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Top 7 Linux Media Server Distros for Creating an Entertainment Hub with Plex
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Top 7 Linux Media Server Distros for Creating an Entertainment Hub with Plex

Keeping track of all your favorite content is no easy task these days due to the huge variety of services that stream things like movies, TV shows, web shows, music, podcast, and more. Most people have to jump between several platforms each day in order to access their favorite content, but do you know that you can have most (if not all) of your entertainment in the same place? All you need is a Linux media server software. Plex, a digital media player that acts as an all-in-one hub for almost any type of content you can think of, is one of the most popular and versatile media servers currently available.

One of the most interesting things about Plex is that you don’t need to install the software locally in order to stream online content or even cast said content to any compatible device. However, you do need to get the Plex Media Server app if you want to add your own media content and have everything you need in the same place. Plex Media Server is available on most operating systems but is particularly useful when paired with Linux since it can take full advantage of its inherent flexibility. ++

But just because Plex Media Server is available on Linux that doesn’t mean it works equally well on every distribution. In fact, trying to install Plex on certain distros can be a real hassle a lot of the time. That’s why it’s worth knowing the distros that do play well with the software, so you can spend less time tinkering and more time enjoying your favorite content. With that in mind, let’s take a look at the best Linux distros for Plex Media Server in 2020.

1. Ubuntu

  • Ubuntu Desktop is a perfect choice for newcomers
  • Ubuntu Server is geared more towards advanced users
  • Both versions have live images and benefit from long-term support

Ubuntu has a lot going on for itself. The distro is popular with both newcomers and veteran Linux users, constantly ranks near the top when it comes to stability, and also happens to be a fan-favorite of many server administrators. That last part is particularly relevant as it automatically makes Ubuntu one of the best Linux distros for powering Plex Media Servers. There are many versions of the operating system to choose from but you’ll probably want to stick with either Ubuntu Desktop or Ubuntu Server if the main goal is to run Plex.

Ubuntu 20.04 LTS
Ubuntu 20.04 LTS Desktop

There are some important similarities between Ubuntu Server and Ubuntu Desktop that may sway you towards one or the other. Ubuntu Desktop is designed for home computers and comes bundled with many of the applications you would expect to find on any other standard operating system. This version also offers a nice selection of desktop environments and the installation process is arguably a lot easier. Ubuntu Server, on the other hand, is meant for businesses and only comes pre-installed with server-relevant software packages, though you can download anything else you need manually. Ubuntu Server doesn’t have a GUI in its base form but takes up much less space when compared to Ubuntu Desktop.

Given that Ubuntu is open-source software, you can ultimately modify any of the two versions to your liking. But we do recommend going with Ubuntu Desktop if you’re a beginner because this is one of the most user-friendly Linux distros currently available. Regardless of which version you choose, you’ll be able to take full advantage of Canonical’s famous LTS (long-term support policy). Another important similarity is that you can find live images for both versions, which allows you to use the operating system without having to install it locally.

Minimum system requirements:

  • 2 GHz dual-core CPU or better
  • 4GB of RAM
  • 25GB of storage (only 2GB for Ubuntu Server)

Latest stable version: 20.04 LTS

2. CentOS

  • Free version of RHEL founded by Ret Hat developers
  • Popular choice for all types of servers, including Plex
  • Lets you choose between stable and rolling releases (CentOS Stream)

CentOS is a community-driven distribution that’s heavily praised by programmers for offering a commercial alternative to Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL), which is a paid distribution. The CentOS project was founded by many of the developers who worked on Red Hat using many of the same resources that were incorporated into RHEL. Because of that, the two distros are functionally very similar and CentOS can even access a lot of the software packages used by RHEL, except for the paid ones of course.

CentOS 8
CentOS 8 Desktop

So what makes CentOS one of the best Linux distros for Plex Media Server? Well, a lot of the things that make Ubuntu great for this purpose apply here as well, such as the fact that the distro is very stable and comes with long-term support. Then, it’s worth noting that CentOS powers around 30% of all Linux-based servers. This is a distro that has already seen a lot of success and is versatile enough to accommodate users of all skill levels. Although it’s particularly popular with tech-savvy users, it’s possible to turn CentOS into a beginner-friendly distro by installing an intuitive desktop environment like Gnome and enhancing the built-in YUM package manager with a GUI.

There are two main variants of CentOS you can download from the official website and knowing the difference between them is essential since one of them isn’t necessarily ideal for running Plex. The two variants are CentOS Linux and CentOS Stream. CentOS Linux is the stable branch of the distro and does its best to replicate Red Hat Enterprise Linux to the best of its abilities. Most users will want to stick with this variant because CentOS Stream is more experimental and makes a number of changes meant to improve upon RHEL. CentOS stream follows a rolling release schedule, which means you’ll have to worry about updates much more often than with CentOS Linux.

Minimum system requirements:

  • 2 GHz CPU or better
  • 2GB of RAM
  • 20GB of storage

Latest stable version: 8.2.2004

3. OpenSUSE

  • Both Leap and Tumbleweed are suitable for running Plex
  • Can double as a fantastic development platform if needed
  • YaST greatly simplifies the installation and configuration process

OpenSUSE is one of these jack-of-all-trades distros that are easy to recommend to any type of user. The distro’s tagline is “the makers’ choice for sysadmins, developers and desktop users”. In other words, OpenSUSE’s target audience includes pretty much everyone. That’s because similar to our first two choices, OpenSUSE is available in two different variants – one for regular home users and one for power users and developers. But unlike CentOS, for example, both variants are very stable for the most part, which makes them ideal for running a Plex Media Server.

OpenSUSE Leap 15.1
OpenSUSE Leap 15 Desktop

The option we would recommend trying out first is OpenSUSE Leap because this version is updated only when there’s a major new patch rolling in and the installation process is a bit more straightforward. If you’re always on the lookout for the latest bleeding-edge updates, on the other hand, OpenSUSE Tumbleweed is the way to go. Despite having a rolling release schedule, patches are thoroughly tested before being pushed out, resulting in very few stability issues. Tumbleweed also has more desktop environments and supports older hardware.

In addition to giving a great environment for running a Plex Media Server, OpenSUSE is also an ideal development platform thanks to tools like openQA, OBS (Open Build Services), Kiwi, CMake, RPM, and more. All of which come pre-installed. But if you value simplicity over all else, you’ll probably be more interested in YaST, a tool that lets you configure everything related to OpenSUSE with very little effort. To the point where you will wonder why you ever thought Linux was difficult to work with. YaST is a proprietary tool designed specifically for OpenSUSE and not available on other distributions.

Minimum system requirements:

  • Pentium 4 1.6 GHz or AMD equivalent CPU
  • 1GB of RAM (2GB recommended)
  • 3GB of storage (5GB recommended)

Latest stable version: 15.2

4. Debian

  • Good choice for users who are already familiar with Linux
  • One of the most stable distros currently available
  • Very modest hardware requirements

Debian is another top Linux distro for Plex Media Server and is particularly popular with users who are running ARM-based systems. A fun fact about Debian is that it inspired well over 100 distributions since it was first released nearly three decades ago. Debian was overshadowed for a long time by its most famous offspring (Ubuntu) but the distro has been making a huge comeback over the past year. Debian isn’t quite as user-friendly as Ubuntu or some of the other distros on this list so it probably shouldn’t be your number one choice if you’re a newcomer.

Debian 10
Debian 10 Xfce Desktop

Considering that Debian was developed back in the early 90s, it should come as no surprise that its main target audience is comprised of developers. The distro was modernized quite a bit since then but not to the point where it can compete with the likes of Ubuntu in terms of looks. But while Debian isn’t the prettiest distribution out there, it definitely makes up for it terms of stability, performance, and flexibility. By default, Debian uses the Xfce desktop, which is one of the lightest environments out there, and its modest hardware requirements make it suitable for powering Plex servers on both modern and old computers.

If you want to use Debian for more than just Plex, you’ll be happy to know that there are over 60K packages in its repositories so there’s certainly no shortage of software here. And despite the fact that Xfce complements it the best, Debian does support many other desktop environments, some of which make the distro a lot more attractive to newcomers. A few examples include Gnome, KDE Plasma, MATE, and Cinnamon. Meanwhile, you can keep also things minimalistic by using a window manager like Openbox or FluxBox instead of a desktop environment. Debian is all about giving users the power of choice and that’s why so many people still see it as one of the overall best Linux distros around.

Minimum system requirements:

  • 1GHz 32-bit or 64-bit CPU
  • 512MB of RAM
  • 10GB of storage

Latest stable version: 10.4

5. Fedora

  • Fedora Workstation is one of the best all-purpose distros around
  • Many Spins to choose from, each offering a different desktop environment
  • Fedora is famous for being Linus Torvalds’ favorite Linux distribution

Much like Debian and Ubuntu, Fedora has been around for a long time and is popular with both newcomers and veterans. Fedora enjoys a good reputation in the Linux community because of its ties to Red Hat, RHEL, CentOS, and many other projects. It is estimated that Fedora has well over 1.2 million users, including Linus Torvalds himself, the creator of Linux. Torvalds stated a few years ago that Fedora was his favorite distro and that he used it on most of his computers. We’re not sure if that’s still the case in 2020 but we do know that Linus is still heavily involved in improving and maintaining Fedora.

Fedora 32
Fedora 32 Desktop

The best version of Fedora for a Plex Media Server would probably have to be Fedora Workstation. Despite being aimed at developers, Fedora Workstation is a lot more accessible than you might expect and comes with a sleek user interface thanks to the Gnome 3 desktop environment. There’s also a full suite of tools that you can use for various projects besides Plex along with support for powerful virtual machines and the ability to easily deploy containers. If you’re only interested in setting up a Plex Media Server you probably won’t use most of these tools but it doesn’t hurt to have them, just in case.

Fedora Server is another popular version of the distro that can easily support Plex, but this is one is a bit harder to work with since it primarily targets seasoned system administrators. If you’re looking for a hassle-free way of running a Plex Media Server on Linux, we recommend trying out of the many Fedora Spins instead. Spins are user-friendly variants of the distro that come with alternative desktop environments. Some of the most popular ones include KDE Plasma, Xfce, MATE, and Cinnamon. There’s also a Sugar on a Stick spin, which is ideal for kids but not great at supporting Plex due to its minimalistic nature.

Minimum system requirements:

  • 1 GHz CPU (2 GHz dual-core recommended)
  • 2GB of RAM
  • 15GB of storage

Latest stable version: Fedora 32

6. Linux Mint

  • Can run Plex without issues despite the lack of official support
  • Comes with a very unique desktop environment known as Cinnamon
  • Particularly good choice for users who are switching from Windows

If you go to Plex’s official website and check the downloads section, the first thing you’ll notice is that the software doesn’t have official support for a lot of popular distros, including Linux Mint. However, there’s no reason to worry because you can definitely get Plex Media Server to run on Mint. It may take a couple of extra steps depending on how you want to install it but probably the easiest method is to enable Snap support on your version of Mint. Doing so will allow you to easily access Canonical’s Snap Store where you can find the installer for Plex Media Server.

Linux Mint 19.3 Cinnamon
Linux Mint 19.3 Cinnamon Desktop

Linux Mint is an Ubuntu-based distro so you shouldn’t have any issues with the software once you manage to install it. But is it worth the hassle? We certainly think so. Linux Mint has a lot to offer and is known for begin one of the best Linux distros for beginners, particularly those who are switching from Windows. The distro includes a lot of useful applications right off the bat and gives you the option of choosing between multiple installation packages, each based on a different version of Ubuntu. But if you don’t like Ubuntu for some reason, there’s also a variant based on Debian.

It’s probably fair to say that you’re not spoiled for choice when it comes to the desktop environments, however, we can’t really complain about the only three available options- Xfce, MATE, and Cinnamon. Xfce is a very lightweight desktop that doesn’t come with many features but won’t eat up a lot of your resources either. Cinnamon is the most modern option and also happens to be the most popular one. That’s not exactly surprising given that Cinnamon is developed primarily for and by Linux Mint. Meanwhile, MATE is a bit less flashy but more stable and strikes a good balance between Xfce and Cinnamon.

Minimum system requirements:

  • Unspecified 32-bit or 64-bit CPU
  • 1GB of RAM (2GB recommended)
  • 15GB of storage (20GB recommended)

Latest stable version: 20

7. Arch Linux

  • Lets you customize every aspect of the operating system
  • One of the most lightweight Linux distros around
  • Very modest hardware requirements

Arch Linux can be considered a fairly unorthodox option for running a Plex Media Server but that doesn’t make it a bad choice. Quite the contrary. Arch Linux is arguably the most flexible distro on the market and can be customized to fit any purpose you can think of. There’s a whole slew of Arch-based distros that can also do the job pretty well but the original tends to yield the best results. The main issue with Arch is its steep learning curve, but if that sort of thing doesn’t bother you, this is hands down one of the best Linux distros for Plex Media Server.

ArchLabs Linux 2020.05.04
ArchLabs Linux 2020.05.04 Desktop

Although not unique by today’s standards, Arch Linux was one of the first mainstream distros that gave users the power to essentially create their own distribution from scratch. That’s because Arch doesn’t come bundled with any applications in its base form and only includes the Linux kernel along with the Pacman package manager. Pacman is more or less the equivalent of Debian’s apt-get or CentOS’ YUM but only works on Arch-based distros. The package manager doesn’t have a graphical user interface so you’ll need to know some basic terminal commands in order to use it.

If you’re new to Linux, you’re probably thinking that it takes a lot of work to customize an operating system using just a package manager but that’s not necessarily the case. At least not if all you need is a distro capable of running Plex Media Server. Downloading and installing software packages only requires you to issue a simple command in Pacman in most cases. You do need to know the names of the commands and the packages you want to install but that’s about it. If you want to make things easier for you, just grab a modern desktop environment and you’ll be able to use Arch Linux just like you would any other operating system.

Minimum system requirements:

  • Any 64-bit CPU
  • 512MB of RAM (2GB recommended)
  • 2GB of storage (10-20GB recommended for using Arch alongside a desktop environment)

Latest stable version: 5.7.6

Final Thoughts

Linux is often seen as the operating system of choice for coders and tech wizards while also being seemingly unfriendly to regular home users. While some of that is true, Linux’s reputation is often exaggerated. A lot of people think of Linux as an “all work no play” type of operating system but that’s actually not the case.

There are plenty of Linux distros that are virtually indistinguishable from Windows or MacOS in terms of functionality and user-friendliness. Linux can mold itself to fit any user’s needs so it all depends on you to turn the operating system into whatever you want.

If you’re looking to use Linux primarily for entertainment, installing Plex Media Server is certainly a good first step. Plex brings together your media libraries and makes it easy to access all your favorite content from a central hub. Plex’s capabilities are very impressive even in its base form but you can get even more out of the software by installing a few third-party plugins on top.

In addition, you can also buy a Premium Pass if you want to enhance Plex even further. The pass costs about $5 per month and gives you access to a lot of exclusive content along with some extra features. You can check out the Premium Pass without paying anything thanks to the free 30-day trial.

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