Eurogamer reports that Microsoft has applied for a scalable console patent that would allow customers to scale up or scale down their Xbox much like PC gamers do with desktops, removing and adding components. Application 20120159090 was submitted in December 2010 at the U.S. Patents and Trademark Office, and was published last month.
According to the application, Microsoft is attempting to patent "versions of a multimedia computer system architecture... which satisfy quality of service (QoS) guarantees for multimedia applications such as game applications while allowing platform resources, hardware resources in particular, to scale up or down over time."
The report suggests that the patent description and the accompanying images share the same fundamental ideas as the "Yukon" system covered briefly in the Xbox 720 documents that appeared towards the beginning of May. Sources confirmed those documents as genuine, dating them back to August 2010, just months before this patent was submitted to the U.S. Patents and Trademark Office.
But unlike the leaked documents, this patent goes deeper into the design, detailing a base architecture consisting of core components. It also describes a multi-CPU, multi-GPU system in which one combo is reserved for the Xbox platform (dashboard, video encoding/decoding) and one is reserved for applications (gaming).
This seemingly backs up the "transmedia gaming" description in the Xbox 720 leak which revealed Microsoft's plans for running apps simultaneously with games. Examples included running a TV stream while gaming, and opening a strategy guide while the game is still running. One hardware combo would handle the game while the other hardware combo would handle the strategy guide app (web browser?).
To make this possible, Microsoft suggests what it calls "communication fabric" which links all aspects of the console, and regulates bandwidth so that one hardware combo isn't leeching system resources from the other. Think of it as a dual-core console -- two smaller gaming consoles working as one -- yet capable of hardware upgrades by the consumer. One diagram in the patent even shows a third CPU/GPU combo that lends a helping hand to the other two.
There's speculation that this dual-system customizable console setup could lead to multiple configurations from OEMs much like we see with desktops and laptops. Even more, the "over time" could mean that Microsoft is seeking to remove itself from the traditional fixed architecture model as we've seen since the beginning.
Eurogamer says it all. "Combine [the yearly refresh iPad model] model with Microsoft dipping its toes into 'buy now, pay monthly' subscription territory and there's the possibility that the next Xbox could be a new type of hardware platform - one that evolves over time, subsidised via monthly payments as part of an Xbox Live sub," the site speculats. "Processing power on consoles and desktops isn't evolving with anything like the speed of mobile parts, so yearly updates seem unlikely, and on the plus side, the backwards compatibility issue would be resolved once and for all."
Suddenly the Xbox Infinity name seems like a likely choice for Microsoft's next machine.