Hardware Behind the Consoles - Part I: Microsoft's Xboxby Anand Lal Shimpi on November 21, 2001 3:47 AM EST
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Hardware and games go hand in hand; since it is the gaming industry which drives a significant portion of hardware sales, at least for enthusiast users. Companies like NVIDIA wouldn't have a reason to put out $300 and $400 graphics cards if it weren't for gamers. But although PC gamers have taken the lime light recently, every true PC gamer and most PC users in general can trace their roots back to the earliest of computer-entertainment devices: videogame consoles.
There is just something special about videogame consoles that have kept them around even in light of the power of the PC and the incredible multiplayer capabilities offered by the internet. Although ports of various console favorites have been brought to the PC, it's difficult to reproduce the feeling of playing through Mario or a good bout in Street Fighter on the PC. Sports games generally fall victim to that same awkward feeling on the PC; although they may run at much higher resolutions and have more multiplayer options on the PC, you can't cram four friends onto a couch in front of your monitor and really have at it in Madden.
The same can be said for videogame consoles receiving titles that were meant to be played on a PC. Try to be as effective under a fast paced first person shooter like Quake III: Revolution on the Playstation 2 as you would play Quake III Arena on the PC and you'll quickly see the reason why a keyboard and mouse are the tools of choice for PC FPS gamers.
Although we've tried to portray the PC and the console as two separate worlds, there is one aspect in which these two worlds collide: hardware. Now you see the tie-in; at AnandTech we like to deal with the most interesting hardware and technology out there and for years the hardware behind videogame consoles was rarely that interesting. What we ended up finding were platforms that were starved for memory and a useful storage medium; and with the release of cards like the original 3dfx Voodoo and NVIDIA's first TNT line we quickly noticed that videogame consoles like Nintendo's N64 were also deprived of the graphics power we as PC users had been used to.
When Microsoft announced the development of their Xbox gaming platform the specs listed it as a moderately fast PC that would be considered no more than entry-level upon its release in late 2001. The platform did not appear interesting by any means and it has only been within these past few months that our interest has truly piqued as the Xbox has shaped up to be far from a set-top PC.
Microsoft does face competition from the most successful player in the videogame console business: Nintendo. Nintendo's recently released GameCube is also very PC-like in its hardware although Nintendo's approach is much more conventional to the console market than what Microsoft is doing with Xbox.
Leaving no stone unturned we have created a short series of articles entitled the Hardware Behind the Consoles that will detail the hardware that powers consoles such as Microsoft's Xbox, Sony's Playstation 2 and Nintendo's GameCube. AnandTech isn't a gaming site and although a number of our readers (and our staff) are avid gamers we won't focus on reviewing the titles that are shipping for these consoles individually. Instead they will be used, as are games in our video card reviews, as demonstrations of what the hardware is capable of doing.
In this first article we will have a look at Microsoft's Xbox and the underlying hardware that powers the software giant's first entry into the console gaming market.