X-Box unleashed: MS snubs PC OEMs, dumps AMD Athlon

The spec and the plan escapes - Intel gets the gig after all

Updated Microsoft's X-Box games console has made it out of the traps hours in advance of the official launch, due to take place later today in San Jose. To a degree the machine is as widely expected, but there are several key points and areas of fuzz worth paying attention to as well. It's going to use a custom graphics chip co-designed with Nvidia. This is intended to deliver over 300 million polygons per second, and the relationship with Nvidia will be used (as we kind of noticed earlier this week) to push Microsoft's DirectX into the console market. The X-Box will have a 600MHz "x86 compatible" (but that's just what the original release said)CPU, 64 megs RAM, eight gig hard drive, DVD drive, an unspecified expansion port, but likely USB or derivative, and a 100MBps Ethernet. It'll ship in Q3 2001, using a derivative of Win2k as the OS, and Microsoft is going to build them itself. Which takes us neatly onto the key points and fuzz. Allegedly, PC companies shown the designs last Autumn weren't interested, so Microsoft decided to go it alone. Given what's missing from the design as it currently stands, and what they were likely to have seen a few months back, their lack of enthusiasm was scarcely surprising. Apparently there were two versions of X-Box, one that could roll in Q3 2000, and the more sophisticated 2001 version, which is what Microsoft is now going with. But the decision was taken relatively recently. A 2000 implementation, as we've noted before, would be pretty much a PC, and would have to use Windows Millennium Edition, so the PC companies on the one hand wouldn't have been able to see how this differed from what they were doing already, and on the other wouldn't see the 2001 spec as firm enough to commit to two years ahead of the game. No OS, no firmed-up graphics (the Nvidia deal is recent too), no chipsets, no boards, no hardware reference design - so can you blame them? With the exception of Nvidia climbing aboard the team, the other huge gaps remain to be filled. Microsoft can possibly get Win2k honed by Q3 2001, but the rest of it? We've now got a 600MHz PIII as the CPU, but you need more than a CPU, and although Intel has successfully mounted an anti-AMD coup, it happened too recently for the rest of the hardware to have been publicly nailed. The reason AMD got bumped so late is surely is that MS wanted to get a very keen price on what could be (if they're still building them) a low-cost commodity chip by Q3 2001, and also wants to leverage a volume chip supply deal into design. Bluntly, Microsoft wants the hardware partner to do the hardware design for it, and will also want this to extend into volume board production. And unlike AMD, Intel has quite a lot of this stuff it prepared earlier. Its demented "Concept PC" showpieces even include designs tagged "the ultimate games machine" (this being the IT business, there are of course several and they keep getting better). Intel also has the fabbing capacity to be able to knock out vast quantities of 600MHz-class chips (custom, maybe?) at a ludicrously low price by the middle of next year. Yes, we know it doesn't look like that now... Intel could probably knock together a pretty convincing, and pretty cheap, PIII 600 derivative by next year, and it's not exactly short of fabbing capacity. Just yields. ® Related Stories Intel snatches X-Box victory, eats AMD Athlon's lunch X-Box: Nvidia schmoozes MS, drops huge hints X-Box vapour triggers Nvidia stock frenzy X-Box to ship fall 2001, nuke Sony, Nintendo et al IT Network: AMD Athlon at heart of Microsoft X-Box spec Microsoft to launch X-Box next month Microsoft's X-Box PlayStation 2 killer spec. leaks out Joy of Cex claims Microsoft X Box sneak peak Microsoft's X-Box PlayStation 2 killer resurfaces Microsoft readies x86, Nvidia-based rival to PlayStation

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