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If you own an extensive collection of movies, TV shows, and music and want to access it on all of your devices, Plex is one of the best solutions.
To get the system up and running, you need to designate at least one of your devices as the server. But what are the best devices to use as a Plex media server?
In this article we run you through some of the options and list the pros and cons of each device.
What Is a Plex Media Server?
Plex comes in two parts. There’s the Plex Media Server app and the Plex Media Player app.
The Plex Media Server is responsible for accessing your videos and sending them to the Plex Media Player apps on other devices.
The device on which you’re running the Plex Media Server app needs a) to have access to all of your videos, and b) to be running 24/7.
Plex Media Server is available for free on Windows, Mac, Linux, NAS drives, and Docker. There’s also a unique Android TV version. Plex Media Player is available on everything from Amazon Alexa to Oculus Go.
Download: Plex Media Server (Free)
Which Is the Best Device to Use as a Plex Media Server?
Users are faced with a considerable number of choices. You could feasibly run the Plex Media Server app on a laptop, desktop, mini PC, Android TV device, Raspberry Pi, network-attached storage drive, or any other device on which you can install Linux.
Let’s take a look at some of the pros and cons of each of those devices in more detail.
One of the most important things needed by the Plex Media Server is CPU power. If there isn’t enough available, your server is going to struggle to transcode videos and will be unable to handle simultaneous users.
As such, ancient, underpowered laptops might not be suitable. However, if you’ve got a semi-old device lying around, it’s worth considering.
It’s not recommended to run Plex on your main laptop. Overheating could quickly become an issue. If you’re using an old laptop, make sure you buy a cooling stand.
The most significant benefit of using a desktop is power. Even a mid-spec desktop computer will comfortably be able to handle everything Plex can throw at it.
If you’re expecting several people to access your Plex media server at the same time, it is probably the best solution.
The same caveat about using your primary machine applies, however. You don’t want to be in the middle of working on an important document only for your fan to kick in because your wife and kids are all watching Plex on different screens.
3. Mini PCs
Mini PCs are often overlooked as potential Plex media servers. They have a few important benefits over regular desktops.
These benefits include lower power consumption, lower costs if you’re buying a new device, and, frequently, lower noise.
Mini PCs also strike a nice blend between size and portability. Sure, they’re not going to fit in your pocket, but they are easy to mount behind a TV or in a TV stand.
Dozens of mini PCs are available across a wide range of specs and price points. You can see some of the best devices available in our list of the best pre-built and DIY Plex media servers.
4. Android TV
Is an Nvidia Shield good as a Plex server? I’m looking for something I can basically stick in a closet and rarely look at.
— Zac Cichy (@zcichy) January 13, 2019
Plex hasn’t been able to use Android devices as media servers since the demise of the Plex Media Center app a few years ago.
There is, however, one exception: the Nvidia Shield. Nvidia has entered into a unique partnership with Plex, and the devices can act as Plex media servers.
And because both the regular Nvidia Shield and the Pro version both have USB ports, you can easily connect an external hard drive which contains all your movies and TV shows and stream the contents. You don’t need to move your library onto the Nvidia Shield itself.
Unfortunately, the Nvidia Shield has one potential drawback. Several users have reported that this device is unsuitable for very large libraries. Some complain about insufficient space for streaming in 4K, while others say thumbnail generation chews through the memory.
5. Raspberry Pi
Raspberry Pi devices have some very unique advantages and disadvantages when you’re using them with the Plex Media Server app.
The most notable downside is the lack of CPU power. The Raspberry Pi 2 has a 900 MHz quad-core Cortex-A7 CPU along with 1GB of RAM. The Raspberry Pi 3 uses a 1.2GHz ARM Cortex-A53 CPU and 1GB of RAM.
That’s well short of Plex’s recommended requirements for the Media Server app: an Intel Core i3 processor and at least 2GB of RAM.
However, the Raspberry Pi also has some massive upsides, the most notable of which is portability. The web is full of users looking for advice on the best cheap device to use as a Plex media server in hotels and offices. The Raspberry Pi is probably the best solution. Just don’t expect to transcode 4K content.
If you have a spare Raspberry Pi sitting around gathering dust, turn it into a Plex media server. Keep in mind that you have more ways to turn a Raspberry Pi into a media server and one of those ways is with Emby.
6. NAS Drives
For people who need to access all their Plex content remotely, a NAS drive is perhaps the best choice. Too many people have complained about unreliability in the Plex Media Server app when it’s used on a laptop or desktop for them to be a dependable option.
As a company, Plex is big on pushing its NAS drive solutions. There are custom versions available for NAS drives from Synology, Netgear, QNAP, unRAID, Drobo, Asustor, Seagate, Western Digital, and TerraMaster.
However, before you hit the store looking to buy one, there are some things you need to consider. According to Plex, your NAS drive will need an x86 CPU. And if you buy an ARM model, transcoding will not be available. Therefore, you’ll need to ensure your video media is saved in a format which your Plex Media Player can support.
For the most universal playability, Plex recommends an MP4 container, the H.264 video codec, AAC audio, and a bitrate of less than 8Mbps.
If you want a NAS drive for Plex, we recommend the QNAP TS-453Be 4-Bay Professional NAS, the Synology DS218play, and the TerraMaster F4-220 4-Bay NAS.
Which Is the Best Plex Media Server?
If you’re a very occasional viewer, you can use Plex on your primary computers without too much concern. More serious users should consider using a dedicated old computer or a mini PC. Anyone who does a lot of traveling should buy a Raspberry Pi. And if remote access is important, consider purchasing a NAS drive.