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CPU/Graphic Card choice for Media Center PC

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May 5, 2011 10:00:18 PM

Hello Experts!
I am looking to buy a new PC Media Center for my living room, the toughest job is the system has to do (I am not a gamer) is to be able to decode Blu-Rays and to play x264 HD 1080p movies seamlessly!
Not at the same time though ;) 
I have seen a few systems and here are the ones I am having to decide between:
1- AMD Athlon™ II X4 640 (3GHz/2MB cache) with integrated ATI HD4200 Radeon (2GB Dual Channel DDR3 SDRAM at 1333MHz) - could this be enough?
2- AMD Phenom™ II X4 830 (2.8GHz/6MB cache) with 1024MB ATI HD6450 Radeon ( 4GB Dual Channel DDR3 SDRAM at 1333MHz) - surely that's enough no?

Or could I combine the Athlon with HD6450? Or the opposite?

Thanks for your help!


a c 309 à CPUs
a c 259 U Graphics card
May 5, 2011 10:47:36 PM

I really think you should look at a sandy bridge dual core.
Media center apps can not use 4 cores.
The integrated grapnics on the i3 sb cpu's are fine for playing HD movies.
The quick sync feature accelerates decoding massively.

You may not find these in a prebuilt system, but it will cost you less if you assemble it yourself.
It is not hard to do.
May 5, 2011 11:17:40 PM

id go with the second one, u wont use all of it potential but it will deffinatly do what ur looking for!


GO AMD GO!
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a c 141 à CPUs
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May 5, 2011 11:20:15 PM

the 4200 integrated video chip works fine with HD. I use an Athlon II x3 on my Asus m4a785td-m evo motherboard (the one with 128Mb of sideport ram) and it works great.

If I were to build today though, I'd go with an i3-2100t system.
May 6, 2011 7:56:20 AM

Thanks guys, great advice.
One question though a system with the i3-2100 3GHz -3MB cache is the same price as the system with the AMD Phenom: is it not better to go for that one or is the i3 just much better for Video applications?
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May 6, 2011 1:49:36 PM

Skyfish88 said:
Thanks guys, great advice.
One question though a system with the i3-2100 3GHz -3MB cache is the same price as the system with the AMD Phenom: is it not better to go for that one or is the i3 just much better for Video applications?


Either should play movies without issue. The quicksync decoding capability is supposed to be superior.
Read the sandy bridge review, which has some benchmarks that include quicksync. It shows that sandy bridge is superior in cpu based applications.
http://www.anandtech.com/show/4083/the-sandy-bridge-rev...
a c 99 à CPUs
May 9, 2011 2:37:12 AM

Skyfish88 said:
Hello Experts!
I am looking to buy a new PC Media Center for my living room, the toughest job is the system has to do (I am not a gamer) is to be able to decode Blu-Rays and to play x264 HD 1080p movies seamlessly!
Not at the same time though ;) 
I have seen a few systems and here are the ones I am having to decide between:
1- AMD Athlon™ II X4 640 (3GHz/2MB cache) with integrated ATI HD4200 Radeon (2GB Dual Channel DDR3 SDRAM at 1333MHz) - could this be enough?
2- AMD Phenom™ II X4 830 (2.8GHz/6MB cache) with 1024MB ATI HD6450 Radeon ( 4GB Dual Channel DDR3 SDRAM at 1333MHz) - surely that's enough no?

Or could I combine the Athlon with HD6450? Or the opposite?

Thanks for your help!


It all depends on what exact software you will be running and exactly you want to do with the machine.

- If all you want to do is play back 1080p H.264 and Blu-Rays, the cheapest AM3 Sempron is more than enough as the GPU will do the decoding.
- You might want a GPU that's a little faster than the 4200 IGP if you have very high-bitrate H.264/VC-1 or if you have 1080i video and want to do high-quality deinterlacing. The 6450 would be a good candidate for this is you happen to run Windows, otherwise a 1 GB GeForce GT220 or GT430 would be the card I'd recommend.
- You will want a stouter CPU than a single-core Sempron if for some reason you choose not to use GPU codec decoding or it does not work properly. I'd suggest something like an Athlon II X2 270 if your software video decoder isn't particularly well-threaded or you are running a capture device like a Hauppauge! HD-PVR that spits out H.264s frame by frame and confound multithreaded playback. If it's well-threaded (such as newer builds of MythTV), a decently-clocked quad-core like the Athlon II X4 640 is very appropriate. Extra L3 cache won't help much if any with video decoding.
- If you want to work with the video at all, such as transcode it or commercial flag it, you want a lot of cores to speed this up. I'd look at the Athlon II X4 or one of the 95-watt Phenom II X6s in that case. The video encoding ASIC in the Sandy Bridge CPUs may be useful for transcoding, depending on if it does what you need it to do as far as codec and bitrate and such.
- If you play streaming video, especially Flash, you would do well to have at least a decently-clocked dual-core CPU.

If I were you, I'd probably go with the Athlon II X4 640, the Radeon HD 6450 (or GT220/GT430), and 2-4 GB of RAM depending on your OS. That's not overly expensive and should easily handle most anything you throw at it.
a c 99 à CPUs
May 9, 2011 2:45:27 AM

geofelt said:
Either should play movies without issue. The quicksync decoding capability is supposed to be superior.
Read the sandy bridge review, which has some benchmarks that include quicksync. It shows that sandy bridge is superior in cpu based applications.
http://www.anandtech.com/show/4083/the-sandy-bridge-rev...


The application support is pretty thin at this time, though. The AT review mentioned there were only two programs that work with the QuickSync hardware, and they are pretty limited in what they do. That sounds an awful lot like everything that used fixed-function hardware to accelerate video transcoding- remember the predictions a few years ago at how we were all going to be using GPGPU through CUDA or the Stream to encode video and such? All that happened from that were a few half-baked and pretty limited programs that generally gave subpar results, so most people ignored it. I'd consider getting a Sandy Bridge for QuickSync pretty much only if I was already using one of those two programs and they did everything I needed. Otherwise, I'd make sure that the CPU itself was fast enough to do what I needed.
May 11, 2011 6:52:33 AM

MU_Engineer said:
It all depends on what exact software you will be running and exactly you want to do with the machine.

- If all you want to do is play back 1080p H.264 and Blu-Rays, the cheapest AM3 Sempron is more than enough as the GPU will do the decoding.
- You might want a GPU that's a little faster than the 4200 IGP if you have very high-bitrate H.264/VC-1 or if you have 1080i video and want to do high-quality deinterlacing. The 6450 would be a good candidate for this is you happen to run Windows, otherwise a 1 GB GeForce GT220 or GT430 would be the card I'd recommend.
- You will want a stouter CPU than a single-core Sempron if for some reason you choose not to use GPU codec decoding or it does not work properly. I'd suggest something like an Athlon II X2 270 if your software video decoder isn't particularly well-threaded or you are running a capture device like a Hauppauge! HD-PVR that spits out H.264s frame by frame and confound multithreaded playback. If it's well-threaded (such as newer builds of MythTV), a decently-clocked quad-core like the Athlon II X4 640 is very appropriate. Extra L3 cache won't help much if any with video decoding.
- If you want to work with the video at all, such as transcode it or commercial flag it, you want a lot of cores to speed this up. I'd look at the Athlon II X4 or one of the 95-watt Phenom II X6s in that case. The video encoding ASIC in the Sandy Bridge CPUs may be useful for transcoding, depending on if it does what you need it to do as far as codec and bitrate and such.
- If you play streaming video, especially Flash, you would do well to have at least a decently-clocked dual-core CPU.

If I were you, I'd probably go with the Athlon II X4 640, the Radeon HD 6450 (or GT220/GT430), and 2-4 GB of RAM depending on your OS. That's not overly expensive and should easily handle most anything you throw at it.

Great advice thanks!
There is one point you mention which I forgot: I DO need to watch HD quality streaming video based on Flash (ie MLB.TV) so what do you mean by 'decently-clocked dual-core CPU' : does the Sandy Bridge i3-2100 fall into that category?
Thanks :) 
a c 99 à CPUs
May 11, 2011 11:24:11 AM

Skyfish88 said:
Great advice thanks!
There is one point you mention which I forgot: I DO need to watch HD quality streaming video based on Flash (ie MLB.TV) so what do you mean by 'decently-clocked dual-core CPU' : does the Sandy Bridge i3-2100 fall into that category?
Thanks :) 


A modern CPU with a clock speed around 3 GHz is considered relatively high-clocked and should handle software playback of most any video without too much trouble. The i3-2100 is a 3.1 GHz unit with no Turbo, it should be plenty of CPU for things like MLB.TV.
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May 11, 2011 1:21:16 PM

I've had an ASRock E350M1/USB3 AMD E-350 APU on my workbench of death over the past 5 days and it has performed just dandy.

It does ESPN3 and YT 1080p with no problems (FF4 & Flash 10.2) -- I'm guessing MLB TV would be similar ...

I just did some *Fast Casts* from MLB TV (Justin Verlander and the Tigers no-hittin' the Jays :D  ) along with some light multi-tasking and 'peaked' at 87% of 800MHz at 39w with C&Q enabled:



Does Aero without a problem, too. No issues streaming DVD or recorded TV content (generally 35-40% CPU utilization at 800MHz 'C&Q') across our network in MPC with dxva enabled.

Toss in the Crucial Real SSD C300 64GB for $100 (with code EMCKEJK36) and things should operate quite 'snappy'

I'm not 100% certain I've got my drivers perfect yet :lol:  but be sure to install the AMD media UVD (the old 'Avivo') package and the DirectX runtime for proper operation of MPC. You will need Flash 10.2 also.
May 11, 2011 1:32:17 PM

Thank you both!
a c 99 à CPUs
May 11, 2011 11:47:39 PM

Wisecracker said:
I've had an ASRock E350M1/USB3 AMD E-350 APU on my workbench of death over the past 5 days and it has performed just dandy.

It does ESPN3 and YT 1080p with no problems (FF4 & Flash 10.2) -- I'm guessing MLB TV would be similar ...

I just did some *Fast Casts* from MLB TV (Justin Verlander and the Tigers no-hittin' the Jays :D  ) along with some light multi-tasking and 'peaked' at 87% of 800MHz at 39w with C&Q enabled:

http://i716.photobucket.com/albums/ww165/Back_at_the_Ranch/AMD%20Overlords/Spec/MLB-TV_0.jpg

Does Aero without a problem, too. No issues streaming DVD or recorded TV content (generally 35-40% CPU utilization at 800MHz 'C&Q') across our network in MPC with dxva enabled.

Toss in the Crucial Real SSD C300 64GB for $100 (with code EMCKEJK36) and things should operate quite 'snappy'

I'm not 100% certain I've got my drivers perfect yet :lol:  but be sure to install the AMD media UVD (the old 'Avivo') package and the DirectX runtime for proper operation of MPC. You will need Flash 10.2 also.


Flash Player 10.2 for Windows apparently does some GPU offloading, which is why the "you need Flash 10.2" is important. I would seriously doubt that an E-350 Zacate's CPU cores alone would be able to handle Flash at HD resolutions, since the E-350 has a per-core performance that's similar to an earlier Athlon XP than anything made in the last 8 years.
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May 12, 2011 2:01:03 PM

MU_Engineer said:
Flash Player 10.2 for Windows apparently does some GPU offloading, which is why the "you need Flash 10.2" is important. I would seriously doubt that an E-350 Zacate's CPU cores alone would be able to handle Flash at HD resolutions, since the E-350 has a per-core performance that's similar to an earlier Athlon XP than anything made in the last 8 years.


What has been most surprising to me is the 'range and vibrancy' of the color/PQ with the HD 6310 IGP. I understand how subjective this can be per individual tastes but in my eyes the improvements are amazing (coming from an IGP guy with a few HD4xxx-series discreet cards).

There are drivers for DivX hardware acceleration I've yet to install (I've got no media to test and I'm too lazy at this point to convert some). I tested a Haupauge USB TV tuner with less than stellar results with C&Q (buffering ... no real hardware acceleration). No problems (no buffering) with C&Q disabled. I've seen this before with Haupauge tuners which seem to be more dependent upon software decoders. This was in their 'WinTV' program - not XBMC or Windows Media Center - so that performance may change (XBMC seems to work really well with AMD decoders) but I'm not real happy with my recording options outside of WinTV.

I'm trying to find a Dvico PCIe HDTV7 dual tuner (they've disappeared over the last few months - just my luck). Their PCI tuners play really well with ATI UVD hardware acceleration.

Next up is testing the port-multiplier function of the eSATA. Pray for me :lol: 
May 12, 2011 4:35:40 PM

MU_Engineer said:
Flash Player 10.2 for Windows apparently does some GPU offloading, which is why the "you need Flash 10.2" is important. I would seriously doubt that an E-350 Zacate's CPU cores alone would be able to handle Flash at HD resolutions, since the E-350 has a per-core performance that's similar to an earlier Athlon XP than anything made in the last 8 years.

I have to agree here: despite the System Requirements from MLB.TV (of course they want as wide an audience as possible) my 5 year old system with an Intel Pentium4 3.2GHz is not able to seamlessly render the highest HD setting they broadcast. Time for a new system and you guys helped me out :) 
!