Saturday, September 18, 2004

Microsoft XNA Impressions


Microsoft Longhorn Latest Build

The Microsoft XNA – the PC / Xbox 2 hybrid console that can either be played on TV or with a standard SVGA monitor. I know I’m a little late about this subject since information on the XNA has been out last year. Whoa! A year already! Just imagine your Xbox 2 thinner (much like that of PC) hence the PC tower concept similar to the Playstation 2. The Xbox 2 will also have a SVGA port, but the XNA is meant to be played on a high resolution monitor and act like a PC. Microsoft confirmed this part last year. It will look like a thin box much like Playstation 2 with curved edges and have 4 controller ports in the front as well as at least two USB (universal serial bus) ports in front for normal pc peripherals (keyboard, mouse, analog game pad, digital camera, printer, 802.11B hub, external hard drive, MP3 player). It will also come with pc speaker output (remember the green and black jacks on your PC? They will be on the XNA as well.)

Since the Xbox 2 will have a 3.5 GHz IBM CPU on it, it’ll probably use it to play both Xbox and PC games. Interesting enough, Xbox 2 uses PowerPC agriculture to power it’s software because it’s cheaper than using a X86 platform. Xbox 2 is stated to have a 256-bit ATI GPU in it too. Here are the known possibilities:

1. The XNA will have a motherboard for two processors. One is the IBM Xbox2 CPU and the other is an IBM PC CPU. A CPU is more or less a microchip. Both will use the same memory and same GPU. Windows will recognize the GPU as a Radeon series and use an ATI Catalyst driver or more likely, Microsoft will give buyers a video card driver on CD with the package. This version will definitely have a hard drive. The system more than likely will have a eject button where you can stick a Xbox 2 DVD in it and it’ll play Xbox 2 games like a normal Xbox 2 console would. The Xbox 2 BIOS screen will have an extra option to boot Windows XP or Windows Longhorn instead or by default it’ll have an Xbox 2 BIOS screen.

2. The XNA will have a Xbox 2 CPU, motherboard, RAM, and video memory installed one on half, and have a X86 IBM motherboard, either a Intel or AMD processor, 256MB SDRAM on the other half. This is a possibility since to my knowledge you can’t operate a game machine that runs PowerPC components and a PC on the same hardware. In other words – can a G5 run Windows XP? Answer: it’s possible through commercial emulation via Microsoft’s Virtual PC for OS10. Saw it with my own eyes on TechTV’s The Screen Savers.

3. The XNA will have an Xbox 2 power pc motherboard, IBM Power PC CPU, RAM and memory. The console’s BIOS will recognize a Windows NTFS partition on it. In other words - the BIOS will boot the Xbox 2 information screen first and than boot NTFS or if Longhorn comes along the new WINFS file system which will act as a normal computer The BIOS will have to be pretty advanced to recognize Windows OS and play Xbox 2 games. This is where you can reformat the hard drive in NTFS or WINFS while still keeping the Xbox 2 operating system intact. If this is the case and it very well may be – the owner may dual boot Linux with Windows by inserting a Linux installation CD. The XNA would than be a favorite for hobbyist who likes to run benchmark tests on other things besides PCs. It will either emulate the X86 BIOS so that the BIOS can format a NTFS partition on the hard drive of the XMA or MS will actually have a Windows XP installation disc especially for XNA.

4. The XNA could have one master BIOS to boot the Xbox 2 bios or X86 bios. The Xbox Bios would of course boot the Xbox hardware as it would in Option 3. Then the Windows BIOS would take control and boot the X86 partition(s). It would have to be X86 hardware since PC games need PC hardware to run. The difference between #3 and #4 is that there is one master BIOS on control and two extra BIOS to control separate operations of two very different types of software. It will either emulate the X86 BIOS so that the BIOS can format a NTFS partition on the hard drive of the XMA or MS will actually have a Windows XP installation disc especially for XMA.

The easier question to answer is why would I buy it? For people who hate to switch from their Windows PC to their Xbox. In time a PC will be more powerful and less costly than the Xbox 2. A few years after Xbox 2 is released – you won’t have state-of-the-art console to play your PC games on. This is a question that people will ask themselves when they buy a XNA for 700 or 800 dollars. If I had an expert opinion on how the XNA is actually built - #3 would be my best guess. It makes sense to have one BIOS and one agriculture amongst the Apple line than a dual agriculture (Apple and X86). All Microsoft needs is a great X86 emulator that hardly sacrifices speed for performance. It’s great to run applications, but can it run games as well? Microsoft needs to find a way to refine “Virtual PC” to near perfection if they want to be successful in selling XNA. I think this is possible since hobbyist have Xbox emulators already running Xbox games on PC. Why can’t it do vice versa? Just because it wasn’t attempted before doesn’t mean future products will not benefit from both.

Xbox emulators for Windows (betas)

Xeon 0.7.8c (more updated)
CXBX 0.10

Go to Download Site

Microsoft knows that 40% of American’s play videogames of any sort. About 4 out of 10 Americans are below the age of 16 so this would make a lot of sense. I take it about one half of those teenagers are like me and enjoy playing videogames once in a while. The other half would be adults who grew up with the Genesis or Playstation, and haven’t stopped playing. I hear RPGs are selling at an all time high presently. That could be one reason. My reason is being born without anyone else so I don’t get out much with other people. Although I’m on the computer more than playing games. I like to talk about them and look up reviews or writing miscellaneous ideas. I spend more time looking at videogame reviews than playing. I play the most on weekends.

I plan on getting the new Nintendo console so I’m not going to get Xbox 2. I have other things to do besides playing games, not to mention I already have 320 videogames. Without PC games - I have approximately 250 videogames across 10 platforms. (NES, SNES, N64, GCN, Xbox, PS, PS2, Dreamcast, Saturn, Gameboy Advance).

There is another question – I am missing the concept of using high-end videocards like the Quadro FX that cost 1500 dollars online. All it is – is a PCI card that can probably do graphics better than a Radeon 9800 XT. A Radeon 9800XT or Geforce 4 Ti 6700 is great for gigaflop performance. You can max out your graphics setting with such high spec games like Far Cry, Unreal Tournament 2004 or Doom 3 with those GPUs. These cards can handle very high resolution graphics than Radeon 9800 XT, but for a 21” monitor – there is no need for it. The smaller Radeons have ¼ the memory bandwidth as the big ones.

Normal Memory Bandwidth (can do resolutions up to 2048x 1536, 1600x1200 in most pc games):

ATI Radeon 9800 XT (256-bit) = 24 GB / sec (this is mine)
Cost $399 online

ATI Radeon 9800 Pro (128-bit) = 8.8 GB / sec

PNY Geforce 5700 (256-bit) = 6.4 GB / sec
Cost $120 online

Workstation cards Memory Bandwidth (can do resolutions up to 2048 x 1536:

PNY Quadro FX 2000 (128-bit) = 12.8 GB / sec
Cost $1248 online

This message is for Bob:

Oh yeah, Bob if your reading this – why don’t you come over! You never answer your phone. Don’t you like me anymore? I know you have Angie and girlfriends need more affection than I. I know you like Angie more than I or Randy. Randy sees you more often than I do. I don’t really play videogames all that much – Bob. However, it would be fun if we go see a movie. To be honest, I would lie and say I am a big hotshot at school Do you believe I have 20 friends? Knowing you – you probably see through that as well. You being so clever – you would find out. So it’s no good lying to you – it doesn’t work – you know me too well. You can even live on your own and never get homesick. Fine - if we don’t see each other in 4 more months – I’ll just forget all about you okay! How does that sound? No more Ian to hang around with. Ya! I’m my own person now! Don’t need Bob to make me feel good – but you’re still welcome to be my friend. I’m giving you 4 more months - that’s January. Friendships sometime come to an end eventually. We’ve been friends for 8 years now.

This is Ian signing off.

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