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AMD is competing with Intel for platform dominance but is Apple ahead of them both?

Since CES 2006, we've seen significant changes in regards to how companies stretch their offerings, what they offer and how they do it. Companies that are public, have a duty to their shareholders to return a profit, and a profit always carries the responsibility of expanding.

Expansion, of course brings along a lot of new ideas and new offerings that a company may not traditionally offer. The biggest announcement this year so far in this regard has been AMD's LIVE! platform, which is slated to compete directly with Intel's Viiv. Essentially, at their root, LIVE!, Viiv, and Centrino are the same concept. All three encompass a set of pre-defined technologies that are grouped to work together. Essentially, all three major platforms are simply a set of rules. They don't offer "exclusive" or "special" technology that a user can't make themselves.

The LIVE! technology is based on a set of existing and upcoming technologies that are available or will be soon, but the standards are complete and in place. In fact, some of the missing pieces are not necessarily critical to creating a LIVE! "compliant" computer at all.

AMD has broken up LIVE! into two distinct systems: a home entertainment oriented computer and a regular desktop computer. The two roughly reflect each other except the desktop focuses on broad general use. A critical part of LIVE! is the mandate that the included video card be able to decode all popular video formats including H.264, DivX, MPEG2, WMV, and others in hardware.

AMD LIVE! Desktop PC
AMD Athlon 64 X2 dual-core processor (65W energy efficient CPU)
Windows Vista Premium (includes Away Mode support)
Discrete or UMA graphics (DX9, HDCP required if HDMI used)
5.1 HD audio with SPDIF output
RAID 0. 1 with SATA (NCQ support recommended)
2 to 4 DIMMs of DDR2 667/800MHz
Ports: 6 (minimum) USB 2.0 and IEEE 1394 (FireWire 400)
GigE LAN and optional 802.11b/g (a is optional)
Slots: 16L & 1L PCIe and 1x PCI minimum
Low Acoustic Noise level (to be determined)

AMD LIVE! Entertainment PC
Same as LIVE! Desktop PC except:
AMD Athlon 64 X2 dual-core processor (35W and 6W energy CPU)
SATA HD support
Support for low profile form factors

Intel Viiv Platform
Core Duo Processor / Pentium D / Pentium Extreme Edition
Intel 945 series or 955 series chipset
Pro 100/1000 PM/VE/VM network adapters

According to AMD, LIVE! Will be split up into two phases, which is set to ensure that all LIVE! Computers ship standard with AMD’s upcoming AM2 socket and an AM2 based processor. The second phase ensures that the processors used will be energy efficient. In light of this, AMD is practically saying that all AM2 processors may be able to be energy efficient. Phase 2 also ensures that Windows Vista requirements are met. AMD says that it will demo a Windows Vista-ready LIVE! PC at Computex this year. According to AMD documents we’ve seen, AM2 energy efficient processors will be announced this year on June 6th.

Between LIVE! and Viiv, Intel's focus is less on the hardware and more about the overall experience and services that you can get out of a Viiv-enabled system. The following are mandates from Intel:
  • Easy access to on-demand movies, music, games and photos on your TV
  • A range of verified entertainment services and big-name digital content
  • Instant on/off (after initial boot, when activated) for immediate enjoyment of your digital media
  • Dual-core processor power and supports up to 7.1 channel surround sound
  • The ability to record, pause and rewind live TV
  • A range of shapes and sizes to fit your home and your life
Hardware requirements for Viiv are simpler, and focus on things such as having a 64-bit processor, standard Intel gigabit Ethernet, and other hardware that's generally available to the public. Considering its experience with Centrino, we expect Intel to take a more low key approach on hardware and a greater focus on providing exclusive content. Intel has also put together a number of utilities that customers can use to test if their system meets Viiv-logo requirements. Specific components are required (Core Duo, Pentium D processor, certain chipsets, etc.).

Intel is trying to round up as much exclusive content as it can, for Viiv customers. Whether it is HD content providers, games, Web services, or music applications and stores, Viiv will act more like a ticket for users to get access to exclusive content. Both AMD and Intel have developed in-house applications for certification testing but no real software that actually showcases either platform, because quite simply, that's what they are. Since both platforms are based on standard components, any "LIVE" or "Viiv" enabled application should run on any other system, unless the application looks for key components. User services are where the differences between AMD and Intel will be set.

Both companies have yet to make any major announcements about Viiv enabled systems offering something that currently isn't available. The interesting bit of information however, is that both platforms have rolling upgrade paths. Presumably this will allow each company to reserve version numbers for large announcements of new features or an update to the platform specification. A few weeks ago we reported that Intel's Viiv was making some progress in getting other companies to sign up support but so far nothing much in the way of innovation has happened. The case applies to AMD as well.

Noting all of this, Apple is essentially a platform in itself, providing exclusive content and applications for users not found anywhere else. Apple's platform is the most organized at this point since it has been a totally integrated and well thought out platform for many years now. Application packages such as Apple's highly successful iLife, coupled with .Mac, give Apple owners a broad array of social activities as well as personal activities to do. Interestingly, Acer also announced this week that it is developing its own platform-like initiative called Empowering Technology, which is essentially a set of standards and technology bundles aimed at giving users a friendlier computing experience.

"I want people to see my movies in the best formats possible. For [Paramount] to deny people who have Blu-ray sucks!" -- Movie Director Michael Bay
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