• Home
  • blog
  • LogicSupply’s BCM970012 PCIe mini card for 1080p on Intel Atom

LogicSupply’s BCM970012 PCIe mini card for 1080p on Intel Atom

blog image

Logic Supply offers a Broadcom BCM970012 PCIe mini card that enables any Intel Atom system to play 1080p HD video. We give the card a compare/contrast before/after on a Intel D945GSEJT Atom board, and against two ready-made ION systems from Lenovo and Asus.

February 4, 2010 by Mike Chin

Products
Broadcom Hardware Decoder BCM970012
– PCIe Mini Card
Sample Supplier
Logic
Supply
Price
US$59
– $10
off w/ SPCR10 coupon code

Logic Supply’s Broadcom
Hardware Decoder BCM970012 is an unusual product. It is a PCIe Mini Card that
provides video/audio hardware acceleration and enables support for H.264 and
VC-1 video decoding like playback of Blu-ray discs and streaming 1080p high
definition multimedia content. It is meant specifically for netbooks and nettops
that lack built-in support for HD video.

We’re talking about Atom-based systems running on the Intel chipsets, which
have taken the world by storm over the past couple of years. None of them really
have the ability to play HD video. The problem is lack of computing horsepower
in the CPU and the absence of hardware video decoding support in the chipset.

If you have an nVidia ION based Atom system, however, HD video/audio playback
is generally fine. HD video decoding support is the ION’s trump card over the
Intel chipsets for Atom. But if you have an Atom PC with an Intel chipset that
you’re thinking of replacing for a new machine capable of HD, Logic Supply’s
BCM970012 PCIe Mini Card could be just what’s needed to extend the useful life
of your netbook or nettop for another year or two. Many Atom netbooks, nettops
and devices have a mini PCIe slot. An add-on that extends PC life has got to
be worth examining for just the ecological benefit alone.

The device itself is tiny, measuring about 1"x2", it’s just a little
PCB, like most devices that plug into a PCIe Mini slot.


Front and back sides of the Broadcom Hardware Decoder BCM970012 – PCIe
Mini Card from Logic Supply.

The main chip on the device is a Crystal HD decoder BCM970012. Here is Broadcom’s
description:

From
the Broadcom BCM970012 Product Page
:

The chipset is a single-stream HD AVC/VC-1/MPEG-2 decoder solution capable
of full HD real-time decoding. The high performance and low power consumption
of the solution allow reduced CPU utilization and support for mobile platform
designs.

The chipset supports any compliant resolution from QVGA up to 1920 x
1088.

As part of the Crystal HD Enhanced Video Accelerator solutions from leading
OEMs, the BCM70012 enables feature rich 1080p streaming multimedia experience
on netbooks and nettops. With support integrated within Adobe Flash Media
Player, the vast library of online content from sites like Hulu, BBC iPlayer,
Crackle is now available for enjoyment on netbooks and nettops at low
cost and without sacrificing the portability and long battery life of
these platforms.

  • Multistandard high definition video decoding in the following formats:
    • H.264/AVC HP at L 4.1 1080p/1080i, 40 Mbps
    • SMPTE VC-1 AP at L 3 1080p/1080i, 40 Mbps
    • WMV9 (VC-1 SP and MP)
    • MPEG-2 MP @ ML and MP @ HL
  • QVGA to Full HD (1080p) support
  • Streaming Media playback on netbooks/nettops
  • Blu-ray disc playback on netbooks/nettops
  • Protected media playback on netbooks/nettops

It all sounds good. The key question is whether it works, and how well. That’s
what we’re here to find out.

TEST PLATFORM

The test platform is the Intel
D945GSEJT
, the first Atom-embedded mini-ITX board from Intel to feature
the mobile 945GSE Express Chipset, which we reviewed last October. It
came with a fanlessly cooled Morex case designed specifically for this board.
The system proved to have the lowest power consumption of any PC we’ve tested,
other than netbooks. However, in stock form, the D945GSEJT board cannot do 1080p
video; most 720p video is also a stretch.

A comparison was made of the AC power consumption, video playback performance
and CPU load of the original D945GSEJT system, the D945GSEJT system with Logic
Supply’s BCM70012 card, and the ION based Lenovo
Q110
, which also uses a single-core Atom processor.


The Morex 1620 fanlessly cooled case is made specifically for the Intel
D945GSEJT mini-ITX board.


Broadcom Hardware Decoder BCM970012 PCIe Mini Card from Logic Supply installed
in Intel D945GSEJT board.

CoreAVC, a not-free software hardware video accelerator, can be used
for HD video playback when there is enough CPU power; this means at least a
dual-core Atom. Data from our review of the dual-core Atom Asus
EeeBox EB1501 ION Mini-PC
is also shown. The ION’s CUDA hardware acceleration
was turned off so that the dual-core Atom’s HD capability can be seen. The various
systems were not configured identically, so there may be some minor difference
in results if all the hardware was kept more consistent.

System Configurations:

Intel D945GSEJT
Atom processor N270
2GB DDR2 SO-DIMM
Vista Ultimate 32-bit
Intel D945GSEJT / Crystal HD
same as 1st system w/
Logic Supply Hardware Decoder BCM970012 – PCIe Mini Card
Lenovo Q110
Atom processor 230
2GB DDR2
IOn chipset
Vista Home Premium
Asus EeeBox ION PC EB1501
Intel Atom N330 Dual Core
HW video acceleration turned off
2 x So-DIMM Slots, DDR2-800 2G
Windows 7 Home Premium

To enable the BCM970012 card, the latest Windows drivers were downloaded from
Broadcom’s
Crystal HD Video Decoder Drivers
page, which also has the driver source
code as well as application and library source code supporting all Linux kernels.
For those running Linux, the XBMC
(Xbox Media Center) development site
offers more detailed information.

Logic Supply’s product
page
states, "This product requires software that is able to utilize
DirectShow Filters. Currently, Cyberlink PowerDVD and Arcsoft Total Media Theater
allow Blu-ray playback; Media Player Classic is a free player that is compatible
with most other formats." Links for all of the software are provided.

Installation of the drivers was trouble-free. Both Media Player Classic and
Arcsoft Total Media Theater were tried and found to support the BCM970012 card.
TMT seemed to provide slightly lower CPU loads on most of the media clips. The
free version linked at Logic Supply was the player used in the Intel D945GSEJT
system.

Measurement and Analysis Tools:

TEST RESULTS

Test Results: Intel D945GSEJT + Morex T1610
State
Intel D945GSEJT
D945GSEJT
Crystal HD
Lenovo Q110
Asus EB1501
Off
<1W
<1W
<2W
<2W
Idle
12W
12~13W
17W
20W
CPU 100%
16W
16~17W
20W
27W
CPU+GPU
18W
19~20W
32W
39W
Test Results: Video Playback
Test Video Clip
Intel D945GSEJT
D945GSEJT
Crystal HD
Lenovo Q110
Asus EB1501
HW acc. off
CPU*
AC
CPU*
AC
CPU*
AC
CPU*
AC
Rush Hour
1080p H.264
82%
18W
20%
19W
20%
21W
60%
27W
Coral Reef
WMV-HD
80%
18W
22%
19W
71%
23W
33%
27W
Dark Knight
720p x264
90%
18W
20%
19W
50%
22W
49%
26W
Spaceship
1080p x264
100%
18W
23%
20W
48%
25W
65%
28W
* CPU load in percentage. Light gray boxes: flawed
but watchable.
Dark gray boxes: failure, unwatchable

The performance of the D945GSEJT system with the Broadcom Crystal HD decoder
is compelling:

  • All the 1080p clips become smooth and perfectly watchable, without exceptions.
    Without the decoder, none of them are consistently watchable on the single-core
    Atom Intel system.
  • The increase in AC power draw is under 1W in idle, and typically 1~2W under
    load or HD video play.
  • Compared to a single core Atom on the ION chipset, the Intel Atom / Crystal
    HD system consistently draws several watts less, and puts less load on the
    CPU.
  • Compared to a dual core Atom (w/o video hardware acceleration), the Intel
    Atom / Crystal HD system draws 7~8W less power and provides more consistent
    HD playback.

So does this mean every Intel Atom system owner should rush out and get one
of these Broadcom Crystal HD PCIe Mini cards? Well, if lack of HD video capability
is their main quibble, this is a an excellent solution. It’s an upgrade that
actually makes sense, from a financial as well as an ecological point of view.
This chip is useful for the new Pineview generation Atom CPU/boards, as they
still do not feature hardware viewo acceleration. Our review of the new dual-core
Intel D510M0
showed fairly high CPU loads when playing HD video, which
was realistically possible only with CoreAVC. The Broadcom Crystal HD decoder
would ease the load and possible decrease power consumption.

If you haven’t got into a netbook or nettop yet, and you’re interested in doing
so sometime this year, it might be worth waiting a bit to see whether nVidia
ION 2 is more energy efficient or otherwise better than the original. The ION
chip also allows the Atom to be used for light (maybe very light) gaming;
the Broadcom chip effects no such transformation.

Logic
Supply’s Broadcom Hardware Decoder BCM970012 PCIe Mini Card
is currently
selling for $59, and SPCR readers can now take advantage of a $10 discount with
the coupon code "SPCR10" whether purchased by itself or as
part of the SolidLogic
Johnstown T-1610 Mini-ITX System
.

Some readers may be aware that this is not the only PCIe mini card of its kind
out there. Similar boards can be found on ebay for under $25. Support and reliability
for these sources is not anything like what Logic Supply offers as a bonafide
US dealer/distributor, however. A visit to any of the Logic Supply links in
this article will show you what we mean. You pays your monies, you takes your
chances.

Logic Supply Broadcom Hardware Decoder BCM970012
PROS

* It works: 1080p from Intel Atom systems
* PCIe Mini card is widely implemented in netbooks & nettops
* Hardly any energy increase
* Good support from reliable dealer

CONS

* Price?

Our thanks to Logic Supply for the sample.

* * *

Articles of Related Interest
Intel D510M0 Motherboard: Atom 2.0
Atom energy efficiency
champ: Intel D945GSEJT w/ Morex T1610 fanless case

Zotac GeForce 9300-ITX
WiFi

Intel DG45FC: Loaded
LGA775 Mini-ITX Board

Zotac IONITX-A: An ION /
dual-core Atom Mini-ITX Board

Asus EeeBox EB1501 ION Mini-PC

Lenovo IdeaCentre Q110: Tiny ION Nettop

* * *

Discuss
this article in the SPCR forums.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *