CPU/Processor for transcoding

Discussion in 'Home Theater PC (HTPC) & Media Servers' started by jcunwired, Apr 8, 2013.

  1. jcunwired Audioholic

    jcunwired
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    Hi -

    I plan to convert an old tower into a media server, I'll need a new motherboard and processor and a few HDD. I have three main purposes:

    Storage of blu-ray and DVD for streaming to any of three displays in the home, for extenders there will probably be an Xbox at two of them
    With OTA tuner, creating a PVR solution
    Storage and source for my music collection

    Nothing out of the ordinary, but in thinking about what else I might want to do I want to be sure the system is powerful enough to transcode 1080p on the fly. No more than one simultaneous stream, I don't think. We all have mobile devices so I might as well. Can I get away with a quad-core i3, or should I bump it up to i5?
  2. jotham Audioholic

    jotham
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    I don't believe the i3 comes in a quad-core config. Transcoding 1080p is definitely tough. I would recommend a quad core i5, regardless of which one you get, it should give you plenty of headroom for transcoding and streaming to multiple devices. Plus, intel is releasing more support for some features of the i5 that over time may improve transcoding.

    AnandTech | HandBrake to Get QuickSync Support

    Some more suggestions, inexpensive SSD for the OS (only). NAS-aware disks such as the Western Digital Red series (2TB) for files. UPS for the server will keep it smooth and reliable. Quiet fans as it wil be on all the time. 65 or 77Watt CPU.

    good luck!

    Jotham
  3. Grador Audioholic Field Marshall

    Grador
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    The first thing I would do is figure out what software you'll want to run. See how bad it strains a computer you have, and extrapolate from there. A quad i3 could work, but you'll need to make sure that the software you want to use is a well threaded app. If not, you'll get very little advantage over a dual core and a faster processor [even if it's just a dual] will be required.

    I would recommend going with an i5 just for safety margin, but if you want this to go as cheaply as possible you should be able to tell how slow you can go after the test run.
  4. jcunwired Audioholic

    jcunwired
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    Good point, I was focusing on i3 for power consumption, I had forgotten it's only a dual-core processor.

    Thanks for the QuickSync link, I read about haswell previously but had completely forgotten.

    On SSD for OS, does the added expense really make sense for a machine that will be on 24/7? I'm struggling with the justification for this one. Everything else mentioned is on the list.

    Grador, I had planned to use Plex for transcoding. As well, it would be great to do test runs, but the old PC has a dated AMD processor and my current desktop is an i7. I'm now thinking to go with the i5 and call it a day. I don't believe any of the apps of interest are hyperthreaded, but obviously this is another area to explore. This will be a Windows 7 system with WMC, Mediabrowser and Plex.

    Thanks much for the guidance!
  5. jcunwired Audioholic

    jcunwired
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    Sorry - one last question. Any recommendations for CPU cooling? I'm guessing (it's been awhile) that stock is still not quite up to snuff. For an i5 might I get a recommendation?

    Thanks.
  6. Grador Audioholic Field Marshall

    Grador
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    I think the stock cooler will do you just fine, though if you're looking for quiet you might look elsewhere.
  7. Grador Audioholic Field Marshall

    Grador
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    For this system I think an SSD would probably not yield any advantage.

    Go ahead and try running plex on the i7. Use your best judgement and gauge how much overhead you have in processor %. If there's A LOT, go for the i3.
  8. jotham Audioholic

    jotham
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    As Grador said, the SSD probably will not yield any advantage. My 24/7 WHS 2011 server does not use an SSD and for the most part, it's fine.

    The reason I thought it might be a valid upgrade is that it seems as though modern SSDs are more reliable than hard drives nowadays. You'll be using large, relatively slow hard drives to store your data and they are notorious for breaking down at inopportune times. You'll possibly want to do some mirroring of data and the last thing you need is one of the data drives to also take out your OS.

    It just seems to me that a dedicated drive for the OS that is pretty fast would be more reliable. Whether that drive is a hard drive or SSD probably doesn't matter much but an SSD has low wattage, no moving parts and no spin up time.


    Jotham
  9. BoredSysAdmin Audioholic Warlord

    BoredSysAdmin
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    Transcoding on the fly 1080p usually results in pretty below par experience imo. Afaik Handshare can't transcode on the fly, I fact last time I did with PS3Media server and I wasn't impressed by results
    Above recommendation to select the software first is very correct.

    Core I3 doesn't come with true quad code, but does support hyper-threading - which make 2+2 cores = aka Windows sees 4 cores, but you could get the benefit of maybe 5-10% over regular 2 thread process. (or so)

    Xboxes don't support any fancy codecs other than xvid/divx/mpeg2 and wmv. I assume you intend to use WMC7 as your "server". In this case you don't need to transcode recorded TV and you'll have better quality of your transcodes if do them "offline" - aka prior to playing
    Last edited: Apr 8, 2013
  10. Grador Audioholic Field Marshall

    Grador
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    The xbox's lack of codec support is unfortunately what requires the transcoding ability. Though I completely agree, anything that's going to transcode 1080 OTF is going to be sacrificing quality for speed. I use a pretty beefy i7 system to do x.264 transcodes of blurays to keep size down and attempt to keep the quality untouched, these run at 1/4x. (I use handbrake for this, BSA is that what you mean by handshare?)

    As for SSD reliability, they can be very reliable but they have a limited number of write cycles. If you're running applications that are going to do a lot of disk writes you are going to literally wear it out.
  11. jcunwired Audioholic

    jcunwired
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    Thanks again. Just to clarify, the permanent collection will be stored in either iso or mkv. Transcoding is just a "cover your bases" move - despite having displays of 65, 54 & 42 inches, there will always be the teenager who wants to watch on a smartphone or tablet :) I don't know that this will ever be used, but for the minor added expense it makes sense to include this functionality.

    There will be a dedicated drive for OS, and I am planning on a software raid solution (haven't looked into this yet).
  12. BoredSysAdmin Audioholic Warlord

    BoredSysAdmin
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    xbox doesn't play mkv or iso images directly. extracted DVD iso to flat DVD files - yes, not in iso. There are maybe tools to stream iso directly to 360
    I know handbrake (yes, not handshake) is great tool to transcode video files, but using handbrake to x-code OTF ? This portion I am not aware of.

    My own media server is currently in building process due to complexities it takes a while. Luckily I don't have to deal with tuners and Xbox extenders, but I went for very versatile, but hard to setup system.
    Ubuntu server with ZFS (6 2tb drives in similar to raid 50 setup - about 7tb Net now). (probably KVM later on) NFS sharing to OpenElec client.
  13. Grador Audioholic Field Marshall

    Grador
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    Plex server does the transcoding, I don't know how quick or how well it works.
  14. dpc Audioholic Intern

    dpc
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    Handbrake uses x264 to do the actual encoding, and you can find cpu comparisons for x264 on anandtech.com in the bench section.
    dpc,
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  15. jcunwired Audioholic

    jcunwired
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    Thanks. I've got a parts list together, but I'm rethinking my strategy. I've currently beefed up my desktop machine, an i7-2700k with 16GB of memory (I do a lot of photo processing) and now 12TB of storage and an ATSC tuner, which is working great hosting live/recorded TV and MKV to an Xbox 360. I wanted to build an HTPC as well for my main theater, but as my primary use case is whole-home DVR setup for recording OTA broadcasts I'm going to use Xbox throughout. There is simply no easier, more effective solution.
  16. DotJun Audiophyte

    DotJun
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    Always go for the fastest clock as possible. More cores will equate to hire fps up till around 12 cores. Also, hyper threading will speed things up.

    Depending on what filters you are also going to run, more CPU power and/or more cores might not help your encode times.

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