Sony has undoubtedly stolen the show at this year's Gamescom in Cologne, Germany, thanks largely to the long-awaited reveal of its slimmer, lighter and cheaper PlayStation 3.
Although that announcement will come as no surprise to most, what is surprising is that Microsoft - one of Sony's biggest competitors in the games console market - has had little to say at its own Gamescom conference. We've come to expect both Microsoft and Sony to trade blows with major announcements at annual gaming conventions, but the Xbox 360 manufacturer appears to be sitting out this particular round.
Given the ferocity at which the so-called console war has been fought in recent years, we'd be foolish to believe that Microsoft doesn't have a few more tricks up its sleeves, but what we don't know is whether or not the Redmond giant will respond to the slim PlayStation 3 with a slimline Xbox 360 of its own. That's not to say we can't conjecture, though, and with a pinch of salt at the ready, we're going to look forward at what the Xbox 360 of tomorrow could have to offer. Before we do, though, a quick walk down memory lane.
The Xbox 360 launched in November 2005 with a motherboard known internally as Xenon. The system, featuring a 90nm CPU and 90nm GPU, quickly became notorious for its failure-prone design and reports of dying Xbox 360 consoles were widespread.
Somewhat surprisingly, Microsoft chose not to alter its design until July 2007, opting instead to repair all faulty Xbox 360 consoles at its own expense. Furthermore, the July 2007 revision - codenamed Zephyr - featured little other than the inclusion of an HDMI port.
In September 2007, things became interesting. Microsoft introduced its Falcon revision, a console featuring a die-shrunk 65nm version of the triple-core Xenon CPU at its heart. In 2008, Microsoft began production of a Falcon motherboard without HDMI connectivity, known as Opus. Opus was then used as a replacement board for faulty Xenon consoles.
Fast forward to September 2008 and you have the arrival of the latest revision, codenamed Jasper. The current crop of Xbox 360 consoles feature both a 65nm CPU and a 65nm GPU, a combination that should, in theory, make for a more reliable machine - and it's worth noting that reports of the infamous Red Ring of Death (RRoD) have almost faded into memory.
If all the above hasn't yet sunk in, here's a useful little table to illustrate the known Xbox 360 revisions:
|Xbox 360 revision||Xenon||Zephyr||Falcon||Opus||Jasper||Valhalla*|
|Launch date||November 2005||July 2007||September 2007||June 2008||September 2008||Late 2009|
|CPU process||90nm||90nm||65nm||65nm||65nm||CPU and GPU on single die (65nm or 45nm)|
*rumoured revision, specification and availability unconfirmed
What's interesting, of course, is the final column to the right - titled Valhalla. That's a codename given to what's believed to be the final revision of the Xbox 360 console. Microsoft itself remains tight-lipped in regards to any internal hardware revisions, but recent rumours have suggested that Valhalla consoles could appear late in 2009.
Valhalla is believed to be built on a 65nm or 45nm fabrication process, and it'll squeeze both the CPU and GPU onto the same piece of silicon. The change could result in streamlined innards that pave the way for a smaller, more compact Xbox 360. But will we see an Xbox 360 Slim? We think not, and here's why.
Microsoft sells a wide range of accessories designed around the current Xbox 360 frame - including faceplates and proprietary hard drives, and a change in dimensions could make existing accessories redundant. Furthermore, the company has never previously introduced a smaller version of an existing console, and we've no reason to believe it'll start now.
That isn't to say the Xbox 360 won't undergo any changes at all, mind you. We reckon Valhalla consoles could feature an all-new cooling system, one that would hopefully lower the noise and heat generated by current models. By shrinking internal components, it's also feasible to assume that Microsoft may find a way to incorporate the often-mocked power brick into the console itself. Last but not least, we'd like to see a revised optical drive - and though we don't anticipate Microsoft venturing down the Blu-ray route, a quieter DVD drive wouldn't go amiss.
Recent rumours have suggested that Valhalla consoles will appear in the fall of 2009. Exactly what they'll contain remains unknown, and though we don't expect anything as drastic as the all-new PlayStation 3, we might see a few surprises - Wireless N connectivity and larger storage capacities being key examples. With this year's Tokyo Game Show kicking off on September 24th, we may find out sooner rather than later.
What would you like to see changed in the upcoming Valhalla revision? Share your thoughts in the HEXUS.community forums.