CPUs And GPUs Of Game Consoles

Outside Fred Myer's there is head scratching scene right now: there are about 16 people, mostly middle edges or elders, in their sleeping bags and chairs planning to spend the whole cold foggy night. We asked them and as we had guessed, all of them are waiting for XBox to take home!

The physiology of these kind of people is interesting to me. After all, why can't they walk in the store at 9 AM and buy then? Even if they are out of stock, the rules of economy would dictate that demand would meet the supply pretty soon. So why, just why, they would take out their sleeping bags and spend cold night outside the store?

It turns out, they are not bunch of psychos. They are not even hard core gamers who just can't wait a day longer. Hack, most of them aren't even there for themselves! They are there for their teens and kids. And reason their teens and kids wants Xbox so badly is because tomorrow that would be the talk of the class and they would have to face the question from everyone they know: "Did you got it?". There would be great divide in the school: Those who has it and those who don't - i.e. the uncool ones. Lines at Cosco is even bigger because they are going to have 96 of them to sell while Fred Myer only 16! Ironically, the sign where the line begins says: Xbox 360 - The wait is over ;). From all that can be seen, Microsoft has essentially won the Console market game.

Apart from this, I'd always been sceptical about the hardware power of consoles and haven't quite digested why they even exists? Most newer PCs are extremely powerful compared to measly specs of far more cheaper consoles. For instance, Xbox 360 has triple core Xenon CPU but each without guts and advanced features such as OoO. The main advantage of triple core CPU is that you can actually have up to 6 hardware threads resulting in smooth performance. But, surprisingly, most compilers and tools currently used for game development rely on mostly single threaded architecture and heavily depend on GPU power instead. The most new game titles ends up treating the console as if it had single core CPU and thus giving less throughput than the desktop PC. It is being speculated that after a year or two game developers would update their tool set to use two cores so they can match the desktop performance. Sony with their Cell processor does even worse with PS3. AnandTech has cool article on Xbox 360 and PS3 CPU and GPU with very interesting discussions like collision detection in games. Not surprisingly, Xbox and PS3 hardware costs lot more for Microsoft and Sony to manufacture and they are sold at net loss with the hope to recover price from licenses sold to game developers. Result? It's closed developer environment. Customer pays lot more for game than its actual cost. They buy less numbers of games and they finally get to run them on comparatively less powerful hardware than what they already own. Sony, in my view, is definitely to blame for not promoting PC gaming, make it more versatile with new PC compatible accessories and instead create this whole console mess mania.