Sizing home lab nas, plex, virtualization servers

I’m looking for input on sizing a nas and plex/owncloud server. I’m planning to build a desktop in the near future an could just run docker and virtualbox on there.

I’m playing with the idea of making a server just for virtualservers/docker as well… but this isn’t super critical at the moment.

I work as a software developer (linux/java) and have everything right now on my laptop.
Current backup solution is hope and wishy thinking (no backup…just move forward)

My laptop’s hd is 500GB
I like the mini-itx form factor so am looking for something small and power efficient.
Budget: 5k (not planning to use everything)
What is most important for me is footprint (mini-itx) and power efficiency.

I’m not looking to go overkill but at the same time I don’t want to paint myself in the corner either.

If anyone has in resources that might point me into the right direction or have any input I would be grateful.


For compact-ness sake

I like the idea of a NUC8i7HNK

(the nuc as two internal sata ports… so could have it all in one unit, until you out grow the storage you can fit internally)

or/and a small storage server with 2-4TB of sata SSDs shared to the NUC over iSCSI or NFS.

This entirely depends on how much gear and dataspace you want to get. If you want to have a small foot print you can easily get a 4 bay NAS and a NUC to get everything on your checklist.

If you want to whitebox it you can still go small with cases like the Fractal Node 304 that can hold 6 full sized HDDs and build out that way. With another one that would be your VM host.

The world is your oyster man and welcome to the insanity that is homelabbing.

First I’d say, out of experience, only have room for 2-4 drives in the enclosure, and not have the ability to exchange to a faster CPU, can quickly become an issue for a homelab/NAS, especially when plex is in the mix.

I was recently in similar situation as you. I decided to spend a while scouring eBay for some decent offers and get a sense of the market. From having built several home servers for myself over the years, it’s not worth it, it’s way too expensive compared to used enterprise. The quality of equipment you get from enterprise is simply higher, and you’d get a lot more from there than building a server from scratch yourself.

I ended up getting a Dell T320 Server, 16 GB RAM, 1x Xeon E5-2407 4-Core cpu, 2x450W PSU, 2x Gb NIC, 8x 3.5" Hotswap SAS/SATA, for €300. Over the following month, i managed to get a 10 Core Xeon E5-2470v2 for €32, 64 GB ECC RAM for €100, 2x 8TB SAS 12Gb for €250.

I didn’t care too much about power consumption, but i was very surprised when I saw it was only using 65W when running 9 docker containers I use in the home for this and that, among these are Emby Media Server, Docker Registry, MySQL dev server, Transmission/flexget and openvpn so friends and I have merged LANs, and a few others for this and that. Within the next month or two, I will move my bitbucket server, a few websites and a handful of APIs to my home server from AWS, and maybe 2-3 VMs running some test OS’es, and I doubt it will be too much for the server to handle it.

It is so quiet that I can’t even hear the fan running, and it’s standing 30cm from where I sit. At the same time, there’s also the benefit of iDRAC, which allows me to connect to it via a web interface, even when it’s turned off. Here I can remote shutdown/restart, monitor everything within reason, setup raids, do BIOS changes, and a lot more, without connecting anything other than power and network. iDRAC would allow me to install the server somewhere in a corner where it’d be out of the way.

Only thing i regret, just a bit, is that I didn’t go for a T420 or larger, for dual processor, it’s not something I really need, it’d just be nice. Who wouldn’t like to see 40 cores in htop.

There are also some other factors that are good to take into account for when building a NAS. Raid 5-6 on anything larger than 2TB drives is a bad idea due to the probability of another drive failure on a rebuild. Think it’s in the area of 4% success rate when having 4x8TB in Raid-5. Not the best odds. Therefore, room for more disks is a benefit in the long run, seeing that you’d be able to run a reasonably sized Raid 10 or similar.

Also, enterprise equipment is built to run 24/7, when properly maintained, they can do that at 100% utilization for a very long time without problems.

Just my 2 cents.

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Appreciate the feedback… been going back and forth now for a few weeks. At first I was thinking just building a xenserver or proxmox machine and visualize everything but realized thru reading a bunch of forum posts that virtualization freenas and plex are probably a bad idea.

I think what I’m struggling with is how much cpu/ memory do I really need. For freenas I believe its 1gb/per tb so that is easy enough. I have about 500gb so am thinking 4TB of usable storage should be good enough

I saw this post where basically freenas/plex/owncloud were bundled together.

This may be the best approach for me. I feel whenever I build a box I almost always go overkill and then regret

Thanks for the feedback… I was looking at a few supermicro machines as well. You def have a good point!

For best prices relative to the hardware you’d get, HP servers would be worth checking out. There are also a few good prices for Fujitsu servers, tho kinda rare, and therefore spares might be difficult to get down the line.

If you’d be interested, there are an abundance of Dell R710 and R510, and it’s therefore possible to get something very nice at a really good price. 710 is perfect for virtualization and 510 for storage (12 bay models available). Very nice home lab servers, the 710 is quiet enough to be in the office, can be heard tho.

Reason I chose Dell, is that I wasn’t too fussed with HP builds, they somehow appeared “plasticky”, I liked the order and sturdiness that Dell seemed to give. That’s just my personal opinion, am probably wrong, tho very happy with what I got. Also, Dell parts appear to be reused over several generations, which makes them quite cheap.

If you do chose to go for something like this, be aware of hard drive sector sizes, there are 512n (native), 512e (emulated) and 4kn (native). If you go for servers that were made before 2016, it’s close to safe to assume you need the 512 sector size disks, since 4k sector sizes weren’t released until 2016, the controllers I looked at in the various servers i researched were all 512 sector sizes. Also, double check if the controller can handle 2TB+ drives, I can say for sure that a Perc H710 with latest firmware handles 8TB with no probs.

The Dell T320, T420, T330 and T430 servers are all Fresh Air Compliant, I think it was called, and from what I remember, this means they are quiet enough to stand in an open office environment without bothering people in the room with fan noise. If someone knows specifics here, please do fill in, since I’m not 100% sure on what it’s called. I just know that mine is quiet enough to not be annoying.

What I did to keep an eye on eBay, was that I made filters which sent me daily emails. if you want to search for many things in one query, it’s just like making a tuple. For instance (E5-2450L,E5-2450L v2,E5-2470 v2) + Auction and so on. I made this for memory, CPU, hard drives and server models i was interested in, every day at noon, I received 4 emails with 5-20 new items each, added the interesting things to watchlist.

For drives, you can use SATA, just won’t be hot swap. But there’s no real point in doing so, since the SATA NAS drives cost just about the same as SAS, and if you have a SAS controller, it’s not really a competition imo. I like that SAS can read and write at the same time and are built to run 24/7 for years and years and years.


Expanding a bit on the 11th gen Dell servers… they’re cheap but quickly becoming dated. Getting started, they’re perfect since you can typically get an entire high spec server for less than $500.

I have been running an R710 for about a year now. Had I had it to do all over, I would have bought a 12 gen server but honestly the money spent vs. knowledge gained…I can’t complain.

Not to say those 11 gen Dells are too old to consider, I was able to score an R510 8 bay single CPU with 32 GB RAM for about $100 shipped. You can’t beat that… heck you can’t even get a hard drive for that! They will consume more power than newer servers but are certainly affordable. Especially for home use

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$5k is a huge budget.

i built this, and do similar things:

Asrock X470 Taichi
32 GB DDR4-3000 (pick your RAM)
2x 1TB Samsung Evo 860
1x 1TB Samsung Evo 970
1x AMD RX Vega 64 reference
Fractal Design Define R6 tempered glass
Corsair HX850i PSU

That’s not mini ITX, however you could get there by dropping the board to an A320 ITX board, removing the GPU and replacing with either something like an RX570 (or even an R5-2400G - still a quad core 8 thread machine), dropping the PSU down, and your choice of case.

If you don’t need CPU so much, even drop to a NUC, max out the RAM and stick the biggest M.2 SSD in there you can afford.

I wouldn’t go less than 4 cores/8 threads for VM use personally, and i’d prefer AMD to intel for the number of threads you can get for the money. That’s personal preference though - you’ve certainly got the budget to buy an X299 system if you can find one in ITX. Pretty sure there are threadripper ITX boards out there as well?

I’d definitely go all SSD if you can. I’d prioritise enough SSD storage over a lot of the other resources. That, and RAM. Multiple VMs (i.e., more than 1) on spinning disk is so… slow… if you’re used to SSD at all.

I err… assumed you were going to do everything in one box. 5k also opens up the option for multiple machines… maybe allocate say, $1k to a 4 bay NAS with some drives, and 2-3k on the VM/lab box?

Both silverstone ML05/ML06/ML09 and CS280 are good fit. Provide four or eight 2.5 inch slot with small size.

Also if there are any external 5.25 bays you can always do an SSD enclosure like the ICYDock stuff. I use a few of the 4 bay model now and they work great.

Link for the lazy.

5k is enough to get you all you want easily. Some of the Intel NUCs are decent options, but can be limited in storage without an additional NAS dock. You can also build something yourself, if you want

This should be more than powerful enough for what you want

This is a decent case for the drive space and form factor

Or there’s a less powerful version, but the CPU’s heatsink has no fan on it. You’d need either decent airflow going over it or to get a fan somehow affixed to it. Linked below is a chassis I believe would do alright.


I completely forgot about this. 6700, 8GB (easily upgradable) and 4 hotswap 3.5" bays.

Just throwing this out there… if a NUC is under consideration…

But if you have any interest what so ever in macOS (or iOS, etc.), the current Mac mini can be had with a 6 core, 1TB SSD, 32GB of RAM (user upgradeable) and Thunderbolt 3 connectivity (for high speed storage, eGPU, etc. outside the box) for about half your budget… (assuming it is USD).

Not necessarily saying it is the best bang for buck as a server, but as a developer it will also get you fully legal supported macOS platform to then be able to cover ALL development platforms (including macOS, iOS, watchOS, tvOS, etc.).

Thanks for all of the feedback, catching up on the comments. Really appreciate it!