Plex is a well-known software solution that allows you to build your own home library of videos, images, and music for playback on any multimedia device sharing the network. Think of it as your own personal Netflix that you host right in your own bedroom or livingroom. Although there’s always the option of hosting the Plex server off your PC, the changing usage conditions and on-off states of a PC make this less than ideal. For this purpose, you’ll need a network-attached storage (NAS) solution that works as a consistent, always-ready server for any smartphone, tablet, laptop or desktop PC on the network to access stored media for consumption.
However, choosing or building a NAS of your own can be complicated without a touch of insight into what each hardware component does and why it’s important to emphasize CPU and HDD arrays on your server whether it’s for home or business media purposes.
The good news is that assuming you’ve invested in a solid NAS to start with, any modular components after that can often be upgraded to improve performance, so if you wind up with an underwhelming load-out, it’s not the end of the world. On the other hand, a slow Plex experience on your NAS will result from a mismatching of components that will ultimately choke out the fluidity of your media-streaming experience.
Best NAS for Plex Severs Comparison Table
|Product||Photo||Transcoding||Acceleration||CPU||Ram (Gb)||Check Price|
|1080p||4K||Celeron Dual-Core 2.0-2.5 Ghz||2-6|
|1080p||1080p||Celeron Quad-Core 1.6-2.08 GHz||4|
|Synology DS918+||1080p||4K||Celeron Quad-Core 1.5-2.3 GHz||4-8|
|QNAP TS-251A||1080p||1080p||Celeron Dual-Core 1.6-2.48 GHz||2-8|
|QNAP TS-251+||1080p||No||Celeron Quad-Core 2.0 GHz||2-8|
|WD PR4100||1080p||1080p||Pentium Quad-Core 1.6GHz||4|
|QNAP TS-451+||1080p||No||Celeron Quad-Core 2.0 GHz||2-8|
|QNAP TVS-471||1080p||1080p||Celeron Dual-Core 3.5 GHz||4-16|
|Synology DS916+||1080p||1080p||Pentium Quad-Core 1.6GHz||2-8|
|QNAP TVS-682||4K||4K||Intel Core™ 3.7 GHz||8-32|
|QNAP TVS-1282||4K||4K||Intel Core™ 3.4 GHz||32|
|ASUSTOR AS3202T||720p||1080p||Celeron Quad-Core 1.6-2.24 GHz||2|
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Best in Category
QNAP TVS-1282 — Best NAS for Plex 4K
Well, when we said Best NAS for 4K Plex, we weren’t kidding: This truly is the most powerful machine that we’re reviewing today.
Synology DiskStation DS218+ — Best Synology NAS for Plex
This wasn’t the most powerful or costly Synology NAS on our list, but the reviews cited that it was the most reliable, and that’s why the DS218+ made the spot.
It supports 4K at 30FPS with the usual host of codecs to boot, and while the specs are pretty standard on RAM and CPU fronts, it’s a well-assembled device that can handle Plex hosting in your home at comfortable speeds without breaking the bank.
Synology DiskStation DS218+ — Best Two-Bay NAS for Plex
A second-time winner here, this is the most efficient solution for home Plex entertainment with two bays for holding your favorite media.
The DS218+ is a testament to the fact that you don’t need enterprise-level equipment for a quality streaming experience, and this machine handles everything from 1080p all the way up to 4K in truly effective style.
QNAP TS-253A — Best QNAP NAS for Plex
A high-power solution from QNAP, the TS-253A packs a lot of punch in a formidably well-assembled package that doesn’t express any glaring flaws.
Its support for 4K transcoding is shown effective and worth pursuing unlike other QNAP offerings on this list where the 4K was found to stutter badly despite similar specifications. There’s nothing particularly special about this NAS; it’s just that it covers middle- to high-ground territory and simply works.
ASUSTOR AS3202T — Best Cheap NAS for Plex
This isn’t just the most affordable NAS on the list; it’s also the most price-efficient for simple home entertainment with Plex.
Synology DiskStation DS918+ — Best Four-Bay NAS for Plex
Synology wins the middle ground with their solid offerings that are cited for their overall value.
The four-bay edition of their DiskStation is, in our opinion, the most efficient balance between cost and results in a practical Plex scenario of running a home theater, and it owes to the modest hardware in tandem with the fact that Synology’s offerings just work.
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Best NAS for Plex Server Reviews
Packing a quad-core Celeron, 2GB of RAM and 112MB/s on read and write speeds, this server is a standard beginning hardware choice for hosting a Plex multimedia environment.
The CPU isn’t exceptional, but this isn’t intended for enterprise-level use. Surprisingly, the AS3202T comes with an onboard DAC for high-quality audio decoding through the USB hub, and it supports the H.265 codec for punching out 4K HDR content through HDMI 1.4b. You have two- and four-port varieties to choose from, which can be complemented with a RAID 0, 1 or 10 setup as you please.
From the surface, this is already sizing up to be a decent recommendation in the multimedia hosting realm that slides in on an acceptable price tag.
A number of users have cited that the machine as a whole tends to lag with music and video in addition to terrible app support to these ends, raising the question of ASUSTOR’s software choices as they pertain to bottlenecks in the system.
Now this feels a little more like home entertainment. With a remote control included right out of the box, you already know there’s some serious business involved on the comfort level.
The chassis is a funky mix of stylish and functional, bearing a USB 3.1 port on the front alongside the hardware keys and colorful status lights in a carbon color-schemed shell.
Running on hardware transcoding, supporting up to 6Gbps (bits, not bytes) SATA drives and capable of handling gigabit LAN, this is a formidable NAS. The TS-251+ comes in two types that combine two- or four-bay HDD parking with 2-8GB of RAM. This is clearly designed to be straddled across home- and business-level applications.
QNAP packed a quad-core 2GHz Celeron with Quick Sync under the hood, and the memory bays support classic DDR3 or DDR3L SoDIMMs for up to 8GB total as restricted by the logic board. The 8GB is an acceptable ceiling if a little low for industrial use, and pushing low-voltage RAM out of the box — as many servers tend to — suggests that the machine is initialized for low-end users.
Downsides to note are that the TS-251+ tends to cut out every so often, dropping the Plex server and axing surveillance footage. It also tends to lose its IP address on the network, forcing you to replug the Ethernet line to gain its footing once more. You’ll also want to ensure that this little machine has plenty of breathing room; the Celeron makes it a little hot inside the chassis.
Delivered in a sterile-looking, almost offensively bright chassis, this NAS borrows from near-identical design language as its other QNAP siblings.
While the CPU doesn’t look stellar at first, the Quick Sync feature should make up for the dual-core 1.6GHz, and in typical server fashion, it appears to be designed with ’round-the-clock efficiency on that note. Packing 2GB of DDR3L RAM out of the box, the device can be upgraded to support up to 8GB like the previous entry in this review.
One of the issues that some people are finding with QNAP’s machine here is the lack of processing power despite Quick Sync’s transcoding acceleration. A simple truth about CPUs is that hardware acceleration only goes so far before the inherent bottlenecks of general processing become apparent, and Celerons are definitely not high-end processors by any means.
The idea with a server architecture is that processing efficiency is as important as the effectiveness because servers are left on constantly. It seems that QNAP may have undercut the CPU effectiveness here not just with a Celeron but an unreasonably underpowered one at that. We’re not asking for a 12-core Xeon, folks; we just want the 4K promise lived up.
Now we’re talking serious business here. QNAP’s offering comes with utile-looking HDD bay grilles in a tactical black chassis and simplified frontal interface.
It’s not much different than the last two products, but it definitely says “power” with a certain sternness. Sold up as “professional-grade“, it brings a quad-core Celeron N3150 with Quick Sync at 1.6GHz and 4GB of DDR3L distributed across two SoDIMM interfaces that support up to 1,600MHz. Once again, the promise of 4K H.264 is seen in the device specifications; the difference is that it appears to actually work on this model.
Most of the issues that people are finding with this NAS is unrelated to the inherent design of the machine itself, and reviewers are mainly concerned with the lack of new software features from prior versions. However, you may find that the HDMI ports are crutching on outdated architecture and will struggle to support the HD content that’s expected of, well, an HDMI cable.
With yet another QNAP to review, we’re now looking at a four-bay offering with the usual rigmarole: quad-core Celeron, 2GB DDR3L RAM at a maximum of 8GB, Virtualization Station for VM instances and Surveillance Station to use the NAS as a storage solution for on-premises feeds.
There’s no mention of 4K codecs here, so it looks like this NAS will be sticking to good ol’ 1080p, which is still sufficient for most people. Also worth noting is the inclusion of AirPlay support for Apple devices in addition to Chromecast and Bluetooth, making this a mighty fine wireless option for your home server needs.
Taking a radical dive in QNAP’s design language, you now have this tiny box with a readout screen and a very utile-looking set of HDD bays — four of them.
The price tag should tell you up-front that this is poised to be an excellent Plex solution on the enterprise level in addition to other features. And QNAP is no slouch when it comes to on-board software features for surveillance, virtual machines and other needs that a server ideally fills.
From the outset, the inclusion of Real-Time Remote Replication (RTRR) already screams “made for businesses“. It’s a feature that allows business-level backups to be performed in real time, and you can manage to share content as needed.
Geared for 10Gbps Ethernet with a uniquely efficient storage environment makes 4K I/O and transmission a breeze provided the correct drives and connection are available. This thing is even promoted for use as a standard PC with QvPC on board to let it run locally for the user in addition to background server support. Of course, it wouldn’t be a great NAS without full-volume AES 256-bit encryption to boot.
Taking things yet another notch higher, you have the TVS-682: a beast of a machine with a beast of a price tag.
The first detail you’ll take note of is the incremental design bump from the aforementioned 471, which seems to be a trend leading from one model to the next.
This one, almost as small as the last, now has two dedicated SSD ports in addition to the four inbuilt HDD bays, totaling six drives for high-speed, high-capacity storage and I/O operations. In addition, you have an Intel Core i3-6100 (Skylake) clocked at 3.7GHz, 8GB of DDR3 RAM right out of the box and three PCIe expansion slots to add a little functionality on the side.
Finally, you have the all-too-cool QvPC feature, which allows you to use the server as you would a standard PC. Any standard operating environment can be used for this purpose whether it’s Windows, Mac, Android or Linux.
This is almost unforgivable in a machine that costs as much as the 682, but with Plex servers, it might be acceptable since overwrites are more prolific with PDFs and text documents — in other words, items that are frequently updated.
With eight HDD bays, four SSD ports, a quad-core Skylake Core i7 and expandable memory up to 32GB, you’re already dealing with an absolute monstrosity in terms of capacity and processing power off the bat.
This is before we mention the usual additions by QNAP: QvPC for the desktop PC experience with any operating environment of your choice, triple HDMI outputs with full support for 60-frame 4K to compatible displays, VJBOD to further extend your storage capacity and plenty of RAID support for mirroring, striping and everything in between to secure your data and hasten I/O operations.
Controlling it all is the option to use server apps on the NAS itself, remotely from a device with the necessary software, or with a few clicks of the included remote. It’s a beautiful thing despite the cost.
Now, you’re probably wondering about the downsides, and there’s, unfortunately, one area that the manufacturer Q-napped on: general quality. The system works great, but many users cite that the fans are unacceptably loud. Yes, it’s understood that with a Core i7 under the hood along with so much RAM and up to 12 drives, there’s a lot of thermal to distribute, but for one fan to work so hard at regulating all of this was a terrible mistake in the opinion of some.
For us, we think that it’s frown-worthy but not necessarily a deal-breaker; after all, not everyone plans to keep it in rooms that will be frequented.
If the over-two-grand QNAP solution is a little overkill for your taste, don’t worry — home-worthy solutions abound with comfy price tags and easy-to-setup configurations that support just about everything your sanctuary could need.
Synology is a prime competitor in the NAS development game, and QNAP users constantly cite comparisons between the two brands. We’re not here to say which brand is better. What we will confer upon you is the understanding that 2GB of DDR3L-1866 RAM and the dual-core Celeron J3355 clocked in tight at 2GHz are worthy contenders on the NAS market.
The transcoding supports 4K with H.264 (AVC) and H.265 (HEVC) at 30FPS, which is ample for high-quality home entertainment under the condition that you have a little time to wait out the buffer. We say this because in all honesty, it’s fully expected that you won’t have a Celeron knocking 4K media out cold.
User experience varies by individual, and there are many great reviews, but keep in mind that 4K — especially at high bit rates — may be problematic for the CPU, and that’s before we discuss the hit that cheaper drives on this level can take to the I/O threshold.
Synology returns with another compelling contender in the Plex NAS department, tolling the mid-range bell with 4GB of DDR3L RAM, scalability for up to nine storage drives and a quad-core Celeron — pretty standard stuff that we’ve all seen and heard before up to this point.
If you add the DX517 expansion unit, you can achieve the nine-drive setup from the original four HDD bays that come standard with the unit, and that’s exactly what you wanted to hear because Synology’s server solution complements its price tag with codec transcoding at 4K, 30FPS.
There aren’t any drawbacks to point out aside from the occasional criticism that the Celeron doesn’t handle transcoding as sweetly as you’d expect from a machine of this price, and that’s unfortunately understandable.
This particular NAS from Synology is focused on encryption and intensive tasks.
One would assume that means Plex should run wonderfully on it since “intensive” would accurately describe high-bit 1080p, 1440p or 4K content on a regular basis.
Starting out with four bays isn’t a bad measure on its own, and the added support for DX513 suggests that quite a bit of data will be handled by the system with a full nine drives running at once.
The 2GB base RAM will almost certainly need a boost once you get your hands on this; nobody buys enterprise-level equipment at this price tag to experience memory crashes. You also have quad-core Pentium N3710 with Quick Sync on board to make the transcoding life much easier.
The added wonders of singular H.264 4K or triple-transcoding with 1080p over the network is a strong selling point for heavy-handed media file-sharing through Plex, but the Btrfs file system — while great for text files and PDFs — probably isn’t going to prove as useful for Plex.
Another mid-ranger slides in on its knees Drew Carry-style like “yeah”: Enter Western Digital (WD).
This is the first, final and only WD option that we’re reviewing here, and it has some interesting tricks that set it apart from Synology and QNAP.
Aside from the obvious LCD screen and four bays on the front, you have the ostentatious “My Cloud” tag that means exactly what you think: This sucker supports cloud operations.
It’s also the first on here to use a quad-core Intel Pentium CPU, which is nothing special but interesting to note. That comes with 4GB of DDR3L RAM, support for every standard RAID configuration plus JBOD, and a cloud-based backup solution in case you want to save your drive array for maximum striping.
The majority of users never mention these issues, so we’re not discouraging you from trying out the PR4100.
Best NAS for Plex Server Buyer’s Guide
This is a term that’s used to describe on-the-spot compatibility alterations to a video file before streaming it to a client. Transcoding a video is like changing the language that it’s communicated in, allowing the client device to receive the information quicker or on terms that it can understand.
This is nothing more or less than having a dedicated piece of hardware to boost processing power in specific situations or with specific tasks. This is normally achieved with co-processors, graphics processing units (GPUs) and specialized RAM that occupies a noncontiguous area of the logic board apart from the normal memory that would be used for general applications.
Network-attached storage (NAS) is storage space that’s accessible through a local internet connection. This is used by enterprises to compartmentalize storage solutions according to user sets, allowing specific profiles and devices to gain access to this storage for reading or writing.
As it pertains to using Plex on a NAS, you’d install Plex to the NAS itself or on interacting client devices so the contents of the NAS can be transcoded and distributed to other devices on the local network. A NAS with a potent CPU is ideal for Plex transcoding, which in turn is essential for distribution to your media devices.
The central processing unit (CPU) is a hardware component that forms the brain of the system, processing all inputs into corresponding outputs. CPUs are never as linear as just clock frequency (gigahertz [GHz]) or the number of cores involved.
There are finer architectural differences such as caches, pipelines, instruction sets and more that define the CPU’s overall ability to function effectively with different types of information. For example, some people excel at math while others excel at spatial recognition, critical thinking, and risk assessment. It is in this way that CPUs are similarly categorized and equipped to systems that require specific processing strengths.
Random access memory (RAM) is temporary storage space for apps, programs or media that have been recently accessed and are being held open so you can pick up where you left off.
HDD, SSD, RPM and Bit Rate
The hard drive disk (HDD) stores data that’s accessed at a rate determined partially by rotations per minute (RPM). There are other determinants involved such as the actual quickness that the drive can read and write data at the given RPM as primely exampled by Western Digital’s Red drives, which are designed specifically for NAS systems.
You’ll want plenty of server space to store your media for transcoding and distribution, and an HDD with a higher RPM will be able to deliver the goods to the CPU more quickly for this purpose. HDDs on Plex servers are usually a minimum of 1TB at 7,200RPM.
Redundant arrays of independent disks (RAID) are a means of combining multiple HDDs or SSDs so they function as a unified or contiguous hardware entity. This is normally done through RAID 0 (“striping”) or RAID 1 (“mirroring”). The former setup evenly distributes data across both drives to double the read and write speeds while the latter simply mirrors the data of the first drive to the second one.
Best NAS for Plex Server FAQ
A) “What hardware is ideal for a NAS that’s running Plex?”
For home use, you’re recommended to have 1GB of RAM for every 1TB of storage and a minimum of 1TB to hold your media for hosting. You should also have a minimum CPU of an Intel Core i3, preferably of the latest generation. When you step into enterprise-level hosting, those specifications take intuitive leaps upstream: Intel Core i7, 16GB RAM and at least 8TB storage depending on the exact purpose of the server and what will be hosted.
However, these are general figures and won’t necessarily account for increased needs in cases where you need an inordinately larger amount of storage, more CPU to handle a larger number of clients and so on. Fortunately, a Plex NAS is capable of running smoothly on as little as a Pentium Celeron, 200GB of storage and 512MB of RAM. These are really small figures in the grand scheme, but if you opt for a Plex server strictly for sharing text files and SHD video, it’ll prove well-enough rounded to handle your needs.
B) “How do I get my NAS hooked up to my other devices?”
You’ll need to install Plex Server on a PC and use this to set up the NAS itself remotely on the network. After that, you should install the Plex app on your Apple and Android devices to link up with the NAS on the same local network that it’s on. The media will be received through the Plex app for viewing on your device.
C) “Can I add more media to my NAS to expand what Plex can deliver?”
You should be able to forward information to the NAS using the Plex app or the USB connections on the NAS itself. Since you’ll require an interface to authorize transfers, the USB trick normally doesn’t work unless the machine is configured to automatically copy the contents of attached drives or you tether it directly to your PC using an adapter.
D) “Are there any devices or software combinations that won’t work with a Plex-loaded NAS?”
Every device should work with a Plex-loaded NAS. Apple, Android, Linux and Windows devices of all operating environments should work just fine, including all versions of all browsers and media players. The idea behind a NAS transcoder is that any file format can be tailored to the requirements of client devices whether the restraints are on resolution, bit rate, file type or codec levels.
E) “Why is my media buffering constantly?”
This is normally due to a bottleneck in the network, drive speed or CPU. For most cases, the CPU, in particular, will be the problem, and it’ll owe to transcoding woes while the system works out what you’re viewing the content on and what format it needs to be delivered in as a result. The simplest solution is to upgrade the offending component if you can work out what’s causing the choke. Refer to the first question in this section for clarification on what you should use to ensure a smooth experience.
At the bottom of it all, a NAS is really just a PC that’s designed to support other computer devices rather than be used directly by the user. As such, the hardware under the hood is designed to run constantly, which means low heat, low noise and low power consumption.
This can be difficult to pull off while maintaining a reasonable amount of processing power, which is why hardware acceleration is important to the successful transcoding operations of a Plex NAS. Without the acceleration, transcoding becomes a difficult matter that can make or break the Plex experience, and as you now know, a Plex NAS absolutely depends on transcoding to be worthwhile.
Going forward, you can expect to see what we’ve always seen: more improvements to processing power, memory, and storage capacity. These are the same upgrades that you’ll see to your smartphone, tablet, and PC because, well, NAS systems are PCs at the end of the day. You might wonder if there will ever be a day when we’ll see a server solution that can be hosted from a smartphone, and while it conceptually sounds like a logical step at some point, we’re not there yet.
Concerns with battery life, processing power, and data plans are interfering with the concept; at best, it can only be realized with text files and other small media at the moment.
For now, it’s hard to argue with a small box that you keep in the corner of your room on a desk. However, you always have the option of simply running a Plex server straight off your PC or laptop if you so choose. Just keep in mind that the experience likely won’t be as fluid, and if you should ever shut the system off, you’ll lose your server connection.