor. However, the Synology DS218play is one of the best NAS options for Plex streaming.
- Quad-core CPU
- 4K video playback
- Gigabit Ethernet
- 2x USB 3.0 ports
- Only 1GB of RAM
- No HDMI
- Not ideal for more than two simultaneous 1080p streams
3. QNAP TS-251+
If you need a budget Plex NAS, the QNAP TS-251+ is a two-bay option. It’s powered by a quad-core 2.0GHz CPU, 2GB of DDR3 RAM, and has an HDMI output. This maintains compatibility with software such as Kodi. There’s even a bundled remote control.
Since there’s a video output, you can run your QNAP TS-251+ headless or with operating systems. The HDMI port even maintains 7.1 channel compatibility. Like other NAS devices, it’s not cheap but you’re paying for a quality storage unit that’s simple to set up.
- HDMI output
- Compatible with multiple operating systems
- Up to 8GB of DDR3 RAM
- Two-bay NAS
- Quad-core 2.0GHz CPU
The Best Server and NAS Options for Plex
Ultimately, there are loads of potential Plex server options. For a while, I ran a Plex server off of an aging HP AMD A10-powered laptop. It certainly wasn’t the most powerful, but it was perfectly fine for even 1080p streams to a single client.
My current Xeon-powered TS140 Plex server is superb for 1080p streaming to almost four clients. Personally, I suggest using server hardware rather than a NAS. You’ll get a more powerful system for less money, and it’s upgradeable.
The PowerEdge T30 is a solid choice with an excellent CPU. As a Plex client and server, the Nvidia Shield TV offers unrivaled value.
Now that you’ve picked out a Plex server, choose the best Plex client device for streaming your media.
Read the full article: The Best Prebuilt, DIY, and NAS Solutions for a Plex Server