Core - Hardware selection primer

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Version Status Date Updated Updated By
710 Relevant info 2nd June 2011 purps
810 Relevant info 2nd June 2011 purps
1004 Unknown N/A N/A
1204 Unknown N/A N/A
1404 Unknown N/A N/A
Usage Information

This page is a primer that introduces you to the hardware necessary for a Core.
To learn what a Core is, start with reading the section "The Core", and follow the links.

Hardware selection primer for Core

The most important component of a LinuxMCE system is the "Core". This is the main LinuxMCE server that runs all of the primary applications and services.
Because most of the workload is carried at the core, it is best to dedicate one PC as the Core server. This dedicated Core can be physically located anywhere on the network and still perform its duties. You can place it somewhere out of the way and not connect a monitor to it if you so choose. In this configuration, a Core is said to be running "headless".
If you only have one computer to install your LinuxMCE system, that computer will have to be used in a "hybrid" configuration, serving both as the Core server and also the media player.

Processor and memory

Because the Core handles processing for the whole network, it should be the "brawniest" PC in regards to processing power. A dual-core 64 bit processor with a lot of RAM is very nice to have as the Core Server.


Since a Core can be hidden away from living room (in a closet, in the garage, or basement somewhere), fan noise is usually not an issue. When not using a "pure Core", care must be taken to ensure that the noise level is acceptable for a media center. It is wise to use silent fans and equipment. See hybrid setup.


The Core carries the PVR and all network media storage functions for the entire system. It does require a large amount of storage. This can be large capacity internal hard drives, a large capacity external hard drive, or a NAS (network-attached storage) connected to the home automation/multimedia network.

Of course, you need a DVD/CD/BD drive, at least for software installation if that's the method of installation you choose.

Network adapters

The Core should have 2 NICs (network interface cards) -- one for connecting to an "external" network (such as your cable modem, DSL modem, or home LAN router) and one for connecting to the "internal" home automation/multimedia network (your LinuxMCE system network).

Capture devices

It is best to have the TV card and the surveillance cameras video capture boards in the Core server. The TV tuner card on the Core can be used for the entire system.
The home automation interface is usually attached to the Core as well.
The PC to be used as a Core will need to have plenty of expansion slots to accommodate all necessary cards, with cooling fans proportionate to the load.


Output and sound cards are relatively unimportant for the Core, because output is usually channeled through the Media Director PCs.

Nevertheless, some home automation/multimedia systems channel output through a central whole-house multi-channel amplifier which is connected directly to the Core. If you plan to do this, change from Core to hybrid, and add a good (nVidia) graphics card and a good sound card (with surround sound jacks -- 5.1, 7.1, or even 11.1) to the server.

Dedicated Core vs Hybrid

A dedicated core will not provide front-end functions (except the web interface), but will run only back-end applications and the web server. This means that it won't act as a media center. To be able to play movies, listen to music and watch TV, you'll need to use Media Directors.
This is the setup recommended when you have enough devices to cover your multimedia needs because the resource intensive back-end applications have access to all of the Core's resources.

However, when you are only using one computer or need to use your Core to play media, you will need to run it as a Hybrid. In the Hybrid configuration, the computer serves both as the Core server and the media player.

Since this Hybrid can be used as a media player, it will need to have a connection to a TV to enable you to watch your movies and all the hardware recommendations for the Core and Media Directors apply to this computer.

Core hardware requirements

For information on LinuxMCE hardware terms, minimum/optimum hardware for LinuxMCE system components, and general hardware advice, please read the Hardware page. If you would like to find out if the equipment you are planning to use can be used to run LinuxMCE, look at the LinuxMCE HCL, or consult the list of possible Core server platforms.

The following is an insert from Hardware#Minimum Core (PC) Requirements listing the requirements and hardware advice for the Core server PC.

A Core server, a Media Director, and a Hybrid all have significantly different hardware requirements. See the specific sections on each for more detail. The guidelines below are very generic and are meant only to suggest that many systems can potentially be used with LinuxMCE.


A LinuxMCE Core-only machine can be run on a slower CPU (such as a P3) only if media encoding/decoding is not done on the core. However, running the database, web server, and other system services can put a reasonable load on your CPU, so for the Core (or hybrid), bigger is better. In contrast, Media Directors have much less CPU requirements, but have other requirements.

  • A PIII/733MHz system can encode one video stream using the MPEG-4 codec using 480x480 capture resolution. This does not allow for live TV watching, but does allow for encoding video and then watching it later.
  • A developer states that his AMD1800+ system can almost encode two MPEG-4 video streams and watch one program simultaneously.
  • A PIII/800MHz system with 512MB RAM can encode one video stream using the RTjpeg codec with 480x480 capture resolution and play it back simultaneously, thereby allowing live TV watching.
  • A dual Celeron/450MHz is able to view a 480x480 MPEG-4/3300kbps file created on a different system with 30% CPU usage.
  • A P4 2.4GHz machine can encode two 3300Kbps 480x480 MPEG-4 files and simultaneously serve content to a remote frontend.


Any Linux-compatible motherboard (95% chance yours will work) will run smoothly, give or take a few features (SPDIF, etc.).


For a bare minimum core, 256MB+ of RAM is needed. For machines encoding/decoding media and/or running desktop applications 512MB+ is needed for smooth function. 1GB at least is recommended. (4GB+ will require a 64-bit OS --available in LinuxMCE 0710, not currently available in later versions).

Hard Drive

Each Core PC's hard drive(s) should have at least 4 GB (to install the OS). You will need additional media storage for network-boot images, PVR storage, etc. However, with NAS, external hard drives, and extra internal hard drives either on the Core or other Media Director PCs, the system's overall storage capacity can easily be increased.


A DVD drive is required on the Core PC if installing with the Quick Install DVD. However, the LinuxMCE system can also be installed on the Core from CDs (and therefore only a CD-ROM is required), as long as the Core is not going to be used as a hybrid. Each Media Director PC ought to have its own DVD drive, in order to insert and watch DVDs locally.

Graphics card

The graphics cards that work best with LinuxMCE are those with an NVIDIA chipset. It is recommended to use one from a NVIDIA GeForce 6200 to a GeForce 8500. (Others may work, you may have to test them or look at Graphics Cards category to see if someone's already tested yours, or one you're considering purchasing).

Suggestion: use motherboard with onboard NVIDIA GPU and one that has at least 512MB of memory for VDPAU usage for viewing HD content (up to 1080p).

It is not recommended to use ATI cards because the drivers have some bugs that LinuxMCE is using. ATI cards may work with the standard UI1 interface but they aren't officially supported.

See the section Display Drivers for the installation steps of the drivers

TV Video Capture Cards

Also see the TV Cards Category

  • pcHDTV manufactures and supplies cards just for Linux that provide HDTV and analog capabilities. An example is the HD-5500.
  • TBS Technologies is a company which specializes in developing, manufacturing and marketing of digital TV tuner cards for PC. Main products include PC cards for DVB S/S2, DVB-T/T2, DVB-C with single, dual, and quad tuner, CAM CI box for DVB-S2, USB TV Box for DVB-S/S2,DVB-T/T2,DVB-C. Most TV tuner products are Linux driversready up to the latest kernel.
  • Plextor ConvertX PVR devices are supported through Linux drivers. MythTV can use the Plextor to capture hardware encoded MPEG-4, lowering CPU requirements for similar functions.
  • IP Recorder (RTSP, RTS, UDP)
MPEG-2, MPEG-4 and H.264 internet TS stream recording is supported using the IPTV recorder in MythTV. This recorder expects the channels to be supplied as an m3u playlist. If your DSL/Fiber provider supplies television service, but does not provide an m3u playlist for the channels, you can construct one for your own use. You do not need to download it from the same server as the streams themselves, and can also read it from a file if this is more convenient.
If your provider uses 5C encryption on a particular channel, you won't be able to get any content.
  • DBoxII or other devices running Neutrino
You may use the Ethernet port of a DBoxII or a similar device to capture MPEG2. Your set-top box has to be running the Neutrino GUI.
  • USB Capture Devices

Sound Card

Also see the Audio Category

The system needs a sound card or an on-board equivalent on the motherboard to play back and, in most cases, to record sound. Any sound card that can be operated by the ALSA (Advanced Linux Sound Architecture) kernel modules will work with MythTV. However, some cards and drivers will provide better quality or compatibility than others. In particular, many audio devices included on motherboards can be problematic.

A common practice for capturing the audio associated with a video is to run a cable from the "audio out" of the video capture card to the "line in" on the sound card. Some video capture cards, however, provide on-board audio capabilities that work with the Linux kernel btaudio module. The need for a cable is eliminated for these cards. When multiple capture cards are used in a single PC, this capability becomes important, so that each capture card will not need its own sound card.

A separate sound card is still required for playback when using btaudio. Often, audio recorded in this way will be mono only. See the btaudio section for more information.

Miscellaneous interfaces




A good Pentium 4 with at least 80 GB of storage and two network cards (Gigabit ideally) is often sufficient for a standard core. Although these modest requirements will get you a satisfactory system, a high-end server with RAID-5 storage will offer the best performance.

Sample Core servers

For a list of examples of PCs that have been setup as Core servers, take a look at the Core Category.