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Microsoft moves to RISC

A strange tidbit of news... Microsoft chooses to use IBM PowerPC chips for its next-generation Xbox.  It will provide compatibility with the original Xbox using a VirtualPC emulation layer.

http://news.ft.com/servlet/ContentServer?pagename=FT.com/StoryFT/FullStory&c=StoryFT&cid=1066565587439

This seems rather bizarre, since the current XBox is basically a Wintel PC.  This was a major selling point, as it supposedly makes game development much easier.  Perhaps the new Xbox will be based on the .Net Framework.

Robert Jacobson
Monday, November 03, 2003

Of course, Pocket PCs are based on RISC processors, and Microsoft has the .Net Compact Framework running on them.  Strange to abandon the x86 line for a game machine, though.

Robert Jacobson
Monday, November 03, 2003

This is really strange.

Microsoft should have compatibility - XboX II MegaTurbo should run the games that run now on XboX 1.

I have just played "Halo - Combat Evolved" at a friend's house.

The graphics are very bad, compared to graphics that can be achieved on a low-end PC with a low-end graphics card (for example GeForce 4 MX440 with 64 MB RAM).

MX
Monday, November 03, 2003

The PC version of Halo offers no better graphics.


Monday, November 03, 2003

Halo came out in 2001, so comparing it to current PC games is a bit misleading. 

Having said that, I still think it looks better than 99% of current, modern high-end PC games.  Few PC games make use of bump-mapping and shader assisted pixel effects (like light blooms) as well as Halo did. 

While the Xbox's graphics chip is only a GeForce 3.5 (pretty much a GF3 with an extra texture unit), since it is a fixed platform developers have made much more use of what horsepower is there in their games.  Until very recently, most PC games have been programmed to run on systems as low as a TNT2 and the overall graphics have suffered for it.

Try looking at some newer Xbox games like Crimson Skies -- the graphics are breathtaking.  (Also, use a good high-resolution capable TV for best results).

Mister Fancypants
Monday, November 03, 2003

Yeah, they are switching over to the PPC long term too; that's why they had to acquire VirtualPC. The intel architecture is at the end of its growth due to insurmountable heat and speed problems that have stalled out its developmeth. Future versions of windows will run on PPC risc chips, which still have quite a bit of overhead to go. Longhorn will be released on both PPC and Intel versions, but the next generation will be PPC only.

Tony Chang
Tuesday, November 04, 2003

*Checks calendar*

It aint April 1

ChrisO
Tuesday, November 04, 2003

According to some comments on Slashdot, the Windows NT 3.x kernel was developed to run on multiple platforms, including the PowerPC, so in theory it shouldn't be a huge amount of work to port the Xbox OS (a stripped-down version of Win2000) to the PPC.

However, the $64,000 question is _why_ Microsoft would want to break from the tried-and-true x86 line.  Maybe it's the heat, or maybe they simply got a better deal from IBM.  These game consoles are built on razor-thin margins (the actual hardware is a loss leader), so if Microsoft gets the chips for $20 less apiece from Intel, for example, that could make the difference with profitability.

However, it threatens some damage to MS's credibility.  First, it broadcasts that the x86 platform supposedly isn't "good enough" for serious gaming/multimedia (and plays into Apple's claims that G5 machines are the fastest available.)  Second, the Playstation is also built around a PowerPC, so there's less to differentiate the Xbox.

Long term, I have a hard time believing that Microsoft could shift the PC market (as opposed to a closed-system gaming console) to a PowerPC architecture.  Apple managed to pull that off in the early 1990s when it migrated Macs away from the 68040 processors, but I'd imagine that it be much harder (both technologically and with the marketplace) to do that with PCs.

Robert Jacobson
Tuesday, November 04, 2003

Maybe by moving to a platform closer to PS2 they hope developers will develop for both consoles simultaneously (and easily). The supposed ease of porting (or at least the supposed similarities) from Windows to X-Box doesn't seem to have the expected benefits.

Walter Rumsby
Tuesday, November 04, 2003

"However, it threatens some damage to MS's credibility.  First, it broadcasts that the x86 platform supposedly isn't "good enough" for serious gaming/multimedia (and plays into Apple's claims that G5 machines are the fastest available.)  Second, the Playstation is also built around a PowerPC, so there's less to differentiate the Xbox."

ALL true.  Now will the x86 is the best architechture ever bigots please shut the hell up.

Laverne
Tuesday, November 04, 2003

Why does Microsoft picking what they see as a good hardware platform for something play into Apple's hands? Even when they need a hardware platform to run it on, they (Microsoft) are still a *software* company.

They don't make processors. Its not their fault or their problem if the 32bit x86 stuff either ain't going to cut it long term, or even just isn't the best for the XBox project.

Its their problem to make the best products they can.

Robert Moir
Tuesday, November 04, 2003

The Playstation IS NOT built around a PowerPC.

The Playstation2 has a MIPS RISC core plus some wacky vector units plus a dumb-and-fast rasterizer plus an entire Playstation1 tacked in for backwards compatibility (but the PS2 games are using it, e.g. for streamloading of data and audio). The damn thing has no L2 cache and only something called a "scratchpad" which is like a cache you manage yourself.

The Playstation3 will be built around some even weirder massively parallel chips with the mystic "Cell" name.

If you ever wonder if there's a company that not only HATES its developers but goes out of its way to hurt them bad, look no further than Sony. The Playstation

Phoenix
Tuesday, November 04, 2003

> I have a hard time believing that Microsoft could shift the PC market ... to a PowerPC architecture.... I'd imagine that it be much harder (both technologically and with the marketplace) to do that with PCs.

Robert, technologically it's already been done -- that's why Microsoft paid a hefty sum to acquire VirtualPC -- the software that completely emulates a Pentium and runs Windows on a PPC. It works. It's done.

Marketplacewise, it will be simple -- as long as people's software runs, they are happy. And their PC software runs fine on the PPC.

Strategically, if Dell starts building hardware that can run MacOS, this move will have the intriguing side effect of destroying Apple's business model of selling hardware.

Dennis Atkins
Tuesday, November 04, 2003

Thanks for the clarification Phoenix.  It sounds like the Cell processor for the Platstation 3 will be based on the PowerPC architecture.  (It's described in this article as "a large number of PowerPC microprocessors on a single chip.")

http://www.siliconvalley.com/mld/siliconvalley/7177598.htm

This might give the Playstation 3 better bragging rights, since it will be a custom chip.  It sounds like the Xbox 2 processor will be closer to an off-the-shelf G5.

Dennis, you're right about the Virtual PC.  I'm not sure about the marketplace issues, though -- Microsoft can't simply decree that all new computers will be PowerPC-based, as Apple was able to do.  Microsoft can create a version of Windows that runs on the PowerPC and includes emulation for x86 programs, but it will have to continue supporting the x86 platform too.  There may be gradual movement to the PowerPC platform, but it can't happen overnight as it did with Apple.

Also, re. Dell, Apple has some very strong intellectual property protection in its boxes.  (It used to have copyrighted code that was burned on a custom ROM... not sure about today.)  The only way Dell could build a box that ran MacOS would be if entered into a licensing agreement with Apple.  Apple allowed some competitors to build Mac-compatible computers in the mid 1990s, and it was a disaster for the company (ate into its profits.) 

The ironic thing is that Apple has supposedly had an in-house project to port the MacOS to an x86 platform.  Now, the market's possibly moving in the opposite direction.

Robert Jacobson
Tuesday, November 04, 2003

---"Now will the x86 is the best architechture ever bigots please shut the hell up. "-----

None of the x86 fans, such as myself, have ever claimed that. In fact, we will cheerily admit that x86 is the worst archtitecture ever, and that is because of the killer feature that blew everthing else out of the water - backward compatibility.

Stephen Jones
Tuesday, November 04, 2003

I doubt that Microsoft is going to move wholesale to PowerPC.  There's enough fun in the market with MS now supporting x86 and 2 different 64 bit codebases and what that's going to mean for everybody else.  Until they are able to get people over to the CLR, they need to keep the number of supported platforms down enough so that enough folks will start porting stuff to the Itanium and/or Athlon 64 so that at least one of them catches on.  I mean, look at PocketPCs -- They've cut down the number of supported processors to just the ARM because nobody wanted to deal with supporting SH3, SH4, MIPS, and ARM.

The reason why MacOS on the x86 hasn't been released is generally attributed to being that it would kill Apple's way of doing business the same way that Mac clones did.

Microsoft has always made sure to keep their options open, however, so it makes perfect business sense to make the next XBox a PowerPC machine if the numbers work out well enough.

The thing I'm finding interesting is the potential of the PowerPC platform as an alternative to the x86 in some spaces, as evidenced by the AmigaOne and Pegasos ATX-format motherboards.  A large enough collection of alternative OSes (Linux, several BSDs, etc) and some attempts at new OSes run on them, making them less likely to be a doorstop before their time.

Flamebait Sr.
Tuesday, November 04, 2003

> Until they are able to get people over to the CLR

Yes, that's exactly what it's about, isn't it?

Sun re-invents the Virtual Machine to use against Intel, and Microsoft likes it so much that they have to make one that they control.

Portabella
Tuesday, November 04, 2003

"The ironic thing is that Apple has supposedly had an in-house project to port the MacOS to an x86 platform."

Actually, the rumor is there's been an x86 version of OS X running inside Apple since before OS X was released.  Remember, OS X's parent NextStep was already running on x86 way before Next acquired Apple.

Jim Rankin
Tuesday, November 04, 2003

For new games, we are talking native code here.

It is not a big deal that the “old” system will be emulated...since the cpu has a enough speed to do this (what, the current Xbox is a 750 mhz Pentium...and that will take some real juice to emulate...but I guess he new processor has enough to do this).

It is for me very much a surprise move in MS’s part. For sure, if the developer tools do NOT need to be changed, then this is not a big deal. However, if the development tools do need to be re-written, then I am most surprised here.

Anyone got a better explanation then some issue of heat on the chip? I mean, regardless as to how you slice and dice things...the Pentium is rather fast at what it does.

I don’t see any possibly of the system working on a no native code, since one needs ALL THE SPEED one can get out of a game system. There is NEVER enough processing when it comes to games.

Hum...perhaps this is just a cost issue? Or, perahps MS feels they can get more performance out of a risc.

Albert D. Kallal
Edmonton, Alberta Canada
kallal@msn.com
http://www.attcanada.net/~kallal.msn

Albert D. Kallal
Wednesday, November 05, 2003

Or simply that Microsoft may be trying to get Intel to come to the party with better prices.

Remember X-box 1 was originally slated to run on AMD CPUs.

The change to the code base may or may not be an issue. Remember Windows NT used to support Alpha, PPC, ...

Steve P
Wednesday, November 05, 2003

http://discuss.fogcreek.com/redirect.asp?http://www.siliconvalley.com/mld/siliconvalley/7177598.htm

Brad
Saturday, November 08, 2003

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