September 16th, 2019

children of dune - leto 1

to dedicated plex machine or not...no, definitely to, definitely

So I am now reluctantly accepting if I want to use Plex as a media server and not a really technical way to indulge my passion of random micro-organization with a side benefit of watching movies, I'm going to have to build a dedicated server to it.

See, up until now, my home server was Thing That Let Me Play With So Many Cool Things, and as a side benefit, resulted in two promotions at work and a reputation for coincidentally always having the basic skill sets for any tech work because when you're running Ubuntu server and can download pretty much anything used on web servers to practice with and forums chock full of experts to google, the learning curve is fast.

However, as I have discovered while ripping 4Ks, Plex Media Server wants all the resources, all of them, every one. Actively doing nothing on my server, I can mostly play everything okay, but transcoding is almost impossible because of all the other things running on it even when not being actively used. Trying to rip something while Plex is running? Nope. Trying to use Handbrake at all? God no.

And: I do a ton of recreational scripting and sometimes it's even useful, I experiment with different programs like ntop and oracle and apache just to see what they do, I have several IDEs to keep up with my python and C++ and so I can read downloaded source files, and I experiment with different flavors of Linux, and when I've uninstalled, reinstalled, and altered programs too many times or I start getting too many errors (which is a side effect of trying four different Linux distros or ever installing anything oracle as you never, ever get rid of all of it), I nuke or replace the OS drive and start over with a fresh install (all data is kept on separate drives).

Which leads me to the biggest difficulty: even if I do a full backup of Plex, a lot of organization inevitably gets lost. I finally gave up and did the painful work of using someone else's organizational folder scheme in preference to my own much better one, but there's still a lot of bad matches that must be fixed and customization, and the hellscape that is organizing TV shows that have some questionable quirks (hi, Dr. Who), stand up comedians (sometimes they're movies! sometimes they're TV!), and miniseries (sometimes they don't even know for sure).

That's nothing, though, compared to the nightmare hellscape of Plex when it comes to home media organization, aka fanvids.

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Which leads me to why I need a dedicated server for Plex (yeah, it took a while to get here and I bet you forgot. Yeah, I did, too): nothing but Ubuntu Server, a basic GUI distro, Plex Media Server, and all packages required to run it will be on the OS drive. Provided I plan the organizational structure carefully and assume its permanent (aka Why Did I Put Fanvids With All the Random Video??????), once it's all installed, configured, and running, all I'll need to do is minimal maintenance and updates and ignore it otherwise. And my home server can return to being for ripping, encoding, experimenting, and as needed, nuking.

I was originally thinking NAS--after all, those are made for Plex and media servers, right? Dedicated, less expensive, easy to use?

Funny story: I googled on which one to get. Color me surprised: none of them. Low processor power and low RAM (non-expandable) were an issue (aka, playing 4K movies, playing multiple movies on different devices at the same time, playing movies with subtitles on, transcoding, you know, the things the NAS was purchased to do?) but also? Expensive as fuck. And that doesn't include the price of the hard drives to put in it, which you buy separately.

Most recommended NAS for Plex: Synology Bay DiskStation DS1019 - $639.99. The five bay expansion to this costs $449.

You know what's almost half the price, has a much, much, much better processor, more and better RAM, comes with four bays, has a DVD RW (not needed but is there), and RAM is expandable to 64 GB (and possibly 128) and drive bays expandable to six (and some have gotten eight) with the purchase of a SATA PCI-E controller card that retails under $30? It even comes with a 1T hard drive.

Dell PowerEdge T30 Tower Server (2017) - $370.94

In case you're curious: this is the current top recommendation for a Plex Media Server.

Dell PowerEdge T30 Tower Server (2019) - $479 and the price is more than justified by twice the RAM of the 2017 (16GB) and a 2 TB hard drive.

I am seriously not over this. That Xeon chip can play two to four 4K movies simultaneously, can transcode on the fly, and probably clears your skin and removes wrinkles, this processor has power to spare. Pair that up with all that RAM.....

Yes, I did start a budget for this like right now.

Look, if anyone here is thinking of getting that Synology because you don't want to do the OS installation and configuration and all that--I have a counteroffer. For less than the difference in price between those two you can buy me a plane ticket to come to your house for the weekend and do it for you--set up, installation, configuration, format, partition and mounting of all drives, customization, and teach you how to do it yourself as well, and that server will be up and running and you will be watching movies before I leave. I may even do some tagging for you. Price of labor is meals and a Good Omens binge on Saturday night, maybe some squeeing, vodka and ice cream, and nachos. I'll even bring salsa.

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