The Ultimate Server Part 1 - Getting Started

This page was last updated on March 2nd, 2015

What is our end goal?

This guide will help you transform a spare computer into the ultimate cord cutters server.

Upon completion, you will be able to do the following:

  • Automatically download all your favorite TV shows immediately after they air
  • Automatically search for and download movies and music
  • Have all of your media neatly organized and named consistently
  • Have your TV shows and movies automatically upgrade in quality when there is better available
  • Be able to stream all of your content to any PC/console/Roku/FireTV/ChromeCast in your house
  • Stream all of your content remotely to any smart phone or tablet
  • Share your library with friends so they can stream to any of their devices
  • Remotely manage your library so you can add new media from anywhere, any time

Okay, but what will we actually be setting up?

To get all of this awesomeness working, we will be installing several pieces of software and configuring them so they all play nicely together. Using Windows as the base OS, we will be using the following software:

  • Plex: This is the main brains of the operation. It watches over our media folders, finds and loads metadata, and handles all the streaming to the clients.
  • Sonarr: Formally known as NzbDrone. This is the PVR software for our TV shows. This monitors NZB and torrent feeds and automatically finds shows when they are ready to download. It is also what handles all the renaming and organizing so that Plex can find the files.
  • CouchPotato: Like Sonarr, but for movies. This program keeps and eye out for movies and snatches them when they are available.
  • Headphones: You can probably guess. This is like Sonarr and CouchPotato, but for music.
  • SABnzbd: When the above applications find media posted on newsgroups, they use SABnzbd to do the actual downloading.
  • Deluge: If the media is available via torrents, Deluge is how it gets downloaded.

If we're building a server, why not use linux?

You certainly can use Linux, and that is another guide I will write up eventually. Windows is actually the preferred OS for this setup, since Plex and Sonarr are optimized for running on it.

What you should expect

Setting up a server like this is not hard per se, but it does takes a bit of patience and dedication. I will be going through the process step-by-step, but there are likely to be some parts where you are forced to stray from my guide to make up for differences in set ups.

If you don't understand the prerequisites listed below, then you may be a bit out of your league with this. With that said, I still encourage you to try and reach out for help if you need it.

Requirements for this guide 

  • You should have a computer that you can dedicate to this purpose. Nothing is stopping you from using your general use desktop for this, but things are much easier if this is only purpose this computer serves. Specs aren't that important, but I would recommend you have at least a quad-core processor in the box. To give you an idea, my dedicated server uses an Intel Core 2 Q6600 and has 4GB of RAM and it gets by just fine. The more simultaneous users you expect to have, the better the hardware you will need. If you're trying to balance a build and a budget, know that CPU trumps all else for this use case, so dump all your money to more, faster cores before you add more RAM. 
  • Windows 7 or higher. I recommend Windows 8 or 8.1. The reason I recommend Windows 8 is because it has Storage Spaces, which I will get into later.
  • Lots of hard drive storage. Whether this is one large drive or many different hard drives, we'll cover it later in the guide.
  • You should also have a basic understanding of networking. You will need to be able to forward ports on your router. If you don't know how to do that, I encourage you to read this wiki to get an understanding of what it is, and then consult this database to learn how to do it on your specific hardware.

Ready to start?

Good! Your first task is to perform a fresh install of Windows onto your PC. You should be comfortable with doing this.

Our blank canvas: a fresh Windows 8.1 install

Our blank canvas: a fresh Windows 8.1 install

Once you have Windows running and have it connected to the internet, you are ready to move on to the next section, where we ACTUALLY get started.