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Since: 06-10-05
From: Playboy mansion

Since last post: 4575 days
Last activity: 3349 days
Posted on 06-22-05 07:48 AM Link | Quote


How Xbox 360 Works

by Robert Valdes

Microsoft's first video game console, the Xbox, sold more than 20 million units worldwide since it was introduced in 2001. Despite the Xbox's impressive power, the list of big-name video game titles to support it and the success of the Xbox's online component, Xbox Live, the console was still outsold considerably by Sony's PlayStation 2.

As the game industry moves toward the next generation of video game technology, Microsoft wants to make sure it dethrones Sony's PlayStation. Enter the Xbox 360.

Photo courtesy Microsoft Corp.
Xbox 360

Microsoft has rebuilt the Xbox from the ground up. From the name to the look to hardware and features, the Xbox 360 is a radically different and more powerful machine than its predecessor. Far more than a video game console, the Xbox 360 is a total media center that allows users to play, network, rip, stream and download all types of media, including high-definition movies, music, digital pictures and game content.

In this article, we will learn about the hardware and features that make the Xbox 360 a leap forward into the next generation of gaming consoles.

360 Specs
The Xbox 360, like all video game consoles, is just a computer with hardware and software dedicated to the function of running video game software. The original Xbox was in essence a Windows PC with a modified Pentium III processor, some relatively powerful graphics and audio hardware and a modified version of the Microsoft operating system Windows 2000, all packaged in that distinctive black box.

The Xbox 360 is also a specially packaged computer, but once you look inside, you realize that this console has quite a bit under the hood. We'll start by looking at the standard spec list released by Microsoft.

The Microsoft booth at the 2005 E3 Expo was dedicated to showcasing the new Xbox 360.

Official Xbox 360 Specifications
The following list has been reprinted from

Custom IBM PowerPC-based CPU

Three symmetrical cores running at 3.2 GHz each
Two hardware threads per core; six hardware threads total
One VMX-128 vector unit per core; three total
128 VMX-128 registers per hardware thread
1 MB L2 cache
CPU Game Math Performance

9 billion dot product operations per second
Custom ATI Graphics Processor

10 MB of embedded DRAM
48-way parallel floating-point dynamically scheduled shader pipelines
Unified shader architecture
Polygon Performance

500 million triangles per second
Pixel Fill Rate

16 gigasamples per second fill rate using 4x MSAA
Shader Performance
48 billion shader operations per second

512 MB of 700-MHz GDDR3 RAM
Unified memory architecture
Memory Bandwidth

22.4 GB/s memory interface bus bandwidth
256 GB/s memory bandwidth to EDRAM
21.6 GB/s front-side bus
Overall System Floating-Point Performance

1 teraflop

Detachable and upgradeable 20-GB hard drive
12x dual-layer DVD-ROM
Memory unit support starting at 64 MB
Support for up to four wireless game controllers
Three USB 2.0 ports
Two memory unit slots
Optimized for Online

Instant, out-of-the-box access to Xbox Live features with broadband service, including Xbox Live Marketplace for downloadable content, gamer profile for digital identity and voice chat to talk to friends while playing games, watching movies or listening to music
Built-in Ethernet port
Wi-Fi ready: 802.11a, 802.11b and 802.11g
Video-camera ready
Digital Media Support

Ability to stream media from portable music devices, digital cameras and Windows XP-based PCs
Ability to rip music to the Xbox 360 hard drive
Custom playlists in every game
Built-in Media Center Extender for Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005
Interactive, full-screen 3-D visualizers
High-Definition Game Support

All games supported at 16:9, 720p and 1080i, anti-aliasing
Standard-definition and high-definition video output supported

Multi-channel surround-sound output
Supports 48-KHz 16-bit audio
320 independent decompression channels
32-bit audio processing
More than 256 audio channels
System Orientation
Stands vertically or horizontally
Customizable Face Plates
Interchangeable to personalize the console

The Heart of the 360
Check out Dev X's Multi-Core: Intel's New Processors Architecture Explained for a full explanation of multi-core processors.

Like any computer, the CPU is the heart of the Xbox 360. Microsoft has outfitted the 360 with a 165-million transistor, multi-core processor running three 3.2-GHz PowerPC cores.

A core is another name for a processor. Recently, hardware manufacturers have started combining several cores, or processors, onto one chip. This is a multi-core processor. Multi-core processors offer a combination of tremendous computing capabilities and efficient power consumption. They split heavy work loads over multiple powerful processors rather than giving all the work to one super-powerful processor.

The Xbox 360 on display at the 2005 E3 Expo

The other interesting thing to note about the Xbox 360 CPU is that each core is capable of processing two threads simultaneously. Think of a thread as a set of instructions for a program's job. The core processes these instructions and does the heavy lifting to get the job done. A conventional processor is traditionally capable of running a single execution thread. Because the Xbox 360 cores can each handle two threads at a time, the 360 CPU is the equivalent of having six conventional processors in one machine.

What this means when you are playing video games is that the Xbox 360 can dedicate one core entirely to producing sound, while another may split running the game's collision and physics engine. The system may allocate an entire processor just to rendering hi-def graphics. It's really up to the game developers how the system's considerable resources are used. With a multi-core processor, the system is powerful enough to pull off the computational demands needed for an amazing gaming experience without even breaking a sweat.

360 Degrees
According to J Allard, Cooperate Vice President of XNA, in an interview with Gamespot, "If we were building another console in the 3D era, we'd just call it Xbox 2 ... So, we eliminated Xbox 2 from the list. So, the name that we came up with was Xbox 360, because we are putting the gamer at the center of the experience."

Another powerful asset in the Xbox 360 is the Graphics Processor Unit (GPU). The Xbox 360 boasts the new, custom-built 500-MHz ATI Graphics Processor card with 10 MB of embedded DRAM. While the 500-MHZ graphics processor is powerful, and 10 MB of DRAM provides ample memory for the GPU to do its job, the most innovative thing about this card is that it is built on unified shader architecture.

Shaders are computer programs that determine the final look of what you see on the screen when you're looking at computer animation. Shaders take rendered 3-D objects that are built on polygons (the building blocks of 3-D animation) and make them look more realistic. There are two types of shaders: pixel shaders and vertex shaders.

Pixel shaders can be used to alter the lighting, color and surface of each pixel. This in turn affects the overall color, texture and shape of 3-D objects built from these pixels. Pixel shaders help to "smooth out" 3-D objects, giving them a more organic texture. To learn more about pixel shaders, see nVidia: Pixel Shaders.

The Xbox 360 with a custom, wood-grain faceplate

Vertex shaders work by manipulating an object's position in 3-D space. "Vertex" refers to the intersection of two coordinates in space. You would map the position of an animated object in 3-D space by giving it a value. These values are the x, y and z coordinates. By manipulating these variables, a vertex shader can create realistic animation and special effects such as "morphing." To read more about vertex shaders, see What are Gouraud shading and texture mapping in 3-D video games?

In real-time graphics, like the kind you see in video games, shaders work with the graphics processor. The shaders make billions of computations a second in order to perform their specific tasks. These computations are worked in steps over a series of computational components. Think of an assembly line. In the world of hardware, these assembly lines are called pipelines.

Traditionally, pixel shaders and vertex shaders have dedicated pipelines because each one has very specific and differing needs. As we learned before, the new ATI graphics card in the Xbox 360 has unified shader architecture. What that means is that now, both shader types share the same pipelines. ATI figured out a way at the hardware level to address the needs of both types of shaders using the same pipeline.

The apparent advantage of sharing pipelines is to add more assembly lines, making computation that much faster. ATI claims that this unified shader architecture allows for 48 billion shader operations per second. The Xbox 360 is the first device to use this type of architecture.

Jacks, Tracks and More…

The Xbox 360 supports up to four wireless controllers at once. It also has three USB 2.0 jacks, two in the front and one in the back, that can be used to plug in wired controllers for play or wireless controllers when they need to be charged. The USB jacks can also be used to connect devices like digital cameras, MP3 players and computer keyboards to the 360 (but the keyboard can only be used for text entry, not gameplay).

The Xbox 360 has an Ethernet port to hook up to a broadband connection, as well as a slot for a WiFi card. The 360 is WiFi-ready "out of the box."

TV Connections
The Xbox 360 comes standard with both composite and component video connections to hook up to a TV. There are also optional connections for S-Video and VGA, and the console supports some SCART-type adapters used in Europe.

The Xbox 360 has multi-channel surround sound that supports 256 channels of 48 KHz, 16-bit digital audio. The 32-bit audio processing is handled by the CPU. One of the most talked about new audio features of the Xbox 360 is customizable soundtracks. No matter what video game you are playing, you can play or stream your music during gameplay.

Removable Hard Drive and Storage
The original Xbox was quite innovative in that it had an 8-GB hard drive built into the console. The 360 is taking the hard-drive concept one step further: It includes a removable, 20-GB hard drive. Microsoft plans to release larger hard drives in the future that can be swapped out easily. The Xbox 360 also supports up to two 64-MB memory cards at a time.

The Disc Drive
In keeping with the idea that the Xbox 360 is a full media center, it sports a 12x dual-layer DVD-ROM that can read DVD-Video, DVD-ROM, DVD-R/RW, DVD+R/RW, CD-DA, CD-ROM, CD-R, CD-RW, WMA CD, MP3 CD and JPEG Photo CD. The 360 will not, however, support Blu-ray.

The original Xbox took a lot of criticism for how large it was. The cooling system that kept the Xbox's rather hefty processor cool was the single greatest factor that contributed to the console's robust size. Microsoft changed all this for the Xbox 360.

In order to fit all that hardware into the stylish and slim form factor of the Xbox 360, Microsoft devised a cooling system that combines a small, vacuum-sealed, liquid-cooled system with fans to maintain a comfortable temperature inside the 360. The system regulates the temperature of the cores and adjusts the flow of liquid and fan speed accordingly. Additionally, the cooling system monitors the core's workload: If one or more cores are not needed for the job at hand (for instance, if you were using the Xbox 360 to watch a DVD), then the unused cores are automatically turned off.

The Controller
The design for the Xbox 360 controller is based largely on the one used for the original Xbox -- the Controller S.

The new Xbox 360 controller is a familiar design with several new features.

The most noticeable difference in the new Xbox controllers is that they are wireless. Microsoft created a proprietary technology to deal with some of the latency and bandwidth issues that can be a problem for some wireless controllers. The Xbox 360 can support up to four wireless controllers at a time.

Control Issues
When the original Xbox was released in 2001, one of the most common complaints about the new console was the controller. Gamers worldwide criticized it for being too large and having poor button spacing. In Japan, where the Xbox sales were already suffering, Japanese gamers all but refused to use the large Xbox controllers, opting instead for smaller, third-party ones. This compelled Microsoft to create a smaller, redesigned controller for Asian markets that was released in winter 2002.
Shortly after that, Microsoft released a slightly improved version of the Japanese controller in the West called the Controller S. The Controller S is now the standard Xbox controller that is shipped with all Xbox consoles.

The new Xbox 360 wireless controllers can be powered by either a pair of traditional AA batteries or a rechargeable battery pack. The battery pack can be "flash charged" in a charger or "trickle charged" via a USB connection to the console, and it alerts the user when its charge is running low.

The Xbox 360 controller has a Guide button in the center of its face that provides a new functionality. This button is divided into four quadrants that light up to provide gamers with different types of information during gameplay. (Incidentally, the "ring of light" power button on the console also provides this function.) For instance, during a splitscreen multiplayer match, a particular quadrant will light up to indicate to players which part of the screen he or she is playing on at that time. The Guide button can also light up to let players know they have received a message from other gamers. In this case, when the user pushes the button, he or she accesses the Xbox dashboard (the equivalent of a PC's desktop). The dashboard provides access to features like messaging friends, downloading content, voice chat and customizing soundtracks, all while staying in the game. The controller has a standard headphone jack on the back so that the user can plug in a cell phone headset for voice communication during gameplay.

The new Xbox 360 controller has the same basic, familiar button layout as the Controller S except that a few of the auxiliary buttons have been moved: The "back" and "start" buttons have been moved to a more central position on the face of the controller, and the "white" and "black" buttons have been removed and replaced with two new shoulder buttons that are positioned over the analog triggers on the back of the controller.

Xbox Live
Xbox Live is an online subscription service that allows Xbox gamers to play video games together and download additional game content using the Internet. Once online, gamers can play one another over the Internet and talk to each other in real-time using the headset. Xbox Live has created a huge online community of gamers challenging one another worldwide. The Xbox 360 will also usher in the next generation of online gameplay and online community with the new, revamped Xbox Live.

The Xbox 360 is WiFi-ready so that gamers can jump on Xbox Live wirelessly.

The new Xbox Live has enhanced matchmaking and feedback systems as well as voice chat and video conferencing. It has a new, much more seamless interface and a generally more robust system for communicating during online gaming. Xbox Live on the 360 is divided into two services: Xbox Live Silver and Xbox Live Gold.

Xbox Live Silver is a free service that ships with all Xbox 360s and allows any Xbox 360 user with a broadband connection to get online and create a gamer tag as well as a new ID type called a gamer card. The gamer card is a profile that displays a gamer's interests, skill level, competitiveness and gaming accomplishments. In addition, gamers can use Xbox Live Silver to chat, download content and play certain games. Xbox Live Silver allows gamers to access most of the features of Xbox Live. The one key feature missing from the free service is the ability to play multiplayer games online.

In order to play in multiplayer matches online, you must upgrade to the subscription service known as Xbox Live Gold. The Gold service has all the functionality of Silver plus the ability to play multiplayer games. Additionally, Xbox Live Gold has exclusive content, tournaments and Xbox Live events.

Both Silver and Gold are able to access the Xbox Marketplace. The Marketplace is a new online feature that enables one-stop shopping for Xbox Live gamers to buy additional content, demos, videos, music and more through a microtransaction system.

In the Marketplace, real money translates into points, and gamers use these points to buy things. They can either buy points in the real world in the form of cards purchased at retail locations or use credit cards to buy points online. Microsoft hopes that one day, the Marketplace will be where gamers sell their own, user-created content to one another.

The Games
As history have has shown time and time again, the latest and greatest console is nothing without great games. Microsoft has set out to create a series of blockbuster titles in house for the Xbox 360 as well as make deals with as many third-party developers as possible. Game developers are attracted to the prospect of creating games on such a powerful canvas, and in the years to come they will find new ways to build games that push the potential of the Xbox 360.

Call of Duty 2 will be one of the new titles for Xbox 360.

Below is a list of games that have already been created for the Xbox 360 and should be available when the console hits the shelves during the holiday season of 2005.*

Perfect Dark Zero
Call of Duty 2
Ghost Recon 3
Need For Speed Most Wanted
Project Gotham Racing 3
Quake 4
Tomb Raider Legend
Tony Hawk: American Wasteland
Madden NFL '06
Gears of War
Tiger Woods PGA Tour 06
Saint's Row
Kameno: Elements of Power
Condemned: Criminal Origins
Alan Wake
Blue Dragon
The Darkness
Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion
Full Auto
Dark Sector
*This list is current as of June 2005 and is subject to change.


Mr. Bright
Dr. Thread Killa, to you.
Look, I'm an ass sometimes. Get over it.

Since: 08-20-04
From: Manhattan, NYC, ASA, Terran

Since last post: 1918 days
Last activity: 1915 days
Posted on 06-22-05 02:13 PM Link | Quote
I wanna work on the Tony Hawk toys...
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