To test out performance on a mainstream HTPC system we got out one of our own systems that we built up a couple of years ago. This system is loaded with an MSI K9AGM2-FIH motherboard (AMD 690G), an AMD Athlon X2 4850e 2.5GHz Socket AM2 45W dual-core processor and 2GB of Corsair PC2-6400 Dominator memory. To top off the base platform we have an LG Blu-Ray player, Western Digital 750GB hard drive and a Moneual MonCaso 972 HTPC Case w/ 7″ LCD. Powering all this was a Corsair HX 620W power supply and Windows Vista Ultimate SP1 32-bit was the operating system of the hour.
The ATI Radeon HD 4770 512MB graphics card was run using CATALYST 9.5 hotfix drivers, while the NVIDIA GeForce 9800 GTX+ was run using Forceware 185.85 drivers. The GeForce 9800 GTX+ is a tight fit, but thanks to some 90 degree SATA cables for the motherboard we were able to get the giant card into the Moneual MonCaso 972 HTPC case.
MediaShow Espresso is an easy to use software application that converts digital video for playback on different portable devices such as the iPod, iPhone, or PSP at very high speeds with excellent quality. You just drag and drop the video file you want to convert and after selecting your settings the conversion will begin. MPEG-2 transcoding is very popular today and as you can see using GPU compute power quickens the time it tacks to convert the media file. The ATI Radeon HD 4770 video card does much better than the GeForce 9800GTX+ and Athlon X2 4850e processor in this benchmark. The GeForce 9800 GTX+ does slightly better than the processor at lower resolutions, but at 1080p for the PS3 it did much better.
H.264 transcoding showed similar results to MPEG-2 transcoding, so it got me wondering if something else was at play. While searching for a bottleneck I fired up the Microsoft Windows Reliability and Performance Monitor to examine how running MediaShow Espresso was impacting CPU load. The results were surprising to say the least. It seems that with NVIDIA CUDA hardware acceleration enabled the CPU load was still at 100% load during the transcoding of the video. When using the ATI card with Stream technology the CPU load for the same video was just 73%. Since the ATI Radeon HD 4770 was faster in the benchmarks it goes to show more work is being off loaded and done on the GPU than the CPU. It seems that on the NVIDIA solution more of the work is being dumped to the processor and the dual-core AMD Athlon X2 4850e isn’t that quick.
With a quicker CPU the NVIDIA GeForce 9800 GTX+ with CUDA should do better as it is processor limited now. Let’s bring out the $995 Intel Core i7-965 processor to see if that helps over the $55.99 AMD Athlon X2 4850e processor that we just used for testing.