I am planning on setting up an old computer as a media center, linux web server and backup storage device. It's loud and ugly so I'm going to run it in my basement.

I've got it hooked up to my network with Cat5e cable, no WiFi.

I want to use it to store files, videos and pictures, and then access said media with other wired and wireless devices on the network.

I'm ordering up a processor now, and I'm wondering if it really needs to be all that powerful...

This is the heart of the question. When does that basement computer's processor get used?

When I access the basement computer over the network, and open up movies or images across the network from another device, does the storage computer's processor even enter the equation? Would video playback be smoother with a quicker processor, or is it the access device's processor that handles the video?

I know if I were to run linux webserver on there I'd want a good CPU for speed, but are there other uses of the basement computer where a solid processor would be of benefit?

  • Whenever your request a resource from the "server" computer the CPU will be used... mostly accessing files I assume... what will happen is the CPU will be used long enough for your computer to temporarily store the files on your computer...this generally will not require a beastly CPU... any modern CPU should be able to handle this demand. The real bottle neck is going to be your network...you can only transfer, or stream a file as fast as your network will allow for.
    – TheXed
    Commented Jan 6, 2014 at 19:40

1 Answer 1


Think for a moment about which computer the movie player program is running on.

In most cases, if you access the movies through NFS or Windows "File Sharing", then the server is not doing much – it only reads a file from disk and sends it to you over the network. For this, the CPUs aren't loaded much, and file servers don't need a GPU at all, as most of the work (decompressing the video data) is done by the same program and on the same device that actually shows the movie on screen.

This is actually very similar to watching videos on YouTube – it is the player whose CPU and GPU are used to decode video data downloaded from YouTube servers.

If, however, you use a VNC or "Remote Desktop" tool to connect to your file server, then you're actually running programs on the server, and all that gets sent over the network is the final, decoded graphics. (Usually. I've heard rumours of people playing graphics-heavy video games over Remote Desktop, and I am not 100% sure how it works. It might be that RDP also allows decoding video on the client side.)

  • interesting.. so if i had a sweet processor in there, i could potentially use RDP to load up some HD video into a wired tablet in my living room?
    – tmsimont
    Commented Jan 6, 2014 at 20:07
  • @user182036 I wouldn't go that far. RDP is not designed for video streaming so it'd be like watching a slideshow.
    – Nathan C
    Commented Jan 6, 2014 at 20:43
  • @user182036 Besides, your tablet probably has a dedicated chip to decode the popular video codecs anyway, and so does your PC's graphics card. In that case, using the CPU would be a waste even if you had a network fast enough to transmit every frame decoded (which is many times more data than the compressed file). Commented Jan 6, 2014 at 21:32
  • i bought a more powerful processor anyway because i'm a sucker for cool toys. i'll just watch my HD movies in my basement
    – tmsimont
    Commented Jan 7, 2014 at 15:52

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