Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Tantalizing But Flawed

I would love to know the real scoop on the semiconductor challenges and drama involved in developing a high-end gaming console like Microsoft's Xbox 360. A surprising story originating at DAC, - The truth about last year's Xbox 360 recall dangles some tantalizing clues.

I find the story frustrating and a bit flawed in helping to get to the truth of the matter. The article blames Microsoft's troubles on "bypassing an ASIC vendor to go directly to TSMC". But then it mentions ATI Technologies as a likely ASIC vendor. Huh? ATI, an ASIC vendor?

I would call ATI more of a "contract design house" in this deal. They have considerable graphics IP, and designed the GPU for the Xbox 360. (NVIDIA designed the GPU for the original Xbox.) Perhaps Microsoft decided to take only the design (netlist or GDS2) from ATI, and manage the silicon operations and production ramp themselves. That could be where they went astray. By not contracting with an experienced semiconductor company (like ATI or NVIDIA) to manage all the silicon issues, they exposed themselves to more risk. And maybe that came back to bite them in the form of the product defects exemplified by the "red ring of death" and led to product recalls.

Penny wise and pound foolish, Microsoft?

1 comment:

Sandeep said...

I would say they went the netlist way (or even the RTL way). It is about control over the intellectual property that goes inside their boxes.

It is not unlike Apple's purchase of PA and its intention to design its iPhone chips in-house.\, though Apple has considerable chip design expertise, going back to its PowerPC days.

But, even if it did, it isnt as if they suddenly put software engineers to work with HDL, or even that they didnt poach people with fab expertise. I think the story goes deeper than that. In my honest opinion, it would be underestimating the strain that games would put on the 360 chip.