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Tuesday, October 25, 2005
IBM Unveils Details of Xbox Microprocessor


Less than a month before Microsoft's Xbox 360 hits store shelves, IBM revealed details of the microprocessor that powers the long-awaited video game console.

The IBM-built chip features three customised PowerPC computing engines that can each handle two simultaneous tasks at clock speeds greater than 3 GHz. It was customized for Microsoft in less than 24 months from the original contract.

"Working with IBM gave us the flexibility to design a processor to give game developers the kind of targeted power they need to make great games," said Todd Holmdahl, Microsoft vice president of Xbox hardware.

The company best known for its market-dominating Windows operating system instead turned to IBM - the same company Sony worked with to jointly develop the upcoming PlayStation 3's Cell microprocessor.

But the Cell processor, which is expected to be deployed in devices beyond the PlayStation, is fundamentally different from the Xbox chip, said Ilan Spillinger, director of the IBM Design Center for Xbox 360.

"We took a general purpose core ... and we implemented a few more instructions that were key for them to accomplish the performance (Microsoft) was looking for," he said.

IBM also incorporated high-speed connection between the microprocessor and the Xbox's graphics processor developed by ATI Technologies Inc. The graphics hardware can read directly from what's stored on the primary processor's onboard memory.

The chip features 165 million transistors and is fabricated using IBM's 90 nanometer technology to reduce heat and improve performance. The chip's 21.6GB-per-second front side bus architecture was customized to meet the demanding throughput and latency requirements of the Xbox 360 gaming platform software, IBM said. More information on IBM's Cell microprocessor is available here.

IBM has begun production of a new microprocessor for the Xbox 360, due later this fall.

The company said the custom designed microprocessor is in production at the company's East Fishkill, N.Y., fab and at Chartered Semiconductor Manufacturing in Singapore.

The specialized chip was designed and developed by IBM and Microsoft. The companies announced the initial agreement to build the new chip two years ago.

IBM will discuss the new custom chip on Tuesday at the Fall Processor Forum, which is being held this week in San Jose.

The Xbox 360 is slated to be launched in North America on Nov. 22, and the top model is expected to retail for $399.99. A scaled-back version - without a hard drive, wireless controller and other features -will cost $100 less.


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