Stress & Reliability Load Test: 7 Tuner Configuration
A Media Portal system and software verification test of:
Stability, Performance, Reliability, and Architecture
The “First In A Series” of Tests from the Developmental and Testing Team of: Media Portal
AUTHOR(s): Media Portal Development and Test Team
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The Media Portal Development and Testing Team is committed to delivering its growing user community a robust, feature rich, customizable, “and most importantly” stable-well behaved/performing product. It’s becoming abundantly apparent to both the Media Portal user community, and those who follow the HTPC scene – that Media Portal is a product making intense traction and displacing many others in the process. Testament that teamwork, commitment, and not always the $ can deliver the strongest solutions.
The hours behind the scenes on each and every morsel of the application to deliver stability, reliability, and performance have and will remain countless. Many of our tests are “Extreme” in nature (often beyond the typical of real-world scenarios). Our belief is if we can test and deliver the limits, we can comfortably deliver the most practical – and offer the stretch room for the power HTPC user at the same time.
This following test/report is the first in a “Series of Tests” being architected for our users; actually 2 more are complete and pending publishing. The Team has tested many “Worldwide” tuner configuration scenarios. As can be seen with our progress, the focus of MP to deliver high volumes of Multi-Tuner options is just one of the feature enhancements you’ve begun to see. The test illustrated in this example focuses on the Hauppauge Series of PVR Hardware Encoder cards. Each of their prime cards were used, (1ea) PVR-150MCE, (2ea) PVR-250, (2ea) PVR-500’s. Ultimately we will expand the flavor of card testing in future tests but believe this establishes a solid foundation for most users.
This (7 Tuner “Media Portal Power Tower ”) document focuses on these key aspects for content and illustration:
SCREENSHOTS: Many illustrations and real-time “screenshots”. The test was completed in a constant timeframe so all images are reflective of the test “in-process”.
SOFTWARE: All of the software that was used to build our MP Stress Tester is documented below.
HARDWARE: The hardware, information, and physical and interior – exterior screenshots of our test system.
CONFIGURATION: We show configuration aspects of a multi-tuner system and basic examples to get them up and running. Ultimately – there are only a few parameters to consider with multi-tuner vs. single tuner systems. NOTE: This test is not intended to be a step-by-step tutorial, please refer to the forums for basic level configuration specific to you needs.
LOADING-UP Recordings: There are quite a few ways within Media Portal that users can select a program to “record”, we were sure to use each of those steps to get recordings going – ultimately to further demonstrate real world practical use.
CPU Gauging: Ultimately this is what we are after, efficient software, utilizing hardware encoders to do their job “offload” and make sure plenty of CPU cycles are left for a responsive system and I/O requests to keep the system running smooth.
24 Hour Test Report: Our test did not stop with this test, then stopping the recordings. This test was run for a 24 hour period with a consistent probe on CPU usage and stability of the system. We provide the feedback.
Media portal Test - System profile:
Below is the basic makeup of the exact system (Hardware and Software) prepared from ground-up for the purposes of the pressure test. This platform has also served, with many others, as foundation for the growth of the Media Portal platform. Most of the software and hardware (although perhaps not specific to your configuration) are generally available and non-proprietary in any sense. The goal was for the test to be practical to show the ease of building a Media Portal platform to suit your needs “even though we took it to the next level for testing”.
So above we see nothing outside the realm of a basic system setup, obviously the Codecs, Video Cards, and Tuners may differ for individual users needs and liking. All in all our Testing Team has pretty well verified the test results with other Video Cards such as ATI, and Codecs such as NVIDIA. The fact that as you can see below all of our TV Tuners are hardware-encoder based, they will produce optimal results. Our CPU tested provided us with sufficient power, but please take special note that we did “short-change” the test so our results would be real-world and we likely could have used Serial-ATA disks, Spanned Recordings across disks, loaded some more RAM, and also not used the Maximum Video quality which was Media Portal HQ (6Mb – 12Mb/sec VBR). With that said – the software configuration you see above, and all of the hardware below.
Hardware Breakdown of: (Media Portal Power Tower)
Below are actual internal and external images of the system configuration to show how card placement is configured, and what the Team uses for our quality assurance and performance testing of Media Portal. Further below you will see these physical cards configured within both the XP Operating System, and then in Media Portal for tuning purposes.
(Pictures below): The rear of the Antec Tower and from left to right are installed. 1) NVIDIA FX5200 Graphics Card, 2) USB2 Rear ports, 3-4) PVR500’s, 5-6) PVR250’s, 7) PVR150. Directly below that image are the cable connectors applied to those cards. The beauty of the PVR500 is although 2 tuners exist; the splitter is internal so only a “single cable” is needed and helps to minimize the cable mess.
(Pictures below): The images will give you a pretty solid look at the internal of the Power Tower. Several disks are installed in the system but RAID is not available, nor is more than a single disk used for the testing results below.
System Configuration: (Tuner Configuration)
Although this testing document is not intended to be a tutorial, the Team felt compelled to give “functional illustrations” for visibility and understanding of some of the basic steps to get a multi-tuner configured and operational with Media Portal. The reality is, if you have installed a single tuner of your choice – then installing more is simply finding free slots, then duplicating the steps.
You will find a few additional configuration parameters for multi-tuner such as “Priority” which is part of the algorithm that Media Portal will use to select the tuner card used for recording. You may also choose to select a single card to “not record” if you prefer, and let the other(s) handle the recording. For more details on specific multi-tuner configurations refer to the support forums.
Verifying and preparing your tuners:
(XP Device Manager Verification): Once you have physically installed your tuners, the next “best practice” is to make sure before proceeding with Media Portal is that the XP Operating System has no flags or errors on the cards. This is done thru Control Panel / Device Manager. As you can see all of our 7 tuners are simply waiting for a little action – and are cleanly installed and ready. You may also use Device Manager to disable/enable tuners if you are doing testing rather than completely removing a tuner from the system.
(Media Portal TUNER Configuration): At this point you will now proceed to configure your new, or additional tuners, within the Media Portal configuration manager. The team would suggest to minimize your complexity and confusion that you become comfortable with getting your first tuner operational before proceeding with the remainder. It’s obvious that our test is a “tad excessive” for practical usage, but even in our testing we make sure that we can get our first tuner up and running, then add the second, the begin layering the remainder of the tuners into the Media Portal configuration.
The Team has made an Interactive Clip (12 MB) that shows the configuration aspects of the Media Portal configuration.The images below will be very familiar to you if you have configured your Media portal tuner cards. Ultimately what you are now seeing is the fact we have repeated this 7 times for each tuner in the system. We chose one tuner for non-recording, and this was simply to demonstrate this as a possible option for you. Also is each tuner can be given the same priority or incremental (higher ones will be chosen for recording first).
MediaPortal Tuner Configuration:
(Media Portal CHANNEL mapping): Now that all of our tuners have been configured, our last step is to assign the channels that each tuner will be able to access. The Media Portal FLEXIBILITY here is yet another key bonus of MP. You can have pre-defined Genre channel Groups for News, Movies, Children, Sports, etc. Also, in some configurations you may have variance in tuner cards in which some can receive satellite channels – and other cable, etc. Each tuner is simply has the channels mapped to the card and this gives the card the information it needs in order to channel change. This data can be entered manually, or it can be imported from the XMLTV TV Channel Configuration. Our test uses land-cable with signal amplifiers to increase signal clarity and quality.
Media Portal (Channel Mapping) for each tuner:
Loading up the “Recordings” and “Load” on the Media Portal Power Tower:
Pre-Test Technical Commentary:
Ultimately as we stated at the beginning of our document, this was not intended to be a tutorial – but an extreme and continued testing platform as the Development and Testing Team delivers code to our outstanding user community. We believe if the system can handle extreme loads, we can hopefully deliver to you the practical without hesitation. At the same time, the days of a single tuner PVR or even dual tuner PVR’s are passing. Media Portal is being designed to grow with and around you, hence our commitment for extreme testing.
The testing illustrations you see below are all “Real Time”, not a single image was edited – and maybe we even lost a CPU point or two for the purposes of real-time screen capture. To reiterate, there were a configuration aspects we could have added to make our performance numbers more favorable; but chose not to for no other reason than practical hardware I/O configurations.
Those items we chose to exclude and are quite certain would have saved us a minimum of 5% CPU on each test were:
1) Single Drive Recording Point
2) Standard ATA/IDE Drive Configuration
3) Maximum Video Quality Recordings 8Mbps/12Mbps (VBR)
4) Basic 512MB RAM Configuration
Placing the Load on the System:
Now we move forward with placing a 24 hour load on our system. We did not load it up, then wind it down – but stressed the box for 24 hours with a complete CPU, I/O, and Process report for our Development Team. So many tests at this point have been done to this degree that we were confident with what the CPU results we would be able to deliver, but the level of load and amount of time the system sustained stability was very pleasant for the entire Team. The system remained interactive for the entire test – in large to delete recordings as the drive was filling pretty fast for a single disk configuration.There are several convenient options for placing a show into “Recording Status” within Media Portal. We wanted to navigate the system like the average user and simply disregard the fact that we had 7 tuners in our box, six which were prepared for recording, and one reserve for LiveTV viewing (which could have been a recording tuner as well).
The steps we used to place shows in recordings for the immediate and future loads were:
Summing Up the Performance Results above:
Pretty Impressive: Those that have become Media Portal loyalists and those transitioning from some of the lesser “$ ticket required products” are seeing Media Portal evolve at an amazingly fast pace. Just a little more than a few months or so ago Media Portals multi-tuner features were about as minimal as MCE. In just a short period of time multi-tuner feature, performance, and reliability are among the most robust of any application on the market.
What the numbers looked like: The pictures tell a thousand words. Ultimately CPU upon “settling”, meaning post/pre recording work has settled with I/O and the application load on the box was nothing more than Media Portal – CPU ranges from 25/30% to typically no greater than aprox. 50-55%. These are very comfortable numbers for this system configuration and we were extremely pleased. Anytime that LiveTV is not present the CPU load will decrease as the video is not being drawn to the screen. The Media Portal team works very hard to observe other solutions on the market to be sure we not only meet, but exceed the performance and features that users demand.
What the pictures above illustrate: Ultimately what you see above is the result of loading 6 High Quality (8Mb/12Mb VBR) recordings in process, and the 7th tuner being used for LiveTV. The CPU gauge is there for all to see – and all screen shots were done real-time.
The 24 hour test: We are very pleased to let everyone know that a 24 hour test of this identical process was sustained and managed. “Meaning” – Media Portal was loaded with every tuner recording, used like it is intended – pause/shift/ffwd/rewd – and recordings deleted. Not that we are still not suspect to occasional crashes during the developmental process (but this test PROUDLY sustained for the entire 24 hours)…… A major hat is off to the incredible Media Portal development team for the increased stability, performance, usability, and reliability.
Style AND Substance:
MP Skin Flexibility: The other piece you are noticing is the absolutely stunning and flexible skinning architecture. It was only appropriate for our users (old and new) to see how attractive and functional the skinning of Media Portal is among other applications on the market. The creative ability to architect to your tastes are endless.
Media Portal GROWS AROUND YOU - Not Locked into an Interface or OSD: With so many applications, what you see is what you get, and also what you may be stuck with until another major release or realization that a fresh coat of paint may be handy every 3 years or so. Sometimes this is as painful as watching the current paint dry. With Media Portal the skinning architecture gives you, and the development community, the keys to the kingdom with the MP User Interface, the OSD architecture, and plugins galore. Our community is loaded with creative talent, artistic strength, and programming expertise beyond limits – all for use for your tastes.
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