Description

Purpose: A friend of mine had his sights set on an Intel NUC for a low-power, always-on Plex transcoding box. I told him the NUC was absurdly overpriced, and offered to build him a custom small-form-factor machine with superior specs at lower cost. The model to beat was the D34010WYK kit, which had an i3-4010U CPU, 4 GB of RAM, and a 64 GB SSD, priced at $440.

Name: He initially referred to this build as "NUC replacement" or "NUC alternative". I felt that that was too dreary and uninspiring, so I suggested "NUC ANNIHILATOR".

Part selection:

  • CPU: Plex published some guidelines for CPU performance required for real-time video transcoding ( https://support.plex.tv/hc/en-us/articles/201774043-What-kind-of-CPU-do-I-need-for-my-Server-computer- ), quoting a PassMark score of 1,500 for 720p / 4 Mbps, and 2,000 for 1080p / 10 Mbps. Accordingly, the NUC he selected had the Intel i3-4010U, which scores 2,453 ( http://www.cpubenchmark.net/cpu.php?cpu=Intel+Core+i3-4010U+%40+1.70GHz ). At the time, AMD had just debuted a socketed, low-cost, low-power platform aimed at developing markets, in use cases such as receptionist desks, shop counters, kiosks, interactive displays, and internet cafés. AM1 happened to also find its way into NAS devices, home servers, and home theatre PCs in developed markets - hence this build. It was just what I was looking for. A quick check of benchmarks revealed that the top-end $55 Athlon 5350 part scores 2,608 ( http://www.cpubenchmark.net/cpu.php?cpu=AMD+Athlon+5350+APU+with+Radeon+R3 ), even higher than the i3-4010U. Although its TDP is rated at 25 watts compared to the i3-4010U's 15 watts, it's still quite frugal. Either way, the CPU will be spending most of its time idling in low-power states, in which power consumption between the two would be comparable, both in the single digits.

  • CPU cooler: At these TDPs, even cheap bundled coolers are silent yet more than capable enough. No massive dual-tower, 10-heat-pipe monstrosities nor water cooling loops in this build.

  • Motherboard: After filtering for Mini-ITX boards from the more well-known names (ASUS, Gigabyte, and ASRock), it was between the ASRock AM1B-ITX, ASUS AM1I-A, and ASRock AM1H-ITX. The AM1H-ITX had the most modern set of video output ports (VGA, DVI, HDMI, and DisplayPort), 4 SATA ports instead of 2, and a 19 V DC in jack, enabling the option of using a laptop power brick instead of a conventional power supply. There weren't any significant differences between the three otherwise. Although it was the most expensive at ~$60, the AM1H-ITX still left plenty in the budget.

  • Memory: This set was chosen from the motherboard's qualified vendor list. DDR3-1600 is the fastest that Kabini's memory controller was designed for, so there was no point in buying any faster of RAM.

  • Storage: In this transcoding box, the disk exists merely to hold the operating system; media from a NAS is transcoded and then streamed, all over the network. There isn't really a need for any more than 10 or 20 GB.

  • Case: When I built this, I wasn't yet aware of even smaller cases such as the Antec ISK 110 VESA. Still quite compact, though.

  • Power supply: The Silverstone SG06BB-LITE uses the SFX power supply form factor, reducing the case's size, although SFX PSUs come at a slight premium compared to conventional ATX PSUs.

Build:

  • The build was quite straightforward.

  • The bundled cooler uses plastic push pins that resemble those on some Intel stock coolers.

  • The case is much larger than it needs to be for this rig, especially since it will never need a discrete graphics card.

  • The tabs on this case's cover that hook onto the main chassis are easily bent; when closing the case, take care to align the tabs on both sides.

Observations:

  • AM1 motherboards generally have no north nor south bridge chipsets, since the Kabini SoC integrates the CPU, GPU, PCIe, and IO onto a single die.

  • The AM1H-ITX uses an ASMedia 1061 chip to provide 2 SATA 6 Gb/s ports in addition to the 2 built into Kabini.

  • The greatest concern was that the power supply's fan would be audible, but the system is virtually silent.

  • NUC Annihilator has been running Ubuntu and Plex Media Server 24 hours a day, mostly headless (no display), for close to a year now with no reported issues.

Comments

  • 58 months ago
  • 1 point

Nice job! Clearly defined goal for the build, and you met or exceeded all parameters.

  • 58 months ago
  • 1 point

I like it. Well done.

  • 58 months ago
  • 1 point

How s streaming on it???

  • 10 months ago
  • 1 point

Yes, but a NUC runs at roughly 35 Watts. That is a key advantage, what does this beast eat in power?

[comment deleted]
[comment deleted by staff]
  • 58 months ago
  • 1 point

That's certainly unexpected. The X6 1045T should have left the Core 2 Duo E4500 in the dust in anything multi-threaded. Even if the workload were single-threaded, it should be faster, at the very least comparable to your overclocked 3 GHz E4500.

What did CPU utilisation look like during transcoding on the 1045T? Was it greater than 16.6% (100% / 6)?

[comment deleted by staff]