On a budget, I believe there is no better bang-for-buck Plex server than loading up an old HP Z-series workstation with a solid Xeon CPU and six internal hard drives.
My journey with Plex started on a humble iMac with an external USB 3.0 hard drive back around 2014 or so. That turned into a couple of large external drives that was really too much for the aging iMac to handle as we moved into a 4K library.
After I attempted to convert an old gaming PC into a 24/7 use and the hardware was just failing, I did a proper upgrade. I had previously set up an HP Z420 for a friend and decided to bite the bullet for myself as well.
For Plex, I think one of the best value configurations you can get out of the Z420 is to go with the Xeon 1650 v2 processor and 8GB RAM. You should be able to find such a machine for well under $200 shipped. If you plan on it being a multipurpose machine, then go ahead and add more RAM or consider an 8-core processor. For Plex though, you don’t need more than 8GB RAM and the Xeon 1650 v2 offers a decent Passmark score of 8382. You can find HP Z420 configured with a Xeon 1650 v2 processor here on eBay.
HP Z-series machines are robust, workstation PCs. They are built for heavy loads and are plentiful on eBay at reduced prices coming off corporate leases. With a clean install of Windows 10 or your Linux flavor of choice, you’ll have a Plex server for years to come.
For drive configuration, you’ll need to use the available three drive bays (make sure you have enough drive caddies) and you’ll need to convert a couple of the 5.25″ bays into at least two additional 3.5″ drive bays. (I had something like this laying around on my parts bench.) For the sixth drive, I just used a 2.5″ SanDisk SSD for my OS install. Sure, you could run the OS off of a thumb drive via USB if you wanted to use all six drives as media drives.
*Note, the SATA power availability on the power supply only has a total of six SATA power plugs, so you can’t run the six drives AND an optical drive with the native SATA plugs.
You may need to update the drivers to use all six SATA ports on the HP Z420, depending on your installation.
Here is the driver you need…
This package contains the Intel Rapid Storage Technology Enterprise (RSTe) Drivers and Graphical User Interface (GUI) for serial ATA (SATA) RAID controllers in supported workstation models that are running a supported Microsoft Windows Operating System.
You may have to manually install the driver if the auto install method doesn’t work.
For my build, I ended up with a SanDisk 120GB SSD boot drive and five 4TB WD Red drives (20TB in total) that I already had on hand. My current Plex server is chugging along just fine on Windows 10 and the media drives are configured as basic JBOD. It’s not the most efficient configuration; however, I’d imagine that it’s more than enough for most people dipping their toes into the Plex world and just want a media server that works all the time. For me, it’s a great solution for a 24/7 box that sits in my garage and serves its role as my household’s reliable entertainment server.
The HP Z420 won’t have built-in graphics capability, so you need to factor in an additional graphics card. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy, just something that will process the graphics for local management of your machine. I just threw in a GTX 1050ti that I wasn’t using for mine but something much older and crappier will get you up and running.
On the distant horizon, I’d like to move to a dedicated storage server for all of my media. I’m eyeing a 12-bay Supermicro server to run FreeNAS. But that’s all in due time.
For now, an old HP Z420 is cranking away, delivering HD and 4K content every day to a variety of playback devices in virtually every room of my home.