What kind of CPU do I need for my Server?

This article is primarily aimed toward Windows, Mac, or Linux users who plan to run Plex Media Server on a regular computer. The server is also available for many NAS models and knowing how the processor available in a particular NAS performs is still useful information. Users interested in running the server on a NAS device should begin by reading our information about NAS devices.

Related Page: NAS Devices
Related Page: NAS Devices > Is Plex Media Server on a NAS Right for Me?

Determine Your Usage Scenario

What Kind of Use?

There is no single answer to the question of what kind of CPU you need; what's necessary will vary from person to person and setup to setup. There are some guidelines you can use to get an idea of what might be appropriate for you, though. First, you need to determine a few things:

  • What kind of Plex apps will be connecting? (Android, iOS, Plex Home Theater, Roku, etc.)
  • How many apps will be playing content at the same time?
  • Will access be local, remote, or a combination?
  • Will you be using a lot of content with subtitles?

These questions are important because they can help you understand what sort of processing power may be required in your setup. Different apps and different kinds of streams may be able to Direct Play or Direct Stream while others may require full transcoding.

Related Page: How are Direct Play, Direct Stream, and Transcoding different?

What Will That Use Require?

Transcoding is the most CPU-intensive option of how content can be handled. The answers to the questions above will provide guidance on how much transcoding might be required.

  • When used locally, Plex Home Theater and Plex Media Player almost never requires transcoding
  • The majority of other Plex apps will require transcoding at least sometimes
  • You're more likely to be able to Direct Play or Direct Stream when you're accessing content locally as the network speeds available are usually much greater
  • Remote access will very often require transcoding, regardless of which Plex App is used (because the network speed often won't support the full quality)
  • Using subtitles in many Plex apps will require that the subtitles be "burned in" to the video, which will require transcoding

The more situations where transcoding will be required simultaneously, the more you'll need to worry about your CPU capabilities.

CPU Requirements

The most basic thing to remember is that the more Plex apps you have playing content at the same time, the more CPU power you'll need. Generally speaking, if you have two Plex apps requiring transcoded content at the same time, that will require about twice the CPU processing power compared to if there was only one app playing content.

If you want very basic minimum suggestions:

  • No transcoding: Core 2 Duo 1.6GHz (NAS devices based on ARM or PowerPC processors should also be capable of at least one stream with no transcoding)
  • Single 720p transcode: Core 2 Duo 2.0 GHz
  • Single 1080p transcode: Core 2 Duo 2.4GHz

If you'll need to support more than one simultaneous transcode, you'll need a more powerful processor.

Related Page: NAS Devices

The Guideline

Very roughly speaking, for a single full-transcode of a video, the following PassMark scores are a good guideline for a requirement:

  • 1080p/10Mbps: 2000 PassMark
  • 720p/4Mbps: 1500 PassMark

The CPU Benchmark website is a good resource to see what sort of PassMark score a particular processor received.

Related Page: CPUbenchmark.net

You can also try doing a search such as "Core i5 4440 passmark" on Google or similar to help you find information for a particular processor.

Actual processing requirements can vary dramatically even between content which may seem like it should be similar. Typically, transcoding 720p (or lower) video will take fewer resources than 1080p video, though that won't always be the case.

Warning!: This guideline should not be used as a concrete measurement. Instead, it can be used to help give you a rough idea of what you may require.

How to Use the Guideline

Basically, if you think you may be needing to handle 4 simultaneous content streams and they might all be 1080p content that requires transcoding, then you would take the base guideline (2000) and multiply it by the number of simultaneous streams (4) to get your rough requirement, which would be a PassMark score of 8000 in this case.

In this example, that means you would want to look at processors with an 8000 score or higher. Also, keep in mind:

  • If you'll be using your computer for other things beyond simply running Plex Media Server, you'll want to make sure you have some extra power so that you can continue performing other tasks
  • It's a good idea to remember that your usage today may not be the same as your usage in the future. You never know when you'll get a new device to run Plex, share content with a friend, etc., which could all result in more usage.