November 18, 2018

Upgrading My Plex Media Server (2018)

In this post I'm going to outline my Plex Media Server build that I put together recently, why I chose the things I did, and how it turned out.  First, though, I need to tell you what system I came from and what I'm upgrading from.

A long, long time ago, in a rent house in Dallas, I purchased an HP Pavilion desktop, for home computing and to edit and manage the Twisted Gamer Radio podcast that I was starting.  It didn't need to be fast, I just needed it to do one thing, and occasionally browse the internet.  I'm using this PC right now in my office, to surf the web, check Facebook, etc. and write this post.  It's not a workhorse, and occasionally has hiccups, but for the most part has been rock solid.  It stays on 24/7 and is my go to for general stuff.

Here's the specs of my current setup:
- 2.60Ghz AMD Athlon II X4 620 Processor - 2,938 PassMark CPU Rating (I'll talk about this number later)
- 8GB RAM 667Mhz Memory
- Windows 10 64-bit (It came with Windows 7, and I did the free upgrade to Win10)

Hard Drives:
- 640GB Western Digital Blue (original unit)
- 2TB Western Digital Black
- 2TB Western Digital Black
- 5TB Seagate Backup External USB Drive
- 5TB Seagate Backup+ External USB Drive

A few years after getting this PC and using it to edit the podcast, I also began to store our high-def home movies, family pictures, and my music collection that I had ripped from CD's. 

The PC has been fine for a few years, doing it's thing, but recently we have had streaming issues in the house when watching movies. Lots of buffering, lag, and stops and starts when view movies.  This is where the PassMark score I mentioned comes in.

Depending on how you store your media, Plex might need to transcode the video to a format that is viewable for the device you are watching it on.  Tablets, phones, etc. all need the Plex server to transcode the video files into a format that the phone and tablet can view.  If you do a lot of this, you need a pretty beefy CPU/GPU.  The standard is 2,000 PassMark score per 1080p transcoded stream.

If you'll remember, my PC up above is almost at 3,000.  So that's essentially one stream and nothing else.  But, with browsers being open, e-mail clients, and other tasks running on the PC, that number comes down and occasionally it can't handle the one stream. Very frustrating, but it's a really old PC. 

Time to build a new one.

I had started looking into just buying another desktop and going from there, or building a tower PC with a lot of drive bays that I could put a beefy CPU in to get what I wanted.  Easy peasy right? Well, I started to slowly learn that you can buy enterprise grade hardware for super cheap on eBay.  I used to work in a data-center, and worked with blade and rack mounted servers. Once those servers are decommissioned from use, they can be re-purposed and sold on the used market for super cheap.  Think of them like a car.  It's super expensive in the car lot, but as soon as you drive it off there, the price goes down dramatically.

I found a Reddit group that was all about Plex, and began to see people were posting their server builds and what they had used.  If you wanted to, you can put in over $2K into your own Plex server. Uh, no way. My wife would slaughter me and cut my head off with a RAM stick.  I eventually saw a build that was much more budget friendly, and included a lot of hard drive bays and was cheaper than buying PC off the shelf.

If you want to see the full parts list click on this link:

I mostly followed the build, but upgraded the processors for a little bit more money, and had to get a different motherboard because the one listed was super expensive.

Here's the specs of my current build:

- Rosewill RSV-L4500 4U Rackmount Server with 15 drive bays and 8 Fans
- EVGA 850 Watt Power Supply

- 3 x Arctic 120mm Case Fans (fan wall) - I removed the stock fans the case comes with at the front of the hard drive enclosures.  I've seen videos of them on and they create a negative pressure being right up against the metal grate and are way loud.
- 2 x Arctic 80mm Case Fans (rear fans)
- SuperMicro X8DTE Dual Socket 1366 E-ATX Motherboard
- 2 x SuperMicro SNK-P0038P Heatsinks
- Arctic MX-4 Thermal Compound Paste
- 2 x 2.93GHz Intel X5670 6-Core Processors - 7,931 per CPU x 2 =  15,862 PassMark CPU Rating
- LSI 6Gbps SAS 9201-8i Card in IT Mode
- 2 x Mini SAS to 4 SATA breakout cable (gives me 8 drives per card - motherboard has 6 onboard SATA)
- 16GB Kingston DataTraveler USB

Server OS:
- UNRAID - Headless Linux based OS run off of the USB stick

- ICY Dock 2.5" SSD / SATA 3.5" drive bay converter - Will be used to correctly mount the SSD in one of the drive bays
- 500GB Samsung 860 EVO SSD - Will be used as a cache drive and to store the Plex Media Server database and album artwork, etc. for faster loading

The Arctic rear fans here are installed.  Now installing the RAM and motherboard.  Using three slots per CPU allows me to open up all three RAM channels.  Don't mind the Paw Patrol place mat. We're building on our kitchen table. 

Installing the CPUs, heatsinks, and 850 Watt power supply

Starting to figure out the cable/wire management for the power supply.  This is something I take pride in.  I also used to be a network cabling technician, so zipties are my friend and also fun to chew on while you work.

Another shot of the cable management. The pins for the front power/reset/USB was a pain in the ass to figure out.  I had to search online for the diagram and figure out what was needed to match the case capabilities to the motherboard capabilities.  Got it tested and everything works!

Installing the updated Arctic fan wall.  All of the fan wires are bundled and fit nicely under the wall out of the way, leaving the case looking nice and neat.

All buttoned up.  This is the core build.  I don't have the SAS card in at the moment, but once I start adding hard drives I'll need to connect the SAS breakout cables and run power to the drives from the power supply.  I might make another post about that later.

For drives, I'm going to wait and see what happens on Black Friday this year, and see if I can find a good deal on Western Digital Red 4TB drives.  They usually have those on sale at Frys or Best Buy, so I'll also see if I can find a "shuckable" hard drive (a drive inside an external drive enclosure that can be removed and used without the drive enclosure).  I've done a little calculation on my current setup and probably need 4 4TB drives.  This will give me 3 storage drives and one parity drive, with the ability to expand later.

The way Unraid works is it allows you to expand the drive array on the fly as you go.  You don't need to build the full array from the start.  It allows you to change/update the array as you need to expand your storage needs.  Very cool.  You can use it with or without a parity drive (which can be expanded to dual parity drives), a cache drive (to make writes to the array faster).

During this process Clementine was helping me with the fans and getting everything laid out on the table to put in.  I was cleaning the old thermal past off the heatsinks and putting them on the table to be put in, and I guess she nicked her finger on one of the fins.

She didn't realize she had done it and began to play and spin the rear case fans.  Now, the Arctic fans are white plastic blades, so when she did so she left a little DNA on there.  She literally put her sweat and blood into that case.  I haven't seen any droplets of blood anywhere else, and after we put a My Little Pony bandaid on it she was ready to go back to work.

That's all I got for now.   Will try and provide updates once I get more parts in (mainly the drives).