Commack, NYSemiconductor Insights got hold of the just-released Microsoft Xbox 360 Elite and kept the cameras rolling as they popped the lid and dove inside (view video). The teardown is a follow-on to the company's teardown of the Playstation 3 (view video) and Nintendo Wii (view video) last year and provides insight into what Microsoft is doing to remain competitive in a hotly contested three-way market.
"While Microsoft released the XBox 360 a year ahead their competitors, they recently released the Elite to remain competitive, especially against the PS3," said Gregory A. Quirk, SI's technical marketing manager. "Incorporating a larger hard drive and HDMI output, the Elite enables more downloads from XBox Live to be stored and higher graphical resolution to meet the demands of gamers."
The hard drive's capacity has been increased from 20 Gbytes to 120 Gbytes. Though there is 17 Gbytes of preloaded content on the system, including game demos and video clips, that can be deleted and replaced with new content. "With gaming downloads and videos getting increasingly larger, this is a welcome addition to the system," said Quirk.
Other features added include a HDMI v1.2 output for higher screen resolution and cleaner cabling. The Sony Playstation 3 has an HDMI v1.3 connection. According to Quirk, the combination of increased hard drive capacity and HDMI connectivity will help promote more downloading on Xbox Live, especially of high-definition (HD) movies. "These revisions to the Elite can help users transition the system from a gaming console to a fully functional media center."
There has been considerable speculation regarding the lithography of the IBM processor. Some sources have claimed that it uses a 65-nm processes lithography, while other claim that it's 90 nm. Semiconductor Insights (SI) performed a cross section of the device, measuring the transistor length, and confirmed that it's the same as that used by the original XBox 360.
"The CPU in the Xbox 360 Elite seems to be assembled in Canada whereas the CPU in the previous Xbox was marked 'Taiwan'," stated Rob Hilkes, a lead technology analyst at SI. "This may indicate that while the previous CPU was built on Chartered's Fab7 in Singapore and assembled in Taiwan, the CPU of the Elite may be built in IBM's Fab B323 in East Fishkill, New York and assembled at IBM's assembly facility in nearby Bromont, Quebec." IBM and Chartered share design data at the 90-nm node. "We seem to have evidence now that Microsoft is indeed using both sources for the XBox CPU." Concern about the original Xbox 360's power consumption may also have been addressed. "Microsoft has redesigned some aspects of the power architecture, resulting in a lower component count."
In the end, there are few hardware differences between the original Xbox 360 and the Xbox 360 Elite, said Quirk. "The system is the same size, the boards designs are very similar, and most of the components themselves are the same." The only real difference between the systems are the video-interface IC, which had to be revised to accommodate the HDMI output. The new functionality resulted in about a 35 percent larger die area to that of its previous generation component.
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For more game platform and other teardowns, go to Techonline.com/Under the Hood