Processor

Finding your Mac’s exact CPU model

I’m a big fan of the Plex Media Server and run it on my 2011 MBP which sports an i7 processor and can transcode multiple streams simultaneously.  The only drawback to this is that my MBP must remain on, running PMS for me to stream files on my local machine, Fire TV, Samsung Smart TV, or Android devices. While not a deal breaker, it would be nice to offload the PMS to another device and free up my MBP.

First, I thought about investing in the new NETGEAR Nighthawk X10 – AD7200 802.11ac/ad Quad-Stream MU-MIMO WiFi Router with 1.7GHz Quad-core Processor & Plex Media Server wireless router which has PMS baked in (or, at least the ability to download and enable it via the firmware.) While $500 is expensive for any router, it would be fairly future proof as it supports the new 802.11ad standard (though most consumer devices can’t connect to this yet.)

While investigating, I came across a helpful article on the Plex Support forums which, among other things, confirmed my fears that rather than using the most recent, stable Linux build of PMS, it would be a proprietary app which must be approved by Netgear & made available via their firmware. This is essentially the difference between getting a the latest Android OS the day it is made available on phones like the Nexus or Pixel while having to wait for other manufacturers (HTC, LG, Motorola) and or networks (Verizon, AT&T) to bake in their apps & support which usually equates to a 2-5 month lag time in getting the update.

This ended up being the deal breaker for me as Netgear isn’t in the business of distributing apps, to my knowledge. Additionally, the X10 router is a flagship product for Netgear and as such, I imagine they hope to make more of a media/news splash than actually sell & support that particular model for the long-term.

Since buying a router to use as a PMS didn’t seem like the right approach (at least, not until it’s more refined), I decided to look into building a standalone PlexBox…an always-on computer directly connected to the router via a CAT6 cable and connected to my 6TB media NAS via USB 3.0. In short, it would be something akin to an older LanBox, but with a CPU capable of pushing multiple transcodes.

Plex readily shares that in order to transcode a 1080p/60 FPS stream, one needs a CPU Passmark score >2000. Passmark scores are benchmark ratings based on individual user submissions of their CPUs compared with hundreds of others and give a good benchmark of how well a particular system (CPU) will perform.

As of late 2015, results showed that:

  • Bottom 25% of machines are in the range of 0 – 1050
  • Middle 50% of machines are in the range of 1051 – 2940
  • Top 25% of machines are in the range of 2941 – 6100

To get a jumping off point, I wanted to know what my current Early 2011 MBP CPU clocked in at.  Unfortunately, the “About this Mac” screen is limited to showing only the type & speed of processor and not the specific chipset. Mine looks like this:

Since this doesn’t tell me the exact chipset, I searched the web for a way to pull the exact chipset ID. I found a helpful website which gave me a simple command-line entry to return my chipset ID. By opening Terminal and entering the following code, you’ll be returned your Mac’s specific chipset ID:

sysctl -n machdep.cpu.brand_string

My results were:

Aha! Now I knew I had an Intel i7-2720QM chipset clocked at 2.20GHz.  With this, I could plug in my chipset at Passmark and get my specific Passmark score:

With a score >6100, that puts my CPU in the top 20% of all CPUs (not bad for an early 2011 model.) I also bought the “Cadillac” of MBPs back in 2011 in order for it to be as future-proof as possible. Even with an upgraded RAM to 16Gb, I can tell you it’s starting to show its age.

Since my i7 needs to multitask, push several displays, keep multiple applications open simultaneously, and occasionally do high-end rendering or run a Virtual Machine, it makes sense to have a high-end CPU.  However, for building a PlexBox, I wondered if I could get away with a lower-end chipset and save some big bucks since all I’m asking the box to do it keep PMS running. Apart from an active transcode (2 at the most), the box won’t be running any other software and won’t have an active display connected to it (I’ll be remoting in, when needed.)

Using the Plex Standard of >2000 Passmark score for 1080p/60 FPS transcodes, I began looking into less expensive chipsets and came across the Intel Core i3-6100 @ 3.70 GHz.  This chipset is much newer and has an incredibly close passmark to the much older i7 I currently have:

A comparison of these two (helpfully provided by Passmark) shows that the dual-core i3 is almost as powerful as my older i7 (due to how the chipsets have advanced in the last 5 years). It’s also about $90 cheaper, depending on the marketplace. Also, since the i3 comes with an onboard CPU cooler (which is sufficient as I won’t be overclocking it), I won’t need to spend an extra $30-50 on an external CPU cooler, which makes the total cost of ownership ~$140 less than buying the i7.

With a CPU selected, I still needed to select RAM, an HDD, a power supply (PSU), the all-important motherboard, and finally a case to house it all. Fortunately, I ran across an incredibly helpful site called PCPartPicker which allows you to start with any one component and build out other components based on what will fit / match what you have currently selected. Using this tool, I was easily able to select the additional components I needed. As a plus, their site also checks current prices from popular marketplaces like Amazon, NewEgg, OutletPC, Jet, and others and even factors in available rebates to help you find the lowest price.  If you create an account, you can also save your build and get a permalink to the build to share with others; here’s mine.

After reading reviews on their site for multiple components I needed, I believe I’ve settled on the following choices:

PCPartPicker part list / Price breakdown by merchant

Type Item Price
CPU Intel Core i3-6100 3.7GHz Dual-Core Processor $109.99 @ SuperBiiz
Motherboard Gigabyte GA-H110M-A Micro ATX LGA1151 Motherboard $52.88 @ OutletPC
Memory Crucial 8GB (1 x 8GB) DDR4-2133 Memory $41.99 @ Jet
Storage Samsung 120GB 2.5″ Solid State Drive $58.49 @ Jet
Case Cooler Master N200 MicroATX Mini Tower Case $40.99 @ NCIX US
Power Supply SeaSonic 350W 80+ Bronze Certified ATX Power Supply $44.99 @ SuperBiiz
Prices include shipping, taxes, rebates, and discounts
Total $349.33
Generated by PCPartPicker 2016-12-28 21:48 EST-0500

As you can see, for under $350, I’ll be able to put together a solid PlexBox with multiple USB 3.0 ports, and HDMI output (if I want to plug a monitor in for local viewing), and since I’ll be running an Open Source linux distribution, there are no additional costs for an Operating System.

I look forward to any feedback on my build. I’ll post an update here once I get the components assembled and migrate my PMS database to the new system. Happy Building!

2017 Reboot

It’s been almost 6 years since I’ve posted here. At the end of 2016 I’ll be working to give this site a facelift so if you stumble upon it while I’m testing updated Facebook & Twitter integrations, excuse the mess.

I hope to get back into micro-blogging stories, topics, and links that I find interesting.

Add a ‘Recent Applications’ stack to your Apple Dock

I’ve never been one to leave things well enough alone. If it can be modified, edited, and personalized…I’m going to do just that. One helpful trick I’ve picked up since using a Mac is the ability to add customized stacks to the dock. A lesser known feature, however, is the ability to add a Recent Applications tile stack.

Below are two screenshots showing my current desktop. The first shot shows my mouse hovering over the Recent Applications stack and the second shows the stack expanded.

Recent Applications Stack

Recent Applications Stack2

Unfortunately, there is not User Interface (UI) for getting this helpful menu. So we’re relegated to adding the menu via the command line. Enter Terminal.

For the uninitiated, the Mac OS is built on a UNIX kernel–you can read more about that at Wikipedia. There are many benefits to having a *nix kernel beneath the OS (in my humble opinion)–one of which is the ability to easily run command line actions. Windows has a command prompt (Start / Run / ‘cmd’) but I find it very jailed and not as powerful as a *nix based command line. Anywho, I digress. In OS X, one access the command line via the Terminal application. (On a sidenote, Terminal runs a bash shell.

You can find Terminal.app in your /Applications/Utilities/ folder. Simply double click on it to open. Once there, enter the following command to tell the OS to add the Recent Applications stack to your dock:

defaults write com.apple.dock persistent-others -array-add '{ "tile-data" = { "list-type" = 1; }; "tile-type" = "recents-tile"; }'

You may want to copy and paste the command from here so you don’t make a mistake. Once you paste the command, simply press enter. After doing this, you have to ‘reboot’ the dock for the change to take place. To restart the dock, you could reboot your machine, but since you already have Terminal open, you can run one more command to restart the dock without rebooting your machine. Simply type the following and press Enter:

killAll Dock

After you enter that command, the Dock will reboot and you’ll see your new stack…except it will be empty. The OS hasn’t been tracking ‘recent applications’ for the dock because until now, that stack didn’t exist. To populate the list, simply open a few apps. By default, the stack will show the 10 most recent apps.

Finally, once the stack is in place, you can right click on it and change the behavior from recent applications to other recent things such as documents, servers, or favorite items and volumes.

Oh, and for those of you who don’t know what to do with terminal: Type ‘exit’ to make sure you don’t have anything going on and them simply quit the app (Terminal / Quit Terminal) from the menubar or simply Apple-Q (⌘Q).