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post #1 of 8 Old 06-18-2014, 02:44 PM - Thread Starter
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Server Hardware Options/Questions

Until now, I've been running Plex Media Server on my windows desktop to stream media to 1 Roku, 1 iPad, and 2 Android tablets. The HDD that I had been using to store my media is filling up quickly. My desktop does not have another connection for an additional HDD, so I'm thinking about setting up an always-on media server (via PMS), download box (via Sickbeard, etc), and print/file server (maybe more if I get ambitious).

Unfortunately, I only have some really old towers lying around with single core processors that I don't think will have the juice needed to do what I want. So, I have some options. I was looking around my local university surplus property shop today and found a couple of machines that I think would work:

Option 1:
Dell Optiplex 755
2.66 gHz Core 2 Quad
3.0 GB DDR2 RAM
Integrated graphics
$140

Option 2:
Mac Pro A1186
2X 2.66 gHz Dual Core Intel Xeon (4 cores)
4.0 GB DDR2 RAM
Nvidia 7300GT
$225

Option 3:
Something else

So, my questions:
1) Which machine would be "better" for the setup I was looking for above? My definition of "better" consists of ease of setup, ease of use/maintenance, long-term stability, inexpensive upgrade/update ability now and in the future.

2) Besides HDDs, will I need to purchase any additional hardware (RAM, Nic, etc) to get them running well?

3) Is there another, cheaper option that will still be robust enough for what I want?
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post #2 of 8 Old 06-19-2014, 02:26 AM
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I would need a little more information before I can really help. Most important is what kind of media are you streaming? Is that going to change? Are you transcoding the Media? You mentioned you were using your desktop, how much horsepower does your desktop have? Are you only watching the media in the house or outside as well? This would pretty much guarantee transcoding where in the house would depend on the the individual device.

Plex is NOT memory intensive, and says at least 2GB of ram so you should be ok there.

Here is the Plex CPU Requirements Page
https://support.plex.tv/hc/en-us/art...rver-computer-

From that page they say:
Very roughly speaking, for a single full-transcode of a video, the following PassMark scores are a good guideline for a requirement:
  • 1080p/10Mbps: 2000 PassMark
  • 720p/4Mbps: 1500 PassMark

Taking a quick look at the CPUs you mentioned the first one has a PassMark Rating in the 3200 range and the second one has only a passmark rating of 1727 Per Processor (not individual core). The first one would be better but not sure if that will really do what you want / need it to. But check the PassMark score of the processor you are using now and take it from there but keep in mind you might want some future expandability.

If you want any kind of future expandability I would strongly suggest at the very least something with an Intel Core i5 or better yet a Core i7 (desktop version NOT laptop versions) but that might blow your budget.

Expandability of the systems you mentioned isn't going to really going to be a consideration as they are much older systems that wouldn't support any of the newer processors and anyone that they would take would be new old stock and potentially more expensive then a new processor but the new processor would require a new motherboard.
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post #3 of 8 Old 06-19-2014, 05:04 AM
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What OS do you want to run, and are you combining it with a redundancy solution? If you are putting a bunch of HDs in a server, you really should be thinking about software RAID at a minimum.

FYI, unRaid with its 32 bit Linux OS runs well on older machines with more limited memory (though a new 64 bit version is under development). FlexRaid runs on Windows, so it wants a bit more memory - the machines above could run 32 bit Windows, but you'd need memory upgrades to run 64 bit - and personally, I'd want to build a Windows server using the 64 bit OS. freeNAS probably wants the most memory due to it's use of high performance ZFS. This is all relevant because unfortunately DDR2 memory is more expensive than DDR3 these days.
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post #4 of 8 Old 06-19-2014, 06:03 AM
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Depending on what your source material is you may run into problems with either one of those setups. I'm currently running Plex on my desktop (soon to moved to a dedicated server) and have run into issues streaming 1080p Blu Ray rips on my local network. The desktop is a first gen i5 - 760 which scores a 3925 PassMark score. I know part of the problem is the source material audio track is DTS-HD and the GoogleTV box doesn't support DTS, so it has to transcode the audio. Just some food for thought.
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post #5 of 8 Old 06-19-2014, 09:37 AM - Thread Starter
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Thank you for your replies.

I'm currently only streaming basic DVD rips within my home network. I would like to do higher quality blu-ray stuff in the future as I learn more about what I'm doing. I also would like to set up streaming outside my network eventually.

I'm really new to this whole AV hobby and I've been doing a lot of reading. However, it seems the more I read, the more confused I get. I was looking at these machines as an inexpensive alternative to some of the other options out there. I think I might look into pricing my own build and see how that compares.
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post #6 of 8 Old 06-19-2014, 11:50 AM
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Also take a look at the SATA ports and drive bays. The key to a NAS is storage first, then transcoding next. The case needs plenty of drive bays, the power supply needs plenty of connectors, and the motherboard needs plenty of SATA ports or your buildout becomes more challenging. I'm not sure about the Mac, but the Dell appeared to have limitations on storage.
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post #7 of 8 Old 06-20-2014, 03:58 PM - Thread Starter
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Ok. Here's a build that I'm looking at. Remember, my budget is very limited. I wanted expandability. I'll be using it for streaming mainly DVD rips within my home network.
I used http://watershade.net/wmcclain/curator.html as a guide.
Let me know what you think.

MB: GIGABYTE GA-F2A88XM-HD3
CPU: AMD A series A4-6300
RAM: HyperX Fury 4GB DDR3 1600
Case: Rosewill Challenger U3
PSU: Ultra HS Modular 550W PSU
HDD: WD Red 2TB X2
Plus my already filling up 2TB WD Green HDD
If I added things up right and applied the correct discounts, I think I'm looking at just over $400 plus shipping.
I know there will be some additional things I will need like cables, etc. But, how does this look? I think I've built enough room for upgrade/expandability into it.
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post #8 of 8 Old 06-24-2014, 06:27 AM
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While I'm not directly familiar with that case or motherboard, it sounds like you are headed in the right direction. Personally, I'd go with bigger HDs - it's short money for a lot more storage, but that's up to you. They're also cheaper on Amazon and Newegg, btw.

That's enough memory to run Linux or unRaid, but not enough for Windows or freeNAS, IMO. Assuming you stick with the Linux build in the link you mentioned, you should probably be fine. Are you going with Snapraid for a redundancy solution? I recommend you go with something, losing 2TB of data to a hard drive crash would really suck...

The main issue you want to think about is transcoding. It sounds like you are dependent on your PMS to transcode for your various devices, and while I'm not an AMD person it appears to me that you're looking at a lower end CPU, not something that can transcode multiple streams simultaneously. My unRaid setup is limping along on an old Core2Duo, but if I were buying something new I'd go with a CPU with more serious Passmark scores:
http://cpubenchmark.net/cpu_list.php
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