Inexpensive (Cheap) Plex Media Server


#1

i was recently granted the opportunity to setup the most cost-effective Plex Media Server money can buy.

requirements were as follows:

  • must flawlessly process 15 streams (direct play and transcode both local and remotely)
  • must have a decent amount of storage to start collection
  • must have easily expandable storage

what i’ve come up with is what i feel is the least expensive way to have a stand alone Plex Media Server.

all of the items required for this project were purchased on ebay.com. most of the items i purchased were through bidding. I’ve collected some pics of identical items that are currently for sale on ebay.com at the time of this post.

Below i will detail what these items are and how to integrate them into this Plex Media Server build.

first I need a PC

PC:

Dell Optiplex 790 SFF - $64.99 free shipping
This PC is barebones. NO CPU, NO RAM, NO HDD. IT COMES WITH MOTHERBOARD ONLY.

Motherboard Specs:
CPU:
• Socket LGA 1155
• Intel 2nd Generation (Sandy Bridge)
Chipset:
• Intel Q65 Express
Graphics:
• Integrated Intel HD
Memory:
• 4x 240-pin DDR3 DIMM Dual Channel 1333 MHz non-ECC, un-buffered Max 16GB
Expansion:
• 1x PCIe x4
• 2x PCIe x16 (2.0)
Audio:
• Realtek ALC269Q – High Definition
LAN:
• Intel 82579LM – (Gigabit)
Rear Panel:
• 2x PS/2 for keyboard/mouse
• 6x USB 2.0
• 1x RJ-45 LAN
• 1x Display port
• 1x Serial
• 1x VGA
• 1x Audio I/O
Form Factor:
• Micro-ATX

This PC was selected for 3 reasons

  • quick release case cover for easy access to internals
  • modular internals (very easy to replace parts)
  • very inexpensive and abundant replacement parts
  • LGA-1155 Socket Type (there are a vast amount of great CPUs that are compatible with this MOBO)

this pc comes MOTHERBOARD ONLY so I will need to add 3 components to it before it can boot it up. It will need a Processor, RAM and a good sized hard drive for Plex Database info.

Processor:

Intel® Xeon® Processor E3-1245 - $68.00 free shipping

Processor Basic Specs:
Number of Cores 4
Number of Threads 8
Processor Base Frequency 3.30 GHz
Max Turbo Frequency 3.70 GHz
Cache 8 MB SmartCache
Bus Speed 5 GT/s DMI
TDP 95 W

very powerful cost effective processor that can easily handle any task Plex can throw at it. there were a few processors that made a bit more power than this CPU for the money but they used significantly more energy to operate.

RAM:

16GB Kingston PC3-12800 DDR3 DIMM (4GBx4) (KVR16N11/4) - $89.99 $6.50 shipping

RAM basic specs:
Module Peak Bandwidth - 12800 MB/sec. or 12.8 GB/sec.

this will max out the capable ram on the Dell Optiplex 790 (although i feel 8GB is enough. 16GB will ensure that it will run smoothly).

Hard Drive:

Western Digital 1TB (WD10EURX-63UY4Y0) - $35.93 free shipping

HDD basic specs:
SATA Speed - 6Gbps
Cache - 64mb

This hard drive is going to store the operating system and the Plex Media Server Database Information

It has to have an operating system for the Plex Media Server application to run on.

i have selected Windows 10 Pro

Windows 10 Pro 64-bit with License - $39.99 free shipping

i suppose this will be the controversial part of this build. but the purpose of this build is to be cheap.

Windows 10 has a feature built-in called Storage Spaces. Storage Spaces allows you to take Hard Drives of ANY brand ANY size ANY type: Internal HDD, External HDD (Portable USB powered, or AC powered) even Flash drives and allows you to aggregate them into one large volume and even adds redundancy (similar to R.A.I.D.)

i’ve copied this description of storage spaces from the Microsoft Support website.

“Storage Spaces helps protect your data from drive failures and extend storage over time as you add drives to your PC. You can use Storage Spaces to group two or more drives together in a storage pool and then use capacity from that pool to create virtual drives called storage spaces. These storage spaces typically store two copies of your data so if one of your drives fails, you still have an intact copy of your data. If you run low on capacity, just add more drives to the storage pool.”

the reason i like this feature is because if one drive fails you will be notified within the operating system of the failure. and all you have to do is add another drive to the pool and remove the old drive.

also if you find your self running low on storage you can simply add another drive to make your volume larger to store more files. very simple.

A lot of advanced users would claim that using this configuration will make the server slow. this is not true. taking advantage of USB 3.0 technology this server is capable of serving up media files just as quickly as a NAS can.

the Dell Optiplex 790 is only equipped with USB 2.0 ports so we must add USB 3.0 capabilities with a single PCI expansion card.

USB 3.0 Card:

Startech 4 Port USB 3.0 PCI Express card (PEXUSB3S4V) (Low-Profile) - $20.99 free shipping

  • Transfers 5.0Gbps
  • Fully compliant with USB 3.0 revision 1.0 specifications and Intel xHCI rev0.95 specifications
    this 4 port USB 3.0 Card

this USB 3.0 Card features 4 ports that will be used to connect the External HDD’s to for the Plex Media Server file storage.

one of the requirements of this server is the ability to easily add storage. 4 ports is enough to start with but as some of you with Plex Media Servers at home know… more the more storage the better.

a USB 3.0 hub will add more ports for more drives that can be added to the pool.

USB 3.0 Hub:

Plugable 7-port USB 3.0 AC powered USB Hub - $19.99 free shipping

this powered hub will ensure the best speed for the external drives. simply plug the drives in, windows will recognize the drives and they can be easily added to the storage pool.

Storage:

Seagate Backup Plus Black 5TB External HDD - $124.00

-AC powered
-SATA 3 6Gbps
-3.5"

starting with 2 of these. with Storage spaces this will allow about 4.4 TB of redundant storage to start with. enough for about 3000 HD movies or about 5000 episodes of HD television shows.

Power conditioning:

Belkin 12-Outlet Power Strip Surge Protector with 8ft cord - $21.50 free shipping

Surge Energy Capacity: 3940 Joule

this will be important to keep the equipment that does not require battery backup safe from electrical spikes and dips.

Battery Backup:

CyberPower 10-Outlet 1100VA PC Battery Back-Up System and Surge Protector - $119.00 free shipping

UPS Basic Specs:

  • 10 outlet
  • 5 Battery Outlets
  • 5 Surge Outlets
  • USB interface with downloadable software

This UPS was mainly selected because of the large amount of Battery Backup Outlets.

the hard drives need to be plugged in in order to operate. As many techs know power loss is the #1 cause of hard drive failure.

the battery will keep the pc on during power outages (black-outs and brown-outs) keeping the drives from stopping suddenly during read/write cycles this can cause errors with the data stored on the drives. sometimes even stop the drives from functioning entirely.

the UPS comes with a USB 2.0 A-B cable that works with the Cyberpower software that will shutdown the pc in the event that the power is out for an extended period of time. which will subsequently shutdown the external HDD’s to prevent drive failure.

This next purchase is optional but i can assure you that it is helpful.

Fosman 10-pack 1ft grounded extension cords - $19.99 free shipping

The hard drives will almost always have large power supply bricks. you ever try and plug 2 large power bricks next to each other? its not possible. when you plug one in it can prevent you from plugging anything in to the left or right of that outlet. these extension cords ensure that you do not waste any outlets on your UPS (Battery Backup device)

Installation diagram:

the link above is a simple diagram i have created to depict how these items will be connected to each other.

if you take all these components and add them up:

$64.99 - PC
$68.00 - CPU
$96.50 - RAM
$35.93 - PC HDD
$39.99 - Operating System
$20.99 - 4-Port USB 3.0 PCI Express expansion card
$19.99 - 7-Port USB 3.0 AC powered hub
$248.00 - Media Storage
$21.50 - Surge Protector
$119.00 - UPS Battery Backup
$19.99 - 1ft Extension Cords

Total Cost: $754.88 (not including tax)

another optional purchase is an external hard drive at least 1TB ($60 Max) to create Windows 10 Images in case you accidentally download a virus or something. set it up for weekly backups and your good to go.

some of you may notice that i have not included any input/output devices. that is because this server is designed to run headless (meaning no monitor keyboard or mouse) this computer can be remotely accessed using Windows Remote Desktop session or you can use your favorite remote desktop software (logmein, teamviewer etc.) hopefully whoever is reading this is keen enough to know that you will need those things for initial setup.

PROS vs. CONS
Pros
-Very powerful
-Very inexpensive to repair if any components fail
-Very easy to expand storage with Storage Spaces
-Easily protects against data loss with Storage Spaces
Cons
-Kind of a large footprint (this setup is not small)
-if you put it in a living area it will create a generous amount of heat
-will use more energy than alternative options (like a nas that can run Plex)

for the amount of $$$ invested i feel that this is the most capable media server you can buy.

with the ability to easily add storage this media server can serve up movies to your family and friends for years to come.

the purpose of this post is simply to share my research and hopefully answer questions about the cost of a Plex Media Server.


#2

Nice write up. These ex-corporate desktop PCs are an absolute steal & great for running Plex server. However it would have been a lot cheaper & easier to buy a complete system like this one that is better specified & under $200 delivered HP ProDesk 600 G1 SFF PC Desktop, Intel Core i7 -4790 @ 3.60GHz 16GB RAM 2TB HDD

https://www.ebay.com/itm/HP-ProDesk-600-G1-SFF-PC-Desktop-Intel-Core-i7-4790-3-60GHz-16GB-RAM-2TB-HDD/173363630941?hash=item285d47135d:g:nmcAAOSwScJbHeeF


#3

Nice write up. These ex-corporate desktop PCs are an absolute steal & great for running Plex server. However it would have been a lot cheaper & easier to buy a complete system like this one that is better specified & under $200 delivered HP ProDesk 600 G1 SFF PC Desktop, Intel Core i7 -4790 @ 3.60GHz 16GB RAM 2TB HDD

https://www.ebay.com/itm/HP-ProDesk-600-G1-SFF-PC-Desktop-Intel-Core-i7-4790-3-60GHz-16GB-RAM-2TB-HDD/173363630941?hash=item285d47135d:g:nmcAAOSwScJbHeeF


#4

My PC build price:
$64.99 - Dell Optiplex 790 (SFF) PC
$68.00 - Intel Xeon E3-1245 CPU 3.30Ghz 3.70 Turbo
- 4-core
- TDP 95w
- 2011

$96.50 - Kingston 16GB RAM
$35.93 - 1TB HDD
$39.99 - Windows 10 Pro Operating system

Please note the Windows 10 Pro purchase is technically optional if your crafty but I don’t reccomend doing that. if you already have Windows 10 Pro installation media you can purchase the key only on eBay as well for as low as $10.

305.41 - Total cost

Your recommendation:
Hp Prodesk 600 G1 (SFF)
Intel Core I7-4790 3.60Ghz 4.0Ghz Turbo
- 4-core
- TDP 84w
- 2014

16GB RAM
2TB HDD
Windows 10 Pro (Pre-installed and Activated)

$159.99
Plus shipping from Paterson, New Jersey, United States.

where I live this can cost as much as $60 to ship, but that’s still great deal for this machine.

So let’s call it
$220 Total cost

Your absolutely correct. savings are $85.40. The machine you selected is an excellent machine for the cost!

However I have found in my personal experience that having a Plex Media Server with 15 Local and Remote users can cause heavy load on a CPU.

Arguably, I feel that regardless of power of the I-7 the Intel Xeon CPU are designed specifically to operate at high load for several hours at a time with little effort. the way a PC for this purpose requires.

I really like the one you picked though hopefully someone in Patterson will pick that up no shipping and get it for only $159.99. Great find.

Thank you so much for reading my post.


#5

The i7 is a better choice of CPU for a Plex server as it has Intel Quick Synch Video that enables Plex to do transcoding in hardware while the Xeon lacks this feature. If you are not transcoding but all the clients can Direct Play then even an i3 will be plenty fast enough.


#6

@nigelpb said:
The i7 is a better choice of CPU for a Plex server as it has Intel Quick Synch Video that enables Plex to do transcoding in hardware while the Xeon lacks this feature. If you are not transcoding but all the clients can Direct Play then even an i3 will be plenty fast enough.

The Intel Xeon E3-1245 does indeed support Intel Quick Sync Video.

You are correct to the aspect that the newer the hardware will perform “Hardware Accelerated Transcoding” more efficiently.

“Hardware-Accelerated Streaming is supported in Plex Media Server on modern Windows, Mac, and Linux devices. Plex Media Server’s hardware acceleration uses Intel Quick Sync Video for decoding and encoding, which is available in all recent Intel Core processors and some Intel Xeon processors, and some Intel Atom processors.”

Text above was copied from support.plex.tv:
https://support.plex.tv/articles/115002178853-using-hardware-accelerated-streaming/

Thank you so much for bringing that up as that is an important feature that must not be overlooked by people taking interest in building their own server from scratch.


#7

@nigelpb said:
If you are not transcoding but all the clients can Direct Play then even an i3 will be plenty fast enough.

Ive never had more than a half dozen streams going at once, but as long as everything is direct playing i never have any hiccups with an Athlon 5350 even.

Of course i built that server before i discovered Plex, so ill probably do it differently next time...