Microsoft set to shake the gaming world.

Shocked at the price of the Sony PlayStation 2?
Keep your fingers crossed -- hopefully the X-Box will be cheaper.

Immediately after Sony launched the Playstation 2, Microsoft announced a hot new product that could possibly rock the foundations of computer gaming as we know it. The X-Box was unvieled in March at the Game Developers Conference in San Jose, California.

The X-Box is a game console being promoted by Microsoft to compete against Sony's Playstation 2, Sega's Dreamcast and Nintendo's upcoming                           console code-named Dolphin.

Inside the X-Box

The X-Box will be based on a variant of the Windows 2000 kernel using DirectX 8 APIs and powered by hardware typically associated with personal computers.

At the heart of the X-Box is the processor - the most important chip in any game machine. There were rumors that the X-Box will be powered by an AMD Athlon processor running at either 600 or 650MHz. However, in a last minute decision made by Microsoft, AMD was dropped in favor of Intel due perhaps to pricing and availability concerns. Microsoft has committed to an Intel Pentium III processor, but hasn't decided on a clock speed yet. Will it sport a 1-Gigahertz processor? It remains to be seen - the decision will probably depend on the price of the supersonic chip in the months to come. At the very least, the X-Box will have a P3-600 to begin with.

The X-Box will be the first video game console to incorporate an 8-gigabyte hard drive. Microsoft believes that the drive will give game developers greater freedom in creating detailed worlds by using the drive as a sort of work area. It will also allow players to save games on disk instead of memory cards should they choose to. The X-Box will still support memory cards if only to complement the hard drive or to make the saved games portable.

The X-Box opens up the possibility of downloading mods and demo versions of games from the Internet. But somehow because of this facility, we think the pesky habit of game publishers posting bug fixes and game patches on the Net will continue. We are quite sure that the publishers breathed a collected sigh of relief with this move by Microsoft. Heck, we can name a couple of careless publishers without batting an eye.

Microsoft plans to give the X-Box a unified memory architecture where the console's video and system bus share in the 64 megabytes of DDR (double data rate) memory. It will give the game developers the ability to fill nearly all 64 megabytes with memory-hungry textures, and eliminate the need for texture caching, which can tax the hard drive and system bus.

Games will run off the console's 4x DVD drive, which also has hardware built-in for movie playback.

X got game!

Microsoft is wooing game developers who are tired of keeping up with the changes in the PC platform. With the X-Box, developers can target the hardware specifically and be confident that they are going to be hitting 100 percent of that market - something that's obviously impossible in the PC space due to the wide range of PC specifications that they [game developers] have to address.

Several major game firms have already signed on to the X-Box camp. Activision, a video game powerhouse, is among the companies that will release games for the X-Box. Other companies include Konami, Sierra and Acclaim.

Multiplayer games will increase in popularity as more consoles come fitted for broadband connectivity. The X-Box will have more connectivity options than any other console built so far. It will have a built-in 10/100-ethernet adapter for high-speed Net access and a port for a standard 56K V.90 analog modem, which will ship separately.

Sound and Video

For sound, Microsoft has chosen an I3DL2 sound chip, which boasts support for 64 audio channels, 3D audio, and MIDI DLS2. Additionally, the X-Box will have full Dolby Digital AC3 support for games that support the format. It is not yet certain if the console can also decode AC3 audio for movie playback - if it did, you'll need to hook it up to home theater amps and speakers in your living room or den.

A custom A/V-out port will support video output to standard TVs, CRT monitors, LCD, flat panel displays and high-definition television (HDTV). The maximum resolution is reported to be an eye-popping 1920x1080.

Currently, the X-Box specs has controller ports for up to four USB gamepads and a fifth USB port for additional peripherals that could possibly include a mouse, keyboard, or camera.