Choosing Hardware for Blue Iris

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  • In a nutshell


    Buy refurbished. Don't build or buy new.

    The most cost-effective Blue Iris computers are refurbished business-class systems such as "HP EliteDesk" and "Dell OptiPlex". You can usually get a good deal by searching Ebay for specific CPU model numbers, and selecting the "Desktops & All-In-Ones" category which will filter out listings for the CPU by itself.

    Some models to search for:

    6th generation

    4th generation - Often much cheaper, but nearly the same performance


    Notes:
    • 4 GB of memory is sufficient for a smaller system (perhaps 6 cameras?) but 8 GB is recommended.
    • Systems with a "T" suffix on the CPU (e.g. i5-6500T) are underpowered versions designed to fit in smaller cases and meet stricter energy-usage requirements. These are significantly less bang for your buck.
    • Be sure the system you choose includes Windows preinstalled. Windows licenses start around $100 when purchased separately!
    • Some of the business-class systems come with multiple years left on the manufacturer's warranty, while others come with no warranty at all.

    Complete systems based on a modern Intel i5 desktop CPU can be found for $300-$350, and often with multiple years left on an excellent manufacturer warranty. These make great Blue Iris computers for medium-size workloads. Equivalent i7 systems can be found between $400-$500. These are better for large workloads, such as if you have more than about 12-16 cameras.

    Older systems, such as those based on i5-4590 or i5-4570 can be found for $200 or less. These still make very capable computers for Blue Iris.

    Each manufacturer also has an "outlet" store where they sell their own refurbished computers, although these have often been picked clean of all the best deals already.

    Real-World Performance Data


    Since late 2017, users of the tool "Blue Iris Update Helper" are regularly contributing performance data to a public database. Data is collected in an automated fashion, ensuring that it remains unbiased and as accurate as possible. This is all in an effort to provide greater understanding of the capabilities of different hardware configurations running Blue Iris

    Check it out, here: Blue Iris Performance Data

    Full details


    CPU


    The most important aspect of a Blue Iris computer is the CPU. The CPU determines how much live video your system will be able to process (or, roughly, how many cameras you can have). It also determines how much electricity your system consumes.

    Blue Iris supports hardware-accelerated H.264 decoding through the use of Quick Sync Video, a technology that is exclusive to Intel CPUs. It is unwise to purchase any CPU, intending to use it for Blue Iris, if it does not support Quick Sync Video. Quick Sync is not available on any AMD processor. Quick Sync is unavailable within virtual machines unless you pass through the Intel integrated graphics to the VM, and this does not work on all systems.

    Specific CPU recommendations include:

    Best performance:


    i9-9900K (8 cores / 16 threads)
    i7-9700K (8 cores / 8 threads)
    i7-8700K / i7-8700 (6 cores / 12 threads)

    Great performance:


    i5-9600K (6 cores / 6 threads)
    i5-8600K / i5-8400 (6 cores / 6 threads)
    i7-7700 / i7-6700 (4 cores / 8 threads)

    Good performance:


    i3-8350K / i3-8100 (4 cores / 4 threads)
    i5-7600 / i5-6600 (4 cores / 4 threads)
    i5-7500 / i5-6500 (4 cores / 4 threads)
    i5-7400 / i5-6400 (4 cores / 4 threads)

    You can also get good performance out of older models as far back as the Sandy Bridge architecture (2xxx series, such as i7-2600) which is the first to support H.264 hardware acceleration with Quick Sync. However newer CPUs are more energy efficient. Above, I recommended Skylake (6xxx series) and newer because this generation and newer has H.265 acceleration hardware which may be usable by Blue Iris in the future.

    4-core CPUs are sufficient for most users. If you want to run more than about 40 megapixels worth of cameras (10x 4MP cameras, or 20x 2 MP cameras), or use particularly high frame rates, then choose an i7 or 6-core i5.

    Intel CPU models with a "T" suffix (e.g. i5-6500T) are underpowered versions designed to fit in smaller cases and meet stricter energy-usage requirements. These are significantly less bang for your buck, and you are probably better off with a normal, non-T version.

    Server CPUs (Intel Xeon, AMD EPYC, etc) and Multiple Sockets



    Generally speaking, if you can appreciate (and afford) an enterprise-grade server platform, your needs will be better met by enterprise-grade video management software instead of Blue Iris.

    That said, here is some guidance. If your needs would be met by an i5 or i7 CPU, but you want ECC memory or some other feature only found on server platforms, consider a similarly priced and specced Xeon E (or older: E3) series model that has Quick Sync Video so you can take advantage of efficient hardware accelerated H.264 decoding. Otherwise, look at general CPU benchmarks and use those to decide what the best CPU is for your money.

    Beware of old used servers claiming lots of cores and memory at low prices. These will be loud and inefficient by today's standards, and in many cases outperformed by a cheaper workstation that is years newer. Also note that Blue Iris is not optimized for multiple-socket servers. If you are considering running such a heavy load that Blue Iris would be unable to handle it with a single CPU, then you should be using different software.

    Memory


    4 GB of memory is sufficient for a smaller system (4 or fewer cameras) but 8 GB is recommended for most systems. The largest systems (20+ cameras or 800+ MP/s) may benefit from 16 GB.

    Graphics cards


    For most users, a dedicated graphics card will provide no meaningful benefit to Blue Iris, and will only serve to consume additional electricity. Onboard Intel graphics are more than enough. In fact, it can sometimes be complicated getting Quick Sync hardware acceleration to work if you have installed a dedicated graphics card.

    If additional display outputs are required, or you find that Blue Iris requires too much CPU time to draw live video to the screen (common with 4K monitors), then an Nvidia graphics adapter may help. The cheapest 4K-capable Nvidia card I know of (as of Sept 2017) is the GT 1030 (around $70 USD). You could spend more money on a faster card, but it won't make any difference for this.

    Since 2018, Blue Iris supports H.264 and H.265 hardware acceleration via Nvidia CUDA using recent Nvidia graphics cards. Performance of Nvidia CUDA acceleration scales with the compute power of the GPU, such that a GTX 1060 for example can handle more video than a GT 1030. This method of hardware acceleration is not recommended for most systems because it is very expensive and inefficient with power.

    Storage


    Video Clips


    For video recording, you want a mechanical hard drive (HDD) as these are more cost-effective than SSDs and have better write endurance. For best performance, buy a surveillance drive such as Western Digital Purple or Seagate SkyHawk. Configure Blue Iris to put all recording folders on the HDD(s), via Blue Iris Options > Clips and archiving.

    Clip Database


    Blue Iris keeps a database containing metadata about the video clips it has recorded. The size of the database is small (approximately 1 GB for every 35,000 video clips stored), but the database is frequently accessed so you should put it on your fastest storage device. If you are so inclined, Blue Iris and its clip database will easily fit on a 120+ GB solid state disk (SSD) alongside the Windows operating system. For systems with limited physical space or budget, everything will still work fine without an SSD.

    Multiple Hard Drives / RAID


    RAID is not usually recommended, as most of what a video surveillance system records is worthless. If you wish for your system to be protected from disk failure, use a RAID type which offers redundant storage, such as RAID 1, 5, 6, or 10. Avoid configurations which offer increased I/O performance at the cost of redundancy (e.g. RAID 0), as these do not provide any benefit for video surveillance.

    If all you need is additional storage capacity, consider keeping each drive as its own separate volume, and configuring specific cameras in Blue Iris to record to specific drives. This way, if you lose a drive, you only lose video from some of the cameras, and still have an uninterrupted archive of video from the other cameras. Compare this to a spanned array of disks, where the loss of one drive means losing a large chunk of time from all cameras.

    Operating System


    Blue Iris only runs on Windows. Windows 8.1 or newer is recommended. Windows 7 also works for Blue Iris 4, but hardware acceleration won't work if Blue Iris is running in service mode on Windows 7. Recent Windows Server editions also work, if that is what you have available.

    But what CPU do I actually buy?


    bp2008's rule-of-thumb


    Add up the total megapixels per second (MP/s) you intend to run. Example: For two 8MP cameras each at 15 FPS you have 2 (cameras) * 8 (MP) * 15 (FPS) = 240 MP/s.

    Tip: 8 MP cameras are actually 8.3 megapixels.

    Then:

    0-500 MP/s ----- 3rd-7th gen i5 desktop CPU (4 cores)
    500-800 MP/s --- 3rd-7th gen i7 desktop CPU (4 cores + hyperthreading) or 8th-9th gen i5 desktop CPU (6 cores)
    800-1100 MP/s -- i7-8700 (6 cores + hyperthreading) or i7-9700 (8 cores) or the K edition of either
    1100-1500 MP/s - i9-9900K
    1500+ MP/s ----- Then it varies. Pick something near the top of this chart, or consider a different VMS than Blue Iris.


    These are rough estimates only, which further assume you do not want to use Blue Iris's "Limit decoding" feature but would otherwise follow all recommendations in the article Optimizing Blue Iris's CPU Usage. Blue Iris is extremely configurable and everyone uses it differently so the above recommendations may be overkill for some, but underpowered for others.
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