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Discussion Starter #1
I've just built a new desktop.

I don't do PC gaming (Xbox 360 and PS3 for that) so it's primary use is browsing, office applications, etc. The one heavy duty use it gets is transcoding video (eg. using Handbrake to make a file ATV compatible, XenonMKV for a 360, or manually converting files to .m2ts for PS3 streaming). I have a Windows Home Server that takes care of streaming files to my various appliances (PS3, 2 Xbox 360s, an AppleTV, and Sonos).

I am far more comfortable and experienced with AMD builds and I do think they are generally better value, although I am aware there are some exceptions to that. So I really didn't explore Intel options much.

Here's what I've got:

CPU: AMD Phenom X6 1055T
Mainboard: ASUS M4A89GTD Pro
RAM: G-Skill 6GB DDR3-1333
HDD: WD Green 1.5TB
BD Writer: LG BH10LS30
Power Supply: Antec TruPower 650W
Case: Antec Proto Mid-Tower

Considering my application, I was expecting to be satisfied with onboard graphics. The onboard GPU is an ATI Radeon HD4290. However, I am a little disappointed, mostly with speed but a bit with image quality as well. It's not an improvement from the onboard graphics with the PC this is replacing (an ATI M2R32-MVP).

Looking for suggestions on a PCIe graphics card, keeping in mind gaming is not the purpose for the PC.
 

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First, a suggestion. You should get a SSD. They are totally worth it, at least as a OS drive. NCIX has a OCZ Vertex 2 120GB for $149 (on sale this week). I don't recommend computers using spinning rust as a OS drive anymore.

Next, a question. What specific tasks is the HD4290 failing to perform well enough for you on? When you say it is slow, are you saying that you find it slow when browsing and office applications?
 

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Discussion Starter #4
I will probably add an SSD and do a reinstall at some point. I was trying to keep the build to a price point.

I notice it playing video streamed from my server. Getting some macroblocking that shouldn't be there (it's not transfer speed ... my network's all gigabit and I get good transfer rates). That's not so much speed as what seems like a lack of power. Also, notice it browsing with loading times for some video content.
 

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RAM: G-Skill 6GB DDR3-1333
How many memory modules are installed?

The onboard GPU is an ATI Radeon HD4290.
The onboard HD42xx chips are optimized for video and light gaming. They tend to be poor performers for Aero. A quick fix is to turn some Aero features off, like transparency. I usually use a mid range card for a desktop workstation, like a GeForce 460 or Radeon 46xx/56xx series card. A full 1GB of video memory is a good idea as well. There are some decent deals and configurations for these cards. Since the onboard video supports CrossFireX, it might be worthwhile to stick to a compatible Radeon product.

HDD: WD Green 1.5TB
This drive is a decent performer if the O/S is installed on a small partition (~60GB) at the beginning of the drive. It's still nowhere near as fast as an SSD though.
 

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Three modules. 4GB operate as dual-channel. Got such a good price on the kit (better than going with comparable 4GB kits) that I went with it. I will probably add a 2GB DIMM to get full dual-channel.

I wasn't all that concerned about drive speed. I know the green drives run a little slower, but for the use, it's not a limiting factor. As above, I will probably add an SSD, but want to wait for Gen3 pricing to fall into line before I do it.

I think I've narrowed it down to a Sapphire Radeon HD 6790 (1GB DDR5) or a EVGA GeForce GTX 550 Ti (also 1GB, 975MHz). Given I'm running an ATI chipset, my inclination will be towards the Sapphire, but any other thoughts?
 

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It sounds like you really want the new video card. I fully understand. The 6970 is a sweet card. I'm not a big fan of Sapphire cards and would suggest XFX.

However, I don't think your existing PC is all that shabby and should be performing better.

I'm running an ATI All in Wonder HD (3650 series) and usually watch 1080i ATSC TV/recordings. However, TMT 3 turns off Aero before playing Blu-Rays. So you shouldn't be having macro blocking with a 4000 series GPU.

I have no codec packs since they were as likely to introduce video artifacts as anything. Also, tune down any video post-processing in the ATI drivers. Especially AA, as it is unnecessary with HD video.

What concerns me is the slow browsing and problems streaming. That suggests some network bottleneck.
 

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Discussion Starter #9
Michael, it's the 6790, not the 6970 ... I think that would be overkill for my application.

It's not network related. Easily doing file transfers over my network at 50 MB/s and my internet connection is a solid 15 Mbps tested at Speedtest several times.

Bob, are you suggesting 4GB dual-channel, or just 4GB?
 

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Remove the dual channel. memory acces will be faster and should improve video.

I have an hd4200 running on DDR2 1066, single mode and I think my picture is good (ota on the HTPC or on the tv tuner are equivalent)

Before adding a discrete video card you should try all setting for video as suggested by others; in windows and ati, for the following reasons IMO;

-you said you were on a budget
-computer main application is HT
-discrete video means more power required, gives more heat, needs more ventilation and at the end; more noise
-discrete also bring a new fan in your case
This should not stop you to buy a discrete video but you need to think about it before buying.

When you watch your best movie I am sure you don't want to ear your computer!
 

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Discussion Starter #11
Bob, it's not an HTPC.

I have a server and the desktop in my office, not in my home theatre. The server does all streaming of video content to my home theatre, so the noise is not an issue.

The PC's heavy lifting is in transcoding or repacking video content. I notice the video card lagging when I am watching the content (720p or 1080p streams).

Good tip on the memory ... thanks.
 

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If gaming isn't really in the equation, an older DX9 card would probably be good enough. Even something in the $50-$100 range would offer pretty good performance.

In your case, I think what a newer, modern video card could offer is leveraging the GPU to assist with video transcoding i.e. using CUDA-compatible applications, in the case of an nVidia card, for example.
 

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I think I've narrowed it down to a Sapphire Radeon HD 6790 (1GB DDR5) or a EVGA GeForce GTX 550 Ti (also 1GB, 975MHz). Given I'm running an ATI chipset, my inclination will be towards the Sapphire, but any other thoughts?
6790, especially if you are doing transcoding.
 

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Three modules. 4GB operate as dual-channel.
These are meant for Intel triple channel chipsets. Try pulling the odd module and see if video performance increases.

I will probably add a 2GB DIMM to get full dual-channel.
I've had problems with mismatched DIMMs. Even DIMMs from the same brand and line can cause problems unless they match exactly (same RAM chips, timings and date of manufacture.) It's best to go with a matched pair.

The Sapphire Radeon HD 6790 is I bit of overkill for the applications but a good match for the system. The CPU should be adequate for transcoding and the software will need to support GPU transcoding to take advantage of it. Not sure if Handbrake does that. If saving money is more important, a 6750 will save about $40 with some loss of performance and future proofing.
 

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First, I think I should correct a misconception that faster GPUs make a difference for transcoding:

As we’ve been noting in our GPU reviews for quite some time now, there’s no advantage to transcoding on a GPU faster than the $200 mainstream parts. Remember that the transcode process isn’t all infinitely parallel, we are ultimately bound by the performance of the sequential components of the algorithm.
source

Secondly, what type of video is stuttering? Does that codec even use GPU acceleration? CoreAVC (a leading h.264 decoder) only just added support for accelerating decoding using ATI Stream instructions just a month ago. If you're using the built in Windows 7 h.264 codec, then it doesn't use Stream or CUDA. It's likely that what you need is a new video codec or (if you're going to stick with the same codec) a processor that is faster at single-threaded performance.

Do you know which video decoder you were using?
 

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Hugh, are you saying that the transcode file will be of better video quality
or that the playback of a transcode file will be of better video quality?
 

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Hugh,

Ahh, re-reading the post you were basically talking about ATI vs NVIDIA trans-coding quality. Yeah, last I heard there are quality issues transcoding with NVIDIA. I was talking about how you hit a performance ceiling very quickly when transcoding using a GPU, so don't buy more GPU than you need.

That said, I don't think JohnnyCanuck will see much of a performance improvement in transcoding performance using a AMD GPU when compared to his Phenom X6 using a software encoder (x264). It may be ~15% faster or so.

Finally, I'm skeptical that he needs a new video card at all, I've got a HTPC using a integrated Radeon HD4200 with a slower CPU, and it plays back high bitrate h.264 files just fine! Maybe he needs to change his decoder software. Maybe he could look into CoreAVC ($10).

Oh, and one more suggestion on the video issues. I used to be having issues with my AMD 785G-based HTPC (mentioned above) with video stuttering using SageTV, but I later discovered that the problem was with my network driver. I upgraded that and the problem went away. The network driver that was installed via Windows Update turned out to be sucktastic.

I'll also take a moment and plug Driver Detective. If you've got a lot of PCs to keep track of drivers on, it makes finding the latest drivers for various components extremely easy.
 

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I also have great SpeedTest results and file transfers across my gigabit network. Those are average values. Nonetheless a few BitTorrent connections can create unpredictably high pings and network lags. A problem with on-line gaming and I presume video streaming where burst speeds aren't as important as sustained throughput.

Have you tried moving the problematic files onto the computer and watching them there?

BTW. It was a Freudian slip. I really meant 6790 but typed 6970.
 

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Discussion Starter #20
I think I need to clarify what has me disappointed a bit.

First, I am seeing macroblocking and tearing on video content played over my network. That wasn't present on the same files played on the older desktop. Second, I expected to see a more noticeable performance increase going from 2GB RAM to 6GB, Athlon dual core to Phenom 6-core, and going from the chipsets on the M2R32-MVP to those on the M4A89GTD Pro. I haven't experienced that.

In tracking it down (and I've built probably more than a dozen PCs over the years so I am familiar in what to look for), the most logical conclusion to me was a poor performing GPU.

What I've done this morning is a few simple things to see if I can address the problem locally without getting a new graphics card (mostly for power consumption reasons, cooling is more than sufficient, and while I was trying to stay within a certain price point, I can easily manage the extra amount). Updated the BIOS (should have done it immediately). Installed the ASUS GPU Boost overclocking utility and have boosted the GPU clock to 800 MHz from 700. Also realized I forgot to install the AHCI drivers and will have to try and remember how to retrofit those with causing a BSOD.

If the problems continue, I will just bite the bullet (I think). Am I missing any other tweaks?
 
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