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Blu-ray & Flash Video Acceleration

Compatibility is obviously a strongpoint of Brazos. So long as what you’re decoding can be hardware accelerated you’re pretty much in the clear. But what about CPU utilization while playing back these hardware accelerated formats? The CPU still needs to feed data to the GPU, how many cycles are used in the process?

I fired up a few H.264/x264 tests to kick off the investigation. First we have a 1080p H.264 Blu-ray rip of Quantum of Solace, averaging around 15Mbps:

Quantum of Solace 1080p H.264 CPU Utilization (1:00 - 1:30)
Platform Min Avg Max
AMD E-350 22.7% 27.8% 35.3%
Intel Atom D510 Fail
Zotac ION 14.6% 17.2% 20.1%

A standard Atom platform can’t decode the video but ION manages a 17% average CPU utilization with an Atom 330. Remember that the Atom 330 is a dual-core CPU with SMT (4-threads total) so you’re actually getting 17.2% of four hardware threads used, but 34.4% of two cores. The E-350 by comparison leaves 27.8% of its two cores in use during this test. Both systems have more than enough horsepower left over to do other things.

Next up is an actual Blu-ray disc (Casino Royale) but stripped of its DRM using AnyDVD HD and played back from a folder on the SSD:

Casino Royale BD (no DRM) CPU Utilization (49:00 - 49:30)
Platform Min Avg Max
AMD E-350 28.1% 33.0% 38.4%
Intel Atom D510 Fail
Zotac ION 17.7% 22.5% 27.5%

Average CPU utilization here for the E-350 was 33% of two cores.

Finally I ran a full blown Blu-ray disc (Star Trek) bitstreaming TrueHD on the E-350 to give you an idea of what worst case scenario CPU utilization would be like on Brazos:

Star Trek BD CPU Utilization (2:30 - 3:30)
Platform Min Avg Max
AMD E-350 29.0% 40.1% 57.1%

At 40% CPU utilization on average there’s enough headroom to do something else while watching a high bitrate 1080p movie on Brazos. The GPU based video decode acceleration does work, however the limits here are clear. Brazos isn’t going to fare well as a platform you use for heavy multitasking while decoding video, even if the video decode is hardware accelerated. As a value/entry-level platform I doubt this needs much more explanation.

Now let’s talk about Flash.

I ran through a number of Flash video tests at both YouTube and Hulu ranging in resolution from 480p all the way up to 1080p. I used Flash 10.1, 10.2 beta as well as an unreleased version of 10.2 beta provided by AMD.

Flash Video Playback CPU Utilization - YouTube 720p

Flash Video Playback CPU Utilization - Hulu 480p

For the most part GPU accelerated Flash video does work well. Performance under both YouTube and Hulu was flawless, provided that I wasn’t watching 1080p content. Watching 1080p content in YouTube wasn’t entirely smooth on Brazos, despite posting very reasonable CPU utilization numbers.

Flash Video Playback CPU Utilization - YouTube 1080p

Flash Video Playback CPU Utilization - YouTube 1080p

I took my concerns to AMD and was told that this was a known issue with Brazos and Flash 10.1 and that 10.2 should alleviate the issue. AMD then supplied me with an unreleased version of Flash 10.2 to allow me to verify its claims. While 1080p playback improved with AMD’s 10.2 beta, it wasn’t perfect (although it was very close). AMD wouldn’t tell me the cause of the problem but it’s currently working on it with Adobe. At the end of the day I don’t believe it’s a dealbreaker, but early Brazos adapters should expect some stuttering when playing back 1080p YouTube videos. Note that 720p and lower resolution videos were perfectly smooth on Brazos.

Video Decode Capabilities: Is Brazos the New ION? The Radeon HD 6310: Very Good for the Money
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  • GTaudiophile - Thursday, January 27, 2011 - link

    What are the differences between high- and low-end HTPCs?

    I am thinking of making a combo HTPC/NAS box of sorts...playing the role of both media streamer (online content, mkvs, etc.) as well as a storage box for machines on the network.

    Will this do it? With what OS?
    Reply
  • djfourmoney - Thursday, January 27, 2011 - link

    Go to the AVS Forums and look at Rene's HTPC Guide, the latest version is $10 but well-worth it.

    Low End HTPC especially AMD in recent years rely on IGP for all video decoding. But this equals the performance of a 785/880 based CPU/Chipset combo and cost about 25% less, less than half the power needed and tiny footprint.

    Unless you need expansion slots, as I said this thing can be built for such a low price you should replace your standard def Cable Box with this. Even with a PCIe Tuner Card that read Clear QAM as most do, it will pay for itself (no box rental fee) in about a year if not less.

    You can not buy a i3 for less than the whole board. In fact for the price of a i3, you can get the Asus with Wifi, Bluetooth and Heat Pipe cooling which is going for 141 Euro listed on European sites. It should cost roughly the same in the States some sources have it coming in around $150.

    Even if that's the case if you don't need USB 3.0 or SATA 3.0, the ASRock and Jetway boards will be the cheapest and think should be under $100 street price.

    Too bad AMD's current drivers don't support HDMI Audio for Linux installs. If they ever solve that, then you really can build a sub-$325 with all brand new parts.

    Just to fully answer your question, a high end HTPC depending on your desires, will have a Core i5 or AMD Phenom II CPU and Mid Range Video Card (HD5770) for some post-processing and 7.1 over HDMI. You can do that or a $200 Asus Xonar card, the GPU is cheaper and will do the same thing...

    Cost would be roughly twice that of a Atom/ION or AMD E350 system ($500-$700)

    Would be Windows 7 with Media Center if you want DVR capabilities or you can run XMBC strictly for media playback or Mediaportal.

    As I said Linux drivers for AMD hardware does not support audio over HDMI, so you would have to go with Toslink.
    Reply
  • GTaudiophile - Thursday, January 27, 2011 - link

    Thanks for the reply.

    I meant high- vs. low-end more in terms of capability? What more can I do with the high-end vs. low? Can a Zacate-based HTPC, armed with 2x 2TB HDDs in RAID 1 stream 1080p from say Netflix and play the 720p mkv episodes of TOP GEAR, smoothly? And when not streaming it will be a locally networked storage array.

    You think Win7 is the best? I currently run FreeNAS now for my NAS...why do I feel like Win7 would be some sort of downgrade?
    Reply
  • Anand Lal Shimpi - Thursday, January 27, 2011 - link

    High vs. Low mostly has to do with the responsiveness of the machine more than anything else (for a purely dedicated HTPC). Remember that only video decode is fixed function hardware assisted, everything else (launching apps, navigating around menus, general use stuff) is still run on the CPU core - which in this case may be around the performance of a 2.66GHz Pentium 4 depending on the workload.

    A higher end HTPC can also be multifunction (e.g. do your ripping, transcoding and watching on the same machine).

    Take care,
    Anand
    Reply
  • tecknurd - Friday, January 28, 2011 - link

    I disagree. A low end processor can still be as responsive as a high end processor. The difference between a low end and a high end processor depends on how much work you want to do with the processor. Also it depends on how long it takes a re-encoding or any task to be done. A low processor can do two things if they both consume 50% of CPU usage. One of the tasks could be video playback and other is re-encoding a video. The re-encoding will take longer than a high-end processor.

    Responsiveness is how the user interface software is written. Using a high end processor with a user interface that is slow will not help the responsiveness of the whole setup.

    A example of a low end and a high processor is a computer nerd and muscle builder pounding as many nails in a wood. The muscle builder is able to pound more nails than the computer nerd. Another test is pulling an airliner and again the muscle builder is able to move it. In this example shows that bigger muscles helps to do the heavy lifting, but the efficiency of the smaller muscles of the computer nerd uses less energy although it takes more time.
    Reply
  • zodiacfml - Friday, January 28, 2011 - link

    he refers the system as DVR or HTPC, not just a file server which most will do with Brazos. Reply
  • tecknurd - Friday, January 28, 2011 - link

    Digital audio over HDMI does work in Linux including for AMD hardware, so I do not where you are getting your information. Getting digital audio to work in Linux is a whole different matter all to its self. This goes for any hardware. It is best to use analog output for ease of setup.

    Do not need a $200 Xonar card. A $90 Xonar is all you need although the only times you need this card is its analog audio capabilities.

    An Athlon II is a better buy for a HTPC than a Phenom II.

    The problem using AMD graphic cards in Linux is no video codec hardware acceleration support. Sure there is some, but the short list and its problems makes it has no support. AMD graphic users have to wait until the Xorg team provides VA API or UVD support.

    FYI, ASRock does not have a warranty for end-users, so you have to rely on the store wherever you bought it from. Jetway may seem cheap, but their support is not good.
    Reply
  • djfourmoney - Thursday, January 27, 2011 - link

    I was thinking the same thing -

    You can build a Server with MSI or Gigabyte because those will be the cheapest SATA 3.0 boards. Maybe 12TB (6 SATA ports x 2TB@90 each) plus case and E350, about $800? I found a mITX Server Case that holds

    Get a Sapphire Pure White Fusion which has Bluetooth and 2nd PCIe x1 slot.

    Go Powerline Ethernet, 60GB Kingston SSD, Windows 7 and Windows Home Server with Recorded TV Manager an uTorrent Plug-in.

    Turn your old PC into a Workstation for Ripping Blu-Ray and Encoding.

    Reply
  • djfourmoney - Thursday, January 27, 2011 - link

    You can build a sub-$350 HTPC with this! If you can recycle some parts from any of your other builds you might be able to get it under $300. I built a ASRock based HTPC based on the price expected for that board ($110) and it comes in at $319 before taxes and shipping. Careful shopping might avoid that.

    Run Mediabrowser with TV and GameTime! Plug-ins.

    You can now throw away your Cable Box SD or HD. If you have standard cable, turning in your box and building a HTPC around one of these boards will pay for itself in about a year.

    If you get HD and Premium Channels, hopefully SiliconDust's 3 Tuner CableCard adapter will be out before NFL Training Camp.

    For Direct TV/Dish Network/AT&T U-verse, you'll be able to use Hauppauge Colossus with Component Input, eliminate issues with the HD-DVR USB version. As long as they don't cripple the component output, there's no PQ difference.

    Reply
  • Khato - Thursday, January 27, 2011 - link

    I've been somewhat disappointed with the lack of actual investigation into how changes in memory bandwidth affect this new generation of integrated GPUs - both on Brazos here as well as Sandybridge earlier. The direct comparison to a 5450 here is interesting, but since it wasn't stated I'm guessing those were stock 5450 numbers, not a 5450 underclocked to be the same frequency core/memory?

    The primary reason for it being a point of interest is that the current rumor has Llano at anywhere from 4x to 6x the shader resources, but only 2.4x the potential memory bandwidth. More likely 2x in any actual systems though given that anything above DDR3 1333 carries a decent premium. So if Brazos is already seeing hints of memory bandwidth limitations...
    Reply

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