Tips on home server virtualization and building an ESXi Plex Media Server. We believe in virtualizing all things, including our router, using PfSense. Currently, our Plex Media server is virtualized in a VMware ESXi server, and it functions pretty well for direct streaming. Direct streaming doesn’t require much power as the video is not always transcoded although the audio might be. We are currently streaming within our home most of the time. However, that is about to change shortly.
Our current ESXi server also hosts a PfSense virtual machine. We also host our Blue Iris camera server in this virtual machine without too many issues, but performance takes a hit at times. Our current ESXi server is highly power-efficient with an 80-watt Xeon in it. With that being said, our current server is not even putting a dent in our monthly electric bill.
However, we are looking to build an even more powerful ESXi Plex media server and turn our old build into a file server/PfSense box. Our new server build will have a dedicated graphics card for our Plex Machine, which can also be utilized by the Blue Iris video surveillance software.
Our new build will be much more powerful; more cores and memory capacity for additional VM’s. We intend to use this extra capacity to run virtual lab machines in the future. It will also be a backup server for our primary VMware ESXi File Server.
ESXi Plex Media Server Build
Here are the components that are going into our new ESXi Plex Media Server. Here are also the top considerations and thoughts that went into building this new VMware ESXi server.
- Noise & Thermal Efficiency
- Power & Upgradability
- Power Efficiency
- Remote Access (IPMI)
- Compact Size (Preferably Micro-ATX)
Best Plex Media Server Processor/CPU Considerations
Even though the best-dedicated media server processor is probably a Core i5 or i7 with a Quick Sync integrated GPU (iGPU) like the Intel Core i5 9600K, we love utilizing the Xeon for any server builds. Xeon is built for servers and provides many more cores for running additional virtual machines. Honestly, we feel that it would be a waste to build a computer dedicated to Plex as it may be sitting idle most of the time except while transcoding, and even then, the graphics card does the transcoding.
We are going with a socket LGA 2011 motherboard for our build, here is a full list of Xeon 2600 V4 processors that this motherboard can support. We will be using the E5-2690 V4 Xeon Processor in this build. E5-2690 is a 14 core processor with a base speed of 2.60 GHz and a boost speed of 3.50 GHz. It has a TDP of 135 W and includes 35 MB Intel Smart Cache, which suits our purpose.
Newer variants of Intel Xeon processor can be costly if bought brand new, you can often find used deals on eBay. We sourced our Xeon off eBay for our old ESXi server build, and it is still running strong after a year.
Best Plex Media Server Motherboard/System Board Considerations
If you are building a dedicated system utilizing the Intel 9600K CPU, the Asus Prime Z390-A is a good board to have. However, if you are putting together a multi-purpose Plex server like us, we recommend the Supermicro X10SRM-F.
The Supermicro X10SRM-F motherboard is perfect for our Plex Media Server needs, it fits in with most of our criteria above. It provides power efficiency, a Micro-ATX form factor, and a dedicated IPMI Port for management. Socket LGA 2011 single socket can support E5-2600 CPU’s up to 22 cores. You will also get a single 16x PCI-Express 3.0 for the video card and 2 PCI-Express 3.0 x8 slots for add-on cards. This board also includes a basic integrated RAID functionality that supports RAID 0,1, and 10.
Best Plex Media Server Graphics Card/iGPU Considerations
If you are building a dedicated Plex media server utilizing the Intel 9600K processor, then you will not need an additional graphics card. The integrated graphics card (iGPU) built into the 9600K processor provides Quick-Sync features for your Plex transcodes. The Intel UHD Graphics 630 built-in to the CPU offers excellent results when it comes to Plex transcoding.
However, if you are building a multi-purpose Plex server like us, then you will need to invest in a dedicated graphics card like the Nvidia Quadro P400 or the Quadro P2000. If you are only transcoding two streams at once, then the Nvidia Quadro P400 is ideal. If you are looking to transcode ten plus streams at once, then you will want to go with a more robust solution like the Nvidia Quadro P2000.
A more recent GPU like the Quadro RTX 4000 allows for HEVC B Frame support for better compression, but it doesn’t add much value in our usage case. Please take a look at the Video/Encode/Decode support Matrix list to get a better idea of what different Nvidia video cards are capable of. The Nvidia Quadro P2000 is the best video card for Plex transcoding, It is power efficient and although slightly pricey yet a substantial investment.
You can only pass through these Quadro graphics cards to a single virtual machine, so in our case, we will be passing through the Quadro P2000 to our Plex/Blue Iris Windows 10 virtual machine. Our backup virtual machines and virtual lab machines will not require a dedicated graphics card.
Below is an excellent video instruction on enabling graphics card passthrough for ESXi.
Best Plex Media Server Memory/RAM Considerations
The SuperMicro X10SRM-F supports the following memory configurations and has 4x 288-pin DDR4 DIMM slots for upgradability.
Up to DDR4-2400MHz, 128GB Registered ECC RDIMM
Up to DDR4-2400MHz, 256GB Registered ECC LRDIMM
Up to 512GB ECC 3DS LRDIMM
We found the following Supermicro certified Samsung 32 GB DDR-4 2400 Memory to be of great value. A total of 128 GB memory is plenty for our needs.
Best Plex Media Server Hard Drive/Storage Considerations
We won’t be using a RAID controller for this build because our new server will be used as a backup server for our primary file server. Instead, we will take advantage of the onboard RAID functionality of the motherboard to mirror the drive (RAID 1).
If you are interested in learning about different types of Redundant Array of Independent Disks (RAID) configurations, check out this RAID Calculator.
For spinning disks or any (RAID) storage, we always rely on the HGST or now Western Digital brand. For this server, we only require two ten terabyte drives in a mirror configuration, so we picked out the HGST Ultrastar He10 10TB drives.
For SSD’s we went with Kingston 480GB SSD’s. These solid-state drives will be used for virtual machine files, and plex transcodes. Also, we might consider utilizing RAM for Plex transcodes so the SSD’s can be freed up for virtual machine storage. Using RAM for temporary transcoding will also prolong the life of our SSD’s.
Best Plex Media Server Cooling/Power/Case Considerations
For the case, we picked out non-other than the Fractal Design Define Mini C, which complements our Micro ATX board perfectly. The Define Mini C also allows for two 3.5″ hard drives, which are perfect for our backup needs, there are plenty of SSD mounts as well.
Dust filters are very important for a server that is running 24/7, the included dust filters will keep our server running clean. There are also aftermarket dust filters available for the 120-mm fans.
Another great compact case is the Chenbro SR30169, which will give you 4 3.5″ hot-swappable mounts. It is excellent if you need hot-swappable hard drives and hates to open up the whole case during a drive failure. If you have a lot of expansion cards, then this case may not be it for you, this case has only one low profile expansion slot.
The Cooler Master HAF XB EVO is another great case with hot-swappable 3.5″ bays without limiting the number of expansion slots.
For power, we needed a dependable power supply, so we chose the Seasonic GX-650, 650W 80+ Gold. The GX-650 is a modular power supply, so it helps to avoid clutter in our Mini case.
For cooling, we didn’t want to take any chances with liquid cooling, so we went with the Noctua NH-D9L. The Cooler Master AIO liquid cooler is also an option. Both solutions should provide acceptable noise levels. The included Dynamic X2 GP-12 120 mm case fans are also sufficient for our needs.
We hope you were able to gain some ideas to build your own ESXi Plex media server for home. You are welcome to help us grow a tech community group on Facebook by joining Tech Really. We are also on Reddit, and you can find us here r/Techreally.