Die shrinks are big deals in the PC industry; transitioning to smaller manufacturing processes means faster switching times and greater transistor density, usually resulting in cooler, faster and more feature-filled CPUs and GPUs.

Intel just recently began its transition from 65nm to 45nm transistors with the release of its Penryn based Core 2 CPUs. The benefits of smaller manufacturing processes are made clearly visible by the Penryn example; despite having 50% more cache than its predecessor and more features (e.g. SSE4), each Penryn die measures 107 mm^2 compared to a 65nm Conroe at 143 mm^2. Transistor density also went up tremendously, as Penryn crams 410 million transistors into less space than 291 million transistors with Conroe.

We just saw a more dramatic showcase of the improvements smaller transistors can bring to GPUs with AMD's new Radeon HD 3800 graphics cards. The RV670 GPU is built off of TSMC's 55nm process and very similar, architecturally, to the 80nm R600 used in the Radeon HD 2900 XT. The die size and transistor density have both improved tremendously thanks to the new process, as has power consumption. The table below should give you some hard numbers to look at:

 Microprocessor Manufacturing Process Die Size Transistor Count Transistor Density
Intel Core 2 Duo (Conroe) 65nm 143 mm^2 291M ~2.03M per mm^2
Intel Core 2 Duo (Penryn) 45nm 107 mm^2 410M ~3.83M per mm^2
AMD Radeon HD 2900 XT (R600) 80nm 408 mm^2 700M ~1.71M per mm^2
AMD Radeon HD 3870 (RV670) 55nm 192 mm^2 666M ~3.46M per mm^2


In both examples, the move to a smaller transistor feature size results in a tremendous increase in transistor density on the order of 90 - 100%. On the PC side, these increases are nothing new, Moore's Law has been hard at work for decades now and we keep reaping the benefits in the form of better, faster, cheaper products. With Game Consoles however, the story is a little different.

Game console hardware must remain largely unchanged throughout the life cycle of the system, which these days is somewhere in the 4 - 5 year range. The whole point to a closed game console system is that you have one spec of hardware to develop for, introducing faster CPUs and GPUs in the middle of the life cycle just wouldn't fly. Since adding features and performance isn't possible, the only real benefits to process shrinks for chips in game consoles are cost, heat and noise reduction, all of which are still important.

Microsoft just recently dropped the price of its Xbox 360 and around the same time, rumors crept up about a quiet introduction of 65nm CPUs into the bill of materials. The original Xbox 360 manufactured from 2005 up until August of this year all used 90nm chips; the CPU, GPU and eDRAM were all fabbed on a 90nm process, which was state of the art at the time. However, as you've undoubtedly noticed with Intel's recent move to 45nm, 90nm is more than dated now.

A move to 65nm would undoubtedly reduce power consumption, potentially make the console quieter and obviously make it cheaper to produce. With the Xbox 360 there's also another side effect that many surmised would result from a move to 65nm: increased reliability.

The Red Ring of Death
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  • TheLoneWulf - Saturday, June 7, 2008 - link

    Remember that if/when you get your RROD, when you send it back, most likely, you will receive a Falcon board, if not the newest "Jasper" board, when that comes out. Although you will have to wait for it, it will be worth it!
  • iwannaplaycs - Sunday, December 23, 2007 - link

    Bought a Xbox Premium (Holiday bundle) from FutureShop in Toronto.

    Lot: 0642
    Team: JREY

    MFR Date: Oct 17 2006!!!!!

    This sucks. :(
  • Yan - Saturday, December 22, 2007 - link

    I just bought a premium unit in holiday bundle
    at futureshop, I verified the Lot # was above 738, mine is
    lot number 740 and the MFR Date is october 8th, 2007

    I was disapointed to see the infamous heat pipe through the holes
    after I open the box
  • Yan - Saturday, December 22, 2007 - link

    Also, TEAM : CSON
  • Yan - Saturday, December 22, 2007 - link

    Also, TEAM : CSON
  • weenis1 - Friday, December 21, 2007 - link

    Anyone know what Lot Numbers for the Elite console have the Falcon mobo? Thanks.
  • Jasmine64 - Saturday, December 8, 2007 - link

    The box having a bar code sticker showing 175W instead of 203W may be a better indicator of getting the Falcon MB...
    I know Anand's box shows 203W but I purchased LOT NO: 0741, TEAM: FDOU, 203W, manufactured on Oct 11, 2007 and it is a Zepher.

    A co-worker has LOT NO: 0742, TEAM FDOU, 175W and it is a FALCON!
  • confesstoadmit - Saturday, December 8, 2007 - link

    Hey guys, just walked into my local GAME store and purchased a 360 pro package :) BUT unfortunatley it turned out to be a zephyr model..

    LOT : 0737
    Manufature Date : 22/9/2007

    (unfortunatley only because from what i've heard the FALCON model is alot better)

    Anyway :) i was wondering what are my chances of getting the RROD on the zephyr model, i mean it does have the improved heatsink and that weird pipe :P (yeh i'm new to xbox lol)

  • MrEastSide - Saturday, December 1, 2007 - link

    Just thought I'd register and pop in to add some more info to this topic. I just got a new 360 (Old one crapped). After inspecting it and following the information and pictures on here I can confirm mine is a Falcon.

    It is from Team CSON - Lot number 742, manufacture date 10-21-2007, and it's the premium that comes packed with Forza and Marvel.
  • mjcuk - Friday, November 23, 2007 - link

    If anyone wants to know if they've got a Falcon chipset, I've come up with an easier method. If you keep the Xbox 360 horizontal, and locate the the narrow ventilation grille above the cover of the USB ports at the far end, you can determine what you've got. Firstly, shine a torch in the ventilation grille, where the Microsoft insignia is. Locate the two capacitors positioned alongside each other, and then run the torch slowly to the middle of the narrow vent and locate the centre capacitor. Just to its right, if you see an unfilled circular white marking on the motherboard (where an inductor should be), then that means you've got a Falcon. ;-)

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