Improving VLC’s Performance with a Graphics Card

I own a few computers that I use for different purposes.  I recently put one of my old computers, an eMachines T5082, back into service.  It was one of the less expensive computers I could buy back in 2007.  It actually came with a recovery disc – what computer does that nowadays?  It has a Pentium 4 631 running at 3GHz, came with 512 MB DDR2 RAM which I upgraded to 2 GB, and a 160 GB hard drive.  It has Windows Vista Home Basic (32-bit) installed.  I brought it back out to try to play some old games on it but first, I wanted to use it to watch Amazon Instant videos and play DVDs while I worked on my main desktop.

I found that Amazon Instant dropped too many frames to be really enjoyable.  I normally play DVDs at a faster than normal speed , say up to 1.5x, sometimes even going to 2x or 3x on really slow scenes.  The playback dropped frames at nearly anything above 1x.  I tried to search the Web to see if adding a discrete graphics card would help the playback or was I stuck with sub-par frame rates because of the very old processor.  My search didn’t turn up anything.  I decided to take a gamble and buy it anyway.

The computer has an ATI Radeon Xpress 200 on-board graphics.  I previously researched two different discrete graphics cards back when I was thinking of buying a low-power, low-profile card for another computer of mine.  The choices were EVGA Geforce GT 610 1048MB GDDR3 or Asus ATI Radeon HD6450 Silence 1 GB DDR3.  They both run $40 on Amazon.  This eMachines can hold full-size cards but I figure as old as it is, I’d just stick with one of those two.  I chose the Geforce GT 610.

In short, yes, the discrete card made a huge difference in VLC video playback frame rates.  It’s well worth the money.  I tested the performance of the on-board vs. discrete graphics card playing in VLC media player 2.2.1 at 1920×1080.  (As a side note, lowering the resolution didn’t make my experience any better with the on-board graphics.)  I played Murder, She Wrote Season 4 Disc 3 in the DVD player using the “Play All” selection.  I ran it for one minute, paused playback, and looked at the number of frames dropped.  When playing faster than 1x, I increased the speed 5 seconds into the video and still ran it for one minute, then looked at the number of frames dropped.  I repeated the tests to make sure I got consistent results.  The average results follows:

ATI Radeon Xpress 200 on-board graphics:

  • 1.00x – 0
  • 1.50x – 208
  • 2.00x – 443
  • 3.00x – 521

Geforce GT 610 discrete graphics:

  • 1.00x – 0
  • 1.50x – 0
  • 2.00x – 0
  • 3.00x – 127

As you can see, the on-board graphics dropped frames as low as 1.50x but the discrete card went all the way to 3.00x before dropping anything and even then, it only dropped a bit over half the frames of the on-board graphics running at 1.50x.  The card gives the old computer new life for its new purpose.

The Cinebench 11.5 Open GL test wouldn’t run with the on-board graphics but showed 13.33 fps with the Geforce GT 610 card.  The CPU score was 0.48.  I had to use version 11.5 because it seems to be the last one that supports 32-bit operating systems.

Lastly, the Windows Experience scores for the computer with and without the card were:

  • Processor, Memory, Graphics, Gaming graphics, Primary hard disk
  • 4.2, 4.8, 2.6, 3.1, 5.7
  • 4.2, 4.8, 4.1, 5.2, 5.7

Now back to watching Jessica Fletcher solve the murder mystery.