Friday, December 9, 2005

Dual Core Media Center Goodness

I recently put together a new Media Center PC.  The old one was running on a Pentium4 1.7 GHz and was becoming too slow for my tastes.  It ran okay but was becoming slow to bring up the guide, etc.  The day following Thanksgiving, I was able to score an AMD Athlon 64 x2 3800+ for a good price and decided it was time to put together the new machine.  Here is what I ended up with:

AMD Athlon 64 x2 3800+


NVidia GeForce 6600GT

NForce4 motherboard (ECS A939) - it was free with the processor.

Two analog tuners (one Emuzed and the other Conexant)

Silverstone LC14 case

This isn't the absolute fastest machine on the block but it has some getup and go.  I'd heard rumors that Media Center glitched on the dual-core processors but following the advice of David Fleishman, I installed new HAL drivers and haven't seen any issues.  The machine is definitely snappy.  I don't have it hooked up to an HD TV yet but it should be capable of doing WMV-HD 1080p decode with hardware acceleration through DXVA-WMV.

The case is quite cool.  It's a little tall but it has a nice black color and fits well with other media components.  Unlike some of its competition, it has space for more than 1 internal hard drive.  In fact, it has space for 3 of them.  It also has space for 2 CD/DVD drives.  The drive covers are better than most for HTPC cases.  They are flip-down doors, not stick-on cover plates.  The only downside is that there is no way to have a card reader in the case.  I suppose that is what the other machines on the network are for.

While I'm on the subject, I should mention that I'm using a Home Theater Master remote control.  This brings up an interesting issue.  Media Center doesn't work well with universal remotes out of the box because it has some technology to stop signal double-taps.  The behavior you'll get is that each button will work only once and then you have to hit another button before it will work again.  The solution is to follow the advice of Michael Swanson who outlines a registry setting that will diable this feature and let your universal remote work.


  1. Steve, Does the Media Center OS run in 64-bit mode on that processor?

    Have you seen any dual-processor driver bugs?

  2. I have a machine with same configuration and was hanging every 30, 40 minutes. Did you have that issue? I had to disable USB 2.0 support to make the system stable.


  3. Media Center is 32-bit only at this point. It's an OS and doesn't come in a 64-bit flavor right now. I haven't seen any bugs I can attribute to being dual core. The machine has been working continuously and flawlessly for over a week now.

  4. I apologize if this question is elementary but I have been reading everything and can't get a straight scoop....If Windows Media Center is only 32bit what advantages does the dual-core bring to the table?

  5. 32-bit dual-core will let you do more at once. This can be a single application that is designed for multiple threads (e.g., many DivX encoders), or running more than one application at a time.

    32-bit vs. 64-bit is independent of single-core vs. dual-core, in general. So all combinations of the above exist: 32-bit single-core, 32-bit dual-core, 64-bit single core, 64-bit dual core.

    The AMD discussed above is a dual-core 64-bit running in (dual-core) 32-bit mode.

  6. Thanks Tzagotta. Just one more clarification. Base on what I understand here, if I am running windows Media Center (32bit) it seems that I will still see come benefits from Dual core even if I am running multiple applications such as a web browser, DVD burner and using the TV tuner (ie applllications that are NOT multi-threaded). How does the OS know how divy up the processing between cores? Or does the processor take care of this? (please don't feel obligated to a long technical explanetion)

    And finally in this environment will I get better performance from a 2.2 or 2.4 Ghz single processor(AMD athlon series) or a dual core 2.0 Ghz (AMD X2 3800)?

    Thanks so much - this is very helpful in putting together a new system! Kirk

  7. Kirk, The OS is responsible for assigning processes and threads to the available CPUs. It has load distribution algorithms that it uses to make this assignment. If you run two programs that are busy and consume a lot of CPU, the OS will assign one to each CPU core. This is fully automatic and requires no user intervention.

    Comparing the two processors - the faster single-core will run a single application faster, but the slower dual-core will give better overall performance when you have more than one program running that uses a lot of CPU, and the dual-core will be much faster for apps that are written with support for multiple threads. Also, the X2 is 64-bit capable, so when MS releases a 64-bit version of this OS, you will be able to run that. I would go for the dual-core processor.

  8. As you might recall, about 5 months ago I built a pretty cool Media Center PC.  I have been experiencing...