Console wars

GamePro reports NPD sales data: Console <th> June sales </th> Wii <td> 666,700 </td> PS3 <td> 405,500 </td> Xbox 360 <td> 219,800 </td> PS2 <td> 188,800 </td> Of note, these are sales to end users, not number of consoles shipped; Microsoft prefers to cite the latter. The Wii is now the #1 console in the US by installed base. So it seems as though as predicted, the Xbox 360’s best days could be behind it.

How to make a red ring of death

Ever wondered how Microsoft managed to launch a game console that routinely overheated, burned out, and had to be replaced? EE Times has the story. Microsoft decided to try to save a few bucks by designing a key graphics ASIC themselves, instead of going to a company with experience in chip design. They sent their design straight to the fabricators. It was only when the console was in full production that they learned about the overheating issue.

The imminent death of the Xbox 360

When the Xbox 360 came out, it was portrayed as something everyone wanted, the amazing new console that was selling out everywhere. Yet the next week, when I walked into Costco they had a pallet piled high with the things. When the Wii was launched, it became the console that was really selling out everywhere. But by then, Microsoft had moved on to their new story, that the Xbox 360 was the biggest selling next-gen console.

It’s Schadenfreude Friday!

Microsoft’s Xbox division has announced their results for Fiscal Year 2006. Highlights: Total loss of $1.2 billion. Operating losses up 183%. Revenues down 10% YTY in Q4 because of “decreased Xbox 360 console sales”; specifically… Sales dropped from 1.8 million units per quarter to just 700,000 units per quarter, YTY. Revenue from sales of games down 28%. This is awesome news, making it six years of losses to date. Microsoft say they expect to make a profit in the upcoming year.

Wii in your living room

Nintendo’s web site has a hidden gem: filed away under Iwata Asks… you’ll find a series of lengthy articles talking about the entire design process behind the Wii. If that’s not enough Wii to float your boat, BusinessWeek are also getting in on the act.

Nintendo have gone in pretty much the opposite direction to the rest of the industry. Sony and Microsoft are in an arms race of graphical and CPU firepower. The Xbox 360 has a custom IBM PowerPC CPU which has 3 G5-like processor cores, each at 3.2GHz, with a 5.4GHz front-side bus to connect it to the graphics chip. The PS3 has a 64 bit PowerPC core for general purpose tasks, connected to 7 independent vector processor cores known as SPEs, all at 3.2GHz. (There are 8 SPEs on the chip, but to increase yield they are using chips where 1 is faulty, as well as the faultless ones.) For the tasks needed for video games—3D geometry and the like—each SPE is allegedly about as fast as a general purpose CPU of similar speed.

So, 3 CPUs for Microsoft, 8 for Sony, all 3.2GHz—what about Nintendo? Turns out the Wii has one 729MHz PowerPC, a 243MHz graphics processor, and…er, that’s it. In terms of raw power, it’s a souped up GameCube. Instead of counting on bleeding edge CPU power, Nintendo are counting on innovative gameplay, convenience, and a host of other subtle design factors.

I won’t bother to talk about the controller, because you can read about that everywhere. Suffice it to say, the idea is to dramatically increase the approachability of the system. If you can point, you can play, hopefully. The rest of the design is what interests me more, and doesn’t seem to have received as much attention.