How To: Building A Viiv PC

Intel's Viiv entertainment PC platform is aimed at bringing the horsepower necessary to handle all the multimedia functions of the digital home.

Marc Spiwak, Contributor

September 27, 2006

5 Min Read

Intel's latest advertising campaign ensures that consumers will want to see the Viiv logo on every new computer they buy. It's therefore import for system builders and solution providers to know what Viiv is all about. But what does it take to build Viiv-compliant systems, and what can home integrators deliver to their customers using Viiv technology?

Viiv, which rhymes with hive, sounds like new technology, but it doesn't really bring anything new to PCs that hasn't already been available. However, new functionality will soon be available. Like the Centrino branding campaign, Viiv really just specifies the ingredients that make an Intel-based computer suitable for home entertainment use. Products bearing the Viiv logo will properly integrate with other equipment in a digital home entertainment network.

Viiv specifications ensure that computers will have enough horsepower to perform multiple tasks at once. This lets users play games while downloading movies, watch one TV show while recording another, edit photos while someone else watches streamed video in another room and so on, all from the same PC.

It doesn't take much to support Viiv as long as a motherboard contains the latest parts; of course the system must also run the Windows XP Media Center Edition (MCE) 2005 operating system. Hardware-wise, Viiv specifies a chipset that is from one of the Intel 945/955/975 Express chipset families. Viiv also specifies an Intel dual-core processor, including the Pentium D, Core Duo and Pentium Extreme Edition.

Another important Viiv ingredient is an NCQ SATA Hard Drive. NCQ stands for Native Command Queuing, which increases a SATA drive's performance by letting it receive more than one I/O request at a time and letting the drive itself determine the order in which to carry out the requests. A remote control is not required for Viiv compliance, but Windows MCE does require a Phillips Key Code MCE-Type remote for full functionality.

A Viiv-compliant motherboard featuring a 945, 955 or 975 chipset must also include an Intel ICH7-DH chip (the DH stands for Digital Home). The ICH7-DH enables Intel's Matrix Storage Technology which supports NCQ hard drives and RAID 0, 1, 5, and 10. The ICH7-DH can take advantage of NCQ without needing an actual RAID array or more than one hard drive. Viiv also specifies a gigabit NIC, which all three chipsets support.

The 945G chipset supports Intel Pentium D and Pentium4 processors with Hyper-Threading Technology. The chipset also supports dual-channel DDR2 memory, system bus speeds of 1066, 800 and 533 MHz and 3 Gb/s SATA II hard drives. PCI Express is also supported, with an x16 graphics port and x1 I/O ports. The 945G chipset includes an integrated Intel GMA 950 Graphics Media Accelerator which supports 1080i video for high-definition playback.

Intel High Definition Audio is also supported by the 945G chipset with integrated audio circuitry. Viiv specifications call for SPDIF and stereo outputs or 5.1 or better outputs for surround sound capability. Audio outputs can be RCA connectors or 1/8-inch mini jacks, while S/PDIF outputs can be coaxial or optical. The 945G can address up to four Gbytes of memory to support 64-bit computing, and Flex Memory Technology allows different memory sizes to work together in dual-channel mode. Like most recent chipsets, the 945G supports USB 2.0.

The Intel 955 chipset adds support for up to 8 Gbytes of memory. It also supports Intel Memory Pipeline Technology (MPT), which provides more efficient use of each memory channel for better system performance. This chipset supports Pentium4 Hyper-Threading, Pentium D and Pentium Extreme Edition processors. The Intel 975 chipset adds intelligence to help manage multiple threads from the processor. It also supports multiple graphics cards. The 975 chipset supports Pentium Extreme and Pentium D processors.

Three Intel motherboards currently support Viiv. They include the D945GPM Micro-ATX, D945GBO Micro-BTX and the D975XBX ATX. The D945GPM and D945GBO support Pentium D processors and feature the 945G Express chipset along with the ICH7DH chip. They also feature one PCI Express x16 and one x1 connector, four SATA II connectors, eight USB 2.0 ports, FireWire, gigabit Ethernet and 7.1 audio with an optical S/PDIF output.

The high-end D975XBX ATX motherboard offers everything that the other two boards do and more. It supports Pentium D processor and Pentium Extreme processors and features an i975X chipset along with the ICH7DH. Offering state-of-the-art graphics performance, this board includes three PCI Express x16 graphics connectors, one PCI Express x1 connector and two PCI slots. Four SATA II and four SATA I connectors are featured. Windows MCE never included the codecs and software required to play DVDs, which was a pain in the neck for system builders. Fortunately Intel's Viiv motherboards do include it.

Basically any motherboard that supports Intel dual-core processors and contains one of the proper chipsets will support Viiv. Manufacturers including FIC, AOpen, Gigabyte and ECS are already on board so to speak.

Aside from Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005, there are other various software requirements for Viiv compliance. In addition to all the necessary drivers, Intel's Quick Resume software is also needed. This lets users turn the PC on and off instantly, albeit after the initial boot which takes a typical amount of time to complete. While this makes the PC appear to operate more like a typical consumer appliance, it also means that the PC is never actually turned off.

One new thing that Viiv will bring to the table is a slew of consumer appliances supposedly coming out in the second half of 2006 that will contain built-in wired and/or wireless NICs. Such things as TVs, set top boxes, DVD players and so on will have them. That will allow such things as viewing a DVD played in one room from another room, perhaps on a TV or a PC. Digital Media Adapters, or DMAs, will basically be NIC-equipped wired or WiFi receivers that can connect to a TV in rooms where computers are not wanted. Viiv PCs will then on the fly "transcode" material that's stored in a format that a DMA doesn't know to one that it can handle.

More Viiv coverage:

> Review: Viiv: New Platform, Same Old Systems

> Intel Offers $1M Home PC Design Challenge

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