Do I Need A New Computer?

The new DailyMotion open video support is very, very cool indeed, but my desktop PC can’t download and play the Transformers trailer without pegging the CPU (or half of it) and jerking. My machine is a 3GHz Intel Pentium IV with 1.5Gb of RAM and 1MB of cache which I bought several years ago. (BIOS date Feb 2004.) It has Hyperthreading so Linux sees it as 2 CPUs, and the video pegs one of them. I have a similar problem with Flash video in iPlayer, although it’s not quite as bad in that it pegs the CPU and doesn’t jerk, so this is not me being a Flash fanboy!

Max clock speeds don’t seem to have changed much since then but I suspect other aspects of CPU architecture have. This page suggests current top-of-the-line CPUs are 10x faster than mine, and the CPU in the cheapest Dell desktop available is 6x faster.

If I want to view open video, do I need a new PC? Or is there more optimization work that will be done before the release?

14 thoughts on “Do I Need A New Computer?

  1. I have a 2.2 Ghz Core 2 Duo Macbook Pro and I get the occasional frame drop on that video despite CPU usage being around 50% on both CPUs. Can’t answer the rest.

  2. gerv, I switched to mac (macbookpro 15″) a few months ago. My MBP is the best computer I ever had. Even if you put linux on it, it’s a wonderful beast. Think about it.

  3. I would try a video card upgrade first. Cheaper.
    Despite the lack of bumps of GHZ, the memory bandwidth has increased, and accessory bus speeds have increased.

  4. I’d say at this point that moving off of a Pentium 4 is a good idea. You can buy (or build) Core 2 systems at very low prices and will see substantial performance gains across the board. Core 2 is coming to the end of its life, so I’m sure there’ll be discounts in the coming months.

  5. tomas316: Thing is, I need a video card which is fully supported by free drivers. Currently, I have a ATI Technologies Inc RV280 [Radeon 9200 PRO] and sitting in a box on top of my system unit is an nVidia Geforce FX5200 128MB AGP which I could also put in instead. Are there better cards I could get which are fully supported by free drivers? Which of those two should I be using?

    Dan: Problem is, they cost a fortune :-) And if I had the money, I’d probably get a Thinkpad. I’m a Trackpoint man.

    Ben: Thanks. I think building it wouldn’t be worth the cost saving – I’d lose more time than I saved in money. But I might try and replace the system unit with one based on a fast Core2. The peripherals (monitor etc.) are all OK so I could save there. And my twin 80GB hard drives are still just about enough space.

  6. This isn’t going to help your framerates, but if you’re doing builds on this machine you may wish to look at some of the new flash drives. Given that 80GB seems enough for you, the intel 80GB one is probably a good choice:

    You can see Linus raving about it here — there were some later issues with performance degradation over time but those seem to all have been wrapped up.

  7. Depending on the codec, newer cards do accelerate some video, even with free drivers (radeon hd, and geforce 8xxx (ish) and newer). But MPEG4 codecs only get accelerated with proprietary drivers… I think. It’s a minefield.

  8. (Pre-emptive note: I am not an expert on video, or Linux. All my “knowledge” on the matter is glorified hearsay.)

    Frankly, I think your insistence on free drivers is going to be your biggest problem — from what I’ve seen online, free video drivers on Linux basically boil down to “crappy” and “really crappy”. (Though it’s not like ATI’s closed Windows drivers are all that much better.)

    If you’re well and truly opposed to downloading binary drivers from nVidia for your new card, even though they actually work right and actually get almost all the functionality that the hardware has to offer, your only choice is going to be to upgrade CPU(s). And if your board can’t support a multi-core chip you’ll be looking at a new board also.

    (And to nitpick, you don’t “need” RMS-stamp-of-approval drivers. You just “really, really want” them.)

    And if you’re going to be mucking around in your computer’s guts anyway I’d suggest springing for a RAM upgrade even though that’s not your problem here. Depending on what you do you with the box you might find yourself paging a lot less on your other tasks if you crank yourself up to 4 GB.

    So, if you’re comfortable getting inside the machine, you can probably upgrade for $300-$500 (or whatever the hardware costs over there). If you’re shy about playing with hardware you’ll have to buy a whole new rig, which will be a bit pricier.

  9. Hi Gervase, there’s a bunch of factors that could combine for overall CPU usage… one quick set of diagnostics is if you could restart your system, and open up that page in a new barebones browser instance (without other pages, other network requests, extensions to customize the browser, etc).

    If even this “clean play” is rougher than what’s seen on other systems, then this could point to a factor in the current configuration… but if it acts fine in such a clean state, then the contributor would more likely be in other activities performed during a normal session.

    (Hmm, on a re-read, you mentioned only one specific video with performance issues… comparing performance with other videos in the same format could provide additional clues.)

    hth, jd/adobe

  10. I rebooted. The OpenVideo demo now takes 85% of my total CPU playing on its own, and maxes it out whenever I add any of the effects. Flash (iPlayer) seems to have the ability to take 50% of my CPU without playing anything (!), and when I click play, it also goes up to 85% or so. Although iPlayer is higher resolution than the Theora video. But it doesn’t skip, whereas the OpenVideo does a bit.

  11. I have a Dell Optiplex 270.. it has a 3.0GHz HT P4.. when I first got it hyperthreading wasn’t enabled.. after going into bios things got fixed. and things were a bit more snazzy.

    I am running Windows 7RC1 on it without a problem.. and can play HD video without a hassle.

    I think your more running into a problem of linux being linux.. and not your computer.

    That.. or I guess you could say that linux requires much faster computers than windows or OSX does.

  12. it eats up all my CPU too on a 2.0 Athlon 64 X2

    I only have 256 of video however, I wonder if that could be the cause. Other video runs fine.

  13. This is definitely a lack of optimisation. It sounds like the video is software-rendered instead of using Xv, in which case it’ll still run like crap even on a new PC.

    The easy way to test that is to try playing the video in standalone mplayer. I can play 720p videos from youtube fine using it, and my PC’s a lot slower than yours. Regular in-browser video has never been usable for me, though I’ve tried just about every plugin I can find.

  14. Personally, if being able to watch videos on the web were the only motivating factor, I probably wouldn’t be willing to go through the hassle of moving to a new computer, even if the hardware were free. I *certainly* wouldn’t shell out several hundred dollars for new hardware just to enable such a minor feature.

    Maybe I’m just a curmudgeon.

    FWIW, I *did* finally do the upgrade to Lenny, so I have FF3 now… and no support for my Turtle Beach Santa Cruz sound card, which had been supported in Linux and every other OS I tried, including FreeBSD, for years, and which I originally selected specifically because it was so well supported. Grrr. If I had to do over again, I would stay on Etch and kernel 2.4 for another year or so. It didn’t have fancy new features, but it didn’t have fancy new problems, either.

    Yeah, okay, probably I am a curmudgeon.

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