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The WinFast PxVC1100 Video Transcoding Card: Worth The Price?

Introduction

Sony, Toshiba, and IBM probably didn't put much thought into using the Cell microprocessor as part of a Windows-based PC. Those of you unfamiliar with the Cell Broadband Engine Architecture likely know of its primary role in the consumer space as the CPU platform in the PlayStation 3 game console. You may also have heard about the U.S. Customs Enforcement Cyber Crimes Center using the PS3 running Linux to crack the passwords of suspected child pornographers. Indeed, the Cell processor is a very powerful component, and every Sony PS3 is rated for somewhere around 204 GFLOPS (single-precision float).

Admittedly, a gigaflop, which represents one billion floating point operations per second, is not a perfect metric, as these processors have different strengths and weaknesses. However, the number of gigaflops does give you an idea about the Cell's compute performance. When this article was written, the world's second-fastest supercomputer, the IBM Roadrunner, was using a combination of 12,960 Cell processors and 6,912 Opteron processors.

The trio of Sony, Toshiba, and IBM co-designed the Cell broadband engine architecture. Toshiba has taken the liberty of modifying the Cell processor into something a little more appropriate for multimedia processing by retaining half of the Cell's eight synergistic processor elements (SPEs) and adding video encoding and decoding hardware, it created the SpursEngine processor:

Consuming a mere 10-20W, the SpursEngine is intended to fill the role of a co-processor dedicated to 3D and video processing. With four SPEs running at 1.5 GHz, the SpursEngine is good for about 50 GFLOPS, and capable of 8/16/32-bit integer and single/double precision floating-point calculations. The processor has one megabyte of local memory, 256KB of which are dedicated to each of the four SPEs.

I know what you're thinking: it sounds great, but what can it do for me? Well, Leadtek asked the same question and responded by placing the SpursEngine processor on a video transcoding board called its WinFast PxVC1100.

We look at this SpursEngine-equipped card to show you just what it can do. However, more importantly, we're going to compare its performance to a number of CPUs across the price spectrum to see if your hard-earned dollars are best spent on the WinFast PxVC1100 or if they are better served upgrading your host processor instead.

  • paxiam
    I think for someone who does use their PC for encoding on a regular basis, this would certainly be a welcome addition, but otherwise, forget it.
    Reply
  • paxiam
    I think for someone who does use their PC for video encoding on a regular basis, this would certainly be a welcome addition (the price is reasonable), but otherwise, forget it.
    Reply
  • paxiam
    Reply
  • SpadeM
    These miscellaneous type of articles is what brightens up my day. Good to know that there aren't many products that launch and slip between the cracks of processor/graphics wars. Great job, nice article!
    Reply
  • how does this compare to using ATI AVIVO to encode, with a $200 dollar card?
    Reply
  • kumaiti
    Any info on future software support for this card? This card would be extremely useful if plug-ins for other video editor could be made.
    Reply
  • 4745454b
    Considering AMD has all but abandoned AVIVOm, the better question to ask is how this compares to CUDA. From what I've seen there aren't any problems with the output file. $200 is a bit much but at least it comes with the software. For those that have the $$$ to spare and do the encoding work, this is a big time saver. You could get the 620, mobo, and the card for probably about the same price as the 920 and a good Mobo. The difference is this setup will encode faster, and you can use the computer to do other things while encoding. I don't remember 100% for sure about it, but I think it will use less power as well.
    Reply
  • JofaMang
    Want.
    Reply
  • apache_lives
    hmmm get the feeling this will go the way of the dedicated physx (only) cards...

    what we need is a more GENERALISED co-processor card/device for this type of workload and many other uses, Intel's Larrabee had a good *idea* going - easily programmable, multi-purpose etc
    Reply
  • g00ey
    I was rather thinking that this hardware could be useful in portable media players where it is designed to consume less power and allow playback of all video formats out there.

    Moreover, this could also be useful in HD video cameras that are either stand-alone HD video cams or fitted into mobile phones (such as the Samsung Omnia HD) or digital snapshot cameras.

    I'm also thinking about its capabilities to be used in Live video applications that is streamed over the internet, either professional or teleconference applications such as SkypeHD.
    Reply