Jasper Hunting 101: Waiting for the 65nm Xbox 360by Michael Andrawes on October 6, 2008 9:00 PM EST
I've been pestering Anand for the past coupled of months with every shred of evidence or rumor that relates to the launch of Microsoft's updated Xbox 360 motherboard codenamed "Jasper." Finally, he got sick of hearing about my obsession, so he asked me to write it up for AnandTech. I think the real reason is just to reduce the clutter in his IM logs ;) So here I am...
So, what's the big deal with Jasper? Well, it finally brings a 65nm GPU to the console, which should run much cooler than the current 90nm GPU that's been there since launch. Why does that matter? The 360 is now infamous for the "Red Ring of Death" (aka RRoD) failure and many hypothesize that this is related to overheating issues. The Falcon motherboard introduced a 65nm CPU shrink to help combat heat issues, but unfortunately, the GPU remained at 90nm (possibly with a slight redesigned or possibly even a half-node 80nm shrink). Overall the Falcon-based 360s run cooler and quieter than earlier models and seem to be more reliable so far. The RRoD has not been completely eliminated, however, and many of us have been waiting for the 65nm GPU update before actually buying a 360 - myself included. The exact reasons for the Xbox 360 reliability issues is not the purpose of this article, but I hope that Jasper will fix it. That said, we won't know what impact Jasper will have on reliability until they've been out for about a year or so.
I had a variety of reasons for waiting until approximately this point in time to buy a 360, but with all speculation pointing towards Jasper being out sometime around now, I couldn't help but wait a bit longer for the latest and greatest. At the same time, I have a fiance breathing down my neck about getting Rock Band, so I've been doing my best to track down a Jasper-based 360 before she kills me. Unfortunately, that's easier said than done.
You see, the Jasper has not been documented in the wild just yet, so we're all working on speculation and rumor at this point. Engadget jumped the gun the other day based on some bad information from another site. The story was then picked up by a number of media outlets despite the retraction from Engadget. The result is mass confusion about the true status of Jasper and my primary goal here is to set that straight. My secondary goal is to help others identify Jasper as well.
Ok that's not true at all - my real goal here is to help identify Jasper in the wild so I can get one ;) If I help you guys find one too, that's ok :)
What has been known for a while:
1. TSMC has reportedly been producing 65nm GPUs for Microsoft since early this year. Note, this is just the GPU chips themselves.
2. A number of rumors pointed towards a late August or early September build date for Jasper motherboards.
3. Delays can happen.
Thanks to a thread over on 8bitjoystick, a number of us have been trying to track down any additional information that might help us ID these consoles, preferably without actually opening them and looking at the GPU directly. Here's what we've found (we being myself, 8bitjoystick, Knoxximus, Jediman, and others in that thread).
1. Microsoft has registered a 150W PSU with a model number virtually identical to some of the 175W PSUs currently included with Falcon-based 360s. Both 110V and 220V models are listed.
2. The current output on that PSUs 12V rail is rated at 12.1A.
3. All of this is right in line with estimated power reduction from a die-shrunk GPU.
4. The 12V current demands of the console are clearly listed on the console itself, right next to the serial number. Falcon was 14.2A; earlier models (Zephyr and Xenon) were 16.5A.
I propose that the 12.1A power rating listed on the back of the console will be the most reliable way to ID a Jasper without opening it up. It still requires opening the factory packaging, but once you do, you should know what you've got inside. The first units may still come with 175W PSUs, just like many of the first Falcons came with the original 203W PSU. Unfortunately, Microsoft has stopped listing the PSU power output on the outter packaging, so we can't use that as an indicator of what's inside. At least one person has stated that their early Falcon still had a rating of 16.5A, but I've been unable to verify this.
Some other potentially useful power information: Anand has already documented the Falcon to use ~100W at the dashboard and ~120W while playing Halo - a full 50W less than Zephyr. I'd expect Jasper to also be up to 50W less than that, although that's just an educated guess for obvious reasons. This is power draw at the AC outlet with a Kill-a-watt or similar meter. The numbers may not work out perfectly on an early Jasper if it's using a 175W PSU, but it should still be less than the Falcon numbers.
So far, nobody has found a Jasper, so the exact weeks of manufacture and therefore lot numbers are still unknown. The original rumors would point towards weeks 34-38 being the first Jaspers, which corresponds to a lot # of 0834 to 0838. This information of course has not been verified since none have actually been spotted in the wild. Then there's the issue of which manufacturing team will make them first. Again, we don't know since nobody has one, but team FDOU had the first Falcons last year. What I can tell you is that 0833 from FDOU is the newest I can find documented anywhere and it's still a Falcon by all accounts.
The last trick that may or may not be beneficial is trying to look through the vents for changes in the heatsink design or inductor layout. These tricks were well documented for identifying Falcons, but nobody knows for sure exactly what Jasper will actually look like. More than likely, we'll see a revised GPU heatsink that's cheaper to produce since the cooling requirements will be reduced. That would likely mean no copper heatpipe, something that is currently visible through the vents.
Other things that need to be clarified:
1. I mentioned it above, but it's worth reiterating: nobody has actually laid hands on a Jasper outside of Microsoft and their manufacturers.
2. Microsoft is not going to officially talk about Jasper. There will be no press release. They will not respond to questions about it. Not from us, and certainly not from any random person calling them up. If they announced anything, it would make it quite hard to sell the old stock and it would admit that their old units were less reliable. Besides, this running change would have happened even if there were no effect on reliability because it's a cost cutting measure - the very same one that enabled the recent price drops. Their repair centers doesn't know anything either.
3. Retailers don't care. Being an unofficial, running change in the manufacturing means that nothing official will go to the retailers either. In other words, they have no idea what models they have, and nor do they care. A Jasper-based 360 will look just like a Falcon or even Zephyr-based 360 to them. They make the same amount of profit on each unit and they have zero incentive to try to sell all the old stock first. Forget all the conspiracy theories regarding the retailers or their employees.
4. Employees don't care. Getting employees to check this out for you is difficult. Most of them don't get it and wouldn't care even if they did. A refusal to check is more an indication of lack of motivation to do something so seemingly strange rather than them trying to prevent you from getting the latest and greatest.
5. The whole Jasper thing is a hardware revision for cost savings and is completely unrelated to any software updates, such as the upcoming dashboard experience.
6. We have no way of knowing if Microsoft has a plan to specifically implement Jasper in certain models first (ie Elites before Arcades), but to date, the faster selling Arcades seem to be the most recently produced models at my local stores. This may vary by locale however. I'd expect this to be a running change that will not be targeted at a particular model though.
7. I've been wrong once or twice before, so take this all with a grain of salt ;)
Thanks again to all the guys/gals in the 8bitjoystick/Seattle PI thread. They deserve as much credit as I do as it was our work together that helped uncover most of this. I'm just trying to make this more public and clear up some of the confusion that's out there.
That's all I have for now. I'll post more as I find it.