Microsoft's Xbox has a unique history; it was the first console to merge a PC's architecture with a console's form factor and interface. Its successor, the Xbox 360, continues the trend of having a unique history by making its first public debut on MTV. In what amounted to essentially a 30-minute advertisement on MTV, Microsoft very briefly introduced the new console and gave a sneak peak at some of its specifications as well as the games that would be running on the new platform.

The MTV special was hardly technical; in fact, it seemed as if the editors did their best to tune down any sort of technical slant to the special as best as possible in order to avoid alienating their target audience - the mainstream, non-gaming market. In order for Microsoft to attain the level of success they desire with Xbox 360, it has to be much more than just a console for gamers, it has to expand the potential user base considerably.

Features like an all-wireless controller setup make the console even more mainstream fit - most people hate cables, and minimizing cable clutter is definitely a step in the right direction for the new console. From what we've heard through industry insiders, the wireless controllers appear to charge via a USB cable connected to the Xbox 360 unit itself.

We've spent the first part of 2005 talking about the move to dual and multi-core processors on the desktop, and the Xbox 360 does not stray from the path set before it. While Microsoft hasn't officially revealed the processor specifications for the Xbox 360, they did mention that the new Xbox 360 offers "more than one teraflop of system-floating point performance" driven by a "three-core PowerPC-based CPU." There are many rumors about the clock speed and nature of the PowerPC based cores, but most seem to indicate that they are some sort of derivative of the PPE that is in the Cell processor. Clock speeds have been rumored to be around 3.2GHz for the multi-core CPU, and given that Xbox 360 is expected to launch this year it will most likely be built on a 90nm process. The CPU will be able to execute 6 simultaneous threads, meaning that each of the three PowerPC cores is multi-threaded - once again a similarity to Cell's PPE. We will hopefully be getting more confirmation on the CPU architecture behind Xbox 360 at E3 next week.

The system is outfitted with ATI's next generation GPU, R5xx class, connected to a shared 512MB of system memory. Note that Microsoft is stating that the Xbox 360 offers "more than" 512MB of total memory, which means that the rumors of the ATI GPU having around 10MB of embedded DRAM are most likely true. This isn't ATI's first GPU design with embedded DRAM; the Flipper GPU that was used in Nintendo's Gamecube featured a full 3MB of embedded DRAM. The GPU features "48 ALU pipes" but ATI/Microsoft haven't elaborated beyond that.

The combination of the CPU and GPU in the Xbox 360 already make it a more powerful gaming machine than any PC out today, but as always the balance between PC and console gaming is an ever-shifting struggle. What the Xbox 360 will do however is accelerate the development of multithreaded games, some of which will hopefully make their way to the PC as well.

The CPU (and presumably the GPU) is cooled by a water cooled heatsink and twin fans. The motherboard is built on a 4-layer PCB, which is to be expected from a cost standpoint. Despite the trend away from Windows/PC architecture, the Xbox 360 does appear to still be very computer-like inside.

Contrary to popular belief, it does appear that the hard drive is back in the Xbox 360 and Microsoft is specifically referring to it as a "detachable" hard drive. Given the size of the Xbox 360, we'd assume that it will use a 2.5" drive, compared to the 3.5" drive that was included in the original Xbox. Given how much platter densities and spindle speeds have improved since the original Xbox was launched, the new drive shouldn't have a problem being faster than the original drive that shipped with the Xbox - despite its smaller form factor.

There was no mention of a multi-tiered launch, meaning that it looks like there will only be one Xbox 360 introduced later this year - hard drive included. The inclusion of a hard drive is particularly important for the modders out there, as it does give hope that even the Xbox 360 will be as hackable/moddable as the current Xbox is.

The console itself appears to be significantly smaller than the original Xbox, which was a complaint by many upon the Xbox's initial debut. The Xbox 360 will have removable face plates to offer some level of physical customization, although the finished product does look quite sleek.

Also from the videos it does appear that the new wireless controllers are smaller than even the reduced size Xbox S-type controllers.

HD Everywhere
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  • HardwareD00d - Monday, May 16, 2005 - link

    I'm still waiting for the Intellivision II-HD :P Reply
  • xsilver - Monday, May 16, 2005 - link

    I think the water cooling solution is a good substitute for a giant copper/alum heatsink, which will be expensive.... what they might do is have a zalman reserator type thing going but with the water all inside, filling up all the air gaps
    the whole xbox will then be warm and only a small fan or no fan will be needed
    Reply
  • ImJacksAmygdala - Sunday, May 15, 2005 - link

    Has anyone found out if you can surf the web using a wireless router? I have read rumors of this on the web. I have also heard rumors of DVD video being upscaled to 720p.

    Can anyone confirm these rumors? I would actually be surprised if microsoft got this part right.
    Reply
  • Zebo - Sunday, May 15, 2005 - link

    ATM - you need to chill. Anand is as straight laced as they come I've witnessed this 4 years now..unassailable (no offence anand:P) Reply
  • miketheidiot - Saturday, May 14, 2005 - link

    #51

    the 1 teraflop claim includes the GPU performance. GPU's have incredible floating point performance, a 900+ gflop graphics chip is not completely unreasonable, although still rediculous
    Reply
  • Cdeck - Saturday, May 14, 2005 - link

    I thank #35 for providing the links referencing the one teraflop claim. I find it very hard to believe. I know the PowerPC is a very capable processor but this would mean a 30+ fold increase per node over the current. I am a retired software developer and i am not buying it. It's simply marketing smoke and mirrors.

    Currently, a one teraflop workstation/server is in the $100,000 to $200,000 range. If IBM could have developed a 333 gflop core, they would have kept it for themselves. I would expect these general purpose cores to be about 1/10 of what they claim or about 100 gflops for the 3 cores.

    Nonetheless, they have built us an impressive game rig and i am looking forward to it.
    Reply
  • sprockkets - Saturday, May 14, 2005 - link

    the cosoles of course always lose money
    I'm just curious to see if all this power acutally translates into anything.
    dreamcast used heatpipe cooling, not water cooling.
    Not entirely related, but it sucks that Conker's bad fur day for the N64 and for the xbox came out and again will come out as soon as the console it came on is replaced by the next generation console that same year.
    Reply
  • finbarqs - Friday, May 13, 2005 - link

    water cooling (from my experience) does not cool better than air cooling. Well.. that's not entirely accurate. Depending on what fan we're using! For watercooling, i think i got it to be the same temperatures as a 4000 RPM fan on my northwood proc. Hrm... but what watercooling does excel is when i had a peltier in it... WOO WEE!!! then it got cold!!! water cooling is over rated, unless you want a quiet system. I think that's why they went this route. Also, i've read that this console will be under $300. For something this powerful, it is cheap. You can't even get a video card this cheap! Reply
  • Swaid - Friday, May 13, 2005 - link

    creathir
    And in the real world we call that a heat pipe, that is a far shot from a water cooling system as heat pipes consist mainly amonia (or any other liquid with simular properties) and yes there can be some h2o in it for a greater specific heat index.
    Reply
  • artifex - Friday, May 13, 2005 - link

    ANY word on price?

    Also, many modders of the current box just use it for media center type stuff and linux stuff. If they never play games, who cares about the mod restrictions? :)
    Reply

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