- The NVIDIA Titan RTX can manage up to 55 simultaneous HEVC streams.
- The GTX 1050 Ti can handle 14 transcodes at a time and is a budget-friendly option.
- The NVIDIA Quadro RTX 5000 has no transcode session limit and can handle up to 55 simultaneous HEVC transcodes.
- The NVIDIA Quadro P1000 is highly space-efficient, has a low power draw, and can handle 14 transcodes.
- The RTX 4090 is excellent for gaming and transcoding, with 24 GB of VRAM and the ability to handle around 22 simultaneous transcodes.
Using a Plex Media Server is an excellent way to share your favorite broadcasts with friends and family worldwide. However, when doing so, the videos must often be transcoded when streamed through the server. Thus, the host must have a video card capable of handling the high load. Additionally, many consumer GPUs have a locked amount of threads available for this process.
Finding a video card capable of managing all the transcoding processes associated with hosting a Plex Media Server is tough. Many consumer GPUs are unable to handle such a massive load efficiently. So, you must be judicious with your choice to avoid wasting money, especially since graphics cards are so expensive. We’ve gone through dozens of options and here are our top picks:
- Best Overall: NVIDIA Titan RTX
- Best Budget Option: GTX 1050 Ti
- Best GPU With No Session Limit: NVIDIA Quadro RTX 5000
- Best for a Low-Power Draw System: NVIDIA Quadro P1000
- Best for Gaming and Plex Transcoding: RTX 4090
#1 Best Overall: NVIDIA Titan RTX
We chose the NVIDIA Titan RTX as the best overall GPU for Plex Media Server transcoding. The one consideration you must make when selecting the Titan RTX as your server graphics card is that it’s artificially locked to five simultaneous transcodes. This limit can be easily overridden, even with little technological skill. However, if you don’t, you’ll be locked.
Still, if you unlock the number of transcodes the card can perform, the NVIDIA Titan RTX can manage up to 55 simultaneous HEVC streams. Now, this number is for 1080p, not 4K. Still, the card could easily handle a few 4K watchers with the amount of power it has behind it.
|It can manage up to 55 HEVC streams.
|The card is expensive.
|With 24 GB of VRAM, it’s unlikely to fall into the trap of infinite buffering.
|It is locked to five transcodes unless you manually override the limit.
|It’s also good for gaming or video editing, making it more versatile.
Check out the NVIDIA Titan RTX on Amazon.
Best Budget GPU for Plex Media Server Transcoding: GTX 1050 Ti
Our choice for the best budget GPU for Plex Media Server transcoding is the GTX 1050 Ti. This GPU is an older card from the GTX 10 series. However, it’s still powerful today if you want to use it for converting videos. Unless you override the limit, it’s locked to five streams, much like the Titan RTX.
However, unlocking the session limit is relatively easy and requires little technical knowledge. This card can manage about 14 simultaneous transcodes. It’s a far cry from the Titan RTX’s 55, but it’s also about 1/12th of its price. So, you get what you pay for.
|The current price of the card is extremely low.
|The card’s power is significantly lower than other cards on this list.
|It can handle 14 transcodes at a time.
Check out the GTX 1050 Ti on Amazon.
Best GPU for Plex Media Server Transcoding With No Session Limit: NVIDIA Quadro RTX 5000
The NVIDIA Quadro RTX 5000 is an excellent Plex Media Server transcoding GPU with no session limit. NVIDIA’s Quadro series cards feature unlocked session limits, meaning the cards can start and attempt to manage an unlimited number of transcodes. Functionally, you can handle about 55 total in 1080p or a few 4K streams before the card starts to overwork itself.
The Quadro RTX 5000 has 16 GB of VRAM, which means it has a good amount of memory to handle transcoding. You’ll be hard-pressed to hit the “infinite buffer” zone with that much RAM unless you have several people streaming in 4K simultaneously.
|The card has no transcode session limit.
|With 16 GB of VRAM, it has less VRAM than the Titan RTX.
|It can handle up to 55 simultaneous HEVC transcodes.
|This GPU is under $1000.
Check out the NVIDIA Quadro RTX 5000 on Amazon.
Best GPU for Plex Media Server Transcoding With a Low Power Draw: NVIDIA Quadro P1000
If your system doesn’t have a beefy power supply to back it up, the NVIDIA Quadro P1000 is an excellent low-power GPU for Plex Media Server transcoding. This workstation GPU is a super efficient card designed for big things. It’s an older chipset. So, you won’t get the same power you might expect from some of the other graphics cards on this list, but it’s excellent if you don’t have the energy to spare.
The Quadro P1000 is a single-slot chipset with a rated maximum power draw of just 47 watts. Efficiency is the name of the game with this card, as it provides the ultimate space and power performance. It can handle about 14 1080p transcodes simultaneously.
|Being a single-slot card, it’s highly space-efficient.
|The card has 4GB of VRAM.
|With a rated power draw of just 47 watts, it can be slotted into almost any system.
|It can still manage 14 transcodes while remaining efficient.
Check out the NVIDIA Quadro P1000 on Amazon.
Best GPU for Gaming and Plex Media Server Transcoding: RTX 4090
- GPU Clock Speed: 2.54 GHz
- 4th Generation Tensor Cores: up to 2x AI performance
- 3rd Generation RT Cores: up to 2x ray tracing performance
- Integrated with 24GB GDDR6X 384-bit memory interface
Gamers who intend to use their GPU for running their Plex Media Server and gaming will want to pick up an RTX 4090. This card is the most recent high-end graphics card in NVIDIA’s lineup, having hit the market on October 12, 2022. The RTX 4090 has 24 GB of VRAM and can handle around 22 simultaneous transcodes.
Its functional thread count is lower than that of other cards that are better for the Plex Media Server. However, the RTX 4090 will serve you much better when playing modern games than the other cards, as it has newer hardware and firmware.
|This card is excellent for gaming and transcoding.
|It has a lower functional simultaneous transcode than some other cards.
|It has 24 GB of VRAM.
|4K streaming is possible.
Check out the RTX 4090 on Amazon.
How to Pick the Best GPU for Plex Media Server Transcoding
Several factors make some GPUs more efficient for transcoding media. However, to understand why this is, you must first understand what transcoding is.
What Is Media Transcoding?
When a device tries to stream a media file stored on a server rather than one stored on the device, the server must determine whether it must transcode the file. There are three conditions the file and device must meet to avoid needing to convert the file:
- The audio and video in the file must be stored in a codec supported by the device
- The file must be stored in a compatible bitrate
- A compatible resolution must be stored
If the file doesn’t meet any of these three conditions, it has to be transcoded, meaning the server will convert the audio and video to compatible file types in real time to allow the device to play it. This conversion uses a considerable amount of server resources. So, if you’re running a server with consumer hardware rather than industrial, you may run into severe bottlenecks and infinite buffering.
The Plex Media Server allows users to share the entertainment files on their computer to other devices or with friends and family. However, to do this, it must be able to handle the resource draw of transcoding. For instance, if you store 4K versions of your favorite movies and try to play them on a device that only supports 1080p, you must convert those videos to stream them.
One of the features a GPU needs to transcode video files effectively is VRAM. When the card is transcoding, it stores the data in the Video RAM. If multiple people stream at once, the server stores all of those conversions.
Exceeding the amount of VRAM available will cause new streams to buffer indefinitely, even if memory opens up while the stream runs. Restarting the video is the only way to get it to stop buffering. So, if you plan on having many people watching simultaneously on your server, you’ll need a massive amount of storage to accommodate all those transcodes.
Consumer graphics cards have an artificial limit on how many transcodes they can do at once. If you try to exceed this number, the GPU will offload the processes onto the CPU. You can unlock an NVIDIA card’s session limit with little technical knowledge. So, the session limits of these video cards are not a significant concern if you’re willing to install a few patches to get the most out of your chipset.
It is harder to override your GPU’s session limit on Windows than on Linux. So, we recommend using a Linux distro as your operating system if you build a separate machine to host your Plex Media Server. If you intend to use your graphics card for both gaming and Plex, you’ll need to use Windows.
Thermal Design Power
You’ll also want to consider the TDP of the card you purchase, as this will determine your power supply. Since you plan on using the GPU under high load, you’ll want to consider its power draw at its theoretical maximum rather than its minimum. You should do that anyway, but you can’t expect to skate by with the minimum power if you’re transcoding.
GPUs for Plex Media Server Transcoding: Before You Buy
You’ll want to consider several factors before choosing your GPU for your Plex Media Server. First, you’ll want to ensure that your power supply can handle all the components you purchase. Each component in the server will have a TDP, and if you plug too many things into your PSU, it’ll break.
Also, consider what your server’s expected load will be. If you plan to use it for yourself, to stream videos from your computer to your other devices, you might not need as strong of a graphics card. Conversely, if you intend to use your server to share media with friends and family, you might want to invest in a chipset that can handle more concurrent transcodes.
Finally, think about whether you want to use your GPU for anything else. If you plan to build an independent machine for your server, you can invest in a server card like the Quadro series. These have an unlocked session limit and are easier to use for transcoding. If you want to use the machine for gaming, you’ll need a card that can handle doing both.
Using GPUs for Plex Media Server Transcoding: What It’s Like
GPUs capable of handling the loads associated with transcoding are generally relatively powerful. While some chipsets on this list are less powerful, they’re older — not weak — compared to cards of the same generation.
Your experience with the card will depend on what you use it for. If you use the chipset for gaming and purchase one with that in mind, you’ll have an excellent experience with buttery smooth, gorgeous graphics.
If you buy a GPU intended for servers and use it in an independent build, you’ll have an excellent experience managing multiple streams on your server. It all comes down to what you buy and why you purchased it.
|NVIDIA Titan RTX
|Can manage up to 55 HEVC streams, 24 GB of VRAM, versatile for gaming or video editing
|Expensive, locked to five transcodes unless manually overridden
|Best Budget GPU
|GTX 1050 Ti
|Low price, can handle 14 transcodes at a time
|Lower power than other cards on this list
|Best GPU With No Session Limit
|NVIDIA Quadro RTX 5000
|No transcode session limit, and can handle up to 55 simultaneous HEVC transcodes, under $1000
|Less VRAM than the Titan RTX
|Best GPU With a Low Power Draw
|NVIDIA Quadro P1000
|Highly space-efficient, low power draw, can manage 14 transcodes while remaining efficient
|Only 4GB of VRAM
|Best GPU for Gaming and Transcoding
|Excellent for gaming and transcoding, 24 GB of VRAM, 4K streaming is possible
|Lower functional simultaneous transcode than some other cards
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