The Best Devices to Use as a Plex Media Server
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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 Best Plex Clients for Streaming Media The Best Plex Clients for Streaming Media Once you've set up your Plex sever, you'll need a device to stream your media to. Here are the best Plex clients available today. Read More .

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.

1. Laptops

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.

2. Desktops

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 The Best Prebuilt, DIY, and NAS Solutions for a Plex Server The Best Prebuilt, DIY, and NAS Solutions for a Plex Server Looking for the best Plex server? Here are some of the best budget, prebuilt, and DIY ways to run a Plex server! Read More .

4. Android TV

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 How to Turn a Raspberry Pi Into a Plex Media Server How to Turn a Raspberry Pi Into a Plex Media Server Here's how to install Plex server on a Raspberry Pi, configure it, and start streaming movies, TV shows, music, and more. Read More . Keep in mind that you have more ways to turn a Raspberry Pi into a media server 7 Ways to Set Up Your Raspberry Pi as a Media Server 7 Ways to Set Up Your Raspberry Pi as a Media Server Want to install a Raspberry Pi media server? Not sure whether to choose Kodi, Plex, or Emby? Here's what you need to know. Read More  and one of those ways is with Emby Turn Your Raspberry Pi Into a Media Server With Emby Turn Your Raspberry Pi Into a Media Server With Emby One of the best options for a Raspberry Pi media server is Emby. Here's how to install Emby Server and Emby Theater. Read More .

6. NAS Drives

best Plex media server

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.

If you would like to learn more about using Plex, check out our article listing the best Plex plugins for power users The 10 Best Plex Plugins for Power Users The 10 Best Plex Plugins for Power Users You don't need addons to use Plex. But power users may want to get more out of it and these Plex plugins will help. Read More and our list of reasons why you don’t need a Plex Pass 5 Reasons Why You Don't Need a Plex Pass 5 Reasons Why You Don't Need a Plex Pass Do you actually need a Plex Pass? Is a Plex Pass worth it? Here are several reasons why you may not actually need the subscription. Read More .

Explore more about: Media Server, Media Streaming, Plex.

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  1. Jim
    July 3, 2019 at 11:45 pm

    The DS218play says it does not support Plex on its Amazon page.

  2. Abe
    July 3, 2019 at 3:17 pm

    Or, you know, use an actual server. They are dirt cheap on eBay

  3. Adam
    July 3, 2019 at 3:08 pm

    I tried an Nvidia shield two years ago for my Plex server. It couldn't handle certain file types, including h.265 encoded files. I constantly got playback errors for files that weren't encoded "properly" but which ran fine on my Mac-Mini based server and now run fine on my Intel NUC based server.

    Definitely would not recommend the Shield.

    • Inc
      September 2, 2019 at 10:35 pm

      Hi,

      I was reading the article and found your comment about the nvidia shield.
      Sorry to ear that you had a bad experience. Anyway, I have a quite opposite situation.
      I used computers, laptops, nuc, pi, nas, starting in 2010 with the ps3 media server and found my holy grail with Plex end of 2013.

      Good and bad feedbacks regarding the different servers solutions when I first try the shield it was amazing.

      Stable, robust. 3+ concurrents full HD streams, using top quality files.
      4K are also perfect but I only use them directly on the shield (directly connected to the 4k tv). Clients are Apple TV, iPad, PS4 (Plex client is awful on that plateform), chromecast (gen 1 &2), Bravia tv app,...

      To resume, my opinion is that the shield 2017, is probably the best player / server solution for Plex but I would also recommend it as server only.
      About the remark for large library, I have more than 2.5k files.
      All stored on a synology using nfs for sharing with the shield.

  4. Adam
    July 3, 2019 at 3:41 am

    I use an Intel NUC with a 1TB secondary drive. It's small, powerful enough to transcode, and sexy. It also doubles as my web server.

  5. CB
    July 3, 2019 at 2:40 am

    Using any laptop as a media server is a phenomenally stupid idea, unless you want to watch it fry.

    • Dave
      August 1, 2019 at 2:42 am

      I've used one for a couple of years now with zero problems

  6. Jim
    July 3, 2019 at 12:44 am

    I am very happy with my Nvidia Shield as a server attached to my Synology NAS. I had to fool around with some of my Fios router settings with dedicated port selection to make it seamless (I am no expert and just found online articles on what to do) . All is usually good now for months at a time before I have to restart something (either router or Shield). Lastly in this setup, use my Mac to manage all the video and music content ( ie, make music playlist, make sure correct movie poster is used)

  7. Paulo Roberto Quicoli
    July 2, 2019 at 7:10 pm

    What about the new raspberry pi?

  8. Plexguy
    July 2, 2019 at 5:36 pm

    You forget the best one.. an actual server. Decommissioned servers can be had for cheaper than desktops and offer more power

    • Dustin
      July 3, 2019 at 2:06 am

      I run mine in Windows 10 on my primary desktop. I'm running a 6-Core i7 with 64 gigs of RAM and a base gtx-980. I use the Plex as a service project with a limited access user to keep it running no matter who's logged in. Even with the "Make my CPU hurt" transcode option and multiple people streaming it doesn't even sweat the CPU. One key setting is to direct stream on your local network so it won't transcode for family members.

      • Roknod Eoj
        July 3, 2019 at 5:29 am

        Been running Plex for years on an HP Microserver that sits under the TV. When it dies I will get another.