There are two versions of the Xbox 360 available, the basic Core system and the Deluxe package – I received the latter for review. Inside the very nice packaging you’ll find the X360 itself, complete with the 20GB (removable) hard disk attached. You also get a wireless controller, an HD ready component video cable – this will also carry composite video for those with normal TVs, a SCART adapter, a remote control – complete with Media Center button, a headset for Xbox Live use and four AA batteries. For £279.99 that’s a pretty good bundle.
The Deluxe package shows that Microsoft has also learned from its mistakes with the Xbox launch. When I picked up my original Xbox I had to buy a separate AV cable if I wanted something more than composite video – but more alarming was the fact that I had to buy one of these cables to get a digital audio output! Thankfully the AV cable that comes in the box with the X360 has an optical digital output integrated, so you’ll be able to get proper Dolby Digital surround sound in your games without having to fork out more money.
As I already mentioned, the original Xbox was pretty much a cut down PC, running a standard x86 Intel CPU and an nVidia graphics chipset that was very similar to the PC hardware around at the time. This time around Microsoft went to IBM for the CPU. Codenamed Xenon, the X360 CPU is based on IBM’s PowerPC technology and just like the latest batch of PC processors, this one is a multi-core chip. That said, the current crop of PC chips from both Intel and AMD have two cores, while Xenon sports three. Also, like Intel’s Hyper Threading chips, each Xenon core can execute two concurrent threads, so in theory Xenon will be able to execute six threads simultaneously.
The CPU is manufactured using a 90nm process, much like the latest PC processors, while the 3.2GHz clock speed is also on a par with PC chips, and is light years ahead of anything seen in a console before. What is strange is that there is only 1MB of Level 2 cache shared by all three cores – the 3.2GHz dual core Pentium Extreme Edition has 1MB of cache per core! Only time will tell if this proves to be an issue, but you can expect all early games to be running in a single threaded environment anyway. What is exciting is that as developers become more skilled at producing multi-threaded code, games on the X360 should just become better and better!