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Wednesday, 14 November, 2001, 11:08 GMT
Lifting the lid on Xbox
Project Gotham Racing
Project Gotham Racing is powered by Xbox
Microsoft says games console the Xbox, which launches in the US on Thursday, is the most powerful on earth, but what exactly is inside the box?
BBC News Online's Darren Waters takes a look.

Microsoft's Xbox is a hefty piece of kit - black, heavy, bulky and built with serious intent.

It promises to have the power to be the next generation in games consoles but its critics have said it is little more than a cut-down desktop PC.

Inside the Xbox
733 mhz Intel processor
8 gigabyte hard drive
233MHz custom-designed Nvidia graphics chip with 64 megabytes of memory
Dolby 5.1 sound
DVD drive
Broadband ready
64 megabytes of ram
6.4 GB per second main memory bandwidth
The comparisons to a PC are understandable - the Xbox has an Intel processor, a hard disc drive and a video graphics chip similar to ones found in many desktop computers.

But an Intel processor and a hard drive "does not maketh a PC", according to Dr Seamus Blackley, the head of Microsoft's advanced technology division.

"It is a completely different architecture," he told BBC News Online.

"The memory architecture is totally different. It is a totally parallel system.

Consultation

"There is no operating system, the graphics chip is totally custom."

The Xbox was developed after consultation with more than 5,000 gamers and games creators from around the world.

Xbox
The machine is a "totally parallel system"
"It was designed by software people so a lot of the trouble you go through working on a hardware platform, a lot of the dumb things that other consoles do, for cost reasons or because hardware engineers designed it are eliminated," explains Dr Blakeley.

According to Microsoft, Xbox was designed to bridge the gap between creativity and technology.

Dr Blackley says: "A lot of what happens with Xbox because of the technology is that you end up facing creative limits and time limits instead of technical limits.

Crucial element

"It has to do with putting artists in charge instead of programmers. The most important aspect of having technology like Xbox is that you end up with creative people running the show."

He adds: "The distance between the guy making the character and the person playing the game is a lot smaller."

NFL Fever
NFL Fever causes fans to "freak out"
Joe Fielder, editor of Gamespot website, says software writers have given positive feedback about the machine.

"Developers have said the machine is very easy to develop for," he says, adding, "They have not said the same thing of Playstation 2 and not of Gamecube, yet."

Sony have questioned some of the claims made by Microsoft for its box and have pointed out that PC technology, no matter how customised, is not cutting edge.

"The Xbox is based on a PC's CPU and we would contest that that is a much more efficient way of processing information," said David Wilson, UK spokesman for Playstation.

Perhaps the most crucial element in the Xbox package is the hard drive.

While hard drives have been available on desktop computers for many years Xbox is the first console to take the step.

The relatively small amount of eight gigabytes of space on the hard drive will allow the box to load a larger amount of information quicker, and because of the parallel nature of the system, it will, says Microsoft, enrich the gaming environment.

'Parallel nature'

Dr Blackley says: "A game can load its interface and load the level and the entire time, in the background, the DVD is loading stuff onto the hard drive.

"Because of the entirely parallel nature of the Xbox it can do that at no cost to the game. You don't notice slow down or pauses or any of the stuff you have with a PC."

The Xbox promises richer more realistic worlds, less loading within the game and more complex, accurate commentary in sports games.

Dr Blackley explains: "In the game NFL Fever commentators will mention players' names, what you did last time.

"It remembers if somebody got hit in the last game; it is a subtle thing but it causes football fans to freak out because suddenly the announcers are real.

"Everytime you add something like that [to a game] it increases the emotional connection between the player and the game."

"The Xbox is twice as powerful as its nearest competitor, the Playstation 2," says Mr Fries.

He adds: "It has twice the amount of memory, twice the number of sound channels; it is the only box with true Dolby 5.1 surround sound."

Whether Microsoft will sell twice as many Xboxes as Sony sells Playstation 2s is not as clear cut.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
Dr Seamus Blackley, Xbox
"The creative people are running the show"
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