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Review: LSI Tarari Encoder Accelerator LCPX-6140

Editor's note: This Streams of Thought column appears in the December/January issue of Streaming Media magazine. Click here for your free subscription.

Summary: Tarari offers a solid option for any high-volume producer who needs to accelerate his or her VC-1 encoding. It is also affordable compared to the fully burdened cost of buying, housing, and maintaining a separate computer or computers on a server farm to accomplish the same task.

Price: $5,699

For more information, contact:
LSI Corporation

Though the exact time and date are fuzzy, I guesstimate that I compressed my first video file in October 1993; I used a state-of-the-art 80386 Gateway system that took 45 minutes to render a 20-second AVI file to Indeo format. Whatever the exact time and date, about 2 minutes later was the first time I wished for a magic bullet to accelerate video compression.

Well, LSI Corp. is in the business of creating compression acceleration magic bullets, at least for Windows Media encoding. I was excited to try its new LSI Tarari Encoder Accelerator LCPX-6140 card, which is available for less than $6,000. The results were good to great, depending on your encoding program, source files, and targets and workflows.

First, a little background. The San Diego-based fabless semiconductor company Tarari, Inc., was acquired by LSI Corp. in late 2007 for $85 million in cash. Tarari has emerged as a leader in content processor silicon to offload and accelerate compute-intensive, complex algorithms used for content inspection in XML/web services, network security and digital media environments.

About the Hardware
The 6140 is built around field-upgradeable, programmable processor chips from LSI. System requirements are stiff but not outrageous; you need a dual-processor, dual-core Intel Xeon or AMD Opteron 2 GHz system or faster with 2GB RAM recommended. You must install the card in a 3.3 volt PCI-X bus slot, and, for the best performance, LSI recommends a 64-bit bus running at 133 MHz. The only operating systems currently supported are Windows XP and Windows Server 2003. Vista support is in the works.

You can install multiple cards in a single computer, which accelerates multiple simultaneous encoding instances, which you could also do by opening multiple instances of the Window Media Encoder. The card currently accelerates only VC-1/WMV 9 encoding, but it may support H.264 encoding once Microsoft adds that to Expression Encoder. The card accelerates both live streaming and disc-based transcoding; I tested the latter.

I installed a single card on an HP xw8400 workstation running Windows XP. Installing the card was standard fare, as was installing the software. The only wrinkle was making manual registry changes, which turned out to be straightforward. After a quick trip to RegEdit and a glance at the documentation, I was done.

Once installed, you’ll see a little red diamond icon in the system tray on the bottom-right corner of Windows. This icon blinks happily when you are accelerating a Windows Media encoding run. If the encoding software turns out to be incompatible with the Tarari accelerator, the icon does not blink.

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