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Xbox 720 Chips Now in Production?

January 5, 2013

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Microsoft got gamers excited this week with an E3 countdown that prompted rumors about the next Xbox. But are they already in production? One tech site seems to think so.

On Wednesday, Microsoft posted a countdown to the E3 gaming conference on its blog, which many have interpreted as a countdown to the successor of the Xbox 360 , sometimes referenced as the "Xbox 720." A post on the Major Nelson blog says simply "And it's on ..." with an animated countdown clock to E3, which is now at 157 days and dropping.

The post offered no other details, but commenters immediately speculated that it meant the arrival of a new gaming console. "New Xbox yesssss," the first commenter said.

That brings us to SemiAccurate's Charlie Demerjian, who for months has been reporting unconfirmed news about the silicon that's going into the next Xbox. This week, he reported that the target date for firing up production of next-gen Xbox chips came and went on Dec. 31 —meaning by Demerjian's lights, those chips have been taped out, debugged, approved, and are currently being manufactured.

If that hasn't happened yet and if there are delays of "more than a few weeks," the SemiAccurate reporter thinks that "will mean no new console in 2013, there just won't be enough time to make them."

SemiAccurate and others had tipped Advanced Micro Devices as the designer of the CPU and a graphics package codenamed Oban to power the next Xbox. IBM is actually rumored to be providing a Power-based multi-core processor for central processing but AMD is supposed to be supplying custom-built Radeon graphics for the all-important visuals, plus tying the whole package together.

In fact, it's looking increasingly likely that AMD, and perhaps IBM, won the trifecta with the big console-makers' 8th-generation systems. A teardown of Nintendo's recently released Wii U by iFixit revealed that it sports a central processing-graphics package made by AMD and IBM. As noted, the next Xbox is rumored to have a similar chipset and there's been talk that Sony's PlayStation 4 will as well, though it's not as clear if IBM will supply Sony with the CPU.

One thing that puzzled us a bit was why Microsoft had to get next-gen Xbox chips into production so soon, given that the product itself may not be released until November for the holiday season. Demerjian doesn't say a lot about why he thinks the race is on for Redmond.

A Much More Complex Platform
Demerjian's thinking may simply be that Xbox game and content developers will need time to deliver a decent amount of content for the new platform at launch. Patrick Moorhead, principal analyst for Moor Insights & Strategy, said as much but also suggested that Microsoft may plan to release the new console sooner than the Thanksgiving timeframe.

"The dates depend on exactly when Microsoft would want to launch in volume. If they want to launch in volume for back-to-school, they would need to have new units available in May for a full channel fill and launch by August," Moorhead told PCMag.

"To hit May, they would need to have silicon ready by January. If the new units need to be available by Thanksgiving to hit the holiday cycle, you can push everything out three months and silicon needs to be ready by April," he continued. "Developers optimally would need units with early silicon now, though, or they would have a very hard time writing a compelling, optimized game for the new platform."

There are some other things to think about here. The Xbox is no longer just a game platform—it's a media consumption device, as well. Consider too that Microsoft introduced the Kinect motion sensor fairly late in the Xbox 360's run and there's evidence the software giant's plans to more fully integrate Kinect and possibly some other major input and interface changes (perhaps a touch screen, a a tie-in to the Surface tablet and maybe even reality augmentation glasses) to its next console.

So the Xbox 720, or whatever it's called, is likely to be a much more complex and versatile platform than even the 360. It makes sense that Microsoft would want to get dev systems out to the Xbox ecosystem as soon as possible, even if the general release is nine months away.

In fact, curious onlookers should hope Redmond is rolling silicon for the next Xbox right now. The sooner those developer consoles start shipping, the sooner we're likely to start getting tasty reports about what they can do.




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