Last Updated on December 17, 2021
Plex is a one of the most popular platforms that allows users to consolidate all of their multimedia files into a service called a Plex Server. From there, the files can be accessed from other devices.
If you have a library of movies, for example, you can designate a computer to act as the server, store your video files in it, and with an app on your phone, you can stream your media files.
Not only that, you can even install Plex on a standalone network-attached storage (NAS) devices with a LAN or WiFi interface. These devices allow your multimedia content to be accessible and streamed through a smartphone, tablet, computer, or even a smart TV.
Plex essentially allows file sharing at a more user-controlled level. To pull it off, you’ll need the best hard drives for Plex. These are more durable and can work for a longer period of time.
In this article, we will be analyzing all the facets and features that define the best hard drive for Plex.
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Comparison of Top Hard Drives for Plex Server
|Seagate Exos X||3.5"|
|WD My |
|WD My |
My Cloud Pro
With WD Red
1. Seagate Exos X – Recommended High Performance Hard Drive for NAS
A high performance enterprise grade hard drive but with a very reasonable and a competitive price tag.
The Exos line of hard drives resemble the best that Seagate has to offer. Considered as their flag ship hard drive product, the Exos hard drive boasts some of the best endurance numbers in the market. It can achieve this by utilizing some of the most advanced manufacturing techniques, such as helium sealed drive design, which has uniform density without any porosity.
It also comes with several capacity options, making it easier for customers to buy according to their needs.
With each Exos hard drive, customers get about 500 TB/year workload rate along with an MTBF rating of 2.5 million hours! This is far more than what an average hard drive is rated.
Other than that, the hard drive spins at 7,200 rpms, providing up to 261 MB/s Max Sustained data rate coupled with a 256MB cache for readily accessing frequently used files.
All these numbers make it the best possible mechanical HDD for your Plex Media Server.
2. Seagate IronWolf NAS – Dedicated NAS Hard Drive for Plex
A high-performance dedicated internal hard disk drive for NAS and Plex.
This dedicated NAS drive is great for users who want a hard drive particularly for dedicated storage servers .
Being a NAS storage means it has a much higher workload rate as well as a high mean time between failure (MTBF) compared to a normal drive. On top of that, it can handle simultaneous workloads, making it excellent for multiple plex users.
It comes in a wide variety of sizes, allowing users with different needs to completely customize their storage options as they please.
Users with computers that have multiple drive bays can have up to eight of these drives configured to work together seamlessly.
The drive has a very high cache of 256 MB, but a much lower 180 TB/year workload rate as compared to the Seagate Exos above. The cache stores commonly accessed files at a location that’s much easier to access, thus allowing you to read files from the HDD much faster.
As far as the speed is concerned, it is slower than the Seagate Exos X above with a max sustained data rate of 210 MB/s but comes with features dedicated for NAS storages such as rotational vibration sensors.
Additionally, you get 7200 rpm (rotations per minute) with the drive. This allows for a decent performance particularly when multiple users have to access the Plex Media.
The drive is specialized for NAS enclosures with upto 8 x 3.5″ drive bays. If you plan to have more than 8 drives in your Plex server, then Seagate IronWolf Pro version is recommended.
With great performance, high endurance, and a health monitoring system, Seagate IronWolf NAS is one of the best hard drives for Plex. It is specialized for NAS meaning it can run uninterrupted for long periods and handle large workloads.
3. WD RED NAS – Affordable Hard Drive for NAS
This yet another 3.5 inch drive is built specifically for NAS systems on a budget. As a result, it has a reasonably high workload rate as well as a high MTBF.
However, compared to the Seagate IronWolf NAS above, this is has a slower RPM of 5400 but the sequential transfer rate is more or less the same at about 210 MB/s.
The difference in performance between 5400 vs 7200 RPM is mostly experienced when you have multiple users accessing the Plex media. You also generally get a longer warranty with 7200 RPM drives.
Slower RPM, however, translates to lower heat generated as well as lower power consumption.
Another important notion that goes in favor of 5400 RPM drives is the limited Gigabit network speed for most users. The network speed can be a bigger bottleneck for data transfer as compared to the disk spinning speed.
So while this drive is not recommended for a robust Plex Media Server, for an individual user this can be more than sufficient.
4. Seagate IronWolf 110 – Specialized NAS SATA SSD
SSDs are much better than HDDs when it comes to read and write speeds. This 2.5-Inch SATA SSD is no different and can sustain speeds of up to 560MB/s.
SSDs on a Plex server can be used in two ways. Firstly, you can use them as the primary data storage for an all SSD media server, OR you can use them for tiering/caching.
You can cache the Plex meta-data on an SSD and leave the actual media data on the HDD. This can result in some exceptional speed improvements.
SSDs are expensive and hence building an all SSD Plex media server is not possible for all. Hence, the caching method is highly recommended for average users.
The difference between a normal and a NAS based SSD such as this IronWolf 110 is that the later comes with dedicated features such as DuraWrite technology which enhances performance as well as prolongs the life of an SSD.
5. WD My Cloud EX2 – Dedicated External Drive with Plex and Raid support
Dedicated External NAS for Plex. Cloud connectivity for syncing all of your devices.
If you are looking for a simple external solution for your dedicated Plex media server, then WD My Cloud EX2 is a drive that you can look into.
This is a desktop external NAS drive with a built in processor, RAM and 2 x 3.5″ WD RED NAS drives. The transfer speed and performance of this drive, however, is based on the Gigabit Ethernet connection.
It can achieve transfer speed of about 110 MB/s read and about 70MB/s write. This is slower than the internal drives we had mentioned earlier. This is because of the networking bottleneck. The actual transfer speeds of WD RED NAS is much higher than the network tested speeds.
Regardless of that, it offers plethora of useful features for being a dedicated home media center. For starters, it features support for Plex Media server.
Note that while this can be used as a Plex server, it cannot transcode despite having an internal CPU and RAM. Thus, as a Plex server, it can only allow for supported media file type such as MP4.
If you need a dedicated external Plex drive that can also transcode, then My Cloud Pro series is recommended.
In addition to that, it having 2 drives gives you a lot of data security and redundancy in RAID 1 configuration.
The drive, by default, comes in RAID 1 configuration. Therefore, if you choose to get a 4 TB option, you can change it to RAID 0 configuration to get a total of 8 TB – but that is not recommended.
6. WD My Cloud Pro Pr4100 – Premium Plex Media Server Device
Premium Plex media server. Top of the line with hardware encoding functionality.
The My CloudPro Series are the premium dedicated storage servers from WD. They offer top of the line features that enable various functionality. One of the main functions of this hard drive are its built in Plex media server capability.
While this isn’t particularly a hard drive itself, for those looking for a robust external solution for their Plex media storage, this certainly something that you can look into.
Although there are some other hard drive devices that also feature Plex support, the My Cloud Pro PR 4100 has built-in hardware transcoding.
This enables ultrafast transcoding of media files inside the hard drive. In fact, it is the only device that can utilize this functionality without the need of a Plex Pass.
This hard disk device can achieve this through its built-in Intel CPU and 4Gb of RAM, which make is as powerful as a PC! This allows the My Cloud Pro to cater to a large number of users and make streaming a breeze.
As far as connection is concerned, the device connects to your existing network through a dedicated LAN interface. Additionally, you get support for multiple RAID implementations out of the box.
This is particularly helpful in creating backups of your data or improve the performance depending upon the RAID configuration you choose.
You can get this device both as diskless as well as with a choice of upto 56 TB. All in all, if you are looking for a multi-bay professional grade external option, then this is could well be the best storage drive for Plex.
How to Choose the Right Plex Hard Drive?
With any media server, the intention is to have your content available and ready for access, all the time.
This entails having a computer or device running your Plex server operate continuously over long periods of time.
This approach usually introduces a lot of stress to the system, especially spinning hard drives that are prone to mechanical failures that can lead to data loss. In worst-case scenarios, the drives might develop bad sectors and become completely inaccessible.
So how do you go about choosing the right drives for your Plex servers? We discuss in the following text.
Does Size Matter?
Size of a hard disk is related to the size of your entire media content. Having a 16TB hard drive to store 500GB worth of data is simply an overkill.
At the same time, if you have data in terabytes and know that you will be increasing your media library, it’s smart to plan ahead and get a bigger hard drive.
However, If you are serious about setting up a Plex server, chances are you have a large amount of multimedia content. Therefore, you need to consider storage capacities especially when your media library is large and expected to grow.
You may swap out smaller drives for larger ones when you’re running out of space, but good planning at first will help a lot.
Also, you need a drive that can implement auto-backups. This will come in handy in the event of a disk failure you forgot to manually do the backup of.
How Fast Should It Be and Do SSDs Matter for Plex Server?
Speed is a very important aspect for any Plex server. You want your content to be available for viewing as soon as you hit the play button on your client device. When your Plex server needs to stream to multiple devices concurrently, a low-speed drive will definitely pose serious lag issues.
That’s why, you should look for HDDs with higher rpms (rotations per minute). Higher rpm means faster read/write speeds.
If HDDs are insufficient, then SSDs are the way to go. They are very fast and have high bandwidths that enable streaming to multiple devices without issues.
Apart from high speeds, SSDs can also be used as cache devices in order to enhance multimedia delivery capabilities.
Plex servers technically have two kinds of directories: data and media. The data directory is where all of your multimedia’s thumbnails, poster art, metadata, and temp files are stored.
The media directory is where your actual multimedia files are stored. So you can easily point the data directory onto an SSD and the media directory onto an HDD. This will essentially supercharge your streaming content.
This methodology should be implemented with a grain of salt though.
SSDs have one huge problem: limited write lifecycles. If you have a lot of users on your network using the Plex server, this may kill your SSD.
Plex does a lot of read and write as it transcodes the media. Hence for an SSD with a limited write lifecycle, this can pose some serious performance issues.
Is Endurance Important? TCO, MTBF, Workload for Plex
Endurance is perhaps the most important aspect for any hard drive to be used in a Plex server.
In geek terminology, endurance is usually denoted as TCO, which stands for total cost of operation. TCO isn’t measured by just the cost metric though. In fact, it’s a mix of various aspects that are considered according to the specific workload.
In the case of Plex, Workload Rate and MTBF are a major concern.
Workload Rate refers to the amount of data a hard drive can read/write in a year, usually denoted as TB/year. If a hard drive surpasses this rate, it’s reliability starts to decline.
This is not a big concern if you don’t plan to use your Plex server a lot. However, if you do or if you have several users, a hard drive with a high Workload Rate is a must.
Another part of TCO is the MTBF, which stands for mean time between failure. Hard drive manufacturers will have you believe that their drives can have an MTBF of 2.5 million hours.
This basically means that on average the hard drive will fail after 285 years! Which, of course, is preposterous. Generally speaking almost all hard drives have a lifetime of 5 to 7 years.
Apart from the nerdy jargon, there are real endurance aspects to consider. In order to play video files smoothly and on a wide range of devices, Plex server usually converts the video to a different file format.
This conversion technique is called transcoding, and it happens automatically, in real-time, while you are watching the video.
Now you must be wondering where that transcoded data, albeit temporary, is being stored. Yep, you guessed it, inside your hard drive!
Now imagine several users trying to stream content on individual devices, all through the same server. Such a heavy load on a hard drive requires that it has excellent endurance credentials, coupled with speed and size.
Types of Drives and Which one To Choose for Plex
Due to their lower cost per GB, HDDs (mechanical hard drives) usually make the most sense for deploying a Plex server. However, not all HDDs are made the same.
Desktop Grade Hard Drives
A desktop grade hard drive is your generic hard drive, found predominantly in most of the general consumer grade desktops and laptops.
These drives are usually small, boast slow speeds and have very low endurance ratings. However, they are extremely cheap.
WD Blue and Seagate Barracuda are two popular average desktop grade hard drives.
Surveillance Drives – Slow But High Workload Rate
As the name suggests, surveillance based hard drives are primarily used for CCTV setups. These are primarily found in NVRs (network video recorders) and DVRs (digital video recorders).
Their speeds are generally slow but they have high workload rates, which enable them to work 24/7.
NAS Drives – High MTBF and Workload Rate
In short for Network Assisted Storage, NAS drives can be considered the sweet spot for almost all media servers.
These hard drives come with better speeds and higher caches which enable seamless access of media files over the network. Furthermore, they have a high workload rate and a higher MTBF.
They are, however, expensive.
Enterprise Grade Hard Drives
Enterprise grade hard drives are at the top of the HDD food chain.
They are primarily designed and made for high availability environments such as medium to large businesses.
Most enterprise grade hard drives are made with the best possible manufacturing techniques, which ensure the best workload rates and MTBF. Therefore, they can be a very good choice for setting up a Plex Server.
SSDs are Fast but Have Low Endurance
Solid-state drives are fast. Period. There is essentially no comparison between an HDD and SSD, when it comes to speed.
However, they fall short on the other two main aspects: low endurance and capacity.
Although large-sized SSDs are available in the market, they are horrendously more expensive than their HDD counterparts.
All SSDs are based on NAND flash memory, which is susceptible to wear due to repeated read and write cycles. Constant adding and erasing of data inside these NAND chips makes them invalid and essentially kill the whole drive.
How to Setup Home Media Server?
The following video sums up the process very well.
The best hard drives for Plex are those that are suitable for media servers in general. The most hardcore solution would be to utilize an SSD to store the data directory and then use an enterprise-grade hard drive to store the media files. But that would be overkill.
The ideal configuration would entail that you use an SSD along with a NAS HDD. This gives you the best of both worlds. NAS drives are made to be reliable and have a high mean time between failures (MTBF). This makes them highly recommended for plex servers.
Alternatively, if price a huge concern and you want to have a Plex server running without delay, then any large capacity hard disk would suffice. You don’t necessarily have to use an SSD.
However, if there are multiple users using the same storage, then you will certainly benefit from an SSD as it would give your generic hard drive a much-needed boost.
The only issue with recommending SSD wholeheartedly is due to their poor life span. They have limited read and write cycles and constant addition and deletion of data from an SSD eventually render it useless.
Finally, if hard drives are just too complicated and you simply want an out-of-the-box Plex server experience, you can choose to go for standalone external HDD devices that are cloud-ready and have built-in support for creating your own Plex server.