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It will hardly come as news to many of you that Bill Gates officially launched Microsoft's gaming console, the Xbox, in Las Vegas on Saturday. And as befitting such an occasion and a place, glitzy faked-up razamatazz was the order the day. Hence Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, lots of excited gibbering, a touch of US-style whooping and Kermit pumping out up-beat soundbites by the second.

As with the modern approach to launches, little was actually launched. No you can't have it yet and no we don't know how much we're gonna charge you. You couldn't play with it either. You could look at it though. A few demos were shown, which, unsurprisingly, were very impressive - graphically at least.

You can watch all this stuff (on Windows Player, of course) here.

However the best part about it all was that the embargo on pics and specs was lifted. So now you know that the Xbox has a 733MHz processor - making it by far the fastest put in a games machine - a 250MHz graphics unit from Nvidia, 64MB RAM, an 8GB hard disc (also a first for consoles) and a 4x DVD player that can also play CDs and DVD movies.

It's got four USB controller ports, a 100Mbps Ethernet port for Web connection and a $500 million marketing budget behind it to make sure everyone knows how great it is.

Only problem is that it's not available until this autumn or fall, we should say, because only the US and Japan will get it then. Us Europeans will have to wait until the start of 2002. And so now it's out, everyone turns to the big question: will it take on PlayStation 2 and usurp it in the games market?

Probably not with its first effort, let's be honest. But then Microsoft's great skill is getting people to ask these questions even if there's no solid reason behind them. As ever, what will make or break the console will be the quality of the games. This shouldn't be too hard - the Xbox is run on cut-down Windows code and the same stuff that M$ games already sit on. Nvidia has done a lovely new chip for the graphics and the processor power is there. Blah, blah, blah.

One thing though which has niggled - Microsoft is not innovative. So could people please look for another word to use with any new kit. The Xbox has (smartly) not moved very far from the tried and tested consoles already on the market. The controllers, for example, could easily be mistaken for any of the others. What it has done is put in a higher spec.

And let's not forget who we are dealing with. The Xbox plays DVD movies and it connects to the Internet. And it has a whacking big hard disc. "Oh, but that's to make gameplay better." Bollocks it is. Some "cynics" are writing pieces on denials that the Xbox is Big Bill's attempt to break into the living room. Of course it bloody is. And is there anyone out there that can blame Microsoft? Course there isn't. Anyway, that's enough for the meantime.

There also a whole lotta sites dedicated to the Xbox, so here is a brief list if you want to know more. ®

Xbox links

www.xbox.com The official mouthpiece
www.msxbox.com Professional
www.xbox365.com Investigative
www.planetxbox.com Friendly
Xbox news digest

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