The first Xbox 360s using the smaller 65 nanometre ‘Falcon’ chips are currently riding the ocean wave on ships coming over from China, according to author of The Xbox 360 Uncloaked, Dean Takahashi.
Why should we care about a slightly smaller chip in Xbox 360s? Microsoft, understandably, seems to be playing down the importance of the update, with Microsoft spokesman David Dennis, issuing a statement claiming: “Updating components and moving to advanced silicon technologies is common practice within the industry but for competitive reasons, Microsoft does not disclose the components of Xbox 360 consoles.”
Takahashi however rightly notes that gamers should be made fully aware of the switch to the smaller, improved ‘Falcon’ chip, noting that: “I had expected that Microsoft would have made the switch to 65 nanometre microprocessor and graphics chips a long time ago. After all, it launched the Xbox 360 in the fall of 2005 with 90nm chips, about the same time that Intel was launching its first 65nm chips. This 65nm IBM chip will work with both the 90nm and the future 65nm version of the ATI graphics chip.”
“[Smaller] chips generate less heat (as long as they deal with the leakage, or standby heat, properly), and they operate more reliably. What’s more, smaller chips require fewer materials so the smaller chips carry lower costs... In fact, just as Falcon is arriving, it is no surprise that Microsoft has finally cut the price of its Xbox 360 Premium console by $50 to $350... Microsoft introduced Zephyr, the code-name for the new motherboard for the Xbox 360, earlier this year. That coincided with the launch of the Xbox 360 Elite, the version of the console with a 120 gigabyte hard disk and an HDMI port. Inside the console, the new motherboard had the HDMI connector.”
However, Takahashi wants to know why the Xbox 360 Elite (which launches in Europe today) was introduced in limited quantities using the older 90-nanometer chips, asking: “The design for the 65 nanometre version of the IBM chip has been ready since last year. Why didn’t Microsoft introduce it earlier?”
Takahashi’s explanation is that Microsoft “chose to put more of its hardware engineering team on the problem of repairing defective Xbox 360 consoles and troubleshooting how to redesign the console so that it would function properly. For whatever reason, that led to a delay in the launch of Falcon.”
Falcon-based machines will only initially be those that also feature HDMI ports - so the Xbox 360 Elite and Halo 3 special edition boxes. This is vitally important to consumers because “arguably, the Falcon-based machines will be inherently more stable. Machines that use them will probably have fewer thermal issues.”
Now. Here’s the rub. Microsoft has a considerable number of Xbox 360s with the older Zephyr boards at retail, as Takahashi puts it “Some of those Xbox 360s with the HDMI ports, especially the Xbox 360 Elites, are being made with 90nm chips on Zephyr boards. Some of them will have 65nm chips on Falcon boards. I really don’t know how you’re going to be able to tell the difference. If you’re buying an Xbox 360 without HDMI, then for sure you aren’t getting Falcon ... Microsoft has no intention of telling you which box has 65nm chips on the inside... So you have to wait a reasonable amount of time until the old inventory is flushed from the system.”
Basically, it looks you are going to have to wait 'til early 2008 to be sure that you are getting a Falcon-powered Xbox 360 Elite. Either that, or take your chances with the current model - after all, the worst that can happen is that the machine goes all red ring beserk on you and Microsoft replace it free of charge.
Still, SPOnG wishes that Microsoft would be more transparent in communicating this stuff to gamers. But then if they were, they would have a mountain of Xbox 360s currently sitting at retail that nobody would want. Dirty business.
source: San Jose Mercury News