How important is the GPU in a new DIY media server build?

Octavio_Masomenos

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May 27, 2022
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I have a great 4U rackmount server case and a ton of hard drives (although most of them are 2TB or less. That’s OK, I’ll learn a lot, get things just the way I want them, then upgrade the drives.) I’m planning to build a server using OpenMediaVault, SnapRAID and MergerFS/UnionFS. It will mostly run Emby, serving up content to clients both in and outside the home - so transcoding performance matters. I’m also going to install/create something that will automatically rip Blu-ray discs, DVDs, and CDs to my disk array/media library - so ripping performance matters. I will probably use Docker containers for things like Radar, Sonarr, Lidarr, etc. (Not sure if there are any performance considerations there or not.) I’m open to advice such as “use a different machine for ripping“ or “Sonarr/Radarr/Lidarr would be better running in containers on a Raspberry Pi.”

My plan for now is to find (on eBay) the least expensive quad core CPU (35W TDP or less), the least expensive motherboard to support that CPU, and 16GB of the appropriate RAM for that mobo. Looking around a bit, I can do all that right now for less than $200. What I’m unclear about is how important the GPU is and how much (if anything) I should budget for the video card.

This will be a headless server, so I will only be buying a video card if it’s important for optimal transcoding, ripping and/or downloading. I’m just really not up on GPUs. Thank you for your time and consideration.
 

ReturnedSword

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I would definitely use a separate PC for ripping, especially if you have multiple 5.25” full sized ODDs. Most modern-ish CPUs don’t have an issue ripping from multiple ODDs nowadays, even with multitasking going on with other things. I’m not sure about automated ripping software, because in any case you’ll need to manually load new discs; so going through a few wizard dialogues in your ripping software won’t be a big deal.

For GPU, it’s unnecessary unless you care about absolute transcode quality, or your CPU is an Intel F variant which has a disabled iGPU. Just go with an Intel 6th gen non-F and up, and you should be fine on the transcode part with QuickSync. There was a major QuickSync capability increase in the 6th gen, then again in the 11th gen (Xe-based), though the QuickSync capability between 6th to 11th gen isn’t that big. It is big with 6th gen and 5th Gen/lower though.

I think i3 or better from 8th gen should be good enough, as that’s when i3’s got native quad core, which gives comparable capabilities to a 7th gen i5. Intel Skylake spans 6th to 10th gen, so in terms of the CPU core there weren’t many changes. The only changes were clock speed and core counts.

With an 8th gen i3, you should be able to run all the services you mentioned, along with OMV. If you have a lot of hard drives you may consider buying an HBA as well which will go in one of your PCIe slots.
 

zer0sum

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I agree 100% with what @ReturnedSword said above. Intel quicksync is pretty slick :cool:

But, getting a cheap Nvidia Quadro P400 is also a great approach. It's a single slot card and pulls power through the PCIe slot itself, and does an amazing job transcoding. You can't go wrong either way :D

If you have the space for a dual or triple slot card, then I'd start with 1650 Super as it's the lowest end Nvidia card with the turing chipset, and the best encoding/decoding you can get
 
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ReturnedSword

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I’d probably prefer Intel QuickSync for simplicity over an nVidia P400/P620, unless if purchasing a TMM box that has a P400/P620/P1000. QuickSync gets the job done, with close enough quality.

GTX 1650 Super/1660/1660 Ti also great, but sucks they have got inflated pricing still for being rather old GPUs. I’ve been eyeing an HP 805 G6 with 1660 Ti for a while now, but I’m unwilling to pay the price. Slim pickings though tbh.

Some of my other threads around here makes evident my preference for AMD since Ryzen was released. All my non-server stuff has been switched to Ryzen/TR starting in 2017 after over a decade on Intel, however AMD has yet to beat QuickSync for encoding/decoding video so I have some Intel stuff for that purpose. RDNA 3 is supposed to have a much better encode/decode engine, so we’ll see when Ryzen 7000 is released.
 

glow

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Mar 22, 2022
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Also, see if you really need that transcoding at all. All of my clients are PCs that can easily handle just about anything. For phones, I really don't care if the quality is all that great on a small screen. Though if I'm ever using my phone for watching media, I'm likely unable to access my home server anyways.

I generally agree with the Intel Quicksync route. Unless if you are hosting for all of your friends and family, I don't see the point of more powerful HW.
 

Octavio Masomenos

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Thanks, everyone, for the helpful input.
you should be fine on the transcode part with QuickSync
Nice. I was completely unaware of QuickSync. I think I’ll do some reading.

With an 8th gen i3, you should be able to run all the services you mentioned, along with OMV. If you have a lot of hard drives you may consider buying an HBA as well which will go in one of your PCIe slots.
Thanks for that recommendation. Looks like I can get an i5-8400 (8th gen, 6 cores, 35W TDP) on ebay for about the same price (~$80) as an entry level 8th gen i3. The low TDP is a big criteria for me since the server will be running 24/7/365. I have a couple of 4-port SATA expansion cards but Im thinking about upgrading them. Especially since I don’t know how many SATA ports the new motherboard will have.

I’m not sure about automated ripping software, because in any case you’ll need to manually load new discs; so going through a few wizard dialogues in your ripping software won’t be a big deal.
Not to get too off-topic but the auto-ripping program I’m working on is sophisticated enough to make it (IMO) worthwhile. After automatically ripping the inserted disc, it (begins automatically transcoding and) goes out to IMDB/TMDB/TVDB/CDDB/Discogs, to find the most likely match. It then scrapes the page to a text file, parses the text file for the title, year, etc. (including a link to the page that was scraped), populates a php page on a local web server, then sends me a push notification with a link to the local php page that gives me the option to select a genre from my preferred list, make any changes (especially on CDs where I’m pretty anal about using e.g. “Tragically Hip, The” over “The Tragically Hip) and/or go to the search page that was used so I can select a different entry. Yes, at some point I’ll need to go and physically swap the disc, but for me, there’s a lot more to ripping a disc than just ripping a disc.

Some of my other threads around here makes evident my preference for AMD since Ryzen was released.
Same here. I haven’t even considered/looked at Intel CPUs for the last 5 years (Ryzen is just such a great value proposition) but I don’t think AMD has anything that will compete with Intel for performance and TDP (and apparently transcoding, too).

I generally agree with the Intel Quicksync route. Unless if you are hosting for all of your friends and family, I don't see the point of more powerful HW.
My clients are currently Roku devices but Im planning to upgrade them to those nifty little tubular Nvidia Shields. I’m guessing the Rokus are going to need help from the servers but the Shields won’t. I DO plan to host for friends and family. I think I’ll probably get a cheap Quaddro card.
 

Octavio Masomenos

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Feb 4, 2019
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One last question about cheap Quadro cards… does it matter (as far as transcoding goes) how much memory it has? Or is it just the GPU I should care about? And are any of the Quadro cards too low/old? Should I stick with _____ and above?
 

ReturnedSword

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Thanks for that recommendation. Looks like I can get an i5-8400 (8th gen, 6 cores, 35W TDP) on ebay for about the same price (~$80) as an entry level 8th gen i3. The low TDP is a big criteria for me since the server will be running 24/7/365. I have a couple of 4-port SATA expansion cards but Im thinking about upgrading them. Especially since I don’t know how many SATA ports the new motherboard will have.
You’ll be well served by a cheap LSI 9200 series HBA. The cheap 2-port ones like the 9211 can use breakout cables to convert to 8 x SATA3.

Not to get too off-topic but the auto-ripping program I’m working on is sophisticated enough to make it (IMO) worthwhile. After automatically ripping the inserted disc, it (begins automatically transcoding and) goes out to IMDB/TMDB/TVDB/CDDB/Discogs, to find the most likely match. It then scrapes the page to a text file, parses the text file for the title, year, etc. (including a link to the page that was scraped), populates a php page on a local web server, then sends me a push notification with a link to the local php page that gives me the option to select a genre from my preferred list, make any changes (especially on CDs where I’m pretty anal about using e.g. “Tragically Hip, The” over “The Tragically Hip) and/or go to the search page that was used so I can select a different entry. Yes, at some point I’ll need to go and physically swap the disc, but for me, there’s a lot more to ripping a disc than just ripping a disc.
Ah, I had tried some “automated” ripping programs before and found the remaining manual steps didn’t save much time, plus I don’t use any auto-loading optical drives so manually going through options became muscle memory to me.

Same here. I haven’t even considered/looked at Intel CPUs for the last 5 years (Ryzen is just such a great value proposition) but I don’t think AMD has anything that will compete with Intel for performance and TDP (and apparently transcoding, too).
Ryzen isn’t just a value proposition. Ryzen, especially starting with Zen 2, has excellent IPC and perf/watt compared to Intel. That, and I was sick of being stuck on quad core for almost a decade aside from my old Intel XE workstation. Even my first Zen 1 (Ryzen 1700), though IPC didn’t match Intel Skylake derivatives yet at the time (7th gen), the boon to multi-tasking felt amazing. Even for gaming, Ryzen has aged well since many more games are multi-threaded now. Can’t really say the same about 7th/8th gen Intel and prior.

In terms of real wattage used, Ryzen is typically better as well. Intel finally made “TDP” more realistic with 12th gen, but previously let’s say an Intel 65W CPU was definitely not running at 65W most of the time. For all the Skylake derivatives (6th to 10th), Intel was stuck on 14nm and had to crank up the base and boost clock speed quite a bit to try stay relevant, and power usage really showed. The reason why I use Intel for this situation is solely due to QuickSync.

My clients are currently Roku devices but Im planning to upgrade them to those nifty little tubular Nvidia Shields. I’m guessing the Rokus are going to need help from the servers but the Shields won’t. I DO plan to host for friends and family. I think I’ll probably get a cheap Quaddro card.
I would recommend against the non-Pro Shield (the tube one). It doesn’t have enough memory to run properly at anything demanding outside of media playback. The Pro can, though I wonder how it will age as it also has a low amount of memory (though 1GB more) for its horsepower. Getting Shield Pro 2019’s for every TV can quickly get expensive though. The main value is the Shield plays pretty much anything, if your Plex server isn’t running on something powerful enough to transcode, or if you didn’t want to pay for Plex Pass to get transcode capability. Most people who run Shields for Plex are doing so because they are storing the media on servers that can’t transcode well, or at all (most of the bigger Synology units).

How about the Chromecast with Google TV (the newest one)? Mine runs almost anything direct play. I haven’t done a proper comparison on supported formats to see where the CCGTV would not direct play, but my Plex server can transcode anyway. Can play most things, $50 vs $200; it was a no brainer for me.

The main reason I needed transcode capability is for remote clients (hosting for family/friends who don’t live here, and don’t have fast enough internet to direct stream at 75-150 Mbps bitrate). I use an nVidia Quadro P1000 for this, though I’m sure a P400/P620 would be fine too. You can also patch in Linux GTX cards to have unlimited transcode streams. Pascal and up are best. To be completely clear though, even in this case, you probably won’t notice a major difference between QuickSync and nVidia NVENC, thought quality wise NVENC is better than QuickSync.

How about looking into a Lenovo P series Tiny if you don’t mind having your Plex box separate from the storage? My P330 Tiny came with the Quadro P1000, and I snagged it brand new from sitting in an unopened box nearly 2 years for an absolute steal around $550. Many other P series Tiny also come with Quadro. Or you can get a Lenovo M720q/M920q (much cheaper) and use Intel QuickSync.
 
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ReturnedSword

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I forgot to add: for QuickSync, an Intel NUC or Intel NUC clone is also a popular route. Just make sure it’s using a 6th gen and up CPU. Jasper Lake atom NUCs are also great, as while the CPU isn’t going to wow anyone, it still has QuickSync.
 

Stephan

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Octavio Masomenos

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automated Blu-ray / DVD ripping

Yeah, I’ve seen that. Even tried to set it up and get it working. Twice. I just recently saw this which is containerized so I‘m much more likely to be successful in getting it up and running. But it’s the local web server, push notification, and the ability to make changes to the files before their saved that makes my idea kind of unique.