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How to turn an old PC into a home media server

If you’ve ever upgraded your computer system, you’ve had to deal with the old version. Maybe you want to sell it online for a pretty penny. Tap or click here to maximize your selling price when giving away your old devices.

Then again, you may not want to part with it for a few reasons. That makes sense: Your old PC has a few pretty cool uses. For example, you can turn it into a home media server that stores your old songs, videos, documents and files.

This is an excellent backup if you ever deal with cloud storage issues or lost thumb drives. All you need is the right free software and a little ingenuity. Here’s an easy guide to turning your old computer into a handy home media server you’ll use time and time again.

Why you need it

Here’s a quick overview if you’ve never heard of a home media server. It’s like a private streaming service that keeps copies of your favorite movies, photos, shows, podcasts and more. Think of it as a central hub for your media.

The main benefit of having your own home media server is freedom. You’re not at the mercy of streaming services and their ever-changing deals. So often, you find a show or movie on one service only to discover it’s disappeared a few days later.

This can be frustrating since you have to look up the movie again to see where it’s streaming. You might even have to sign up for a new service to watch the film. Tap or click here for a few handy sites that reveal where the show or movie you want to watch is streaming.

A home media server also lets you watch high-quality videos

Setting up a home media server saves you time and effort. Another great benefit is video quality preservation. After all, your local network may move data more quickly than your internet connection.

To put it simply, adding a 4K movie with Blu-ray quality to your home media server means you can watch it anytime, even when the internet is out. While you don’t need internet access, you will need a LAN or local area network.

If you’re new to lingo like LAN, check out our easy guide to internet connectivity. You can even tinker with your router to control traffic with network prioritization and beef up security. Tap or click here to get better Wi-Fi using these features on your router.

Ready to get started? Here’s how to set up your own home media server

So you just learned you need media server software to access your files. Luckily, a home media server is straightforward to set up. You now need to do one of two things:

  • Install a third-party program (more on that later) or
  • Change some settings on your computer to start using it as a media server

We’re focusing on step two for now. That’s because Windows 10 has native software you can turn on. (If you have a Mac, you’ll have to install a third-party program, so scroll down to the section called “The best third-party software for setting up a home media server.”)

For now, here’s how to make sure your computer has the native software needed to set up a server.

Check this feature on Windows 10 to see if you can run a media server natively

  • First, head to the Control Panel.
  • Search media in the search box.
  • Next, select Network and Sharing Center. Then, head to Media streaming options.
  • Click Turn on media streaming.  
  • Next, select Media Streaming Options for Computers and Devices.
  • Click OK. This means you just applied the settings to your computer. Now, any device on your local network can access the media files in your computer’s media libraries.

However, this software may not be enough for you. Maybe you want to extend your homemade media server — or maybe your Mac or PC doesn’t have the pre-installed media server software capabilities, period. (This may be the case if your gadget is a lot older.) In that case, it’s time to look for some third-party media servers.

The best third-party software for setting up a home media server

You need the right software for the job. You don’t need to spend a lot of money, though: Just install a free program onto the old PC you’re repurposing.

We recommend using either Kodi or Plex as the server software. They each will categorize and organize the content stored on your old computer. Don’t think of them as streaming services — think of them as media center apps that let you import content.

Install one of them onto your old PC, and they’ll give you access and let you stream anything you put on your home media server. Both Kodi and Plex are free to use, so you can decide which one you like best.

Plex vs. Kodi: A quick overview of significant differences

To use Plex, download the Plex Media Server onto your old PC. Connect your media files, install the app, log in and get started. You can even upgrade to a few plans:

  • Monthly plan: $4.99/mo
  • Annual plan: $39.99/year
  • Lifetime plan: $119.99

On the other hand, Kodi is 100% free — no tiers here. This free and open-source software is perfect for people who want personalization power. You’ll find a ton of add-ons, but you can’t access your content when you’re away from the house, and it’s not as easy to start using as Plex is.

Need more info before making a decision?

Check out this chart to understand how these two server programs differ:

Streams content from your server to other devices (as long as they’re connected to your home network)For the most part, you can only access the content in your media server when you’re on the network
Works well for beginners, intermediates and even advanced techiesIdeal for advanced techies
Partnership with Crackle means you get access to 20,000+ free shows and movies  Doesn’t automatically share your media library with other devices in your home; unlike Plex, you have to set this up with an add-on
Includes 180 live TV channelsNo partnerships with big media companies
Comes with paid tiersNo paid tiers — 100% free
Very few customization optionsMore customizable — very easy to modify
You can access this media server from any device — even if it isn’t connected to your networkIt’s almost impossible to access this media server on a device outside the network, though you might be able to dig around and find an add-on for that (It may take a lot of work to set up, though)
No official plugins, but you can find and install third-party pluginsMany official and unofficial add-ons
Has an easy-to-use interface that’s immediately readyLets you control how it looks … which means it takes a while to set it up the way you want it
Features are easy to findYou may have to dig around a bit to find all the options and features

Once you made your decision, head to the next step.

Make sure your computer has a large enough hard drive

If you want to stream video, you’ll want to use a newer computer. If you wish to stream podcasts, though, you might eke by with an older computer. Ideally, you want a system that runs Windows 10 or 11 and has at least 4GB of RAM.

Another good step is to check the hard drive for any issues. Luckily, there are a few easy ways to do this. Tap or click here for six sites that will help check if your hard drive is failing.

Is your computer giving you issues? Try a Raspberry Pi device

These magic little gadgets can do almost anything. Some people even make robots with them. Luckily, this project is a bit easier.

Here’s the device we recommend:

Just install the media server program of your choice onto your Raspberry Pi. Here’s how to set up a Plex server through Raspberry Pi.

Do you prefer Kodi? Use this guide to install Kodi on your Raspberry Pi. Either way, connecting this device to one of these programs mean your media server is almost up and running.

There’s just one final step. Mount a large thumb drive on the Pi to transfer home videos, photos, MP3s and more.

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Read more

Tech nerds unite! 10 things you can do with a Raspberry Pi

Tech how-to: Easy way to set up your own music server

6 smart things to do with your old computer

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