My old frankenclone is sadly out of date (save for the newer drives) and I’m looking for a replacement with an eye towards keeping a machine for some time as I don’t tend to chase the latest & greatest. It’s primary use will be as a file/media server (using Plex), managing an ever growing iTunes library of media, some photo editing, and light use. It will run more or less continuously and may not be physically touched for days or even weeks as at a time a DW & I both use our laptops for everyday things.
Given the above, what things should I specifically look for in a new machine?
How far up the I7 chain should I go in terms of value and cost?
16G of RAM would be sufficient?
Should I think in terms of Windows 11 compatibility (or already installed)?
Any other hints on shopping?
What you describe, with the potential exception of photo editing, sounds a lot like a perfect fit for a Linux (Ubuntu or Linux Mint for simplicity) installation with PLEX installed and running. You may even be able to do this on your current system if the hardware isn’t failing.
Computing parts are very expensive at the moment, and if you have the drives already, that’s the biggest hardware requirement for a file server. The amount of RAM and the CPU specs are negligible since a file server isn’t heavy on those resources. If you can offload the photo editing to your laptop(s), that may be the cheaper option for now.
If you’re looking to build something new, I would check the recommended specifications for your photo (or video) editing software and go with that for RAM and CPU. The file server just needs a lot of spinning disk storage. If you do rebuild, I’d recommend getting an NVMe or Solid State Disk (SSD) drive to install the operating system on. It’ll make your quality of life better. Get spinning disks to put your files on for the file server since that’s the cheaper option for storage.
I’m personally staying on Windows 10 for as long as I can. Microsoft has a history that seemingly every other OS release is awful. Windows 98 (bad), Windows 98SE (great), Windows ME (horrendous), Windows 2000 (amazing in its day), Windows XP & SP 1(not the best), Windows XP SP2 (great for years), Windows Vista (trainwreck), Windows 7 (I miss that OS…), Windows 8 and 8.1 (UGH), Windows 10 (Going to use it until it goes EoL), Windows 11 (meh, not going to chance it lol).
My old frankenclone is in a full tower case running WIN10 Pro 64-bit. The mobo is a Gigbyte Z77X-UD3H with an I5-3330 chip and 8GB of DDR3 800MHz RAM. I have a SSD about 3yo for the C-drive and just replaced the old data drive with a WD 2Tb Red at 7200rpm. Costco is running a special where for $90 I can get a 5Tb external drive so that’ll be my physical back up.
There’s a pretty good computer shop nearby. I’m wondering if I should maybe just go talk to them and see what they can do. Maybe they’ll have a barebones system they can port my system to.
As long as they don’t immediately try to sell you a brand new system. They should if nothing else be able to get you upgraded to 16GB of RAM on that system (Gigabyte specs show ability to install 32gb). The chip, even from 2012, shouldn’t be having issues with the usage you’ve described. Thankfully that motherboard has solid state capacitors and those are one of the first components to die.
I would have them do a RAM upgrade, a thorough cleaning to prevent overheating and if you’re feeling up to it a CPU upgrade if they can source a used one in good shape (I7 of that generation). This may require a BIOS upgrade, but that’s simple for them and should take 15 mins once they have the update binary on a USB drive.
If the system is struggling with photo editing, the extra RAM and perhaps a low-end GPU will help.
I looked up the specs and the best it’ll take is an I7-3XXX chip. RAM upgrade for sure.
The place is primarily for repair/upgrades; I don’t think he even does any new system sales. Twice I’ve gone to him with problems which he diagnosed for free. (One was for an old HDD that I couldn’t read and had failed; the other turned out to be a mobo problem in a laptop which was cost prohibitive in terms of repair.)
Hard to compare between users, but I have an old desktop I purchased refurbished from Amazon. Paid $220. Intel Core 2 Duo chip whatever that means – I think early dual-core business machine. 8 gig of memory though which would be a lot for a business class computer. Came with fresh Win7 install, but I upgraded to Win 10 somewhere along the line (don’t remember when as that doesn’t matter as I dual boot ubuntu and I run Ubuntu 99% of the time. My point is that this is a low-performance system, but running Linux.
On this slug of a machine, I run Plex Media Server to feed video and music to my plex-enabled devices (Roku running plex to a TV is most common; tablets is another). Some receive signals via WiFi, some receive via ethernet. All the media is stored on external drives (USB2 connected to the desktop) which are not high performance by any means.
That is all I use the machine for these days. It runs 24/7 (mostly idling. It only gets shut down for Plex upgrades and the occasional OS upgrade requiring a reboot, then it’s right back in service. I have zero problems with this low-power media server set-up.
So like the others have said if you can offload your heavy demand programs somewhere else, then no need to put a lot of money into a media server. Youtube has tons of examples of how to create a media server out of about any configuration.
Next, I want to use network drives as my media storage, but I’m trying to figure out how to get that done so everything works automatically. Network shares always have a password input screen even for those shares that don’t require a password - you just click on through. However, this stop blocks the flow of getting an automatic connection to my plex server. There’s a way, I just haven’t found it.
How many devices will you stream off of it at once? Let’s say 3 max, probably 1-2 I’d bet. No matter even if it was 5 streamers an i5 can EASILY handle this and last for many years. This is also making sure your videos are a format that does not need Transcoding.
M2 drive for windows and software installs
SSD if you can for files unless you have 100 terabytes of movies, then good old hard drives will do just fine. No need to go overkill.
W11 is great.
You need not spend much to do this.
There won’t be more then three at a time – max. Even that would be rare.
Folks are making good points about a dedicated server. There are lots of used computers in Austin and I should be able to pick up a midtower Dell with an I7-4 pretty inexpensively.
Thanks for the ideas!