Is XBox just a Wintel PC?

Discussion in 'Archived Threads 2001-2004' started by Colin Dunn, Nov 20, 2001.

  1. Colin Dunn

    Colin Dunn Supporting Actor

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    Looking over some articles on the Net about XBox, it seems that Microsoft has taken the same "off-the-shelf" parts that are used to build a "Wintel" clone PC. In particular, hardware site HardOCP opened up their XBox and found very PC-like guts inside:
    http://www.hardocp.com/articles/xbox/index.html
    That's an Intel CPU (733MHz Mobile Celeron?) and motherboard, an nVidia video chipset, a hard disk, a DVD-ROM, and 128MB of RAM.
    Given that you can't build an equivalent PC for $299, I wouldn't be surprised if someone's out there trying to get one of these things to boot a full version of DOS and/or Windows.
    Is the XBox really just an Intel-based PC running dedicated video game console firmware, or is its architecture 100% different from a clone desktop?
     
  2. James Nguyen

    James Nguyen Second Unit

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    well, depends on what you define as a wintel pc.
    yes it runs a MS operating system and yes it uses an Intel CPU. from there however the paths diverge quickly.
    first off, the Xbox runs a stripped down and modified version of the Win2k kernel. This OS resides on the XBOX's ROM and uses a custom file system (not FAT32 or NTFS as many have speculated). The OS is decompressed out of ROM and put into RAM where it is then executed from upon powerup. At this point it basically then starts loading up whatever media is in the unit, i.e. launches its cd playing subapp, dvd playback, etc. or it just launches the executables for an actual xbox game.
    So, given that environment, it seems unlikely and at the very least very very difficult to just "boot a full version of DOS and/or Windows". [​IMG] In order to do this, someone would have to rewrite utilities like fdisk and format so that the xbox could execute them and reformat the harddrive in FAT or NTFS. Then you'd have to have device drivers so that the dvd rom, the nvidia XGPU and other bits was recognized. Not to mention that you'd have to do all of this somehow with your xbox controller since there is at this time no keyboard or mouse yet. Just doesn't seem worth the effort to me. [​IMG]
     
  3. Colin Dunn

    Colin Dunn Supporting Actor

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    James - I suspected pretty much what you said - that the actual firmware/OS is based on M$ technologies but not directly compatible with any of their desktop products.

    But what I have to wonder is...

    Could the ROM with the OS (as well as the code to bootstrap the machine) in theory be replaced BIOS chip for a PC - in particular, an nForce motherboard? (It appears that Xbox uses some nVidia technologies that are being brought to market on nForce boards.)

    Is the actual system architecture that of a desktop PC? Or does it just use the same CPU and graphics processor, but otherwise bears no resemblance? Given a PC BIOS, would the system forget that it is an Xbox and metamorphose into a desktop PC?

    If the underlying architecture is that of a PC, all that's needed is for someone to find hacks to put a PC BIOS on the system board and hook up a keyboard/mouse controller.

    I don't have the time or expertise to attempt such a thing. But if the Xbox is really a PC disguised as a gaming appliance, someone's probably working on these hardware hacks right now. In the past, it's been done with the "iOpener" appliance, to turn a Web-browsing "thin client" into a fully functional Wintel box.

    I think a lot of people wouldn't mind buying an Xbox to get a dirt-cheap extra PC. If the hardware is similar, that may also allow M$ to sell an "Xbox emulator" for PCs that allow desktop PCs to play Xbox games. (I think Bill's lawyers would crush any third-party emulators, just as Sony crushed BLEEM.)
     
  4. Mike__D

    Mike__D Supporting Actor

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  5. James Nguyen

    James Nguyen Second Unit

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    mike you're correct.

    i thought I'd addressed memory issues in my first post but I see now that I neglected to do that.

    The way the xbox addresses memory is much different than a standard windows based OS.

    that said, sure, the hardware is familiar, but in the end the xbox is still a console machine. any attempts to get it to boot any operating system other than its own is going to be as difficult as getting one to run on any console be it a gamecube,n64, or gameboy. It's just in this case MS used a set of parts that all didn't have to be custom fabricated. (PS2 linux not withstanding)
     
  6. AndyVX

    AndyVX Supporting Actor

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    I remember reading somewhere quite a while ago that someone got Linux up and running on a Dreamcast. I'm not really sure how this is possible though.

    So, I guess technically anything can be done. You just need the right people and people that have A LOT of spare time on their hands.

    Andrew
     
  7. Graeme Clark

    Graeme Clark Cinematographer

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    People have gotten Linux runnning on DC, PS2, and PS1. Why? Why not!

    People were able to get all sorts of things running on DC, including Emulators for quite a number of systems (Genesis, MAME, SNES etc.), MP3 players, VCD players and other various items. This was mainly thanks to the inclusion of WinCE on it.
     
  8. Colin Dunn

    Colin Dunn Supporting Actor

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    I've read of PCs that use a shared memory architecture. Some Intel video chipsets grab some system RAM and use it for video memory. I think the nForce does the same thing.

    But it looks from this discussion that despite the very Wintel-like parts, the XBox isn't just a Wintel PC that self-boots into a "console" operating system.

    But it looks like there are more enterprising geeks than I thought out there. I hadn't heard of Linux running on Playstation consoles before...

    I wonder if Microsoft is providing a means for firmware update. With reports of hardware and software bugs hitting the streets, I think early adopters are going to want to load bug-fixes. Or will you have to send your XBox to a service center just to get updated firmware?

    If there's a user-accessible way to update the firmware, that gives you a loading mechanism to put a different OS on it, or at least put a bootstrap loader in place that lets you boot an OS from the DVD-ROM or hard disk.
     
  9. Joshua Moran

    Joshua Moran Supporting Actor

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    actually it runs a modified Windows CE (like the dreamcast) not a modified Win2k kernal.
     
  10. James Nguyen

    James Nguyen Second Unit

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  11. Scott FP

    Scott FP Agent

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    Bringing the thread down to laymen's terms....[​IMG]
    Taking the raw parts of the Xbox, the Intel 733 chip, 128 meg of Ram, etc....
    Could you produce the quality of games on a similiar configured PC?
    Isn't there something about the Xbox that is skewed to gaming thus making the games on the Xbox much better quality then that of a PC?
     
  12. James Nguyen

    James Nguyen Second Unit

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    Scott,
    Basically in the end, all video game consoles are computers. They run some form of application (i.e. a game) built specifically to run on its hardware; they perform calculations to create 3D models of cars, planes, people etc, to perform lighting techniques and shadows, and so forth. Video game consoles are just highly specialized computers. Strictly speaking, if anyone wanted to, they could make something like a word processor for the Gamecube or a typing tutor for the xbox. Obviously, neither would sell well.
    Microsoft chose the path of using already available parts from the PC world or using derivatives of already existing PC parts. This basically cuts down quickly on the costs of R&D (i.e. you're not working for years on designing a brand new CPU for example) and it also makes it easier for developers to program for since they would now have access to tools that have been around for years to do development of PC games. The fact that the hardware inside the xbox (or any console) doesn't change fundamentally eases the development process as well, although in cases other than the Xbox where the CPU and other hardware is brand new, there is an associated learning curve there. (Dozens of articles have been written regarding development houses griping about the architectural challenges of designing for the PS2)
    Could a similarly configured PC have similar quality in games? Technically yes, but practically, I'd have to lean toward no. Knowing several game developers out there, I know that often the sacrifices made on the PC side are done so that they are given a "safe" level of leway with regards to hardware compatibility. Remember, on the PC side the permutations of operating system, CPU, graphics chipsets, soundcards, available memory and available harddrive space is near infinite. You simply just don't know what your customer is going to have, so you sometimes have to choose a lowest common denominator that you're willing to support. Because of those sacrifices, I doubt the practicality of bringing the type of quality you'd see on the Xbox on an identically configured PC.
    If you're interested in learning more about the specifics of the hardware inside the Xbox and how it all works, the new article at Anandtech is an excellent read. Rather on the technical side however.
    http://www.anandtech.com/showdoc.html?i=1561
     
  13. BrianB

    BrianB Producer

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