We were avid Kodi users/supporters but slowly transitioned to Plex in 2018. The biggest benefits of Kodi were addons and customizability. But Plex is easier to maintain on client devices, remotely available during travel, sharable with friends, and easier library sync. [Read: Plex vs Emby vs Jellyfin vs Kodi: In-depth Comparison]
Our move to Plex was a bit bumpy but these Kodi to Plex migration tips helped. The biggest hurdle was finding a media server for Plex that could support the growing streaming needs: multiple streams, multiple transcodes, 4k support, etc. Based on research and the last four years of personal experiences, here are some awesome options for media server with Plex support.
Be sure to read on till the end for the surprising bonus option that a typical Plex user rarely thinks of.
Table of Contents
- How does Plex Media Server Work?
- Best media server for Plex
- What devices can Plex media server run on?
- 1. Synology DiskStation DS920 - Best NAS for Plex
- 2. QNAP Turbo NAS TS-453Be - NAS for Plex
- 3. TerraMaster F5-422 - NAS for Plex media server
- 4. NVIDIA Shield Android TV Pro
- 5. Raspberry Pi 4 Model B - DIY server for Plex
- 6. Intel Skull Canyon NUC 6 - DIY pre-built Plex media server
- 7. Apple Devices - Plex media server with Mac mini
- 8. CHUWI LarkBox Pro Mini-PC
- 9. ASUS PN50-BBR065MD - NAS Mini-PC
- 10. Custom Built Plex Servers
- BONUS: Dedicated Cloud Servers
- Final thoughts on Plex Media Server Hardware
How does Plex Media Server Work?
Plex media server allows streaming your locally owned digital media content to various devices inside or outside your home. Simply put, it is a DIY Netflix. Plex allows streaming media content to devices on your network. The Plex media server software runs in the background on a computer with qualified hardware components.
You can stream content locally or remotely across the Internet with a Plex Pass premium subscription. Some of the key features of Plex Pass are:
- Free movies and TV shows officially from Plex
- Advanced User Controls
- HDR Tone Mapping
- Plex Dash
- Plex Arcade
- Trailers and Extras
With supported TV tuners, you can watch OTA channels. You can even hack it watch IPTV channels on Plex, even though Plex discontinued channels/addons support few years back.
Is Plex media server free?
Plex media server itself is free for use with the web app for viewing. Buying or building a media server for Plex incurs costs. Viewing media content on Plex TV client apps requires an in-app purchase of $5 per device. A lifetime Plex Pass is highly recommended. One device license includes:
- Unlimited Plex client apps
- Live TV and DVR for multiple users
- Parental controls
- Hardware acceleration
Jellyfin is a great open-source and completely free alternative to Plex with support for several clients. [Read: 15 Best Plex Alternatives  – FREE and BETTER Options]
Requirements to Setup a Media Server with Plex
Plex Media Server catalogs your media and makes content available to the Plex app on client devices. Successfully using Plex requires at least 2 components:
- Plex server - A media server with Plex running constantly and ready to serve media at the request of Plex clients. [Read: 8 Best NAS with Plex Server Support  – 4k, Transcoding, etc.]
- Plex client - A client device (eg. Amazon Fire TV, Roku devices, etc.) with Plex client app to play files from a Plex media server. [Read: 10 Best Plex Client Devices  – STUTTER-free Streaming]
You will also need content stored or accessible locally for Plex to catalog. There are several different ways to store local media for streaming from a media server with Plex (or Emby, Kodi, and Jellyfin).
Reducing Buffering on Plex
Usually, some of the biggest reasons for buffering on Plex are: 1) low-powered server hardware, 2) low-powered client hardware, 3) incompatible media formats, and 4) slow internet or lack of bandwidth. [Read: Troubleshooting Plex buffering – Solutions for when Plex keeps pausing]
If you are using high-end Plex TV client devices, you need a server or NAS that matches the capability of the client device. When multiple devices are connected, you need better hardware to serve more clients. High-end clients, however, can make better use of even a low-end server device such as a Raspberry Pi.
If you are using lower-end client devices such as older Roku or Fire TV sticks, a more robust server may be required. Other situations, such as having several TVs in a house that are always on, need a better server. Remotely streaming content from a media server with Plex also requires hardware to make efficient use of Internet bandwidth. [Read: 10 Best Plex Client Devices  – STUTTER-free Streaming]
Best media server for Plex
Now that you know all about the software you may need, it is time to look at some of the best hardware you might buy.
Transcoding capability is one of the top requirements for a media server with Plex. Skimping on Plex server hardware can result in buffering issues and an unsatisfactory media streaming experience.
What devices can Plex media server run on?
Most devices can run a media server with Plex. However, simultaneous streams and transcoding may be limited by the CPU and GPU of the media server with Plex. Here is a rough guideline for CPU requirements for Plex:
- CPU PassMark >1500: One 720p (4Mbps, H.264) video transcode
- CPU PassMark >2000: One 1080p (10Mbps, H.264) video transcode
- CPU PassMark >12000: One 4k SDR (40Mbps, 8-bit HEVC) video transcoded to 1080p
- CPU PassMark >17000: One 4k HDR (50Mbps, 10-bit HEVC) video transcoded to 1080p
A hardware transcoding capable GPU/CPU can reduce PassMark requirements and having media files in one of the Plex supported formats and a capable client can minimize transcoding by direct-playing content.
Recently, NAS devices have made significant progress in this area and many newer ones come with hardware transcoding capability.
Without further ado, let's look at a few top DIY, NAS, and pre-built media server with Plex support.
1. Synology DiskStation DS920 - Best NAS for Plex
When it comes to NAS one brand name is entirely in the game. Synology has all kinds of devices from routers to NAS. Everything is supported by their mobile apps. You can download the appropriate software version of Synology apps from the default app store on your phone. You can also view them in your browser on Google Play. [Read: 5 Most common NAS or Home Server uses]
Below is our pick for the best Synology NAS for Plex. However, we have also provided a few other recommended models for those that are tight on budget or have a little bit more to spare.
Synology DiskStation DS920+ NAS Server
The first awesome thing about the Synology DiskStation DS920+ is it has two built-in M.2 2280 NVMe SSD slots with cache acceleration. With an upgraded Intel Celeron J4125 Intel quad-core processor with AES-NI hardware encryption engine.
It ships with Synology RAM DDR4-2666 Non-ECC that is expandable up to 8 GB with Synology RAM DDR4-2666 ECC UDIMM 8GB (or the cheaper option from Crucial, which has been confirmed to be compatible). Unofficially, it can even go up 16 GB of RAM.
The DS920+ is also scalable up to 9 drives. Get a few of the shuckable and cheaper shuckable Western Digital external hardrives and you are set.
Other Synology NAS Options for Plex
Tight on budget or have more to spare? Here are a few other Synology NAS models that support Plex server (price not listed due volatitlity in price and availability during pandemic):
|Model||Drive Bays||4K Support|
|Synology DiskStation DS720+ (or the previous DS718+)||2-Bay (expandable to 7)||Yes|
|Synology DS920+ (or the previous DS918+)||4-Bay (expandable to 9)||Yes|
2. QNAP Turbo NAS TS-453Be - NAS for Plex
QNAP is another major player in the NAS business with several capable models and software support as good as Synology's. QNAP's offerings can be overwhelming. They have numerous models. In addition, they also released the high-performance TVS series that pack very powerful but efficient Intel Core i3, i5 or i7 processor with up to 32 GB of RAM.
Some of the models even include 10 Gbps networking interface, which is 10 times the bandwidth available in most commonly available consumer NASes at this point.
The QNAP Turbo NAS TS-453Be Mini Tower NAS Server makes a robust Plex server hardware sporting many great features running on quality hardware. With an Intel Celeron J3455 Quad-Core 1.5GHz 2MB and up to 2.3GHz Turbo it runs smoothly. It comes with 8GB DDR3L Memory and a fast 16TB 3.5-inch HDD capable of 6Gb/s SATA data transfer speeds.
The QNAP Turbo NAS TS-453Be also supports multiple RAID levels.
- RAID 0
- RAID 1
- RAID 10
- RAID 5
- RAID 6
The TS-453Be uses the QNAP QTS 4.3.4 operating system. If the TS-453Be is too expensive, then there are other affordable models (e.g. QNAP TS-253D) to consider.
One benefit of QNAP (over Synology) is the availability of HDMI port for video out. Synology NAS is only available through the web interface.
We still prefer the Synology NASes for Plex, and with excellent support for Docker Compose on Synology, the possibilities are endless.
Other QNAP NAS Options for Plex
QNAP also offers a few "high-end" models (TVS models). The Quad-core Intel Core i5-8400T 1.7 GHz processor of the QNAP TVS-672X ships with 8GB DDR4 RAM, upgradable to 64GB. This makes QNAP TVS-672X one of the best 4K Plex server build, capable of high-quality 4K media playback, real-time transcoding and displaying multimedia content through HDMI 2.0 (4K @60Hz) output.
Here are a few other high-performance QNAP NASes to consider for a Plex server.
|Model||Drive Bays||4K Support||Price|
3. TerraMaster F5-422 - NAS for Plex media server
TerraMaster has gained popularity as a budget NAS for Plex as well as a general-purpose NAS. Like Synology and QNAP, it is simple to setup, and supports Plex hardware transcoding for 4k videos.
The TerraMaster F5-422 uses an Apollo Quad-core 1.5GHz CPU and 4GB of RAM (expandable up to 8GB). It has 1 10GbE RJ45 port that is capable of extremely fast speeds up to 670MB/s reading and 650MB/s writing. In addition to the 10GbE port, the F5-422 also has dual 1GbE LAN ports with failover and link aggregation support.
The F5-422 also has AES hardware encryption and an advanced Btrfs file system. The TerraMaster F5-422 is also capable of playing two concurrent 4K video streams.
TerraMaster provides a few models with variations of quad-core vs dual-core CPUs, 2 GB or more RAM, 2xGbE or better network, and more. Here are some models that can be great media servers with Plex hardware transcoding support. I recommend at least 4 GB of RAM and therefore only the 4GB or better models are listed below.
|Model||Drive Bays||4K Support||Price|
Like QNAP, TerraMaster NASes also include HDMI port, so you can connect the NAS to a TV and use it as a media player.
4. NVIDIA Shield Android TV Pro
We have raved about the Nvidia Shield TV previously as the best Plex client. However, the Shield TV has decent Plex server hardware and can also function as a good Plex server.
Having said that, Shield TV has limitations and is not an ideal media server for Plex. It can probably do 2 concurrent transcoded 1080p streams. Any higher resolution or number of streams can cause streaming problems and slow down.
If you have videos encoded in one of the Plex direct play supported formats and a Plex client capable of directly playing, the Nvidia Shield TV can be a good Plex server; especially if you already have a Shield TV device.
Two makes of the Pro model exist, Shield TV and NVIDIA Shield Android TV Pro Game Edition. If you are big into games the difference is real. If you are not into games it may still matter. You don't have to be a hardcore gamer. You can get started with Plex Arcade.
Getting started with Plex Arcade
- Get an NVIDIA Shield Android TV Pro Game Edition (not optional!)
- Create a Plex account.
- Get an active Plex subscription.
- Create an account with Parsec.
- Link Parsec to Plex.
If all you need is Shield TV, the NVIDIA Shield Android TV Pro standard edition is more than sufficient for running a Plex media server with Plex and playing Plex Arcade.
5. Raspberry Pi 4 Model B - DIY server for Plex
The Raspberry Pi 4B makes a decent Plex server for some playback, but audio streaming is the only practical use IMO. You can use a good client and play any stream you want, but you might have issues with overheating.
For me, I prefer to use a less glamorous case that cools the Pi better. Mine is the dual fan MazerPi aluminum alloy Armor brand case. It weighs over 4.6 ounces. That is more than ¼ pound!
Plex media server on the Pi runs very well for one client that requires very little work to support, unless you were to use it for streaming music. It makes a great audio server and TV tuners support FM radio reception. All Plex-supported TV tuners are capable of receiving FM.
Is Raspberry Pi powerful enough for Plex?
Raspberry Pi 4 can direct play 3-4 concurrent streams. However, transcoding is limited to about one 720p stream. With a decent Plex client that supports 4K direct play and a good cooling system for the Raspberry Pi, you should be able to get good use out of the Pi as a low-cost Plex server.
How to set up Plex Server on Raspberry Pi 4?
You can install Plex media server on Raspberry Pi as native app, as previously described. The recommended method with Raspberry Pi 4 involves the following brief steps:
- Install Raspbian Lite OS
- Install Docker and Docker Compose - Docker Media Server Guide
- Install Plex media server using Docker
6. Intel Skull Canyon NUC 6 - DIY pre-built Plex media server
I like the wicked case the Skull Canyon NUC 6 comes in. It is my NUC of choice, and it is a NUC of fine design.
The Intel Skull Canyon NUC 6 is a Windows 10 Professional 64-bit mini-PC in a cool case. The Skull Canyon NUC is ideal for students, home, professionals, small businesses, school education, and a Windows media server with Plex.
With 32GB (2x16) DDR4 RAM and a 1TB M.2 SSD it provides plenty of space for file storage. It uses an Intel Core i7-6770HQ, which has 4 cores, 8 threads, a 2.6GHz base clock speed, 3.5GHz max Turbo, and 6MB cache.
With integrated Iris Pro graphics 580, they support 4K at 60Hz, DirectX 12, and up to 3 displays. The NUC 6 also sports several ports (e.g. USB 3 and Type-C 3.1) to extend its storage as needed. This makes the NUC a perfect mini-PC for a media server with Plex.
Other Intel NUC NAS Options for Plex
If your budget is lower, you cannot go wrong with NUC 10 or 11.
|Model||Drive Size||4K Support||Price|
|Intel Skull Canyon NUC 6||1TB M.2 SSD||Yes||$950|
|Intel NUC 10||1TB M.2 NVMe SSD||Yes||$660|
|Intel NUC 11 Pro||512GB PCIe SSD||8K Support||$770|
7. Apple Devices - Plex media server with Mac mini
Apple offers the best of both worlds right now. The introduction of the M series M1 ARM processor chip to become the standard for all their devices means all new laptops, desktops, and Mac minis would be released with M1 chips. If you are shopping for a Mac mini, older Mac minis (even slightly older) are very affordable to buy.
Below is a comparison of Mac minis by technical specifications relevant to running a media server with Plex.
|Model||CPU||Drive Size||RAM||4K Support||Price|
|2020 Apple Mac mini|
(8GB RAM/256GB SSD)
|M1||256GB SSD||8GB RAM||Yes||$649.00|
|2020 Apple Mac mini|
(8GB RAM/512GB SSD)
|M1||512GB SSD||8GB RAM||Yes||$799.00|
|2020 Apple Mac mini|
(16GB RAM/256GB SSD)
|M1||256GB SSD||16GB RAM||Yes||$899|
|Apple Mac mini desktop|
(16GB RAM/256GB SSD)
|i7||256GB SSD||16GB RAM||Yes||$550|
|2020 Apple Mac mini|
(16GB RAM/512GB SSD)
|M1||512GB SSD||16GB RAM||Yes||$899|
|2020 Apple Mac mini|
(8GB RAM/1TB HDD)
|i5||1TB HDD||8GB RAM||Yes||$234|
|2020 Apple Mac mini|
(16GB RAM/1TB SSD)
|M1||1TB SSD||16GB RAM||Yes||$1290|
|Apple Mac mini MGEQ2LL/A|
(16GB RAM/1TB HDD)
|i7||1TB HDD||16GB RAM||Yes||$650|
If Apple is your platform, an Apple Mac mini makes a great media server with Plex.
The Intel J4125 processor is a 4-thread quad-cores CPU with 4MB cache running up to 2.7GHz on 2.4G/5G dual WiFi. The 750MHz Intel UHD Graphics 600 provides 4K support and quality playback for various video and audio formats if you have a HiFi setup as well.
The LarkBox Mini Computer uses LPDDR4 6GB (2133 MHz) and 128GB eMMC 5.1 flash. The Micro SD reader supports microSD cards of up to 128GB capacity. You can expand to 1TB via the M.2 SSD 2242 interface. It has a practical expansion interface and plenty of ports to begin.
- 2 x USB-A 3.0
- USB-C for power
- HDMI 2.0
- 3.5mm audio jack
- MicroSD expansion port
- Bluetooth 5.1
The LarkBox supports connecting a USB Gigabit Ethernet adapter. Because the USB-C port is for power, you need a USB-A/USB 3.0 adapter. If you are an Apple user, the Apple Lightning to USB is one you may already use.
It is so cool to see a tiny little device doing the job of giants and getting it done in less time with less work. This is the fascination of the LarkBox to me. Something compact, portable and powerful is always fun to play with and sure to bring sheer enjoyment.
The CHUWI LarkBox Pro is small enough to be called handheld. You can literally hold it with two fingers, or maybe one finger and a thumb.
9. ASUS PN50-BBR065MD - NAS Mini-PC
The ASUS PN50-BBR065MD has no memory, no HDD, and no OS. A barebones system is good for building your way.
You can make something incredible doing it yourself or avoid a lot of costs. Another thing barebones systems are good for is making it easy to choose your options without really doing it yourself. After all, the choices you make with a barebones system are small, but they are built to have all the right components installed.
The ASUS PN50 comes with some nice hardware to expand upon.
|Processor||AMD Renoir FP6, R5-4500U|
|Memory||2 x SO-DIMM|
(up to 64GB)
|Graphics Module||Radeon Vega 7 Graphics|
You can either begin building with the PN50 or snap it together like plastic and avoid building altogether. That's why I like it.
If you do not like this specific model, there are few others that are worth considering.
|Model||Drive Size||4K Support||Price|
|ASUS PN50-BBR065MD||n/a (supports 1 TB HDD/SSD)||Yes||429.00|
|ASUS PN51 mini-PC System||M.2 PCIE 512G SSD||Yes||770.20|
|ASUS ROG Premium Gaming Desktop||256GB SSD+1TB HDD||Yes||1,579.99|
|ASUS ProArt PA90||512GB M.2 + 1TB HHD||Yes||2,869.00|
10. Custom Built Plex Servers
Making a Plex server from individual components is not easy. However, none of the options listed above can match the performance/price ratio of custom Plex server build.
You will have to pick and choose the right parts that are compatible with each other to build your server. This requires knowledge and/or extensive research. Often times you might find compatible individual components for sale as a combo package, which can simplify your search for Plex server build.
Another option is to browse around PCPartsPicker for builds pre-made by other users.
Recommended HTPC / Home Server Builds:
- Best Home Theater PC Build 2017 to do it all (Plex, Kodi, NAS, Gaming)
- Best Emby Server builds 2018 – Pre-built and DIY options
- Medium Budget 4K HTPC Build 2017 for Kodi, Plex and Gaming
- Cheap 4K HTPC Build for Kodi, OpenELEC, and LibreELEC 2017
- Low Power Home Server Build 2017 for Network File and Media Storage
- Best HTPC for Kodi with 4K on a Medium Budget 2017 (~$400)
- Energy efficient budget HTPC-NAS combo build 2016
BONUS: Dedicated Cloud Servers
Section added by Anand
Whether you go with one of the NAS options or a custom-built server, depending on your storage requirement, RAID strategy, etc., you could easily end up spending over $1000.
For example, here is what my Synology DS918+ costed to assemble:
- Synology Ds918+ - $550
- 4 GB RAM addition - $25
- 4x8TB WD Drives - $600
- 2x256GB M2 Cache - $150M
Add to this, your work (e.g. research, purchase, building, etc.) and energy costs over the year. It might be comparable or even better to rent a server hardware in a datacenter instead.
OK, granted the servers listed above are not the highest end. But I was able to find a Ryzen 5 system with 32 GB RAM, 480 GB SSD, and 3 TB HDD for $64 per month. If this too much, there are cheaper options (e.g. seedboxes) that support Plex and do much more.
On my server, I run Proxmox VE and host several virtual machine, including my Docker Home Server and Web Server that runs this site.
At $64 per month, it would take me 20 months to reach the investment I made in Synology. [Read: Moving from a Home Server to NAS (Synology) – The why, learnings, and tips]
On top of that, it offers several additional benefits:
- All hardware failures are covered.
- No electricity charges.
- Server available at virtually all times - This summer I had to move internationally when my homelab was down for nearly 4 months. I had my Plex server on cloud running in the datacenter and available all throughout my travel, move, and settling down in my new place.
- No contracts or commitments - I can cancel a server before the monthly billing date and pick another configuration.
- Faster network - I get a Gigabit connect with 5 usable public IPs. My home internet, especially in Switzerland sucks - 60 Mbps (barf).
But you might ask, 3 TB of storage, that is nothing. Well, I use the 3 TB almost entirely as a temporary drive (e.g. rclone cache) because everything on it is synced to Google Workspace using Rclone. And Google Workspace offers virtually unlimited storage.
So in my opinion, a dedicated server in a datacenter is definitely worth it, considering the advantages it offers.
Are the options listed above the only NAS/PC options for a media server with Plex?
No. The NAS boxes and mini-PCs listed above are good general-purpose NAS devices for home or small businesses that can also do 4K streaming on Plex. Plex has done a wonderful job of summarizing the bazillion makes and models of NAS devices in the market and their expected performance for Plex streaming.
Is Plex a good media server?
This is very subjective. Plex appears to be more polished. Emby, a close second. Jellyfin is another option being actively developed. Both Emby and Jellyfin outperform Plex for IPTV streaming. However, with the free ad-supported movies and TV, Plex appears to be a more complete home media streaming solution at this point.
Final thoughts on Plex Media Server Hardware
As you can see there are quite a few routes you can take to set up a media server for Plex. In the previous version of this post, we listed 7 options. In this iteration, we have increased it to 10 options + plus a bonus. This was mainly driven by the plethora of options available today. Plus, one size may not fit eveyone's need.
If you are a tinkerer and need flexibility for expansion/upgrade and want your Plex server to do more than just serving content, then definitely consider building your own system. This way, you also get to brag about what you built (do not discount this :p).
If you are just looking for a cheap way to setup a media server for Plex, have good Plex clients, and all your media is in Plex-friendly format then go with the Raspberry Pi 4 option. Alternatively, you could use one of your old laptops or even grab a used laptop/desktop from Craigslist or Ebay at a similar price point.
The choice comes down to cost, time, ease of set up, streaming demand, etc. that suits your needs. As mentioned before, I use a Raspberry Pi 4 as music server and a recording station, while, Anand uses a dedicated server in the cloud. Be sure to let us know your thoughts or which option you went with, in the comments section.
I hope that this guide helps you figure out what route to take in your quest to find a media server for Plex streaming.