Gamecube vs XBox

Editorial

GameCube vs. X-box
By: Pretendo (GamecubeXL.com)

GameCube vs. X-Box-a clash between two titans-who will win? The Nintendo crafted GameCube? Or the large OS conglomerate's X-Box? These debates have sprung up on message boards across the web, lunch table conflicts, and many websites aboard. But still many are claiming X-Box the winner of it all. Well if thatís your mindset you couldnít be any further from the truth.

Lets start with what most people are thrown off by. Now when you look at X-Boxís specs just about everything looks better, from RAM, MHz, and Memory Bus Bandwidth, it exceeds GameCube. You may say "wow! X-Box looks a lot more powerful than GameCube", but thatís where the line is drawn-it just looks better. X-Box has a lot of power thatís a given, but itís nothing without control.

GameCube has hardware thatís a little dated when compared to X-Box, but thatís okay. GameCubeís one finely tweaked machine. The system architecture was designed to let the CPU/MPU, GPU, DSP, and RAM communicate, and interact with one another in total un-adulterated harmony.

Knowing most people wonít take my word with so little information lets start off with each consoles hardware development cycle shall we?

GameCube:
From what we know Nintendo has been developing GCN since maybe late 98-99í. From there Nintendo has partnered up with many of the industries finest corporations. From the $1,000,000,000 agreement with IBM, sound chip development to Factor5, GPU design to ArtX, memory to MoSys, and the list goes on and on. Now by letting companies who specialize in certain areas of the industry you can build a finer product. Not to mention your taking billions of dollars of costs and spreading them amongst many companies which is why GCN is expected to sell under $200.

Above: Mario leaning on the International Business Machine Logo (IBM)

X-Box:
Actual X-Box hardware development probably began a little later than GCN, but with couple extra-billion dollars to help them. So this gave Microsoft the advantage of more advanced hardware. Now from what we know X-Box is just collaboration between Microsoft (duh), Intel, and nVidia (wow thereís a lot of console experience in that bunch). Intelís providing the off the shelve PIII (which Microsoft said would be a "modified" chip, but probably only has a few new instruction sets to interact with the rest of the system). nVidiaís making the GPU, which is pretty much based, off the GeForce 3ís chip architecture (which like the PIII, only had a few more sets of instruction code for communication). Microsoft is basically getting off the shelve PC components from other manufacturers, from the 64MBís of DDR RAM, the 10GB HDD, and the DVD-ROM. So basically all Microsoft is doing are controller designs, legal deals, system packaging, and sending boxes full of unmarked bills to anonymous sources.

Now which company has the most experience, and the proper materials to build a console specifically geared, and enhanced for gaming? Iím hoping you said Nintendo. The only thing Microsoft has in their arsenal is a steady flow of cash, and their ever-ominous presence to their competitors. Nintendo has the one, and only Shigeru Miyamoto conferring with everybody from controller design, to the people at ArtX making the GPU for what developers/gamers want, and should expect from GCN.

Above: GameCube motherboard (it's A LOT smaller than you think)

Now with all that GCN has the power where it counts. Hereís a good exampleÖX-box has 64MBís of shared DDR RAM, GameCube has 24MBís of unified-standalone 1T-SRAM, along with 3MBís on-chip, and a supplemental 16MBís of SDRAM(AKA A-RAM("A" for Auxiliary)for a total of 43MBís. But thereís a huge flaw with X-Box, DDR RAM is some of the slowest chunkiest RAM around. Itís double-data-rate, but that only boosts memory bus bandwidth (I'll get to that later). Now the designers at Nintendo knew that to get the maximum performance of the high-speed chipsets theyíd need high speed RAM to boot. So with a call to MoSys Nintendo was able to get a deal to use the fastest RAM on the planet-MoSys 1T-SRAM. Calling it fast is a under statement. Its maximum latency has been clocked at only 10ns! The texture RAM has been clocked at half the speed 5ns! (Ns: Nanosecond 1-billionth of a second). This means that GCN will be able to stream textures in and out requiring less memory, and putting less strain on the CPU/GPU/MPU whose main job is to do calculations, and work with special Fx instead of crunching numbers.

Above: IBMís Gekko CPU (I told you it was small)

Memory Bus Bandwidth(MBB). Thatís how fast the RAM will be able to communicate with other parts of the system that use it. X-Box has a maximum of 6.4GB/s of it. GameCube has 3.2GB/s. But X-Boxís is shared. Shared you say? X-Box has 64MBís of DDR RAM, and the developer can partion it for whatever they need. For a very simple example a developer can set aside 20MBís as VRAM, 16 for sound, 20 for textures, 15 for animation, and 9 for the frame buffer(this is far simpler than what is actually done. Most developers will need over 20 portions). Now each of those portions will greedily take their share of the MBB, thus reducing transfer speeds to under 1GB/s (if your lucky). What does this mean to games? Well for the memory to be partioned the CPUís going to need to manage each of those. So instead of working with AI, physics, and special effects the CPU crunching numbers. This can lead to slowdown, and since the developers canít stream enough data in, and out quick enough more RAM will need to be used-taking away from textures, sound, animation, and the list goes on.

Sorry for blabbering on the technical side there, but if you understood that itís a pretty good point.

Iíll to make a simpler point. X-Box is sort of the "blaster" of the console world, and GCN the "lightsaber". X-Box uses superfluous amounts of unnecessary resources to accomplish a task. GCN is tweaked, accurate, and not a clumsy tool of justice. Get what Iím saying?

Polygons you say? Ahh yet another mercifully fought debate that has enraged for ages. Now lets go compare figures from both companiesÖ

X-Box: 125M/sec
GameCube: 6 million to 12 million polygons/second (Display capability assuming actual game with complexity model, texture, etc.)
(I ripped these from the official sites)

Now note how on the official X-Box site thereís no disclaimer attached to it. Itís obviously the maximum performance rating which means absolutely nothing. It does not compensate for player interaction; the polygons are dull, flat shaded, similarly shaped, textureless, and no special effects engaged.

GameCubeís poly performance figures are noticeably low. But in typical Nintendo fashion Yamauchi wanted to keep the hype down, and made sure the poly performance wasnít over the top. EA of Canada got theyíre hands on some development kits, and in February this year they had announced performance figures of 22M/sec@60 FPS. Now cut the FPS rating in half, and youíve doubled the poly count. And 30FPS, with 44M polygons on the screen thatís nothing short of awe inspiring.

Above: The ArtX developed GPU "Flipper"

X-Box hasnít exactly been seen running off final production hardware yet (which is supposedly in production as we speak). In fact it hasnít even been shown running off a development kit. So far the only thing weíve seen are what X-Box developers can do with PCís with a little more powerful than X-Box. And from what Iíve seen what developers have done on PCís more powerful than GCN, and X-Box, with 9 extra months of time, and Microsoft funding havenít been the light-years ahead of what was shown off at Space World 2000, where developers at the most had 2months to put something together (in fact the Rogue Squadron Cube demo was done in 20 days!). And all of those demos ran off actual units, which have the possibility of becoming inferior, as there are still some specifications to be released at E3 this May. So X-Boxís poly figures are in league if not inferior to GCNís performance rating.

Then finally another big issue-sound. Just recently Microsoft announced that X-Box will feature Dolby Digital 5.1 in game with no hit to performance. GameCube features the not much talked about Factor 5 MusyX sound chip(AKA DSP). From whatís been released by the ever so quiet Nintendo is that the MusyX chip is the most advanced sound processor of itís kind. It has been said to react to how you react in the game, and the overall visual atmosphere your in. Right now Nintendo/Factor5 has yet to release any specifications concerning outputs, but since the DVD movie version of GCN will support DD5.1, itís almost certain the game only version GCN will as well.

But that was all about sound output. Well I basically gave an overview of the taboo MusyX chip, but thatís all there is to talk about. X-Box doesnít even have a DSP. Just like older consoles before it, X-Box will only do pre-rendered repetitive scores of music. Not much innovation there (something Nintendo believes is key in this new era).

Well I hope I was able to sum up the bulk of your concerns with 1,660 words. Simply put GCN isnít going to be a technical push over for X-Box. GameCube has a fighting chance equal to if not better than the X-Box juggernaut. I know battles will still be fought, but I just wanted to calm the concerns of fellow Nintendoids-GameCube lives!

-Pretendo

PS: I know Iím biased and Iíve enraged a lot of X-Box fanboys. So why not send your questions and/or comments to me? Iíll gladly pick ones that arenít full of rage and see to it theyíre posted for all to see.

Pretendo@GameCubeXL.com