Copyright 2009-2012 by djg. All Rights Reserved.

Wonky Gibbon Ramblings



Squeezing more Performance out of Windows 7 Media Center 0

Posted on December 12, 2009 by danny

So then, the wife isn’t that happy with Windows 7 Media Center. It deosn’t always respond to her remote control commands (usually when its recording something else) which is annoying.

So here at Gibbon Towers, it was time to do some work to see what was going on in terms of system resources. Hmmm – first thing was that there wan’t much free RAM left on the machine. Never a good sign. So time to turn off whatever I could to free up some RAM and some CPU clock cycles.

Switching off Features

Started off by switching off a bunch of Windows Features. In Windows 7 there’s a proper app to do this, not just an uninstaller. Just type “Windows Features” into the start menu. Rather cleverly, it properly unloads and disables them so that they use no system resources whatsoever rather than uninstall them altogether. Which means that when you want to re-enable them at so,me later date – you haven’t got the arse of trying to find the DVD. Result!

Switching off Services

I then set about switching off all the Windows 7 Services not required for watching or using the Media Center application (NB: we don’t use Media Extenders either) in Windows 7 Home Premium Edition. Thus I disabled the following services:

  • Background Intelligent Transfer Service
  • Desktop Window Manager Session Manager
  • Distributed Link Tracking Client
  • HomeGroup Listener
  • HomeGroup Provider
  • IP Helper
  • Peer Name Resolution Protocol
  • Peer Networking Grouping
  • Peer Networking Identity Manager
  • PNRP Machine Name Publication Service
  • Print Spooler
  • Themes
  • Windows Media Player Network Sharing Service

For more information on what services do what, in Windows 7 (and how safe it is to disable them) – the Black Viper website is superb.

Given that we’re not going to have Extenders in other rooms, not going to use the new HomeGroup functionality (you still have networking without HomeGroup), I switched off Aero and all the Theme stuff (Media Center doesn’t use them) – and I’m not going to do any printing. All of which makes sense because the machine really does just live under the telly, playing video, in our house.

Doing all of this had an immediate and dramatic impact on responsiveness. In fact the remote control is back to MCE 2005 levels of useability which is excellent. And looking at the system resources there’s much more free RAM in the system (it released hundreds of MB).

Other Changes

I then did a comparison of CPU’usage of NVidia’s PureVideo decoder against Microsoft’s decoder by having them in turn play back the same video file. According to task manager, PureVideo was about 10% more intensive on the CPU;. Since I can see no difference in quality – I’ll go with Microsoft then.

XVID had become a car crash again. Turned out that Windows had managed to undo the hack I applied form the previous host to get it working. Reapplying the hack not only fixed XVID but also improved responsiveness, particularly when recording another program at the same time.

I also upgraded the CPU from an Athlon XP 1600+ to a 2100+, because err… I could. And it only cost £5. And it made absolutely no difference whatsoever.

Setting up Power Saving Modes

Finally the guy at Slick Solutions has produced a new version of his MCE Standby Tool for Windows 7 – which I can’t recommend enough. Get that from a link somewhere in this post http://www.degroeneknop.nl/forum/index.php/topic,4989.75.htmlhttp://www.degroeneknop.nl/forum/index.php/topic,4989.75.html Really sorts out the power management. If you think it’s good, make a donatation to him.

Conclusion

So after spending a few quid (most notably on both a TV card and a Graphics card) – the whole system does now work. It works well when playing back, or recording one or two channels together. It still struggles when doing all three together particularly when using the remote to fast forward or rewind).

For reference the two biggest improvements were turning off the unwanted bits of Windows, and applying the codec patch from the GreenButton website.

When I find some time I want to do a comparison of CPU usage on the Black Gold card vs the PEAK one. I have a feeling that the Black Gold one takes on more of the work of encoding whilst the PEAK one leaves more to the CPU. But that’s just a guess at the moment.

A Random Gotcha

NB: One other problem that fooled me a bit was that the disk became full. Until I freed up some space that murdered performance as well.



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