Purportedly leaked Xbox 720 specs give us a headache

— 11:15 AM on June 18, 2012

The folks at PC Mag claim to have a leaked 56-page document that lays out in some detail Microsoft's plans for its next-gen game console, purportedly dubbed the Xbox 720. There are some potentially interesting bits in the story about Microsoft's rollout plans, but naturally, I went straight for the hardware diagram, which you can see at full size here.

Open up that diagram and follow along with us, if you will.

I tried to make sense of this "Yukon" architecture, and perhaps it really does reflect Microsoft's plans, but boy, does it ever look like something cooked up by a not-too-skilled forgery artist.

Start with the CPU. The diagram shows "6-8x ARM/X86 @ 2GHz" along with an apparently integrated GPU that has "64 ALU @ 1GHz." Also present, apparently in a separate chip, are three PowerPC cores at 3.2GHz for backward compatibility. And there's a note: "Core system design to be scalable in frequency/number of cores."

That's an awful lot of cores for a system intended as a gaming device and a living-room hub. Today's games don't always make good use of four cores or threads, for reasons that aren't likely to change wholesale any time soon. Also, giving us core counts and frequencies before having decided on the basic question of ARM vs. x86 seems foolhardy.

Furthermore, having only 64 ALUs in your GPU is really strange. For instance, the GeForce GTX 680 has 1536 ALUs at ~1GHz. Sure, the next Xbox may not need to have a GPU quite as capable as today's high-end graphics cards, but it's unlikely to have only a small fraction of the ALU count.

Last but not least, one would think that since the better part of a decade has passed since the Xbox 360's weak in-order PPC cores were introduced, there would be no need for dedicated hardware in order to maintain backward compatibility. Surely those PPC cores could be emulated quite competently by a few modern x86 cores.

I could go on. The presence of ">32MB" of eDRAM appears to be a strange repeat of a mistake Microsoft and AMD made with the Xbox 360. Perhaps it has other uses, but that eDRAM was originally intended to allow nearly "free" multisampled anti-aliasing, a dream that died when game developers nearly all went the deferred shading route. As you know, few console ports in recent years have supported MSAA much at all.

The strange combination of vague possibilities and extremely specific specs with already-decided unit counts and clock speeds doesn't even read like a leaked design document from an early stage in the system's development. It's more like a dollar bill with lines of missing toner in it: fake through and through. I could be wrong, but I doubt it—although I've gotta admit, things would be very interesting indeed if Microsoft turned anything this messy into an actual product.

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