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Building the next consoles: processors

Processors are the heart of any console. Also known as the CPU, they process all of the data in the system, making them the most vital component of any machine. Although having a faster processor doesn’t necessarily make for better games, it doesn’t stop the manufacturers trying to one-up each other.

Out of the three next-gen console makers, only Sony has revealed anything significant about their new processor. There are a few hints emerging about Microsoft’s next machine and as usual Nintendo have kept all details under-wraps.

Sony’s next machine, the PlayStation 3, will use a processor called the ‘Cell’, and is being developed in collaboration with IBM and Toshiba. It is essentially 72 processors packed in together, managed by a co-ordinating chip, which produces a huge amount of computing power.

This harnessing of multiple processors results in the ‘Cell’ being able to complete 100 times more calculations per second than a 2.5GHz Pentium 4. That works out at a staggering 250GHz of raw computing power.

This awesome CPU will allow the PS3 to multitask, to do several things at once. This will prove very useful when it comes to incorporating other features such as PVR (personal video recorder) technology into the machine. It will also allow games to become more detailed, complex and run faster.

So how can Nintendo and Microsoft beat this? Well, we honestly don’t know, unless Intel can suddenly produce a super-chip from somewhere. It is estimated that by 2006, conventional processors will only be u to around 12GHz, far slower than the ‘Cell’ will be.

It’s predicted that Microsoft will use an Intel chip, probably not custom made and not the top of the range model, much like the 700MHz Pentium III used in the current Xbox. They may opt to use several of these, maybe a dual processor layout. This would still allow the machine to play extremely complex and advanced games, but maybe not multitask as much as the PS3.

On the Nintendo front, there’s no details whatsoever, with development being undertaken behind a thick veil of secrecy.

Although we don’t yet know that much about the next processors, we can safely assume that they will open new doors for the gaming industry. Games will be able to be bigger, faster, more complex and heavily detailed. Also anticipate the incorporation of other features, making consoles more of a home entertainment system. Those games you always thought would be impossible to make may just be able to be made after all.

The author of this fine article

is the Editor at Thunderbolt, having joined in November 2000. Get in touch on Twitter @PhilipMorton.

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