Testing & performance
This is a brand-new card with brand-new technology and supports the brand-new Vista operating system, so I slapped it in our [OC]ModBox with the following specifications:
- Intel E6600 Core 2 Duo Processor
- Asus P5W DH Deluxe Motherboard
- nVidia 8800GTS 320MB PCIe video card
- Creative X-Fi Platinum
- 4GB A-Data DDR2-800
- 2x 500GB Western Digital SATA2 HDD
- Vista Ultimate x64
Driver and software installation went rather smoothly, and after a restart we were able to test it out. I ran setup and the Pinnacle installation wizard recognized Vista x64 and installed the appropriate drivers. On the driver CD is an application for Media Center to recognize the new card, but this application did not work on Vista x64. Media Center did recognize the card, anyway, but had very limited support. The FM tuner could not be found. The HDTV and SDTV tuner did work, however, but standard definition could not be detected while HDTV was operational.
One thing that was rather disturbing was the processor usage this card requires when recording a program. Recording a standard-definition TV show required nearly 40% of my processor’s resources, much less trying to watch a show at the same time. Playback resources can be reduced by using the PureVideo support built into the 8800GTS video card, but not every application uses it.
Recording an HDTV stream used only 10% resources, but really should have been lower because the card is simply dumping the stream to hard disk and shouldn’t really use any PC resources. Playback of live HDTV used about 30% CPU, as the card is streaming HD in real time, which the PC then decodes while watching. The CPU usage of watching a show isn’t indicative of the card’s performance. While the extra resources weren’t taxing the E6600, Media Center’s menus were slightly more sluggish, which reduces the “appliance-like” factor of a Home Theater PC.
Processor usage of a “real” PVR card with hardware MPEG encoding literally uses only 1-2% of a CPU, even under full load, so I was surprised by these results. It was obvious that x64 support was not polished up, so I tested the card in a more modest HTPC destination with the following specs:
- AMD Athlon 64 3000+
- Chaintech nForce4 motherboard
- Sapphire X1600 PCIe video card
- 2GB Geil DDR-400 memory
- Soundblaster Audigy 2
- 2x 250GB Seagate SATA2 HDD
- Windows XP Media Center Edition (32-bit)
Driver installation went just as smooth, and after a reboot we began testing on Media Center. We were able to successfully install the Media Center support appliation and enter Media Center. Recording a show stopped the HTPC in its tracks. We were eventually able to get Task Manager open and see that 98% of the processor was in use by ehencode, which is what Media Center uses when recording a show.
Obviously this card does not support hardware MPEG encoding at all. Even though this PC isn’t as powerful as a new machine, it is still more than adequate to record several shows at once, and watch high-definition content. Recording a show with our Hauppauge video encoder utilizes about 2% CPU usage, and watching a standard definition show requires about 30% of the processor’s attention.
Again, recording a HDTV stream isn’t as resource intensive, as the stream is already compressed. A powerful processor is only required when trying to play back the HDTV stream. Recording OTA HDTV used about 20% of the CPU, which is perfectly acceptable.