Xbox 360 Technology Computer Science Essay

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This technical paper represents the technology and the features available on Xbox console player. The elaboration on this paper will cover the architecture, hardware and software and also the technical specification on the Xbox 360.

Microsoft's first video game console, the Xbox, has sold more than 20 million units worldwide since its introduction in 2001. Despite the Xbox's impressive power, the list of big-name video game titles to support it and the success of the Xbox's online component, Xbox LIVE, Sony's PlayStation 2 still outsold it.

As the game industry moved into the next generation of video game technology, Microsoft was determined to dethrone Sony's PlayStation. Enter the Xbox 360.

Microsoft rebuilt the Xbox from the ground up. From the name to the look to hardware and features, the Xbox 360 is a radically different and more powerful machine than its predecessor. Far more than a video game console, the Xbox 360 is a total media center that allows users to play, network, rip, and stream and download all types of media, including high-definition movies, music, digital pictures and game content.

The Xbox 360, like all video game consoles, is just a computer with hardware and software dedicated to the function of running video game software. The original Xbox was essentially a Windows PC with a modified Pentium III processor, some relatively powerful graphics and audio hardware and a modified version of the Microsoft operating system Windows 2000, all packaged in that distinctive black box.

Figure 1: Xbox 360


Figure 2: Architecture of X-box 360


CPU is the heart of the Xbox 360. Microsoft has outfitted the 360 with a 165-million transistor, multi-core processor running three 3.2-GHz PowerPC cores.

Figure 3: CPU - Intel® 733Mhz Celeron

Each core on the chip functions as a separate processor. Recently, hardware manufacturers have started combining several cores, or processors, onto one chip. This is a multi-core processor. Multi-core processors offer a combination of tremendous computing capabilities and efficient power consumption. They split heavy workloads over multiple powerful processors rather than giving all the work to one super-powerful processor.

The other interesting thing to note about the Xbox 360 CPU is that each core is capable of processing two threads simultaneously. Think of a thread as a set of instructions for a program's job. The core processes these instructions and does the heavy lifting to get the job done. A conventional processor can run a single execution thread. Because the Xbox 360 cores can each handle two threads at a time, the 360 CPU is the equivalent of having six conventional processors in one machine.


Graphics Processor Unit (GPU) is another powerful asset in the Xbox 360. The Xbox 360 boasts the new, custom-built 500-MHz ATI Graphics Processor card with 10 MB of embedded DRAM. While the 500-MHZ graphics processor is powerful, and 10 MB of DRAM provides ample memory for the GPU to do its job, the most innovative thing about this card is that it is built on unified shader architecture.

Figure 4: GPU - nVIDIA® - Graphics Chip

Shaders are computer programs that determine the final look of what you see on the screen when looking at computer animation. Shaders take rendered 3-D objects built on polygons (the building blocks of 3-D animation) and make them look more realistic. There are two types of shaders: pixel shaders and vertex shaders.

Pixel shaders alter the lighting, color and surface of each pixel. This in turn affects the overall color, texture and shape of 3-D objects built from these pixels. Pixel shaders help "smooth out" 3-D objects, giving them a more organic texture.

Vertex shaders work by manipulating an object's position in 3-D space. "Vertex" refers to the intersection of two coordinates in space. The machine maps the position of an animated object in 3-D space by giving it a value. These values are the x, y and z coordinates. By manipulating these variables, a vertex shader creates realistic animation and special effects such as "morphing."

The shaders make billions of computations every second to perform their specific tasks. These computations are performed in steps through a series of computational components. Think of an assembly line. In the world of hardware, these assembly lines are called pipelines.

DVD Storage

Early production runs of the Xbox 360 are equipped with a 12x DVD drive, capable of a maximum read rate of 15.85 MB/s. The original production DVD drives were manufactured by both LG and Toshiba. Beginning in November 2006, a new model the BenQ VAD6038 was introduced, which is said to run faster than the previous models and, in addition, is much quieter. There is a new drive by LiteOn.

Figure 5: DVD ROM Drive

Games are stored on standard dual-layer DVD-ROMs with 7 GB of usable space available for game content. The option to apply a regional lockout to games is available to publishers, although DVD region codes are always enforced for movies. Microsoft has implemented methods to prevent hacking through the drive. Later drive models have the external debug triggering removed and black hard glue added to cover all the chip and controller pins.

The drive is able to read both DVD±R and DVD±RW in addition to being able to play DVD-Video out of the box, unlike its predecessor, which required the purchase of an add-on remote.The system is also capable of playing standard CDs along with CD-R/RW, CD-DA, CD-ROM XA, CD-Extra, WMA-CD, MP3-CD, and JPEG Photo CD.

Hard Drive Storage.

The Pro configuration of the system comes with a detachable 60 GB hard drive and it is optional to separately purchase one for the Arcade version of the Xbox 360. The total capacity of the Xbox 360 Pro hard drive is 60 GB. Of this amount, approximately 7 GB is reserved for system use: approximately 4 GB of that portion is reserved for game title caching and other hard drive specific elements in games that support the hard drive, and an additional 2 GB is reserved for use by the Xbox 360 backwards-compatibility software. This leaves almost 54 GB of free space, rounded down to 53 GB in the Dashboard, for saving game files, and downloaded content, and media files (such as music and video).

Figure 6: Hard Drive


Figure 7: Motherboard

The initial motherboard version was known as "Xenon" and used a 203W power supply. The "Zephyr" revision was largely the same aside from the addition of an HDMI port. "Falcon" incorporated a 65 nm CPU, new 80 nm GPU, and came packaged with a 175W power supply. "Jasper" (released late August or early September 2008) used both a 65 nm CPU and GPU, as well as 256MB of flash memory on-board (this was to help run a then-recent Dashboard update. Without this internal memory, a hard drive or memory card was required). The power supply was also reduced to 150W in the "Jasper" revision. The power connector on the back of the system incorporated a "keying" system that will prevent plugging a lower-rated power supply into an older system. Some stores now exclusively carry units with the Jasper motherboard. A new motherboard version called "Vejle" has also been released into public in the form of the slim Xbox 360 S with a 45 nm integrated CPU, GPU, and eDRAM.






90 nm


Original Release




Introduced HDMI port




Power consumption lowered




Available replacement for Xenon




Introduced 65 nm GPU




Combined chip (GPU & CPU)

Table 1: List Revisions for Motherboard


Xbox 360 would eventually run under IBM's Xenon processor. The cores of the Xenon processor were developed using a slightly-modified version of the PlayStation 3's Cell Processor PPE architecture. According to David Shippy and Mickie Phipps, the IBM employees were "hiding" their work from Sony and Toshiba."

The Xbox 360's original graphical user interface was the Xbox 360 Dashboard; a tabbed interface that featured five "Blades" (formerly four blades), and was designed by AKQA. It could be launched automatically when the console booted without a disc in it, or when the disc tray was ejected, but the user had the option to select what the console does if a game is in the tray on start up, or if inserted when already on. A simplified version of it was also accessible at any time via the Xbox Guide button on the gamepad. This simplified version showed the user's gamercard, Xbox Live messages and friends list. It also allowed for personal and music settings, in addition to voice or video chats, or returning to the Xbox Dashboard from the game.

On November 19, 2008, the Xbox 360's dashboard was changed from the "Blade" interface, to a dashboard reminiscent of that present on the Zune and Windows Media Center, known as the "New Xbox Experience" or NXE.

Since the console's release, Microsoft has released several updates for the Dashboard software. These updates have included adding new features to the console, enhancing Xbox Live functionality and multimedia playback capabilities, adding compatibility for new accessories, and fixing bugs in the software. The latest Dashboard update was made available on April 6, 2010.

Xbox 360 System Software is the updatable software and operating system for the Xbox 360. It resides on a 16 MB file system and has access to a maximum of 32 MB of the system's memory. While the System Software updates may sometimes provide updates to the system's firmware, it is unlikely that this occurs with many, if any, updates. The updates can be downloaded from the Xbox Live service directly to the Xbox 360 and subsequently installed. Microsoft has also provided the ability to download system software updates from their respective official Xbox website to their PCs and then storage media, from which the update can be installed to the system. Updates can also be installed from game discs that require the updates to be able to play the game. All updates are mandatory if the user signs into Xbox Live. The latest version of the software is 2.0.12613.0 released on November 1, 2010. The Update include a specialized menu layout optimized for motion navigation as well as a significant visual refresh for the standard controller-navigated menus to match the style of the "Metro" interface used in the Zune HD and Windows Phone 7

The Netflix application is available for US and Canada users only. The Sky Player application is available for UK and Ireland users only.

Xbox 360 also can be equipped with Kinect. Kinect is a "controller-free gaming and entertainment experience" for the Xbox 360. It was first announced on June 1, 2009 at the Electronic Entertainment Expo, under the codename, Project Natal. The add-on peripheral enables users to control and interact with the Xbox 360 without a game controller by using gestures, spoken commands and presented objects and images. The Kinect accessory is compatible with all Xbox 360 models, connecting to new models via a custom connector, and to older ones via a USB and mains power adapter. During their CES 2010 keynote speech, Robbie Bach and Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer went on to say that Kinect will be released during the holiday period (November-January) and it will work with every 360 console. Its name and release date of November 4, 2010 were officially announced on June 13, 2010, prior to Microsoft's press conference at E3 2010.

Figure 8: Kinect Device

At E3 2008, at Microsoft's Show, Microsoft's Aaron Greenberg and Marc Whitten announced the new Xbox 360 interface called the "New Xbox Experience" (NXE). The update was intended to ease console menu navigation. Its GUI uses the Twist UI, previously used in Windows Media Center and the Zune. Its new Xbox Guide retains all Dashboard functionality (including the Marketplace browser and disk ejection) and the original "Blade" interface.

The NXE also provides many new features. Users can now install games from disc to the hard drive to play them with reduced load time and less disc drive noise, but each game's disc must remain in the system in order to run. A new, built-in Community system allows the creation of digitized Avatars that can be used for multiple activities, such as sharing photos or playing Arcade games like 1 vs. 100. The update was released on November 19, 2008.

While previous system updates have been stored on internal memory, the NXE was the first to require a storage device-at least a 128 MB memory card or a hard drive.

The Xbox 360 supports videos in Windows Media Video (WMV) format (including high-definition and PlaysForSure videos), as well as H.264 and MPEG-4 media. The December 2007 dashboard update added support for the playback of MPEG-4 ASP format videos. The console can also display pictures and perform slideshows of photo collections with various transition effects, and supports audio playback, with music player controls accessible through the Xbox 360 Guide button. Users may play back their own music while playing games or using the dashboard, and can play music with an interactive visual synthesizer.

Music, photos and videos can be played from standard USB mass storage devices, Xbox 360 proprietary storage devices (such as memory cards or Xbox 360 hard drives), and servers or computers with Windows Media Center or Windows XP with Service Pack 2 or higher within the local-area network in streaming mode. As the Xbox 360 uses a modified version of the UPnP AV protocol, some alternative UPnP servers such as uShare (part of the GeeXboX project) and MythTV can also stream media to the Xbox 360, allowing for similar functionality from non-Windows servers. This is possible with video files up to HD-resolution and with several codecs (MPEG-2, MPEG-4, WMV) and container formats (WMV, MOV, TS).

As of 27 October 2009,[110] UK and Ireland users are also able to access live and on-demand streams of Sky television programming. Canadian users can access a streaming HDTV service from Telus.

At the 2007, 2008, and 2009 Consumer Electronics Shows, Microsoft had announced that IPTV services would soon be made available to use through the Xbox 360. In 2007, Microsoft chairman Bill Gates stated that IPTV on Xbox 360 was expected to be available to consumers by the holiday season, using the Microsoft TV IPTV Edition platform. In 2008, Gates and president of Entertainment & Devices Robbie Bach announced a partnership with BT in the United Kingdom, in which the BT Vision advanced TV service, using the newer Microsoft Mediaroom IPTV platform, would be accessible via Xbox 360, planned for the middle of the year. BT Vision's DVR-based features would not be available on Xbox 360 due to limited hard drive capacity. In 2010, while announcing version 2.0 of Microsoft Mediaroom, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer mentioned that AT&T's U-verse IPTV service would enable Xbox 360s to be used as set-top boxes later in the year. As of January 2010, IPTV on Xbox 360 has yet to be deployed beyond limited trials.



Triple-core IBM designed Xenon, with each core capable of simultaneously processing two threads, and can therefore operate on up to six threads at once.

Graphics processing

Handled by the ATI Xenos, which has 10 MB of eDRAM. Its main memory pool is 512 MB in size.


Wired and wireless controllers, faceplates for customization, headsets for chatting, a webcam for video chatting, dance mats and Gamercize for exercise, three sizes of memory units and four sizes of hard drives (20 GB, 60 GB, 120 GB and 250 GB).

Storage media

4GB to 250GB


Connecting to new models via a custom connector, and to older ones via a USB and mains power adapter.

A/V outputs

Composite video, S-Video, component video, SCART, Digital Optical TOSLINK, and stereo RCA analog audio.


Up to 1080i

Controller ports

Wireless controller


3.86 kg (8.5 lb)


320Ã-100Ã-260 mm (12.5Ã-4Ã-10.5 in)


As a conclusion, Xbox 360 is much better than existing Xbox because we can see from this technical paper, the features are more interesting and it is enhance with the new technology. Furthermore, to all Xbox 360 users, they are eligible to get free Xbox Live Silver membership and also Live Gold membership on one-month trial. This will add more fun for those using this console.






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