IBM's Xbox 360 processor enters mass production

San Jose (CA) - Rather a formality than a surprise, IBM today announced at the Fall Processor Forum that the heart of Microsoft's upcoming game console Xbox 360, a 3.2 GHz PowerPC-based processor with three cores, is in production. The chip was developed in less than 24 months, IBM said.

IBM saved the official announcement of the volume production of the processor for the morning of the first day of the Fall Processor Forum, where the company is expected to reveal further details about the processor's architecture. According to IBM, the chip is currently manufactured at the firm's East Fishkill, New York fab as well as Chartered Semiconductor Manufacturing in Singapore to meet the estimated demand for Xbox 360 consoles.

IBM said that the PowerPC-based processor was "delivered" to Microsoft in less than 24 months, which is about half of the typical development time of a microprocessor. The original contract between the two firms was signed in fall of 2003, IBM said.

"The Xbox 360 chip set was designed from the ground up specifically for high-definition gaming and entertainment," said Todd Holmdahl, corporate vice president, hardware for Xbox. "Working with IBM gave us the flexibility to design a processor to give game developers the kind of targeted power they need to make great games."

In fact, the IBM processor will be the most capable processor in a game console to date. The 165 million-transistor 64-bit PowerPC CPU is manufactured in a 90 nm Silicon on Insulator (SOI) technology process. It integrates three "multi-threaded" cores running at 3.2 GHz as well as 1 MByte of L2 cache. The total bandwidth provided by the chip is 21.6 GByte per second.

While the hardware of the Xbox 360 maintains a high level of excitement for the game console, there have been doubts if the content available at launch will take advantage of the processing power. High definition visuals is the most promoted featured of the Xbox 360, but initial comparisons between the old Xbox and the new-gen device do not reveal convincing advantages as of now. Plus, the sparkling new capabilities of the Xbox 360 will come at a price: A fully decked out gaming system will cost $700 on November 22. Add a few games and gadgets and gamers will be crossing the $1000 mark.

Consumers also put high expectations in new features for the online service Xbox Live, which appears to be progressing steadily. Larry Hryb, Xbox Live Director of Programming, today announced that he was able to take the first Xbox 360 online at Xbox live.