It’s that time of decade again. Time for a new Xbox. It took four years for Microsoft to go from the original Xbox to the Xbox 360. The transition from Xbox 360 to the newly announced Xbox One will take right around 8 years, and the 360 won’t be going away anytime soon either. The console business demands long upgrade cycles in order to make early investments in hardware (often sold at a loss) worthwhile. This last round was much longer that it ever should have been, so the Xbox One arrives to a very welcoming crowd.

Yesterday Microsoft finally took the covers off the new Xbox, what it hopes will last for many years to come. At a high level here’s what we’re dealing with:

- 8-core AMD Jaguar CPU
- 12 CU/768 SP AMD GCN GPU
- 8GB DDR3 system memory
- 500GB HDD
- Blu-ray drive
- 2.4/5.0GHz 802.11 a/b/g/n, multiple radios with WiFi Direct support
- 4K HDMI in/out (for cable TV passthrough)
- USB 3.0
- Available later this year

While Microsoft was light on technical details, I believe we have enough to put together some decent analysis. Let’s get to it.


The Xbox 360 was crafted during a time that seems so long ago. Consumer electronics styled in white were all the rage, we would be a few years away from the aluminum revolution that engulfs us today. Looking at the Xbox One tells us a lot about how things have changed.

Microsoft isn’t so obsessed with size here, at least initially. Wired reports that the Xbox One is larger than the outgoing 360, although it’s not clear whether we’re talking about the new slim or the original design. Either way, given what’s under the hood - skimping on cooling and ventilation isn’t a good thing.

The squared off design and glossy black chassis scream entertainment center. Microsoft isn’t playing for a position in your games cabinet, the Xbox One is just as much about consuming media as it is about playing games.

In its presentation Microsoft kept referencing how the world has changed. Smartphones, tablets, even internet connectivity are very different today than they were when the Xbox 360 launched in 2005. It’s what Microsoft didn’t mention that really seems to have played a role in its decision making behind the One: many critics didn’t see hope for another generation of high-end game consoles.

With so much of today focused on mobile, free to play and casual gaming on smartphones and tablets - would anyone even buy a next-generation console? For much of the past couple of years I’ve been going around meetings saying that before consolidation comes great expansion. I’ve been saying this about a number of markets, but I believe the phrase is very applicable to gaming. Casual gaming, the advent of free to play and even the current mobile revolution won’t do anything to the demand for high-end consoles today or in the near term - they simply expand the market for gamers. Eventually those types of games and gaming platforms will grow to the point where they start competing with one another and then the big console players might have an issue to worry about, but I suspect that’s still some time away. The depth offered by big gaming titles remains unmatched elsewhere. You can argue that many games are priced too high, but the Halo, BioShock, Mass Effect, CoD experience still drives a considerable portion of the market.

The fact that this debate is happening however has to have impacted Microsoft. Simply building a better Xbox 360 wasn’t going to guarantee success, and I suspect there were not insignificant numbers within the company who felt that even making the Xbox One as much of a gaming machine as it is would be a mistake. What resulted was a subtle pivot in strategy.

The Battle for the TV

Last year you couldn’t throw a stone without hitting a rumor of Apple getting into the TV business. As of yet those rumors haven’t gone anywhere other than to point to continued investment in the Apple TV. Go back even further and Google had its own TV aspirations, although met with far less success. More recently, Intel threw its hat into the ring. I don’t know for sure how things have changed with the new CEO, but as far as I can tell he’s a rational man and things should proceed with Intel Media’s plans for an IPTV service. All of this is a round about way of saying that TV is clearly important and viewed by many as one of the next ecosystem battles in tech.

Combine the fact that TV is important, with the fact that the Xbox 360 has evolved into a Netflix box for many, add a dash of uncertainty for the future of high end gaming consoles and you end up with the formula behind the Xbox One. If the future doesn’t look bright for high-end gaming consoles, turning the Xbox into something much more than that will hopefully guarantee its presence in the living room. At least that’s what I suspect Microsoft’s thinking was going into the Xbox One. With that in mind, everything about the One makes a lot of sense.

CPU & GPU Hardware Analyzed
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  • bji - Wednesday, May 22, 2013 - link

    I like the 8 year or longer console cycle. It means that I can focus on enjoying games more than upgrading every couple of years to the latest and greatest that isn't really any more fun to play, just has more eye candy.
  • Hrel - Wednesday, May 22, 2013 - link

    "We already have the Windows kernel running on phones, tablets, PCs and the Xbox, now we just need the Xbox OS across all platforms as well." That, 100 infinity BAGILLION times that!

    I'd actually like to see Nintendo release a console in time for X-mas 2014 with comparable hardware performance. Just because otherwise I don't see how that company will survive and I really don't want Nintendo to go away. I don't know if that's within their realm of possibility but they need to do something because the wiiU is pretty terrible.
  • tipoo - Wednesday, May 22, 2013 - link

    But they won't, as laughable as Wii U sales are that would still anger however many bought that, likely their core base. They'll survive anyways, see their cash reserves, plus any platform Mario and Zelda et al come to will be fine. Nintendo survives on first party, always has.
  • tipoo - Wednesday, May 22, 2013 - link

    That said, yes I would have preffered if they just kept motionplus controls and the cost of the tablet controller instead went to an APU.
  • skatendo - Friday, May 24, 2013 - link

    Seriously? Have you even tried the GamePad for an extended period of time? The thing is incredible and very useful. Also, the Wii U CPU/GPU is very customized and tailored for gaming. It's smart Nintendo didn't release tech specs because most everybody wouldn't understand how it would perform in real time. Custom silicon is a magnificent thing. Heck look at the 4-core CPU and 12-core GPU for the Tegra 3 and pit that against a paltry looking dual core CPU/GPU Apple A5 and you wouldn't have any competition right? (on paper at least) And who would have thought that the A5 with A FOURTH THE CORES and much slower clockspeed outperformed about twice the game performance the "superior" Tegra 3.
  • marc1000 - Wednesday, May 22, 2013 - link

    a great thing MS could do is find a way to put Windows Phone 8 inside of Nvidia Shield - and then have the option to stream your game from the Xbox One to to Shield.

    That would be awesome, family could be watching TV on the living room and you could have high-quality gaming anywhere - event if it would not be possible to play on the console AND shield at the same time, of course.

    Streaming games from X1 to Shield (full control scheme) or any WP8 phone/tablet (simpler games) would be that killer-app that MS needs so badly to boost it's phone business.
  • nforce4max - Wednesday, May 22, 2013 - link

    Interesting read and excited that GCN is being used but the cpu side of things I have to wonder how it will actually perform. Bobcat was fairly weak (think of a Pentium 4) and was terrible starved of memory bandwidth but the worst was that the L2 cache only worked at half the core clock. If the Jaguar cores still have the same sluggish L2 cache then even 8 of them is going to be painful but I suppose devs are going to offload what they can onto the gpu (openCL).

    As for the 32mb on die memory as stated in the article it all comes down to how it is used. If used for the frame buffer it will limit resolution but make for a huge fps boost as the rop and tmu are bandwidth hogs gpu wise but leave the rest for the cpu and shader. The cpu being weak as it is won't need much provided the gpu doesn't hog to much of the bandwidth. If used as a cache it will make up for the weak L2 cache and provide a unified pool for all 8 cores, if software only then we might have to wait to find out what for.

    Overall this is good news for the PC, no more games like GTA4 :D
  • Arsynic - Wednesday, May 22, 2013 - link

    Listening to Sony PR and Sony fanboys you'd think PS4 had every advantage under the sun and will retail for $400.
  • MooseMuffin - Wednesday, May 22, 2013 - link

    Nice article Anand. Rare to get level-headed analysis at the start of a console cycle.
  • highend - Wednesday, May 22, 2013 - link

    Amiga CDTV in 1990 looked better than XBOX One, see yourself: Also M$ copied from Commodore looks & design

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