Horsepower: i3, i5, i7, i9, Nucleus or Nucleus+ — less is more!

It is very tempting to get more horsepower.
Get the biggest processor you can get, or can afford.
It’s a long tradition, partially because those of us who have grown up with PCs always complained that they were underpowered.
And now we have phones instead, and eagerly await the next super-duper phone.
And hey, let’s admit it’s a guy thing. I drive a ridiculously overpowered car. And Tesla has its “ludicrous mode” acceleration. Vroom!

But for our music players, I think it is unwise. I like to get the smallest, lowest powered device that will do the job, for the Roon core, and for the endpoints. (And for everything else, as I discussed here.)

I remember reading about a super-fancy music server, with multiple copper shielded internal boxes, and multiple isolated LPS and a thick front panel, everything just so, cost more than a Hyundai — and then they put four 7200 rpm RAIDed spinning drives in there!

This horsepower problem is widespread. Ten years ago, at Microsoft, we did an investigation of the utilization level of corporate computers, both desktops and servers, and found it was less than 10%. Part reason is that people don’t know what the app will need so they over-provision, and in those days it took many months to budget and order and build and deliver and install and provision a server so you don’t want to risk undershooting. Virtualization, and now Docker style containers have improved things.

We shouldn’t fall in that trap, either over-provisioning-to-be-safe, or watch-this-vroom.

I had an i5 NUC. I replaced it with a Nucleus. It’s fine. Hi-res with a 131k convolution shows a power factor of 20X. Quiet and small and cool.

Ludicrous power would not be an improvement.


Um you have no idea what you are talking about…

I’ll take upward capacity/flexibility any time. Thinking ahead is smart.

The Nucleus+ could barely keep up with my 80,000 track library.

Now expanded to 200,000 tracks it just chokes. “Ludicrous” power is necessary, not an improvement.


This is exactly what I worry about.
I don’t have 200,000 tracks and have no intention of getting that — at 5 minutes per track, that’s about 8 years of normal work hours.
And I think very few of this community does either.
And I think it is unwise to set that up as a goal.

A 700 hp Ferrari is great on the track — are you going to track?
I was getting a boat a few years ago, a guy told me I absolutely should get a Nordhavn, they are so well built, they can cross the Atlantic — but I’m not going to cross the Atlantic.

I see so many newcomers on this forum agonizing over getting enough power. We are doing them a disservice by focusing on extreme needs.

ROCK on a NUC5i3 handles my 80k library just fine.
The library is held on a ReadyNAS device, an older device, but all it is doing is just networked drives.
I still run Asset on a RaspberryPi 2 as an UPnP server, into my Naim NDS, alongside the Sonore bridge, which runs on another low-power optimized embedded device. It is all about getting what you need from the minimum of signal processing & optimizing the path.
Less can be more.

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I’m running a 140,000 tracks on a ROCK NUC 7i7BNH 8gb ram no issues with music on a NAS multiple zones with RPi streaming DSD512 upsampled in Roon DSP and happy camper. Also tested the same library with MOCK i5-6500 and no issues in the same zones.


I feel new Roon customers should know all thats involved in making their decisions.

I had no idea that the top Roon appliance wouldn’t handle basically any size library.

Your view is so myopic it’s disappointing

Yes my W10, i7, ssd machine handles my library just fine.

My $2500 Nucleus+ is a nice looking paperweight…

Yes, but you are crossing the Atlantic.
Your requirements are an edge case.

New customers should have knowledge, sure.
But we are giving them edge knowledge.

“What Computer should I get? My endpoints are all Sonos, and I need to do DSD256 upsampling to 10 zones simultaneously.”

When people ask about what endpoints to get and are interested in Sonos or the KEF LS50W, the very first thing that is brought up is that they can not sync with RAAT endpoints. Sure, that matters to some people, who have lots of parties with crowd mingling around a big house — but there are other, perhaps more fundamental points to make about those endpoints. And DSD256 to lots of synced endpoints — a crowd of mingling audiophile perfectionists?

And we are telling people that they must have wired network connections (preferably with LPS to their switches and special Ethernet cables) and if they use WiFi or usb they are throwing their money away. Maybe it is better to have WiFi connected sound in the bedroom than not have wired sound?

In contrast, @Danny gave very pragmatic advice on my Nucleus choice. He knows what it can do, and said so, and I could make a informed choice.

I do have a very powerful Windows machine that I use for other, demanding things. But I didn’t assume that I would need that for Roon.


You are correct. My low end Mac-Mini, i5 4GB ram and SSD, runs at 2.3 GB ram use and 4% processor utilization. Most people here do not actually look at how their device is functioning. They just throw a bigger computer at something to fix their problems. God forbid someone would look under the hood to see whats going on.


Presumably you didnt purchase 120,000 tracks since you bought the nucleus, and are just moving more of your library over?! If not, hats off to you! :slight_smile:

Or consider that turning on all cores when analyzing the 120K tracks was the cause of bad performance.
Analyzing the whole library is a one of thing. And only performance after that is interesting.

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The thing is, drilling down to the least possible computing powered required for any given use case is itself edge knowledge. Being able to judge the philosophical and technical correctness of a given piece of hardware strikes me as equally confusing to the average user. Especially given, as you say, the historic tendency for geeks to just buy the fastest thing they can afford. But what’s the true benefit of “less” outside the lofty realms of philosophy? Is it sound quality? Saving money? (But not that much money.)

Another interesting angle is that Roonies are on the record as saying minimum specs will change, as technology improves they will continue to take the software forward. So future proofing is not worthless, not to me.

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I agree with the proposition that less can be more in Audio. Turning off unwanted services in a general purpose operating system for example. But the trick is knowing what is “enough”. Less than enough leads to bad user experiences and we see them often in Support. Old inadequate CPUs, flaky WiFi, underpowered NAS’s stretched beyond their intended function etc.

“Enough’ depends on your goals. I wanted to upsample to DSD 512 with HQP, convolve a room filter and have a dedicated Core machine with SSD and HDD local storage. I chose an i7 7700, but not the 7700K. I got a second hand CUDA capable GTX980 rather than the most recent GPU. I went for only 8GB of RAM because I would never use more.

The main thing when helping newbies with a Core, imo, is to diagnose “enough” for their goals. I also like modularity for expansion if necessary.

At the other end, however, less is definitely more. I replaced an Auralic Aries with a microRendu and am still pleased with the mR.

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Yeah, but your goals and knowledge are way out there.
And an old inadequate NAS — yeah, I have railed against NAS as a core, I am beginnng to rail against them for storage as well.

There is a thread right now with a newcomer who is totally confused. “If I get a Nucleus I have to get a NAS for Storage. And how do I rip? Should I get an Innuos?”

My advice to a newbie would be, get a Nucleus, plug it in the network for Tidal (and Roon), get a 1 TB USB stick for the music, put it next to the stereo, get a DAC and plug it in with USB. Better yet, get digital speakers and skip the DAC. Ripping? Plug the USB stick into you PC, rip to it, and plug it back in the Nucleus. As simple as a cassette deck. Plug it into the stereo.

Can’t get to the Ethernet? Get a WiFi connector, like an Eero.

Other rooms? Ooh, that’s pretty advanced, House-wide music? You need to connect to those rooms, get more WiFi connections, MicroRendu and usb speakers or DACS, bang, once the connection is done it’s all the same.

Backup? The cloud.

Once you have gone through the basics, you can think about cork sniffing, DSD512 and native DSD vs. DoP and optical network isolation and the phase of the moon.

But this has to become simple.

You may object that this is an expensive solution. Sure. There are ways to save money, DIY or recycling old gear, but neither is easy. Your choice. And you can save money by not buying DirectStream or dCS or Meridian because it will be glorious anyway.





The NAS solution has its place professionally, but in homes, they are a relic of the past. 10+TB drives combined with services like Backblaze and fast WiFi, make the NAS unneeded for many use cases from just a few years ago.


I would rather pay a bit more ONCE rather than having to constantly upgrade because the system is too slow. I hate constantly upgrading. Do it once and do it right. I still use my 2009 iMac for Roon and it’s flawless.

I’d rather overkill and pay a bit more and have the peace of mind that I won’t run into problems into the future as the tech changes or my own work load changes.

I also don’t see a need for a fancy looking computer with LPS if that computer is going to be in another room and networked by Wifi or ethernet.


Just got an i5 NUC with 256 GB M.2 and 8 GB RAM for my core. I use a NAS for, among other things, Roon storage. RPi/DietPi handles my endpoints. I do have one SMS-200, but I can’t hear any difference. Goodsync software syncs to Amazon cloud. More than enough. I’d rather obsess over DACs, amps, speakers.

BTW - I tried to advise the NOOB similar to what you wanted to tell him. Couldn’t get thru to him and now the sharks are circling. :wink:

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There is a counter-point to this argument about processing power IMO. If you ‘right-size’ your computing power rather than ‘over-size’ it at the start there comes a point in the future where perhaps it is too small/not ‘right-size’ anymore. I realise this point always comes eventually but you potentially open yourself up to it happening sooner rather than later. Some of us cannot afford or don’t want to have a frequent upgrade path laid out in front of us.

In addition, and specifically in the case of audio processing, having a CPU that just about manages to handle your library and DSP, and/or upscaling or whatever, might not be optimal. A smaller CPU may have to work a lot harder to complete these processing tasks than a more powerful one. Increasing fan speed/heat/power consumption or RFI overall.

Does having a CPU barely above idle perform better in an audio setting than a smaller CPU under heavy usage?

I don’t know the answer, just posing the question. I do know that CPU manufacturers for things like mobile device use architecture like big.LITTLE specifically to handle these kind of issues.

Big.little is only relevant in mobile devices.
Also no one says that you should get the weakest CPU possible. A i5 is more than enough for even a big library and has some future proofing build-in. It can also handle DSP and DSD upsampling to at least one zone. And who need DSD512 to the kitchen radio
It is only if you cannot live with initially a few days bad performance while analyzing your 200k+ collection.
Or if you want to participate in the DSD512 upsampling craze which is mainly a sport for the technophiles.

I am not upsampling or using DSP, because it does nothing good in my system. Just because you can does not mean that it is a good idea.

I think there are many like me that prefer the audio send unprocessed to the DAC. But we do not write about it all the time like the DSD512 crowd which leads newcomers to believe it is mandatory to spec you RoonCore for upsampling to DSD512.


big.LITTLE is an example of where CPUs with different performance characteristics are used to balance performance against power usage/heat production etc. Its an analogy in this case, but audio processing can be sensitive to those kinds of things as well, for example fan speed and so on.

Everyone has different needs but the fundamental questions are the same; how much is enough? How much is too much? What are the pros and cons of a particular choice? I am talking general terms, not about how you prefer to use your system. There may be many like you, but that is not the point. How any one person chooses to spec their system is irrelevant to a general discussion.