This information confirms reports received from developers over the past weeks, with the first solid facts about the Xbox 2 slipping out after Microsoft briefed a number of its key development partners on the current state of the system.
Our sources indicate that the console will use “four or more” of the IBM PowerPC processors, an architecture which will force game developers to significantly rethink the way that games are programmed in order to take full advantage of it.
It seems likely now that all three next generation consoles will utilise multiple powerful processors – with Sony’s PS3 expected to use up to eight of its new Cell microprocessors, the Xbox 2 now known to be a multi-processor architecture, and Nintendo’s “N5” (about which, admittedly, little is known) also likely to follow down the multiple PowerPC route, as Nintendo also has a deal with IBM and will almost certainly end up using very similar chips to Microsoft.
The real surprise in this leaked information, however, is that rumours which circulated last week claiming that the Xbox 2 was not guaranteed to have a hard drive installed as standard are, in fact, completely true.
Although all aspects of the specification are subject to change at this early stage (bear in mind that at this point in the lifespan of the original Xbox, almost none of the specifications as announced made it into the final product unchanged), our source confirmed that developers have been told “not to bank on” having a hard drive as a standard component of the system.
Although a final decision on whether to cull the hard drive from the specification is thought to be still under discussion, Microsoft is known to be toying with the idea of supplying the hard drive as an add-on peripheral (not as part of an “Xbox 2 Live” kit, as some sites reported last week, since such a thing won’t exist – the console will be sold fully online-enabled), while using extremely high capacity flash memory cards for data storage.
If the company does go ahead with a basic specification that doesn’t include a hard drive, it’s likely to be seen as a backwards step by developers and consumers alike – especially since it’s widely assumed that the PlayStation 3 will include an internal hard drive, and may even incorporate digital video recording functionality similar to the recently released PSX.
Crucially, the removal of the hard drive will also make the provision of backwards compatibility with Xbox games even harder – already a major difficulty for the system, since the architecture is so radically different to its older sibling. Many games use the Xbox hard drive as a kind of “scratch disc” to improve load times and overall performance, which means that it may not be possible to play a significant number of Xbox titles on Xbox 2 without first investing in the hard drive peripheral – if at all.