Intel details new brand for entertainment PCs

The company's Viiv combination of processor, chipset and network controller will feature automatic transcoding and speedy shutdown and start-up.

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Stephen Shankland
4 min read
SAN FRANCISCO--Intel, happy with its success launching the Centrino brand for mobile computers, on Wednesday introduced a new brand called Viiv for entertainment PCs.

As reported, Intel wants to use Viiv--it rhymes with "strive"--to reassure consumers that their PCs can readily handle digital audio and video, share digital content over networks and be easily controlled, program manager Merlin Kister said in a speech at the Intel Developer Forum here. "We're focusing on ease of use, performance and connectivity in the context of delivering a great entertainment experience for users."

Intel's new branding campaign
Credit: Intel
Chip giant Intel unveils a new
home branding campaign.

Most agree Intel has done well establishing Centrino, which includes the Pentium M processor, a supporting chipset and a wireless networking chip. Viiv includes a dual-core processor, a chipset and a network controller, said Don MacDonald, general manager of Intel's Digital Home Group, and will require Microsoft's Windows Media Center Edition.

Viiv will launch in the first quarter of 2006, MacDonald said.

As with Centrino, Intel is trying to calm fears of average users who might be nervous about complicated new technology. "When you, the consumer, look for a brand, you want it to simplify your purchase and come from someone you trust," MacDonald said.

One feature of Viiv will be automatic transcoding--ensuring that audio or video encoded in one format can be translated into one the user's computer can actually handle without user intervention. Another feature will be instant shutdown and start-up that will work as fast as it does in consumer electronic devices such as DVD players. (PCs today have suspend-and-resume features that bypass sluggish start-up and shutdown processes, but still aren't as fast as a typical television.)

Intel this year regrouped product development and sales teams around "platforms" that combine processors with other components. The Centrino platform exemplifies this new approach, though it predates the reorganization. There's little doubt Intel hopes for a sequel to Centrino with Viiv.

"I think Centrino has been a huge success from a branding perspective," Insight 64 analyst Nathan Brookwood said. With Centrino, Intel addressed the fact that "buyers were very uncertain about wireless and the wireless experience. I think they have an opportunity here to do a similar thing because people are frustrated with the interoperability of consumer devices. I have all this stuff working in my house, but I have a degree from MIT."

Intel, trying to put its imprimatur on entertainment PCs, raises the possibility that the company will end up fighting for brand turf with Microsoft's Media Center Edition. But Brookwood thinks otherwise. "Today you typically have a Windows sticker and an Intel sticker on your PC," he said. "There's no reason why it can't have Viiv and MCE."

MacDonald also announced on Wednesday a new video display processor, the Oplus MN301. It can handle tasks such as image sharpening and noise reduction for DVD players, projection televisions and set-top boxes. Next year, Intel expects to integrate the Oplus line with traditional processors and chipsets for use in consumer electronics devices. "We will lead the industry with system-on-a-chip solutions," MacDonald said.

Active Management Technology
Also touting PC technology at the show was Pat Gelsinger, general manager of Intel's digital enterprise group. In particular, he touted Intel's Active Management Technology (AMT), which is designed to make it easier for administrators to remotely control PCs.

"We want to embed just a little bit of the IT manager directly into each piece of silicon we develop and ship into the marketplace," Gelsinger said.

Management technology may sound dry, but Intel hopes it will help in "reinvigorating and adding a whole new business model to the PC market today," Gelsinger said. Specifically, he expects outsourcing companies such as Electronic Data Systems to offer new services managing its clients' PCs.

The first generation of AMT is complete, and now Intel is turning its attention to a second version. That will add integration with the chipset, among other features, Gelsinger said.

Gelsinger shed some light on upcoming processors. The "Conroe" dual-core desktop processors, due in the second half of 2006, will come in versions with 2MB and 4MB of high-speed cache memory.

The "Yonah" processor for mobile computers will be released in the first half of 2006 for servers as a product called Sossaman. Compared with Yonah, Sossaman adds memory protection features and dual-processor configurations. Gelsinger demonstrated it running with better computational performance than the "Nocona" version of the Xeon processor that debuted in mid-2004, but he didn't offer a comparison to Nocona's current successor, Irwindale.

Gelsinger also elaborated on plans for more conventional Xeon processors, which are broadly divided into "DP" models for dual-processor servers and "MP" models for servers with four or more processors.

The Dempsey processor, a dual-core Xeon model due in early 2006 for dual-processor servers, will be branded the Xeon 5000, while the dual-core Paxville Xeon due early in the fourth quarter of 2005 for four-processor servers will be called the Xeon 7000.

Dempsey fits into a platform called Bensley, which also will accommodate a successor to Dempsey, called Woodcrest, in the second half of 2006. Dempsey uses next-generation FB-DIMM (fully buffered double inline memory modules) memory technology and will quadruple the memory capacity over existing dual-processor Xeon servers, Gelsinger said.

The sequel to Paxville is code-named Tulsa, and it will have a 16MB cache and 1.3 billion transistors, Gelsinger said. Tulsa fits into the existing "Truland" platform that today's single-core "Potomoc" and "Cranbrook" processors use.

Truland's successor will be the "Reidland" platform in 2007, which initially will use a Xeon processor code-named Whitefield and, later, a sequel called Dunnington. Whitefield is a four-core processor, but Intel didn't share details on Dunnington beyond saying it has at least four cores.