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As anticipated, Microsoft has taken the wraps off its most-expected gaming console Xbox 360. Leading game developers were quick to announce support for the console that will become available starting from November this year.

General hardware specifications of the console initially referred to as the Xbox 2 have been known for over a year right now: the console’s microprocessor is developed by IBM, high-definition visual processing unit is designed by ATI Technologies, I/O controller is engineered by SiS.

Xbox 360 Hardware

The Xbox 360 is based on a triple-core IBM PowerPC-like processor that runs at 3.20GHz and is capable of executing up to 6 threads simultaneously thanks to multi-threading technology each of its cores sport. Each of the three cores includes a 32KB L1 instruction cache, a 32KB L1 data cache and share a 1MB L2 cache. Not only does the Xbox 360 central processing unit include the standard set of PowerPC integer and floating-point registers (one set per hardware thread), the microprocessor also features 128 vector (VMX) registers per hardware thread. This high number of registers can radically improve the speed of common math1ematical operations, according to a document presumably by Microsoft.

The graphics sub-system is powered by a custom graphics chip developed by ATI Technologies. The chip sports 24 dynamically allocated pipelines with two Arithmetic Logic Units (ALUs) each, that can perform both pixel and vertex shaders. The core can execute 64 simultaneous threads on groups of 64 vertices or pixels. The ALUs can each perform one vector and one scalar operation per clock cycle, for a total of 96 shader operations per clock cycle. Texture loads can be done in parallel to ALU operations. At peak performance, the GPU can issue 48 billion shader operations per second. The graphics sub-system sports eDRAM buffer will be about 10MB in order to fit 720p frame-buffer inside it and apply certain effects that boost eye candy of the image, such as anti-aliasing.

The Xbox 360 console includes 512MB of GDDR3 memory operating at 700MHz, optional 20GB HDD, 12x DVD-ROM drive and two flash memory slots. The new gaming machine from Microsoft can support up to four wireless game controllers as well as up to three USB 2.0 devices. The forthcoming console from Microsoft will support Dolby Digital 5.1 audio.

The seriously improved hardware of the Xbox 360 console is projected to allow extremely realistic games. Furthermore, gamers will be able to play in 720p and 1080i HDTV resolutions.

Xbox Live Gets Upgraded

Besides advanced games and powerful hardware, another corner-stone of the Xbox 360 will be the new Xbox Live.

Every purchaser of the Xbox 360 connected to broadband Internet will get instant access to Xbox Live Silver, available for no monthly service charge. Players can express their digital identity through their Gamer Profile; connect with friends anytime, anywhere through Xbox Live voice chat; send and receive text and voice message; and access Xbox Live Marketplace to download demos and trailers along with new game levels, maps, weapons, vehicles, skins, classic arcade and card and board games, community-created content, and more to the detachable Xbox 360 hard drive – all right out of the box at no extra cost. Composed of user-generated information such as Achievements (rewards players have earned in games), Gamerzone (style of play), and a custom-created Gamertile (a visual icon to represent the gamer online), the Gamer Profile makes it easy to connect with the Xbox Live community.

Gamers who subscribe to the premium service, Xbox Live Gold, can experience multiplayer online gameplay. Gamer Profiles will provide a foundation for intelligent matchmaking, so players of similar skill levels and interests can quickly and easily connect, and the Xbox Live Camera peripheral will let gamers add their faces into games and see their friends while they play. Other Xbox Live Gold features for premium members include video messaging; online tournaments and ladders; and exclusive, original programming such as playing with celebrities online and joining sponsored tournaments to win prizes. And all Xbox 360 owners new to Xbox Live will kick-start their experience with a free month of the full subscription service.

Multimedia Extender

Every Xbox 360 system has built-in progressive-scan DVD movie, CD music and photo playback support. The integration of Xbox Live into the system lets players receive game invitations from friends while they're watching movies or listening to music. And every MP3 player, digital camera and Windows XP-based PC with a Universal Serial Bus (USB) 2.0 port can plug right into an Xbox 360 system to stream music and photos.

In addition, with built-in Media Center Extender functionality in every system, Xbox 360 players can access recorded TV and digital movies, music, video and photos stored on Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005-based PCs through any Xbox 360 system in the house.

Microsoft Xbox 360 will be available this holiday season in North America, Europe and Japan. Pricing is yet unclear. Xbox 360 will ignite a new era of digital entertainment that is always connected, always personalized and always in high definition, Microsoft said.

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PS3 OWNS Xbox 360
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