Purportedly leaked Xbox 720 specs give us a headache

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.

Comments closed
    • sschaem
    • 7 years ago

    Members of the xbox team must be laughing reading those ‘articles’…

    • pogsnet1
    • 7 years ago

    I believe that is underpowered if true then Wii U can beat them easily, what more for PS4? We are going to 3D now, soon monitors with 3D is easy to find, and games too. Even if not for games movie industry are having cash cow on 3D these days doubling the price for the same story but presented differently.

    • Malphas
    • 7 years ago

    Meh, games consoles have always had bizarre, one-off architecture, the author is thinking too much in PC hardware terms. And chucking in the PowerPC cores (which are doubtlessly dirt cheap now) is more effective than software emulation.

    • Pax-UX
    • 7 years ago

    Awesome, slow news day… how about some pics of the iPhone 5 while you’re at it

    • Mat3
    • 7 years ago

    This is just rubbish. PCMag should be ashamed of themselves for publishing this obviously fake nonsense. Six to eight weak cores, plus two more weak cores, plus three IBM cores? MS will keep it simple: An APU that probably uses IBM cores with a weak GPU – but not *that* weak!

    • ronch
    • 7 years ago

    I say, it’s a waste of time and energy speculating on a future product. Let’s just wait for the damn thing to come out. I mean, just look at how we all tried to speculate on Bulldozer.

      • Airmantharp
      • 7 years ago

      That’s the truth. And Bulldozer is such an awesome architecture idea, I hope AMD gets it right soon, especially if they put those cores in console APUs!

      • ronch
      • 7 years ago

      Bulldozer is a good architecture.. on paper.

        • Airmantharp
        • 7 years ago

        It’s hard to say that it’s necessarily a ‘bad’ architecture; rather, the current implementation doesn’t seem to make the best use of the overall design. It is competitive though, for a new architecture (Intel’s last ‘new’ architecture was Netburst, which didn’t fair nearly as well), and it appears to be tweakable to the point of being able to put real pressure on Intel.

          • DeadOfKnight
          • 7 years ago

          Isn’t Haswell supposedly a revolutionary change in architecture? We’ll see how they do.

            • Airmantharp
            • 7 years ago

            Maybe- not sure if it’s a ‘tick/tock’ kinda new, or a Prescott -> Conroe kind of new.

      • NeelyCam
      • 7 years ago

      [quote<]I say, it's a waste of time and energy speculating on a future product. [/quote<] Isn't that what we do here at TR about 90% of the time...?

    • mcnabney
    • 7 years ago

    Remember, MS is sticking with 1080p. With unified hardware a console doesn’t need that much graphics power, especially if the graphical output isn’t going to go up. Most of the improvements in going from 360-720 are centered around the new Kinect and the planned goggles. So a huge jump in power isn’t required, but extra cores to manage the accessory-driven features are needed.

    So ultimately the 720 is going to be designed more like the Wii. More useful and novel, but less absolute performance. I think skipping 4K for a product launched over a year from now and expected to remain current for a decade is a big mistake. 4K displays border on looking like reality if properly powered with a beefy GPU and detailed textures. I don’t think the cheap-o Wii magic is going to happen again, especially not from Microsoft.

      • derFunkenstein
      • 7 years ago

      Do you really think XBox 360 games are rendered at 1080p right now? If this thing doesn’t do 1080p natively it’s going to be a huge flop, IMO, at least technologically speaking.

      • cynan
      • 7 years ago

      4K would be nice and all, but it’s not really feasible at this point. Neither the GTX 680 nor HD 7970 can can drive an 8MP plus display very adequately. You could argue that if they took one of these high end chips (or something coming out around the corner based on them) and spent time optimizing rendering efficiency, etc, you might come up with something close, but then the console would be approaching the neighborhood of $1000 cost to them…

      We’re just going to have to be resigned to the fact that today’s consoles are being less and less targeted to the enthusiast and more and more for mass market consumption. This means, roughly, that as long as the specs/performance aren’t so much worse than that of the competitors so that they can be fudged to be equivalent via marketing or blamed on game developers, then they’re good enough. And Sony just isn’t likely to try risking such an expensive system given all the money they lost on the PS3.

        • shank15217
        • 7 years ago

        Both 7970 and 680 can drive a 4k display, what are you smoking?

          • cynan
          • 7 years ago

          Well they can output the resolution. But I ask again, how feasible is it for either to drive 8MP plus 3D graphics with next-gen eye-candy? In TR’s review of the GTX 670, 1200×5760 (just under 7MP) was giving these cards a run for their money.

          And to reiterate, even if something based on these chips could, the overall cost of the console with required supporting CPU and other hardware would be a major hurdle.

          On the other hand, rendering games at 1080p and supporting video playback at 2160p seems like a good target to aim for for the next gen consoles. But sadly, I’d be pleasantly surprised if we got even this much.

            • Airmantharp
            • 7 years ago

            Oh I bet we’ll get this much. The main issue will not be the rendering resolution, but the quality of those games at 1080p. I doubt it will look much better than what we get out of the 360 now.

            I do hope I’m wrong though. The better these consoles are, the better my PC ports will be!

          • Airmantharp
          • 7 years ago

          Take any reasonably resource-intensive game (say, BF3), and beat yourself in the head with it.

          4k, as in 4x1080p, as in 8MP, is not beyond the frame-buffer capabilities of the cards you mentioned (that is, 3GB AMD/4GB Nvidia), but the rendering horsepower just isn’t there.

          And those are today’s GPUs on today’s process. Do you think that these consoles will be produced on some future TSMC process? I don’t :).

        • Airmantharp
        • 7 years ago

        I agree- my GTX670 can handle BF3 at 1600p, but that’s without MSAA/etc.

        And while that GPU is both power and transistor efficient, it’s still many times more powerful than what MS/Sony can afford to put into a console, especially one with an AMD Fusion-like CPU/GPU hybrid.

        Although I’m also kind of sad that AMD will be powering these systems, if the rumors are true. From a per-transistor and performance/watt perspective, going back to the original XBox’s Intel-Nvidia combo for the 720 would give us more performance/dollar, assuming MS/Sony doesn’t get raped on IP charges.

          • cynan
          • 7 years ago

          The chip that ends up in these systems will probably not be of identical architecture to the consumer HD7000 stuff. The first thing to go will be the extra transistors allocated to GPGPU. Hence, if we’re lucky, we may get something that approaches the efficiency per watt of the Nvidia stuff.

            • Airmantharp
            • 7 years ago

            That’s kind of what I was thinking in the back of my head. If AMD were to cut GCN down to just gaming/media essentials, then they’d probably be able to get some very good performance per watt/transistor/die area out of it.

    • cynan
    • 7 years ago

    And yet the document has been taken down due to a request by Covington & Burling LLP – a huge law firm that just so happens to have (or have had) Microsoft as a past client… If it was a complete fake, would legal action be threatened?

    Looks like Hattig may have been on point with his “This is probably the end result of a bunch of semi-technical managers having a meeting, back in 2010.” post. Perhaps the actual specs were not even included in the original document and that part at least a forgery.

      • EtherealN
      • 7 years ago

      Legal action can be threatened even if they are faked, as a defense of the brand type thing. Not sure it would hold up in court, but since when has a corporate takedown notice relied on courts rather than the fear of court costs? 😛

    • FuturePastNow
    • 7 years ago

    I agree with the general conclusion- this document must be fake. The specs are too wacky.

    Eight core x86? A quad-module AMD Bulldozer processor clocked at 2.0 GHz would be in the 45W range- there’s an Opteron with similar specs. I think that would probably be a sub-optimal game console processor, though.

    An ARM core for low-power, always-on operation? That’s possible.

    And a PPC co-processor for backwards compatibility? Since when has Microsoft given a crap about that? If this mattered they would have used x86 in the 360.

    Three different architectures means this thing has to have three operating systems, by the way, and switch between them as needed.

    64 ALUs puts the GPU at about 80% of a Radeon HD 5450. That’s laughable and has to be a mistake… or fake.

      • EtherealN
      • 7 years ago

      “Three different architectures means this thing has to have three operating systems, by the way, and switch between them as needed.”

      You sure about that? I mean, my computer has two architectures in it – one is a Sandy Bridge, the other is an nVidia processor that does graphics.

      Still, yes, definitely looks weird, but that specific point I’m not so dead-sure on.

      Regarding ALU’s, I guess they could be talking about a Knights Corner derivative, though the language is wrong for that, I think. Heh, trying to be generous to this document is damn hard, it’s so weird. 😛

      • Anonymous Coward
      • 7 years ago

      [quote<]A quad-module AMD Bulldozer processor clocked at 2.0 GHz would be in the 45W range- there's an Opteron with similar specs. I think that would probably be a sub-optimal game console processor, though.[/quote<] That hasn't stopped Microsoft in the past! [quote<]Three different architectures means this thing has to have three operating systems, by the way, and switch between them as needed.[/quote<] With special OS and hardware, switching OSes would not be required (you could have multiple OSes running at once, with the right design), however it does seem like a lot of work. I still expect an all-PPC solution to the challenge. IBM can provide adequate performance, make backwards compatibility easy, and they are happy to make custom designs.

    • colinstu
    • 7 years ago

    Fuck backwards compatibility.

    Concentrate on making a non-shitty console and looking forward. Not holding it all back to play crappy 10 year old games that only semi-work on new hardware for customers that already have a 360!

    UGH!

      • superjawes
      • 7 years ago

      Yeah! Make customers keep two consoles around or abandon their games from the previous generation! After all, no one ever plays previous generation consoles once the new one is released!

      • Anonymous Coward
      • 7 years ago

      Forward looking does not mean throwing everything out and starting fresh.

      • moose17145
      • 7 years ago

      Don’t you make me throw a 8bit goomba at you! And if that doesn’t work I swear I will bust out the flower power!

    • Bensam123
    • 7 years ago

    This reads more like a plan the CEOs and/or board has devised for the next generation console before it’s handed down to all the ‘techie’ people to figure out.

    64ALUs is probably a typo and missing a 0.

    • spigzone
    • 7 years ago

    If, as Charlie D reported, Ms went with an IBM/AMD solution, hardware emulation could serve double duty, being a 360 when running 360 games and being used as an ancillary processor when in 720 mode. The presentation mentioned the Kinect 2 being able to emulate a kinect 1.

    This would be a very powerful marketing point in this financial climate, even more so if Sony goes the AMD route and decides it’s not financially feasible to provide backward compatability with the PS3. Being able to seamlessly play existing and forthcoming 360 games flawlessly on your 720 would make the transition to the 720 smooth indeed.

    Ms intended to and would have included hardware emulation with the 360 if Nvidia had cooperated. Lesson learned and no reason not to do so with the next gen console.

      • spigzone
      • 7 years ago

      That same SOC emulation chip with a few enhancements to include full 1080p and Windows 8 capability could also be put into a very cheap $99 price point online media streaming box, still capable of playing all 360 and arcade games. Or even imbedded in an Xbox TV.

      • Deanjo
      • 7 years ago

      Ahhh good old Charlie, the very same guy that said the PS4 was going to use Larabee.

      [url<]http://www.theinquirer.net/inquirer/news/1050851/intel-design-playstation-gpu[/url<]

      • Bensam123
      • 7 years ago

      I don’t even understand half of the conclusions you reach in your post… Why would it not be financially feasible to provide backward compatibility with the PS3? Why would sony using AMD or Intel even impact that decision? How is providing emulation for PS3 games in a PS4 different from providing emulation for X360 games in a X720?

    • kamikaziechameleon
    • 7 years ago

    “although I’ve gotta admit, things would be very interesting indeed if Microsoft turned anything this messy into an actual product.”

    Do you have any of the xboxes???

    • Xylker
    • 7 years ago

    Thanks for posting the link to the You Con edition of Yukon.

    • canmnanone
    • 7 years ago

    i will skip the next generation of xbox. im pretty sure that it will be a piss of shit.

    • Ashbringer
    • 7 years ago

    “Surely those PPC cores could be emulated quite competently by a few modern x86 cores.”

    Umm, Dolphin tries to emulate the Wii and it needs a fairly fast PC to get games to even come close to 100% speed. There have been discussions about splitting the emulation between the cores, and it would be very difficult to get any sorta of speed boost. Right now it uses other cores for graphics and sound emulation.

    As for Xbox 360 emulating the Xbox, have you seen the results? A lot of games do slow down terribly, and the games tend to glitch up pretty bad. I’m glad they released Marvel vs Capcom 2 for the 360, cause the Xbox version was unplayable on it.

      • BobbinThreadbare
      • 7 years ago

      I had a core 2 duo at 2.4 ghz that did just fine. That CPU came out in 2007.

        • jackbomb
        • 7 years ago

        And my Opteron 185 at 3.2GHz runs dolphin fine. That’s a S939 K8 from 2006.

          • TO11MTM
          • 7 years ago

          In this case however I don’t think the OP has the best example. Broadway is ‘only’ (estimated at) 739MHz which makes dealing with Bus issues much easier.

          Emulating a Three-core CPU that runs ~3.0GHz means a lot more work on that front alone, plus the extra work for handling what is a far faster bus.

          You’re left either making shortcuts or being left with one hell of a lot of work for an emulator to do.

          byuu (Author of bsnes, considered the ‘most accurate’ emulator of the SNES,) wrote a nice article about these problems;
          [url<]http://byuu.org/articles/optimization[/url<]

        • Ashbringer
        • 7 years ago

        I have a Phenom X4 9850 overclocked to 3 Ghz and Metroid Prime 3 at best runs at 65%. Most other games will run at full speed but some of the heavy duty games will need a better processor.

        But yea like TO11MTM said, the 360 has three of those cores with nearly 3 times the clock speed. You’d also need to keep them in sync, which is going to be a real pain.

        BTW TO11MTM thanks for the article. I always find emulation fascinating.

      • bacondreamer
      • 7 years ago

      Cross architecture emulations has never been pretty…..from XBox to 360, Microsoft went from x86 to RISC when they went from PIII to a PowerPC processor. With what I’m seeing in this architecture doc, it looks like Microsoft is taking a page out of Sony’s book to do proper backward compat support with the upcoming system.

      Another example would be when Apple introduced OSX and also switching all their hardware to Intel, they had to introduce Rosetta to run RISC based apps in OSX. That was dropped when Mountain Lion (or was it Lion) came out.

    • burntham77
    • 7 years ago

    I hope they don’t actually call it the Xbox 720.

      • Kaleid
      • 7 years ago

      I would expect Xbox 1080, because of resolution.

    • jackbomb
    • 7 years ago

    What? They didn’t include the Pentium III from the original Xbox? Someone here won’t be impressed.

      • ClickClick5
      • 7 years ago

      I still say the original Xbox was the best console yet. It was designed and built perfectly.
      I have mine now running linux and I use it often as a tiny FTP server for the house.

    • albundy
    • 7 years ago

    hopefully this one wont plague its customers with initial problems like the current one did.

    • Hattig
    • 7 years ago

    This is probably the end result of a bunch of semi-technical managers having a meeting, back in 2010.

    The reality is probably nothing like this, but I’m sure that this document will have been referenced early on in the console development. Even if the real technical bods were head-desking as a result.

      • ludi
      • 7 years ago

      Hmm…that [i<]would[/i<] make the most sense.

    • Ricardo Dawkins
    • 7 years ago

    [quote<]"That's an awful lot of cores for a system intended as a gaming device and a living-room hub. "[/quote<] Maybe because Kinect v2 tracking 4 humans and "Fortaleza" (Brazil city) glasses would require all this horsepower ?

      • chµck
      • 7 years ago

      I would like to think adding more cores is better. This might stimulate game developers to start using more cores.

        • BobbinThreadbare
        • 7 years ago

        It won’t. Most games are just made using engines someone else has made first anyways. They’re not going to bother. The Xbox 360 already has 3 cores and most PC games don’t effectively use more than 2, so it’s already not helping.

          • OneArmedScissor
          • 7 years ago

          I’m not sure that’s the reason. You then have to ask why, after so many years of even multi-core consoles, the engines don’t support it.

          If they did bother, what would they do with it? Say you have 8 cores. What 8 things are you going to put on them? There aren’t 8 things!

          People still seem to be stuck in this era of the past where CPU clock speeds were climbing GHz at a time, and a faster CPU [i<]possibly[/i<] meant your frame rate went up. But more cores isn't a faster CPU, even if it's X times as "powerful." It's just X times the potential for more tasks to do at the same time. And that's becoming X times the wasted potential in a game. A game only calls for a handful of tasks. The rare instance of something that can now be parallelized, but was traditionally handled by CPUs, can be done by GPUs. This applies to physics and AI. Move those to the GPU, and now there's even [i<]less[/i<] for the CPU to do! It's even weirder if it's an ARM SoC, since those have long since used specialized parts for anything at all that can be offloaded.

            • BobbinThreadbare
            • 7 years ago

            AI sucks in just about every game and I assume more CPU power could help.

            • OneArmedScissor
            • 7 years ago

            If it can be done better, but it’s not, then that suggests more of a budget limitation than hardware.

            We’ve seen that with graphics for years now. Developers openly state they just don’t want to spend what it would take to hire more and more and more artists. Their budgets are already crazy compared to even a few years ago.

            • BobbinThreadbare
            • 7 years ago

            “If it can be done better, but it’s not, then that suggests more of a budget limitation than hardware.”

            The hardware hasn’t changed since 2006. This is going to be a problem.

            “Developers openly state they just don’t want to spend what it would take to hire more and more and more artists.”

            They can say whatever they like, but their budgets keep going up, so I think they’re just saying how they would like things to work not how they actually work.

            • OneArmedScissor
            • 7 years ago

            Are the [i<]developer[/i<] budgets going up? Or are you just referring to the cost of a big name game, which would include millions of dollars in advertising? How they would like things to work is to sell more games. Are you seriously faulting them for doing what people buy?

            • peartart
            • 7 years ago

            Civ V boasted somewhere that all of its units have their own thread, which then lead to all the units acting like individual idiots.

            AI is a hard problem, but the solution isn’t more hardware.

            • Anonymous Coward
            • 7 years ago

            [quote<]Civ V boasted somewhere that all of its units have their own thread, which then lead to all the units acting like individual idiots.[/quote<] I doubt they made any such claim. A thread per unit? Thats useless and probably unworkable. Any problems with the AI in that game are not due to "too many threads", its due to whatever code the threads are executing. I expect that more cores can help AI, as long as developers can be bothered to invest the effort. AI is (potentially) highly parallelizealbe because many alternative actions can (probably) be examined at once, if the developers take the time to make some system to simulate actions and anticipated reactions. AI which is simply cause-and-effect is perhaps less parallelizealbe.

    • Peldor
    • 7 years ago

    [quote<] things would be very interesting indeed if Microsoft turned anything this messy into an actual product.[/quote<] Indeed. PowerPC, x86, and ARM all in one box. Why build 1 CPU when you can mash three together alongside 2 GPUs!

      • Scrotos
      • 7 years ago

      [url<]http://www.maximumpc.com/files/u112496/img283_v2_0.jpg[/url<]

      • JustAnEngineer
      • 7 years ago

      [url<]http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Commodore_128[/url<] Z-80 and 8502 CPUs plus several dedicated media chips.

    • Deanjo
    • 7 years ago

    [quote<]Surely those PPC cores could be emulated quite competently by a few modern x86 cores.[/quote<] Have you ever seen a PPC emulator that does that? PearPC has a hard time enough emulating the speed of a native G4 on a modern x86 and they have been at it since 2004.

      • WillBach
      • 7 years ago

      Rosetta in OS X did it pretty well.

        • Deanjo
        • 7 years ago

        For general purpose apps, yes it did, but as soon as you threw anything that involved more complex code such as games (or something like fcp or older photoshops) it became unbearably slow.

      • BobbinThreadbare
      • 7 years ago

      Don’t the Gamecube and Wii use a PPC? Dolphin is one of the best emulators out there.

        • Deanjo
        • 7 years ago

        Dolphin is emulating a 730 Mhz single core processor there with substantially less graphics horsepower and still requires a dual core 3+ Ghz cpu.

        In the case of a XBox 360 it would have to emulate a lot more horsepower to equal a tricore 3.2 Ghz PPC plus the more advance graphics.

          • BobbinThreadbare
          • 7 years ago

          The GPU wouldn’t have to be emulated, as long as all the directx calls were implemented on the new Xbox.

          I also wrote about that you’re wrong about the system requirements for Dolphin.

    • dpaus
    • 7 years ago

    This is the ‘Yukon’ architecture – of course it’s frozen in time.

    I think the bigger question is: why would anyone invest enough time in a hoax to generate 56 pages of detail, but ruin it with such an obviously fake block diagram?

      • DancinJack
      • 7 years ago

      So we can all talk about it and get a front page news story on TR.

    • Squeazle
    • 7 years ago

    That looks about as fake as they could have possibly made it while still using some tech terms.

      • grantmeaname
      • 7 years ago

      I’m surprised there aren’t any jiggawatts on the diagram.

        • Thatguy
        • 7 years ago

        I don’t know why but i almost died from laughing after reading this. +1 for your, sir.

          • ludi
          • 7 years ago

          That sounds serious. Do you have any family history of correlated laughing and dying?

      • 5150
      • 7 years ago

      Jiggawho?

    • Nutmeg
    • 7 years ago

    Guys, the Emotion Engine is going to revolutionise gaming! You will feel emotions like you never have before. Also it’s powerful enough for terrorists to buy a bunch of PS2s and launch nuclear missiles with them!

    Pre-launch console rumours are the best.

      • WillBach
      • 7 years ago

      You made my morning. I salute you, sir!

      • Kaleid
      • 7 years ago

      N64 promised Terminator II type of visuals. Still waiting…

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