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Intel's roadmap reveals more about the Viiv platform, and Conroe's VRM problem

Intel quietly released a list of Viiv specifications to its manufacturing partners last week.  Intel's Viiv platform is an attempt to unify PC components into a concise, easily supported platform for media center PCs.  Unfortunately, the project is already starting to show some missteps -- the Intel Conroe CPU, the workhorse of the Intel Viiv 1.5 and 1.6 platform, are not compatible with Viiv 1.0. 

Documents from Intel mentioned that the next generation Intel desktop processor, Conroe, will require a platform refresh on existing chipsets.  The upcoming Intel G965 and P965 chipsets will support Conroe, but any other Intel chipsets from 975X on down will require a modified VRM and BIOS updates.  The VRM, or voltage regulator module, is the component on the motherboard that adjusts the voltages to the CPU.  Even if today's chipsets are physically compatible with Conroe, no motherboard today will support the CPU if manufacturers followed the VRM guidelines set forth by Intel when those chipsets were designed.

The major software change to Viiv will be the operating system.  Viiv 1.5 will feature Microsoft Windows XP MCE, while 1.6 will feature Microsoft Vista Premium. Windows Vista is due out later this year after the Intel Conroe processor launch.  A footnote declares that the 1.5 Viiv software package will be available June or July of 2006.

Another new addition to the Viiv platform will be the addition of 802.11 a, b and g WiFi chipsets.  The specification details that the 3945ABG or the 3965ABG WiFi chipsets may be added to a Viiv device and still receive support from the platform software.

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By kilkennycat on 2/14/2006 9:47:04 PM , Rating: 2
The Conroe VRM issue has been known for a few weeks -- I came across it in a PC newsgroup. However, I am not at all surprised. Intel today cares more about maximizing their profits on new-product shipment from Dell and other PC manufacturers and cares little about supporting existing owners of Intel systems. The CPU provides the core lever for the chip-set and motherboard (of which, not surprisingly, Intel also make a huge quantity). So the more new motherboards that have to go with new CPUs is all the better for Intel's profit line. Why do you think that Intel recently invested $350million in upgrading their chip-production facility - not to have it sit idle.... The VRM issue follows a now well-known element of Intel strategy-planning -- with each new CPU family, make sure that a completely new motherboard is required, while soothing customers with marketing spin on all the wonderful new features. When are customers going to wise up enough to strip the Emperor naked ??

Here are a couple of the most glaring recent examples of Intel's version of planned-obsolescence :-

775LGA with 915 & 925 chipset -- first LGA 775 motherboards, but not dual-core compatible, chipsets discontinued after 6 months. Considering that CPU designs typically take well over a year to reach shipment, any reason whatsoever why the 915 & 925 chip-sets were not dual-core compatible ? All of the issues were obvious at the architecture stage. Presumably the CPU architects and the chip-architects at Intel do communicate ?

Yonah has exactly the same pin-count as the Pentium-M, but deliberately designed not to retrofit into any version of the Pentium-M motherboard.

And now we have the VRM game. Intel has known about this for a LONG time. The VRM specs are fundamentally tied to processor architecture coupled with process specs. The exact VRM requirements are captured in process-characterization and early simulation, long before any CPU chips are built. A VRM design capable of handling both the existing 775LGA P4-derivatives and Conroe could probably have been installed from day 1 on all 775-pin LGA boards and most certainly when the current 945/955/975 dual-core compatible 775LGA boards first became available.

Intel is no longer customer-centric, if they ever were in the last 5 years. Sales and short-term profits are now the only motive for all of their current product decisions in their PC-related business. The AMD lawsuit exposes some of the underbelly of the beast. Sad because Intel employs many talented and innovative people.

More power to AMD, nVidia and others in their battles with the arrogant giant. At least AMD has strong TECHNICAL reasons for shifting to the M2 socket (quad-core with DDR2 support etc, etc) and has endeavored to stretch the 939-pin backward-compatibility as much as possible. AMD still has not totally shut the door on further 939-pin versions of the desktop family beyond the FX-60.

By JackPack on 2/14/2006 11:28:46 PM , Rating: 2
The last VRD spec will be over 2 years old by the time Conroe is out. The new VRD spec calls for more steps in between and lower VID values to reflect Intel's NGA philosophy.

Sure, Intel could have called for an all encompassing VRD spec that lasts for 5 years. But it would be stupid to enforce such a spec since the vast majority of users don't upgrade the processor. Those that do, tend to replace the motherboard along with the processor. As technology progresses, it becomes less expensive to manufacture the same VRM, which means a long-term VRD spec incurs high costs for everyone when only a few benefit from it.

By DigitalFreak on 2/15/2006 9:09:33 AM , Rating: 2
Doesn't matter if it's the VRM or something else, Intel always finds a way to require a new systemboard with each processor refresh.

"A politician stumbles over himself... Then they pick it out. They edit it. He runs the clip, and then he makes a funny face, and the whole audience has a Pavlovian response." -- Joe Scarborough on John Stewart over Jim Cramer

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