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Server Myths

Assists Greatly with Development Costs

Datamonkeh

Data Hoarding Primate
Staff
Donor
I keep seeing people spending money on hardware that makes little no sense for the intended usage, it generally follows a predictable pattern, here are a few of the usual mistakes people make.

I just Sitevered Plex (congrats… it only took you a decade plus), I should buy an old server from ebay because it’s enterprise class and cheap right?

Old enterprise kit is generally noisy, hot, power hungry and horribly inefficient. The low purchase cost is offset by the increased running costs (power) and the noise. Much more efficient, better and generally cheaper in the longer term options exist. Just ask for advice.

I need a Xeon/dual Xeon for the transcodes!!!111

Single socket Xeon’s (e3’s of old) were generally the same as the equivalent i5 or i7 desktop CPU, they were no more suited to transcoding, often they would support lower clock speeds and usually lack iGPU, so if anything they were worse. Higher end Xeon’s (e5’s) had more cores and no iGPU, so could potentially do more in software transcoding, but generally more cores were run at lower clock speeds and what Plex don’t make clear is single core performance is still very relevant even if CPU mark looks great.

I need a fast CPU because I transcode a lot.

Fix the reason you need to transcode rather than throw resources at it. Choose appropriate media in the proper format, connect server to the clients using a suitably fast connection and ensure the client is capable of direct playing the media and you don’t need to transcode at all. Don’t believe me? People run Pi2’s as low end Plex servers. Also consider HW (GPU) transcoding may be more cost effective/efficient. Some transcoding is unavoidable (remote client on poor connection), but it should be the exception, not the rule.

I need a really powerful server because I want to play 4K.

No. Playing 4K using direct play just requires the server to be able to send the data to the client quickly enough. The server CPU is largely irrelevant.

But I need a really powerful CPU as I want to transcode 4K.

Stop. Transcoding 4K is a bad idea, transcoding HDR 4K is a horrible idea and transcoding HEVC HDR 4K really warrants repeated punches to the face until you see sense. Run a dedicated 4K library, use Tautulli to prevent 4K transcoding and keep a 1080/720 version in the normal library.

I want/need to transcode 4K because it looks better.

Bad idea. 4K transcoding is horribly inefficient, you’re looking at 12K of CPU mark to transcode SDR H264 4K to 1080p H264 and as Plex only outputs H264 @ 1080p SDR, doing this quickly won’t give you better quality, quite the opposite. It gets worse if you have 4K HDR as tone mapping is broken and the results look washed out and generally awful, if that 4K HDR happens to be in HEVC or H265, then the CPU requirements get even more crazy (17K of CPU mark) and its still unwatchable. Tone mapping will be fixed eventually, but simply put, transcoding 4K is a bad idea, transcoding 4K HDR is an awful idea and transcoding 4K HDR in H265 is just stupid.

I heard (GPU) hardware transcoding reduces quality noticeably, so i’m not doing it.

No, or at least not anymore, also if you want quality, direct play. Early intel iGPU’s - we’re talking the 2011 Sandybridge onwards here - were not that great for transcode quality, by the time it got to Broadwell (5th generation), things were a lot better. Haters love to hate, so the myth continues years later, it’s usually spread by people who haven’t actually (knowingly) seen an intel iGPU transcode anything. The other option is Nvidia, while quality has evolved, it always looked better than intel, so the improvements were less obvious.

Nvidia GPU’s suck because you can only transcode two streams.

Officially, yes. Unofficially, driver patching is easy and unlocks Quadro levels of performance.

I need a Quadro P2000/P5000, (insert YouTuber of your choice here) said they're the bestest!

A P2000 is basically a 1060, for transcoding, both are capable of the same number of streams, the 1050Ti is half the price and requires 5 minutes work to patch the driver and will then outperform a P2000. Also consider the 960 4GB/M2000, the Maxwell 2nd gen got HEVC/H265 support and the 960 4GB in particular goes for next to nothing compared to the respective Pascal generation. The only downside with Maxwell is that they don’t handle HDR to SDR tone mapping (remember, it’s broken and if you don’t have HDR media, it’s a moot point anyway). In simple terms a P2000 gets you 4 transcodes at 4K/68Mbit H264 SDR to 1080/8Mbit and 16 at 1080/10Mbit to 1080/8Mbit, a 960 4GB or M2000 does 3 and 13, feel free to disagree, but a single extra 4K stream and 3 extra 1080 streams for 3-4x the price of an M2000 or 6-8x the cost of a 960 4GB seems poor value, the 1050Ti is a great value option though - just don't buy a fake on ebay with a VGA port.

(insert person here) spec’d this cool sounding dual Xeon build and reddit loves it, i’m going to follow it!

Sometimes builds like this can be genuinely good value *IF* you have a usage that will fit, however unless you are heavily into virtualised environments and want to virtualise physical servers to reduce power usage, or running a home lab for learning/testing, you may be better off with a more efficient modern build. For example, first gen AM4 builds can be done for less than the equivalent E5 Xeon v3/v4 builds now, they have a current gen upgrade path and are more power efficient too. A low end current intel CPU tends to have the same iGPU as the higher end models and now intel has upped its core count, even a humble i3 with iGPU is a very capable and frugal Plex server. Efficiency usually wins longer term when you run 24/7.

I'm sure more exist, but those are the obvious ones, feel free to add :)
 

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