Nik's Technology Blog

Travels through programming, networks, and computers

Storage for Plex Movies

I had already installed Plex Media Server on my PC and had been pleasantly surprised by how good the software was, so much so that I now wanted to rip all my DVDs to hard disk. After a few calculations I figured out I would need quite a bit more storage to hold all my ripped DVDs for use with Plex Media Server.

Originally I thought that a NAS device might be the way forward. I could get a four bay device for future expandability, and upon first glance it appeared that PMS would run on selected NAS boxes too. I almost bought a four bay Netgear ReadyNAS, until I read that the CPU in most NAS boxes just isn't up to the task of transcoding video.

That would mean the NAS would just store the content and the PC would need to be switched on to act as the Plex Server. This to me, just didn't seem worth it.

Why not just add some extra hard disks to my PC I thought? But what about the added benefit of RAID you get from a NAS?...

I ended up buying some 4TB WD Red NAS hard disk drives and using Storage Spaces in Windows 10 to set up resiliency, mimicking the RAID you get from a NAS box.

Ripping a DVD Collection to Plex

It was probably around 2002 or 2003 that I ripped all my CD collection to MP3 so I could listen on the move, which I recall was a painful process. So the thought so doing the same with my DVD collection wasn't too appealing.

As this was going to be a painful process I only wanted to do this once, so I spent some time deciding on the video codec and container to use.

Plex works with most codecs and containers (except ISO disc images). This is one of the best things about Plex Media Server. It transcodes the video on-the-fly depending what hardware the Plex client is able to play. This enables you to watch video on phones, tablets, smart TVs etc and not have to care whether they play AVI, MP4, MKV etc...

I also don't want to recode all the DVDs during the process as this would take too long and potentially degrade the video quality.

The final solution was a two stage process.

  1. Rip each DVD using DVD Fab into VOB files.
  2. Use MakeMKV Batch Converter to merge the VOB files into the MKV container.

All that was needed then was a load more hard disk space!

Installing Hardware RAID on Windows 7

Like a lot of Windows fans I pre-ordered Windows 7 and built a new PC ready to install it on; I chose a motherboard (MSI DKA790GX) that, like many on the market, has a hardware RAID controller on-board allowing you to take advantage of redundancy with RAID 1 and/or benefit from faster disk access with RAID 0.  Read more about RAID.

I had already installed Windows 7 before I remembered I wanted to set-up a RAID 1 array.  I tried to get the RAID array working with Windows already installed but soon realised I would have to set it up prior to installing Windows 7 because Windows kept hanging on boot-up because it was lacking the RAID controller drivers.

The supplied manual doesn’t explain how to get RAID up and running unfortunately.

RAID Controller Set-up

So here’s a quick guide to installing hardware RAID on a motherboard that features a RAID controller.  These steps assume you are performing a clean Windows 7 install rather than an upgrade, and they might differ depending on your system set-up, but the general principles should be the same.

  1. Download the RAID drivers for your motherboard from the manufacturer’s website and save them to a memory stick.
  2. Back up all your important data!
  3. Turn your PC off and unplug it.
  4. Install 2 hard disks preferably with identically capacity into your PC.
  5. Turn on your PC, press the delete key or F2 key when prompted to get to the BIOS menu.
  6. Find the option to select the RAID mode, save your settings and exit BIOS.BIOS RAID options
  7. On reboot you should see a new menu option to enter the RAID controller settings.  Enter the key combination when prompted to get to the RAID controller menu. AMD RAID controller menu
  8. Create a new RAID array selecting either RAID 0, or RAID 1.
  9. Select the disks that will form the array, save the settings and exit.
  10. On reboot press the delete key or F2 key when prompted to get to the BIOS menu.
  11. Check the boot sequence of your PC and ensure your optical drive is top of the list.BIOS boot sequence options
  12. Insert your Windows 7 disk into the optical drive and exit the BIOS.
  13. On reboot press any key when prompted to boot from the optical drive.
  14. Windows 7 should start installing.
  15. Select your localisation settings and click next.Windows 7 localization menu
  16. Click “repair your computer” and click the ”load drivers” button.Windows 7 install menu Windows 7 load drivers menu
  17. Insert your memory stick and browse to the correct driver and install.
  18. Exit back to the Windows 7 install menu click “Install now” and on the next screen click “Custom (advanced)” to perform a clean install.install-windows-custom
  19. When you are asked where you want to install Windows 7 you should see that the 2 RAID hard disks are now visible as just 1 drive.
  20. Add a partition to the new drive so Windows with be able to recognise it.
  21. Continue installing Windows as normal.

Problems With Digital Archiving

What's wrong with digital archiving?

Archiving information in digital formats introduces a number of complications.

File Formats

Will current file formats last forever? History says otherwise. If history repeats itself current file formats will not be used in the next 10-15 years.

What problems does that introduce if we archive documents in todays formats? Will we be able to access them in the future? Will we have to convert them all down the line?

Proprietary formats

What's happens if an IT/Software company goes bust or discontinues a product. Will there be a system to upgrade or migrade databases and files?

Storage Media

If the issues with file formats have got you worried what about storage media?

The CD-ROM, DVD-ROM, DVD recordable drives, tape back-up drives etc. Will these media storage formats be around for years to come? With the pace of current development the chances are the answer is no.

Not only that but all digital media has a finite lifespan, meaning even if drives in 10-15 years are capable of reading these media formats with they still be in pristine condition?

Only time will tell if we can solve this increasingly serious problem, as more and more of our data is stored electronically this becomes a more and more pertinent problem.

I'll finish with a link to the BBC Domesday project 1986. A perfect example of the problems with digital archiving. The CAMiLEON project was commissioned recently to try to retrieve the contents of this archive from 1980's laserdisks and BBC Micro formatted files.

The CAMiLEON project