Is it possible to run a Plex server on an Intel NUC? With the right NUC it is.
I start a whole lot of projects, often times iterating and spending more money on things than I would have if I would have just planned it out a little better. In each iteration comes knowledge that wasn’t there before. This is where my Plex story stats.
Back in the summer of 2014 I had just started getting into backing up my data across several drives. I was running an HP MediaSmart EX495 upgraded to a quad core CPU and maxed out ram. The unit worked great for storing my small collection of ‘Linux ISOs’ and family photographs. I came across the Plex.tv website one afternoon and thought it was a really great concept. I installed the software and soon enough was streaming to my Xbox 360 and air playing via Apple TV.
Eventually in my search for power and storage I ended up with a Lenovo desktop with an Intel i7-4770 processor in 2015. It was a beast, able to transcode several 1080 streams at once. Things were great for a long while, as my collection grew I moved my files to a Synology DS1813+ unit serving them to my friends and family via my Plex server. Over the course of 2015 and 2016 I watched my electricity bills get bigger and bigger (we’re in Arizona, it’s not cheap to cool your home in the summer) In search of something with a smaller footprint and more energy efficient the NUC units caught my eye.
The NUC line up spans several generations of embedded processors. From the pokey Celeron 847 all the way to the beastly Skull Canyon NUC with the i7-6770HQ processor. Plex requires very little CPU power if you’re able to direct stream everything from your NAS, however this would require you to convert your media before streaming to ensure compatibility. In the Plex CPU requirements article it cites that you need a CPU Passmark score of 2,000 or higher for one 1080p transcode session. That’s one client streaming one 1080 10Mbps video file. Reviewing server history via PlexPy showed many of my sessions are direct streams with very little transcoding. The machine I was using to run my server had a 9,800 passmark score and a TDP of 84 watts. Quite a bit of power and energy usage while idle.
I started browsing eBay in search of a used NUC with an Intel i5 processor. Something that wouldn’t break the bank and could power at least two 1080 transcodes. To help fund the new purchase I planned to dismantle the old server and sell the processor/ram. I ended up purchasing an Intel NUC NUC5i5RYH used on eBay. The i5-5250U processor has a passmark score of 3,600. This should allow me to have two transcoded 1080 streams at once. The TDP for this device is 15 watts, much lower at peak power usage than the last machine was at idle.
To go along with the build I also maxed out the ram at 16gb with two 8gb sticks of Crucial DDR3l ram, and installed Windows 10 Professional on a Western Digital Blue SSD 500GB drive. Up and running I migrated my old library of metadata from my old server to the NUC server. With the machine up and running it was time to test it. The little NUC runs like a champ, I can transcode a movie and still be able to complete regular tasks on the machine, no skipping or jumpyness. It just goes, it’s a fantastic little device! Bumping up to two transcodes and the fans kick up a little, the machine is able to handle the two 1080 transcodes just fine, you can also still use it while it’s transcoding.
Is the NUC the perfect Plex server for everyone? Probably not, but if you’re looking for a machine that can handle a couple of transcoding sessions and still edit some photos in Lightroom it’s a perfect little machine. Also, did I mention that it’s nearly silent here on my desk? Much better than the fan noise from the previous machine.
I loved the NUC so much that I’ve now got three of them now, Bevy who functions as a media player now, Brandy the Plex server and desktop, and Blanche an i3 unit that runs a Minecraft server and Pi-Hole via virtual machine (previously handled by Bevy).