Turn a Mac mini into a media server with Plex

With the arrival of the fourth-generation Apple TV, I found myself trying out the Plex media server, and I realized that using Plex is one of the best ways to watch media on the Apple TV.

You can install the Plex server software on a variety of devices: your Mac, a PC, a NAS (network attached storage device), and more. (Heck, you could even set it up on a Raspberry Pi.)

It’s advantageous that Plex’s server be always on, so you can start watching your movies and TV shows without having to boot your Mac. If you have a large media collection, you may want to use a Mac as a dedicated device to run Plex. The Mac mini is a perfect candidate for this. Plex doesn’t need a lot of horsepower to manage and stream your media, unless it transcodes video. (If you do have a lot of videos that need transcoding, a NAS might not be a good fit for Plex.)

In this article, I’m going to tell you how you can set up a Mac mini as a dedicated Plex server. You can, of course, use that Mac mini for other things, such as using it as a file server, or for Time Machine backups.

Read the rest of the article on Macworld.

6 thoughts on “Turn a Mac mini into a media server with Plex

  1. A fine piece, Kirk. My only quibbles:

    – As you note here, a big advantage of a headless Mini on the LAN is the ability to also host backups and general file serving. It’s a *far* more reliable and flexible solution than any Time Capsule, NAS, or whatever. This makes the Mini *incredibly* cost-effective if you’re also using Plex. Could’ve used a paragraph in the Macworld piece, IMHO.

    – Kudos in noting older Mini’s are quite up to the job of both transcoding and other headless server-esque functions. Spend as little as possible, on either a used Mini, or a new Mini. With external drives, worrying about the internal HD, RAM, and modern ports are all overkill. Again, spend as little as possible. You can actually go back as far as the *Early 2009* Mini when modern GPU’s capable of handling 1080 video without involving the CPU were introduced and do just fine with Plex serving and other server-esque functions.

    – Finally, if you have room for your Mini and drives in HDMI proximity to your teevee, using the Mini as both server and *endpoint* for Plex is a kickass option. No transcoding ever necessary, so better PQ playback, and even a better Plex client than the AppleTV offers. If you don’t have the room, but do have the small budget necessary, adding a second, ultra-cheap ‘n’ used Mini by the teevee as your Plex endpoint is also a nice option.

  2. A fine piece, Kirk. My only quibbles:

    – As you note here, a big advantage of a headless Mini on the LAN is the ability to also host backups and general file serving. It’s a *far* more reliable and flexible solution than any Time Capsule, NAS, or whatever. This makes the Mini *incredibly* cost-effective if you’re also using Plex. Could’ve used a paragraph in the Macworld piece, IMHO.

    – Kudos in noting older Mini’s are quite up to the job of both transcoding and other headless server-esque functions. Spend as little as possible, on either a used Mini, or a new Mini. With external drives, worrying about the internal HD, RAM, and modern ports are all overkill. Again, spend as little as possible. You can actually go back as far as the *Early 2009* Mini when modern GPU’s capable of handling 1080 video without involving the CPU were introduced and do just fine with Plex serving and other server-esque functions.

    – Finally, if you have room for your Mini and drives in HDMI proximity to your teevee, using the Mini as both server and *endpoint* for Plex is a kickass option. No transcoding ever necessary, so better PQ playback, and even a better Plex client than the AppleTV offers. If you don’t have the room, but do have the small budget necessary, adding a second, ultra-cheap ‘n’ used Mini by the teevee as your Plex endpoint is also a nice option.

  3. Good point about connecting to a TV, though I’d be hesitant about that because of hard drive noise (even if the drives are fanless).

  4. Good point about connecting to a TV, though I’d be hesitant about that because of hard drive noise (even if the drives are fanless).

  5. I’ve got an old Mini in HDMI vicinity to my main teevee as my Plex endpoint, and the external HD noise is completely unnoticeable, other than the occasional spin-up. And I’m not even using Green or A/V HD’s, which would further eliminate the issue.

    Also, while you didn’t mention it, I’ll note that the Mini fan almost never gets noticeably invoked, since Plex playback is all native, with no transcoding. (The only time I ever notice the Mini fan noise is when I’m running a Java app to offload multicast recordings off my TiVo to integrate into Plex, or if I’m transcoding physical media discs. But neither are done when teevee watching is going on.)

  6. I’ve got an old Mini in HDMI vicinity to my main teevee as my Plex endpoint, and the external HD noise is completely unnoticeable, other than the occasional spin-up. And I’m not even using Green or A/V HD’s, which would further eliminate the issue.

    Also, while you didn’t mention it, I’ll note that the Mini fan almost never gets noticeably invoked, since Plex playback is all native, with no transcoding. (The only time I ever notice the Mini fan noise is when I’m running a Java app to offload multicast recordings off my TiVo to integrate into Plex, or if I’m transcoding physical media discs. But neither are done when teevee watching is going on.)

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