Next XBox Lots of Hardware but no HD

Next XBox Lots of Hardware but no HD

As more information is given by Microsoft to developers about XBox's successor, more details on the specifications begin to "leak". The first and possibly most surprising information was the strong possibility of a fall 2005 release for XBox 2 or Next. The next shock is that it seems very likely that the next XBox will not come with a hard drive.

The suggestion coming from Microsoft partners is that a head start may do for the next XBox what Sony's 20 month lead did for the PS2. There is, of course, a balance to be achieved if such a venture is to prove even moderately successful, that of the right Hardware-Content Chemistry. Rushing out a major hardware product into a multi-billion dollar market is not a recipe for success.

The other, somewhat, surprising details about the next Microsoft console revealed have to do with the company's choice of hardware. It would seem that the company has decided to go with the current trend of using multiple processors. The suggested setup is three IBM-designed 64-bit microprocessors. These will be an improved future version of the ones currently being used in Apple's G5 PowerMac boxes. This, in essence would give the MS console more computing power than current home PC's and will put the same console in a similar footing with Sony's, mutli-cell powered, PS3 and rivals Nintendo who will also be using IBM chips for their upcoming N5 console.
The change in architecture has upset developers since that will, most probably, mean that game development for the console will become harder. One of the advantages of the current XBox console is the ease with which content can be created for it. The change also raises some issues regarding the backwards compatibility of the new console. This is becoming a major question mark as you will read a bit later.

Although the graphics for XBox 2 will be provided by ATI the same sources claim that they will be nothing special but will, obviously, be faster than ATI's forthcoming R420 chip. It is also expected, by then to carry GDDR3 type memory which runs at 600 to 800 MHz, meaning frequencies of 1200 to 1600 MHz.

The other major thorn between MS and developers currently is the company's decision not to include a hard drive with the console. Microsoft claims that high-capacity flash cards will be adequate and more importantly, bought separately. For MS the hard drive proved to be more trouble than it was worth, since it allowed for Linux to be run on the machine while adding approximately USD 40 to the price.
At the same time developers claim that original XBox games will have problems running without a hard drive, raising the compatibility issue again, while yet others suggest it is impossible to claim to sell an online-ready box without offering a hard drive for content in the package. It is likely that Microsoft will begin considering the inclusion of a hard drive if Sony announces a similar move.

The RAM side of XBox 2 is by far the most flexible part of its specifications. For the time being its parents are going for 256 Mb with an option to increase to 512 if the competition makes a move.

Another possible compatibility problem might arise from Microsoft's determination to work on a proprietary optical disc format. Details of that are far from official so it is still hard to extract any useful conclusion.

While all this information originates from a fairly reliable source, we have to bear in mind the not even Microsoft is fully committed to any specification features yet. The company plans a major developer briefing this month, since many are already working on Next-Next-Generation titles, while further presentations will take place this March at the GDC in San Jose and in May in the sidelines of E3.

Another, perhaps more significant reason, to be apprehensive about hardware information at this stage is the fact that competition between console manufacturers is growing. Each would like to have their hands on the others roadmap and hardware specs and for the time being Sony and Nintendo are being very good at keeping their plans secret.
Microsoft has decided to tease them out by throwing some specs around for public consumption but you can be certain that it will change anything at the drop of a kimono if its rivals announce better hardware for their machines. If the Japanese duo decides to remain silent on their specs and let MS writhe in agony, we may have to wait even beyond the two exhibitions this spring before we hear of the final specs for XBox 2.