Xbox 360 Revisions: After Falcon Comes Jasper
Written Wednesday, October 10, 2007 By Philip Maples
Microsoft didn’t want you to know about Falcon, and it certainly doesn’t want you to know about its successor Jasper. But that’s another secret we have to unveil.
Jasper is the code name for the next motherboard for the Xbox 360. It will becoming next August, in time for next year’s holiday season. Jasper is going to have a 65-nanometer graphics chip from ATI Technologies, as well as smaller memory chips. That isn’t much information, but it’s enough to tell us about their cost-reduction plan. If you ask me, it’s a bit of a slow pace.
I don’t know why it will take Microsoft essentially three years to cost reduce the size of the graphics chip through a manufacturing shrink. It doesn’t seem like they’re in a hurry to launch a redesigned Xbox 360 graphics chip, considering that Intel introduced its first 65-nm chips a long time ago. ATI uses TSMC to make its chips out of Taiwan, and TSMC hasn’t been the fastest at moving to 65-nm manufacturing. I understand these tasks are difficult and they take a lot of engineering resources. Microsoft has had to divert a lot of engineers to debugging problems with Xbox 360 reliability. Even so, you would think that they would have moved faster, since the move to 65-nm graphics chip will likely be one of the best things they can do to improve the reliability.
As readers of this blog know, Falcon is being used in Xbox 360s that are currently rolling off the production lines. It has a 65-nm IBM microprocessor on it, instead of the previous 90-nm version. It also has built-in HDMI. It carries lower costs than the previous motherboard, but not dramatically so. And Falcon has a 90-nm graphics chip on it.
Here’s something that Xbox 360 buyers will want to know. Both Falcon and its predecessor Zephyr (used in the Xbox 360 Elite) have different thermal solutions than the original Xbox 360. You’ve seen the heat sinks in the cut-out photos posted elsewhere. The Microsoft engineers believe those heat sinks will be sufficient as a solution for keeping Xbox 360s from overheating. From their point of view, you don’t have to wait until Jasper to get a reliable machine.
From a neutral point of view, I would guess that Jasper would be more reliable than Falcon on heat issues, and Falcon will be more reliable than its predecessors. The Falcon board has the same old 90-nm graphics chip on it. And many have pointed out that the big heat problem in the Xbox 360 is due to the graphics chip. The Falcon board will likely give off less heat. But the real serious heat saver looks like it will come with Jasper.
I’m sure that Jasper will carry lower costs than Falcon. That’s because it will have a smaller graphics chip and smaller memory chips as well. That translates into material savings, which means lower costs. If you’re wondering why you should care? Maybe you don’t need to care. But there are folks on the Falcon thread who want to know this kind of information and here it is. Certainly, Microsoft will be in a position to cut prices again by next August. If you recall, after it got Falcon out the door, Microsoft cut $50 off the price of the Xbox 360.
If I were Microsoft, I would try to pull in the date of Jasper as soon as possible. What they need right now is a lower cost so that they can be more competitive against the Wii and so they leave no openings for Sony. As of now, the 65-nm graphics chip isn’t done. They’re still working on it. Microsoft declined to comment, other than to say that it constantly updates the components in the Xbox 360 but doesn’t comment on them.
By Dean Takahashi