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Microsoft XBOX

The XBOX is something of an enigma in the video game industry.  Slated as the Microsoft’s (worldwide software giant) attempt to corner the market on console gaming, it has done nothing of the sort.  Though many ideas revolving around the XBOX are entirely unique to the system, it has not prevented poor sales in Japan (where Sony and Nintendo are based) from keeping the XBOX in a distant third place on the gaming scene.

Being a late newcomer into the 128-bit gaming market, the XBOX doesn’t offer anything new or exciting in its exterior design.  Many owners complain that the XBOX is too big and heavy compared to the PS2 and Gamecube.  Another problem that arose early on was the enormous size of the original controller.  They were later re-designed in a more compact and ergonomic form.  The XBOX can play DVDs like the PS2 and can be more affordable (and useful) than going out and purchasing a DVD player.

The XBOX really shines on the inside.  The thing that stands out most is the fact that the XBOX is built entirely out of off-the-shelf computer components rather than proprietary hardware.  The processor is an Intel Celeron 733 MHz, making it almost twice as fast as the Gamecube and almost three times faster than the PS2.  It boasts 64 MB of memory (twice as much as GC and PS2) running a massive 6.4 GB/s in bandwidth.

For the video processor, Microsoft chose the graphics-card leader Nvidia to produce a custom Xbox Graphics Processing Unit running at 250 MHz (twice as fast compared to PS2 and GC).  Many compare the performance to a low-end GeForce 4 card.  The polygon rate quoted by Microsoft is a daunting 125 M/s (consider that PS2 and GC run at about 9-13 M/s) leading many to disregard that spec entirely since its graphics performance is not 10 times better.

One interesting thing about the XBOX is the addition of an on-board hard drive.  It has a capacity of either 80 or 100 GB, and can be used to quickly load and save games without lengthy wait times.  In addition, users with XBOX Live! can use the hard drive to patch their games with updates, something that neither Gamecube nor PS2 can do.

What does this all mean for the consumer?  XBOX looks and plays great, without a single graphical hitch.  For a comparable computer system you would probably pay twice the price.  Unfortunately the game library is small compared to its competitors, but the sheer performance of the XBOX is something to be seen.  There are a number of flagship games only for XBOX, the most popular being Halo.  With the announcement of Halo 2 slated for a November 2004 release, Microsoft has secured 1.5 million pre-orders making it the biggest opening retail release of its kind (even bigger than any opening blockbuster movie).