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[nextpage title=”Introduction”]

In the war to see who establishes a standard for digital entertainment computers archenemies Intel and AMD present their weapons: at one corner Intel with their ViiV platform – which is the digital home concept that Intel is pushing for ages with a new name – and at the other corner AMD with their Live! Platform. In this article you will learn the main specs for each platform and will see what you will be able to do with them.

A digital entertainment computer proposed by Intel ViiV and AMD Live! platforms is in charge of distributing digital content (data, music, movies, photos, etc) to other electronic equipment such as TVs, notebooks, MP3 players and PDAs. This digital entertainment computer should be able to record TV shows, videos, music and photos in DVD or CD. If you have this kind of PC at home it is possible for one person to watch a DVD movie being transmitted by it at one room of your house and, at the same time, another person listening to MP3 music at another room, also being transmitted by this computer, both using wireless communication.

This digital entertainment computer needs a minimum hardware requirement to be able to process, store and distribute all digital content available. Not all computers can be used as a digital entertainment computer. This computer, for example, must be able to deliver different digital content to several different electronic equipments at the same time.

Keep in mind that ViiV and Live! aren’t isolated technologies, but digital entertainment platforms. Their concept is the same of Intel’s Centrino, where in order to be considered “Centrino” a laptop must meet a certain hardware requirements. On Intel ViiV and AMD Live! platforms a computer can only be considered a digital entertainment computer if it meets a certain hardware and software requirements. In fact, Intel ViiV and AMD Live! define the minimum requirements needed for a digital entertainment PC. Think of these platforms as an “approval seal”, where if a computer meets certain requirements it can be called “ViiV-enabled” or “Live!-enabled”.

AMD Live! platform is based on technologies available on the market and other that will be available soon, while Intel ViiV platform is based on technologies available today.

Let’s now take a look at Intel ViiV and AMD Live! specs.

[nextpage title=”Intel ViiV Specs”]

For a computer to be compatible with ViiV platform, it must have at least the following components:

  • One of the following CPUs: Pentium D (except 805 model), Pentium Extreme Edition or Core Duo.
  • One of the following chipsets: 975X, 955X, 945G, 945P and 945GT, all using ICH7-DH (82801GDH) south bridge, or 945GM chipset.
  • One of the following network connections: Intel PRO/1000 PM, Intel PRO/100 VE or Intel PRO/100 VM.
  • Quick Resume Technology driver for the south bridge ICH7-DH installed.
  • SATA hard disk drive with NCQ technology.
  • Intel Matrix Storage technology (i.e., RAID 0, 1, 5 and 10 support).
  • High Definition Audio 5.1 or above. Analog or digital connection can be used. If digital connection (SPDIF) is used, 5.1 or above analog connection is optional.
  • Operating system: Windows XP Media Center Edition.
  • Remote control (optional)

If a computer is equipped with these components (CPU, chipset, networking and operating system), it can be considered “ViiV-enabled”.

What is different on this platform from a “normal” PC is the use of ICH7-DH south bridge (DH comes from “Digital Home”), except on the case of 945GM chipset, which doesn’t use this circuit. What is new on this chip is a technology called Quick Resume, which allows the PC to imitate the behavior of TV sets, where by pressing the power button located on the remote control the screen goes dark, the sound is muted and the keyboard and mouse stop responding.

In a ViiV-compatible computer you can access all your digital content (photos, music, movies, videos, etc) through a remote control (if the computer has one, of course), thanks to Windows XP Media Center Edition operating system. As the name implies, it is a version of Windows XP targeted to entertainment PCs. It allows you to record your favorite TV shows, share your pictures and songs, listen to radio, download music and movies from the Internet, and also install your favorite programs and games.

As you can see, ViiV platform is simply a set of technologies (processor, chipset, network adapter and operating system) combined to make an entertainment PC.

Gigabyte (with their GA-8I945GMH-RH) and ECS (with their 945G-M3), among other manufacturer, have already launched ViiV-compatible motherboards.

[nextpage title=”AMD Live! Specs”]

For a computer to be compatible with AMD Live! platform it must have at least the following components:

  • CPU: Athlon 64 X2 or dual-core Athlon 64 FX.
  • Motherboard: Socket AM2 or 939
  • Operating system: Windows XP Media Center Edition or Windows Vista Premium
  • Audio: 5.1 high definition audio with SPDIF output
  • Networking: Gigabit Ethernet or wireless 802.11b/g (optional)
  • Hard disk drive: SATA (NCQ technology recommended). Two SATA hard disk drives with RAID on computers based on Atlhon 64 FX.
  • Memory: At least 1 GB DDR2 667/800 MHz.
  • Ports: At least six USB 2.0 ports and also FireWire (IEEE 1394) ports.
  • TV tuner card with remote control: Optional.
  • Wireless keyboard and mouse: Recommended.
  • Video output: VGA, DVI or HDMI with HDCP (optional).
  • Optical unit: DVD±RW
  • Power supply: high efficiency with low rotation fan.

It is interesting to note how AMD specify several details of their platform, like the amount of RAM memory. It is also interesting to note how several items are optional.

The name way that occurs with ViiV technology, a Live! entertainment PC can be accessed through a remote control (if the computer has one), since it uses Windows XP Media Center Edition.

AMD Live! platform should be commercially available in the middle of this year – note how AMD specified the use of DDR2 memories, which the current AMD CPUs don’t support.

[nextpage title=”Conclusions”]

The digital entertainment computer concept is really very interesting. Image the ability to access any kind of digital contents (data, music, movies, pictures, etc) anywhere in your home from a central computer.
Keep in mind that ViiV and Live! aren’t isolated technologies but digital entertainment platforms. They define the minimum hardware and software requirements that a digital entertainment computer must have. Both platforms are based on dual-core processors supporting SSE3 multimedia instructions.

Intel seems to be ahead on the digital entertainment PC standard race, with some products already emerging on the market, like the already mentioned motherboards from Gigabyte and ECS. AMD Live! should be available somewhere this year.

On the technical specs side, we have some important constructive criticisms. AMD and Intel don’t require their platform to have wireless networking – which is in our opinion the main feature of the so-called digital home.

On the other hand, AMD define Gigabit Ethernet (1,000 Mbps) as a minimum networking standard for their platform, while on Intel side the minimum standard is Fast Ethernet (100 Mbps). AMD scored a good point here.

Another point scored by AMD was the FireWire port requirement, since this kind of port is used by video equipments – the kind of product that entertainment PCs are targeted to be connected to.

Both TV tuner card and remote control are optional on both platforms and in our opinion they should be required, since one of the objectives of the entertainment PC is to watch and record TV shows and to control the PC remotely.

A complicated limitation for audiophiles is the 5.1 audio on Live! platform, since on ViiV platform the audio can be up to 7.1. On the other hand we should make it clear that both platforms require the audio to be at least 5.1. Live! Platform required the system to have digital audio output (SPDIF), while ViiV is more flexible, making it optional. But on Viiv the manufacturer can use two-channel analog output if the motherboard carries an SPDIF digital output, so you will need a home theater receiver to use all audio channels if the motherboard manufacturer decided to save some bucks and use only one analog audio output, i.e., two-channel (2.0) output. That’s complicated.

On the storage side Intel requires ViiV motherboards to support their Matrix Storage technology (i.e., RAID 0, 1, 5 and 10 support). As Intel requires the use of a specific south bridge chip (ICH7-DH) it is redundant to say that Viiv platform supports RAID (or Matrix Storage, if you will). However it isn’t clear to us if Intel requires this technology to be used on a ViiV computer. On their website is written “Intel Matrix Storage support”, and we don’t know if “support” is a synonym of “has to use” or “has to be available” (i.e., available but not required to be used). Intel requires that you use NCQ-based hard disk drives on ViiV computers, while NCQ is optional on AMD’s Live!. On the other hand, on Athlon 64 FX-based computers, the system must have two hard disk drives using RAID.

In summary, even though ViiV and Live! set minimum requirements for a digital entertainment computer, there will be on the market PCs with better specs than others, all getting AMD or Intel conformity seal. So everything stays like it is nowadays: the user will have to know all the technical specs of the entertainment PC he or she is willing to buy in order to compare competing products.