Exclusive: XBox Next chip just taped out

Sources say mystery chip in the oven now

XBox LogoRemember when we told you about the upcoming Xbox Next chip that was quite imminent? It looks like SemiAccurate’s moles were right on target, and some sources are now telling us that it just taped out.

Yeah, basically, the chip is ‘done’, and first silicon likely went in to the oven in the last two weeks. If this is true, Microsoft should have silicon back in time to give the families of XBox systems engineers a miserable holiday season, their loved ones will be doing breakneck bring-up work on Xbox Next.

In any case, we hear the PoR is still for mass production in December 2012, but that could change quite a bit depending on bugs, foundries, software, and devs. If that date holds, add 3 months for first mass production silicon out of whoever ends up making them, a few weeks for system production, and likely a few months for stockpiling launch quantities. This means late spring or early summer 2013 for a launch.

More interestingly, canvassing the dev community, something really interesting turned up, basically MS is being quite mum on their plans at this point. Normally, a game takes ~2 years to write from scratch, so you get devs in the loop early, especially on new hardware. This time, our checks come out with devs not having heard squat all, something that is quite unusual.

The implications of that are twofold, one is that launch is later than the Q2/2013 that it looks like from here, or two, that the developer’s job this time will be different. By that, I mean backwards compatibility, so you write for the XBox 360 and add features for the Next, or that you are forced to write generalized Metro stuff to a black box.

With luck, it will be a 100% superset of XBox 360 features, that would make life easier. If Microsoft decides to try and leverage the failed Wince/Windows Phone Whateveritisthisweek by making the XBox Next run the same VM/middleware, I can see a developer revolt and slews of lowest common denominator software packing the virtual shelves. At this point in time, the software ecosystem seems like it is going to be much more interesting than the hardware.

Speaking of said hardware, the chip itself is a little bit grey in areas. As we said last time, it is definitely an ATI GPU which lends itself towards the backwards compatible option. IBM is also involved, so eDRAM is very likely, something our sources are all confirming. This means the CPU is very likely to be a PowerPC of one sort or other too. Then again, as HardOCP wrote, there are strong and credible rumors of it being an AMD x86 core ala Trinity. In any case more SemiAccurate moles are still saying PowerPC, that architecture makes much more sense here.

Last up, we have the name to update. Previously, we told you the chip was called Obed or something similar. Sources have come forward to clarify, it was indeed a bit off, the real name is Oban. Sorry for the confusion, but if it helps, there is some good that comes out of it. If you want an easy way to tell which sites have a clue and real sources in the gaming world, do a search for “XBox Obed”. Look at the articles closely. When you see ones that breathlessly claim to have a source for the incorrect name ‘Obed’, especially ones that curious add details, you know which ones don’t have a clue. Unfortunately there are lots of them, and many more that don’t understand how to actually link right. The metagame is almost as much fun as console games.S|A

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Charlie Demerjian

Roving engine of chaos and snide remarks at SemiAccurate
Charlie Demerjian is the founder of Stone Arch Networking Services and SemiAccurate.com. SemiAccurate.com is a technology news site; addressing hardware design, software selection, customization, securing and maintenance, with over one million views per month. He is a technologist and analyst specializing in semiconductors, system and network architecture. As head writer of SemiAccurate.com, he regularly advises writers, analysts, and industry executives on technical matters and long lead industry trends. Charlie is also available through Guidepoint and Mosaic. FullyAccurate