For those on a budget, here are the parts we used to get a computer to run Plex off of well and for a pretty decent price. It is not complete yet, but getting close.
To make our Plex box, I wanted to run Ubuntu Server. Since Ubuntu is free, there was no cost there. It is simply a matter of installing it and following their instructions to install it and that’s it.
For the base box of the system, I ended up getting a refurbished PC for $50 shipped. For people on limited income, PCs for People is a great resource. They frequently have computers for under $75, sometimes as low as $50. They come with Windows 10 usually, and while they are not brand new, top of the line computers, they are still solid machines for what most people use them for.
PCs for People also has an internet program so you can buy a hotspot and get a plan through them for a very low price as well. I have not tried it yet since our current internet service works fine, but I may get it in the future to bolster our internet connection with redundancy.
They do have income requirements though. You either have to make below a certain amount or be on something like Social Security Disability or EBT food assistance.
For a RAM upgrade, I bought two 4GB chips from a seller on ebay. That increased our RAM from 4GB to 12GB.
I needed a new hard drive though and wanted to use an SSD. I found a cheap one on Amazon. Since it was only going to hold the operating system and Plex, it doesn’t really need a lot of space. I went with 120GB and right now, it is 9% full. I could easily have gone even smaller, but the cost savings wasn’t that great and I can add to it later if I need to.
I also needed a USB 3 card to connect to an external hard drive since the computer I ended up getting only had USB 2. I found that on Amazon as well.
The hard drive dilemma
For the actual storage of media, I had issues. Lots and lots of issues. Since we have a 4TB drive now, I wanted more space than that so the library can grow. I’ve used Seagate and Western Digital hard drives in the past and never really had an issue with either. I first bought an 8TB Seagate drive from Amazon.
That turned out to be a mistake.
The first drive was dead on arrival. It would not boot on any computer I tried. Multiple operating systems, different cables, I even had Amazon send me a new power adapter. Nothing worked. I contacted Amazon and Seagate. Amazon replied quickly and sent out a new hard drive and had me send the old one back. Seagate was a pain in the butt to deal with. Despite me explaining everything I had done, everything that was wrong, how the drive had never worked right out of the box, they wanted me to send the first drive to them and when they got it, they would send me a refurbished drive.
Since the drive had literally never worked at all, I found the idea of getting a refurbished unit to replace a brand new one insulting.
I got the second drive from Amazon and the exact same thing happened. It simply could not be recognized by four different computers. Nothing at all. I contacted Amazon and Seagate again. Seagate this time wanted me to send them the second dead drive and they would send me a new LaCie drive. Amazon refunded my money before I even had the old drive in the box to mail back. I basically told Seagate that if they somehow thought I would trust them sending me a LaCie drive and assuming it would actually work, well they were being foolish. I never heard from them again after I told them their hard drives were crap, their customer service was useless, and their reputation as being second tier drive makers to Western Digital was well justified.
After that week and a few days of trying to get a drive to work, I just decided to buy a 2TB Western Digital drive from Amazon, save the refunded money for other things, and wait a little while to upgrade to a bigger drive to copy everything over. Hopefully next month I can get a 8 or 10TB Western Digital Easystore drive and set it up completely with that. It seems to go up and down in price frequently, so I can probably get it for about $200 or less if I time it right.
After that, it was a simple matter of putting everything together, installing Plex, setting the hard drive to mount on boot, and then copying the movies over to the new 2TB drive. My only issue was Ubuntu seemed to not be booting initially, but it turned out it was setting things up in the background and just looked like it wasn’t doing anything. If I had given it more time, it probably would have been fine on the initial install.
At the moment, we have two Plex Servers running. The old one is our TV and Music with the old 4TB drive. It is running on a Raspberry Pi 3, which while effective, it is not excellent. It worked for awhile, but it has trouble with some larger files and the USB on it is still USB 2. When I transfer files from my computer to the Pi Plex server, it may get 3mbps, but usually less.
On the new server, I have one 2TB drive with just movies. When I transfer something to that, I can get close to 20mbps. I’m not sure if it is the USB 3, Ubuntu, the wifi network, or the switch and router that are between the server and my laptop, but I can still probably increase that speed as well.
The only other thing left is adding a bigger hard drive and moving everything over to that. Then it will all be consolidated on one drive.
I would also eventually like to get a smaller computer to run as a server, maybe an Intel NUC SKull Canyon, but it will be awhile before we can afford that. The smaller form factor would be nice though and it would be a big boost in performance. For now though, what we have works well enough.