Hardware Behind the Consoles - Part II: Nintendo's GameCubeby Anand Lal Shimpi on December 7, 2001 3:44 AM EST
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While the PS2's Emotion Engine has a lot of potential, developers have continuously stated that the platform is too difficult to program for. With both GameCube and Xbox using widely available and common CPU platforms, the real competition exists between the Cube's Gekko and the Xbox's Intel CPU.
In terms of raw performance, the Celeron 733 (4-way set associative L2) will outperform the PowerPC 750 running at 500MHz in any of the synthetic benchmarks we've seen. We can only assume that a 733MHz CPU with a 133MHz FSB and 8-way set associative L2 cache would only be faster than the Gekko giving the Xbox the CPU performance advantage.
Both platforms have good compiler support and the tilt of the hat goes to IBM's Gekko in terms of having a very flexible ISA.
Where the GameCube does clearly come out on top however is in heat production and die size. The Gekko produces around 1/3 the amount of heat as the Xbox CPU and measures in at close to half of the die size. This leads to tremendous cost savings in the production of the CPU that translates into the ability to price the GameCube at $199 instead of $299 like the Playstation 2 and Xbox.
The PS2's Graphics Synthesizer is entirely too dependent on extreme parallelism in order to fill its 16 pixel pipelines which could be the cause of many of the slowdowns we've seen in games for the platform. Many of Electronic Arts' titles have been ported to both GameCube and Xbox and the first thing everyone seems to notice is that the slowdown problems that existed with the PS2 are now gone.
The GameCube wins in terms of GPU efficiency courtesy of the embedded 1T-SRAM from MoSys. However the use of a fixed function T&L pipeline is a bit of a turn off for the GPU. Again this is another situation in which it would have been beneficial to have ATI's input into the design of the product before it was finalized. It is a shame that ATI acquired ArtX after the design was already completed otherwise we might have seen a programmable T&L pipeline instead.
Raw GPU power and feature set does go to the NV2A core that is in the Xbox. Games such as Dead or Alive 3 are perfect examples of how easy it is for developers to write these custom pixel and vertex shader programs as well as how great the results can be.
Both Flipper and the NV2A support texture-compression which plays a major role in the use of higher-resolution textures in games. On the launch titles for the GameCube we've seen a number of lower resolution textures being used compared to the Xbox launch titles. That could just be a sign of the early adopters not taking advantage of the technology yet or it could be due to a lack of main memory bandwidth, it's too early to tell.
Audio & I/O
The clear winner when it comes to audio is the Xbox. While Dolby Pro Logic II support is great, it isn't widely supported by most of today's receivers and lacks many of the benefits of Dolby Digital 5.1.
Also from an I/O standpoint the Xbox comes out ahead as well because of its built in hard drive and Ethernet adapter. There have been too many failures in the past of console add-on products to expect incredible success from any add-on product to either of the competing consoles. What is interesting to note is that in spite of the hard drive and faster DVD drive, Xbox load times are still not dramatically better than the GameCube load times.
We have yet to compare one title on both platforms to figure out which one loads faster (in theory the Xbox should) but current GameCube titles experience much quicker load times than Xbox titles.