Recommended PC processor capacity

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Couldn’t find anything recently published in the archives so here goes. I finally have my new Flex 6600M and SmartSDR properly connected with SliceMaster, CWSkimmer, HRD DM780 and HRD Logbook. Running it all on a 2015 HP Spectre x360 laptop (8 GB RAM and 500 GB SSM) with an Intel i7-5500U processor running at 2.4 GHz (it’s Passmark score is 3,980 per this site- https://m.cpubenchmark.net/). Problem is that when running all this software along with DXHeat and QRZ.com, DM780 is very sluggish (even after setting a slower waterfall speed) and CWSkimmer cuts in and out. Checking Task Manager I discovered processor utilization averages around 70% peaking over 90% which is likely my problem. This suggests I need a higher performance PC. Not sure yet if I would do another laptop or a desktop but am open to any suggestions. HDD space utilization is quite modest since this PC will be dedicated to Ham Radio so 1TB HDD is probably fine (perhaps even 500GB SSD).

Question: what type of processor and how much RAM is recommended for all this multi-tasking software ?

Thanks and best 73,

Mike
WB6UTW
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Mike Peron

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Posted 8 months ago

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Neal - K3NC, Elmer

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Mike

What is the graphic processor in your laptop?
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Mike Peron

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Per HP specs it’s a: Intel HD graphics 5500
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Mike Peron

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According the Best Buy Geek Squad, it’s a chip on the motherboard and not a separate graphics card since it’s a very thin laptop
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Michael Walker, Employee

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Mike, I would go out and pick up a better video card.  One with a big fan on it.  Adding more video power will really help.  CW Skimmer is a big resource hog and this will help.

Oppss.. I just reread and saw this is a laptop and the buss performance can be questionable.   Laptops don't have on board video, so they will share the onboard RAM as well.   

You might want to see if the same things happen without Skimmer running since it renders in the CPU and not video card.  Then can overtax the CPU.  Anytime the the CPU on a Windows computer hits 80% you have pretty much maxed out.  It is different in the Linux work.

It is possible to offload some of the above items to different computers.  Move Skimmer to another computer and have it share it's data with the other computers.  Long gone are the days that you have to have all this on 1 computer.

In discussing this with our engineering team, they thought that if you move Skimmer you may see a big improvement.

Mike
(Edited)
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Mike Peron

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Brilliant idea, Mike!!. I’ve got an older lapto collecting dust. Having another display would also help expand my now crowded views. Many thanks for the great tip!!
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Mike Peron

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Thinking about this a little deeper, I believe CWSkimmer needs I/Q data to function as opposed to DAX audio. In either case will I also need to load SmartSDR on the second laptop but only open the DAX and CAT Control Panels? I’d still like to use the powerful Search and Pounce feature of CWS but it will need to control the radio’s frequency especially while operating split. Any insight would be greatly appreciated. Thanks in advance and best 73
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Michael Walker, Employee

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Correct!  Just install SmartSDR on the other computer so that it installs SmartSDR CAT and DAX.   Start up DAX and CAT and they will connect to the radio and have Skimmer connect.

You will have to use a 2nd mouse, but it will send the required commands to the radio.  

Using SliceMaster will help with the Skimmer setup as well.

Welcome to the Flex world of distributing your workload.  Unlike every other HF radio you are not tied to 1 RS232 port.

Cool, eh?  (I can say that since I am from the Great White North).

Mike
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bahillen

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First thing to do is add more RAM. 16 is a minimum. If you can add more do it. Your processor is spending too much time swapping data to disk. I upgraded to 16 Gb and CPU use dropped significantly.

Bill
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Mike Peron

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Bill, that’s a great idea. So I looked at two Task Manager screen shots I took over the weekend. While the “CPU” usage tab was showing between 85 and 88%, the “Memory” (RAM) was showing 49 and 47% and the “Disk” activity tab was at 1 and 3 % respectively. The Best Buy Geek Squad says the latter two are reasonable numbers but that the CPU should be well under 50 %. I need to bring in my laptop to see if I can expand the RAM but these numbers suggest I’m OK. Your thoughts? Thanks
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Mike Peron

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The Geek Squad at Best Buy opened the back cover of my laptop and showed me the 8GB of RAM that was soldered in to the motherboard. There were no expansion slot to add more RAM
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Joe N3HEE

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I run an older i7-4790K CPU at 4GHZ with 16 GB RAM and 256GB SSD drive for the OS and some APPS.  Win 10 Pro version 1809.  This is a home brew desktop system.  The motherboard is a ASRock Z97 Extreme 4 that supports 3 monitors and has high quality on-board sound card. 

I run a bunch of ham software at once and I have never been able to bring it to it's knees. Multiple instances of CW Skimmer, DX Labs Suite, N1MM, SmartSDR, SDRUno, web browsing, etc.

CW Skimmer is a very resource intensive application !  I suspect that is why you are using lots of CPU cycles.

My CPU runs around 30% utilized when everything is running.  Multiple instances of CW Skimmer pushes it over 50%.  My memory is about 45% utilized.  

I would suggest a similar build for you.  You may be able to find a used system with similar specs at a bargain price since it is older !  However, if you have the budget I would buy latest and greatest to be a little more future proof.  I would suspect you could find some higher performance laptops if you want or need portability.

Joe 
N3HEE


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Jerry W4UK

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I suspect you are being hindered by some of the windows stuff that runs (unnecessarily, I think) in the background. I have monitored taskmanager while SSDR et al are running and find that most of my I7 processor is being used by processes that I don't understand. Sure would be nice if a Win 10 expert here would have a look and let us know what we can safely disable on a SSDR-dedicated machine.

Jerry W4UK
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Mike Peron

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Thanks Joe for the details. There is a Mom and Pop computer store in town I’ll visit and show him your post. Appreciate your response and recommendations
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Craig Williams

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I Google each windows process running to find out what they are and can I do something to make them use less resources. Do Ctrl-Alt-Del and select Task Manager to see the processes running. ( wish I had made a list of what I found..)
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Steve K9ZW, Elmer

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SmartSDR documentation is a bit sparse on recommendations, as the published documents focus instead on minimums. 

Here is what the 2.x guide offers:

"3.1 RECOMMENDATIONS AND REQUIREMENTS The minimum required CPU for SmartSDR is an Intel i3 2100T or an AMD Athlon Phenom II or greater. Lesser processors may not perform adequately when displaying multiple or full screen spectrum displays. However, for the optimal user experience, as most users run multiple applications along with SmartSDR for Windows such as loggers and digital mode programs, a quad-core CPU or greater is highly recommended. "
It is pretty apparent that the RAM Windows needs to run is below the level SmartSDR for Windows requires, that a good graphics setup is desirable with with a good amount of video RAM, and that your network connectivity throughput is important.

Do you need the latest Threadripper with a high end gamer's video capability?

Probably not so much.

I'm replacing an i5 machine that otherwise does "okay" in non-SmartSDR for Windows usage, as the particular hardware is RAM-bound at 8GB, which is inadequate to run a couple of work programs with SmartSDR for Windows w/digital software at the same time.  

It isn't that the processor is in itself the limit, but it is the limited RAM that seems to be the bind.

In the shack I have an i7 that Neal built for me a couple years ago, which is a screamer running SmartSDR for Windows, so look to his suggestions for an optimization to make your station sing!

73

Steve
K9ZW

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bahillen

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Strange behavior with my RAM at least to me, I had 8 G of RAM and it was always at 50% roughly utilized, thought no problem. BUT if you look closely at the graph in Task Manager there is a fine line that extends to about twice the shaded bar. That is RAM that has was is not being used but was recently used and can be used again soon. So really it amounts to 100%. Others could explain it better. It is called Standby or cache memory, data and code that is not currently in use.

When I put in the additional 8 Gb of memory as recommended by Tim from help desk, the used RAM went up to 6-7 Gb. The CPU usage dropped significantly and I didn’t get near as many interrupt problems. I currently have 16 Gb of RAM and wish I had 24Gb for safety. My machine is a Dell 3668 I7-7700 processor SSD with NVDIA 1050 graphics card. Important to get monitor graphics off your computers CPU. My CPU runs about 40_50%. Now at 47% jumping to 70% peak during decoding and Microsoft overhead processes once minute or so. My Ethernet is currently at 10.3 Mbps. Not Remote. Flex 6600 4 panadapters, two IQ Streams, 3 FT8 instanced and one CW Skimmer instanced. SmartSDR, Three displays one of which is a 4K monitor. No spots turned on.

As I found I wanted to do more and more I had to work on computing and network performance. I have to keep an eye on each process to control resources.

I have a picture of my recent operating position. Looked a lot like other as opposed to my original picture with my NCX-5 from 1960.

73 Bill W9JJB
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Mike Peron

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Bill, Appreciate your keen observations and recommendations. I’ll check out that “fine line” that extends beyond the shaded bar. Probably expecting too much from this small i7-5500 laptop. I bought it mainly for travel back in 2015 ($1500) and never had any intent to be running all this Ham software on it
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bahillen

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Mike

Your i7 laptop is fine, but maybe not to run a remote location if you are all in. I use an old Dell laptop with an I5 processor and will only accept 8 Gb of RAM. Talking to a computer enthusiast at Micro Center was informed that various computer boards are configured differently for cost and marketing reasons.

My laptop uses onboard video drivers that uses a lot of CPU with an external 1040 HD monitor. But makes a good unit for traveling. I keep and run non communications things off my radio computer. Email and web surfing stays on the laptop. I don’t want a virus to mess up my amateur activities. Chrome can use a lot of resources but I do use Chrome to download software.

You have to work with what you have (until Christmas)
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bahillen

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Sorry look at QRZ.com for my shack pictures.

W9JJB
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Mike Peron

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Thanks for the insight.

BTW, nice looking Station Bill. Off topic.....I retired from Northrop Grumman and used to work next door to you in Rolling Meadows on Hicks Rd. Instead of an NCX-5, I opted for the Hallicrafters SR-150 to restore. The last SR-400A’s were actually built on Hicks Rd. Check out my QRZ page photo. In fondly recall driving by the Motorola campus on the drive home to Algonquin for 7 years.
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Tim - G7GFW / F4VQP

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I have a Hystou mini PC which has no cooling fans and only draws 12 watts form it's 12v supply., 
It has an I5 3rd gen CPU, 16Gb RAM and 128Gb SSD and runs 2.4.9 perfectly.

I also have an I5 with 8GB RAM and a 250Gb mechanical disk that runs 2.4.9 without any problems.

The signal processing in all F;ex 6x series is actually done in the radio not the PC, the PC simply acts as a control surface so CPU power and RAM can be quite low and still do a good job.

Depending on which version of Windows your are using, it is worth checking what effect the underlying Windows processes are consuming CPU resources. Even the number of fonts you have loaded can make a difference.

I know that for most people, running a dedicated PC is not an option, if you can do it, it is worth while. There are plenty of tutorials out there (Google is your friend) to help you remove all the bloatware that many computers are supplied with. 

Unfortunately no one can tell how lots of different programs will react together and what problems may show up.

Al 'clean' install of Windows can help a lot. Then just add the software that you find essential to run your setup.

Use Task Manager to see memory and CPU usage. Anything that has a big impact can be disabled and you can then see if that improves things. 

Tuning a PC can be a bit like tuning a car, difficult and frustrating! But I would think that your laptop should easily do the job but not as it comes in the box - HP and other manufacturers load so much garbage, i.e. demo programs and rubbish AV software that the machine runs as thought it was knee deep in porrige.

Good luck 
 
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Larry Benoit

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Hi Mike,

It sounds like you have a service or application(s) that is consuming a large and inordinate proportion of CPU resources.  I suggest you run Windows Resource Monitor with everything that you normally runclick on the CPU tab and see what percent of CPU capacity is being used by each major process and application. That should give a you a good indication of what's going on with your laptop.

Good luck and 73,
Larry KB1VFU


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Michael Coslo

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I agree on something being a hog, no way an i7 should be brought to it's knees. I have a Insignia 10 inch Windows tablet/laptop combo - forget what the processor is but it was a dirt cheap W10 bottom feeder I use when I don't want to worry about losing. So I tried SSDR, WSJT, fldigi, N1MM, and MRP40. Runs everything FB
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Mike Peron

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Thanks for your reply. Next time you run all this software together can you report on your Task Manager’s reported CPU, Memory and Disk utilization numbers? It would be a great comparative data point. 73, Mike
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Vox Deus

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I'll hook it up again some time and take a look.
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Mike Peron

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Thanks everyone for your great inputs and ideas. I forgot to mention that I’m not running remote. I’ll have to explore the service application usage further. A quick glance at my CPU usage over last weekend with the CPU running around 80% showed nothing significant being used by MS misc service or overhead items. I will run Win Resource Monitor with everything running then take some screen shots and try to eliminate what I don’t need. Best 73, Mike WB6UTW
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Dave - N6XVZ

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The use of a sufficiently powerful graphics card to offload the complexity of signal activity and waterfall helps a bunch.  When I was sizing my environment I found an article from Tim/Support that discussed minimum recommended GPU ratings (1000 + Passmark).  

I have completely overwhelmed the situation with a Mac Mini with 6 cores and running Windoz 10 in parallels on top of that.  When I run two slices, with full speed/maximum signal and waterfall effect, it consumes alot of Windows virtual CPU.  It keeps up very well as I have a decent onboard GPU that offloads those CPU's with that graphics processing.

This is an answer geared a bit towards those looking to setup a new envt; CPU power is relatively cheap these days esp if you're not on a fixed income.  Realizing not everyone is, then certainly optimize what is focused on HAM activities and kill off anything else.  8GB seems a bit tight and Joe's recommendations and experience running lots of tasks with his setup fall in line with mine.  

I didn't see you note what OS you are running.  My experience (flame off folks) is Windows 10 is much more efficient and faster and another option you should consider (flame on...).

Finally, I wonder how much faster SmartSDR would run if it was a 64bit application.... if that would lower the impact on CPU utilization....


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Mike Peron

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Dave, thanks for your reply. Il have to go look for Tim’s post. To answer your question I’m using Win 10
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Bill English

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You were given good advice here, while ram is very important, in my experience, my SSD made a huge improvement in performance. The processor can only process data as fast as it gets it, increase the throughput, you will see the results in performance. If you can get a solid state drive, the prices have been dropping, it is well worth all the expense and effort. 
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Mike Peron

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Bill, I failed to mention that my HP laptop has a 500GB SSD. I really love it as I’ve never owned a PC that boots in 30 seconds ! Thanks for your reply. Gonna go see if Best Buy can add another 8GB of RAM