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3DO MX chipset - The technology Nintendo almost used in an N64-successor for 1999

camineet

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Mar 30, 2007
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From EGM Number 91, February 1997.
Sorry it's so blurry, I downloaded the issue from retromags.com, but I typed it out below so it can be read.




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The new hardware picture wouldn't be complete without including 3DO, so we'll now shift gears over to the MX. Like the M2 before it, 3DO claim the MX will be its generation's top gun. Our Q-spies report that the M2's successor is already past the design document state and is actually living breathing hardware. At the moment, the MX chipset is physically huge (it can barely fit on a good-sized table) but once 3DO gets all the bugs out, they'll work on reducing the size (common practuce in the hardware biz). By all accounts, the MX is a screamer, with close to 5 million polygons boogying around the screen at once. Not only can the MX produce N64/M2-type graphic effects like Trilinear Mip Mapping and Edge Antialiasing, but it can handle such esoteric realtime graphic functions like Anisotropic filtering, Phong-Lighting and Surface Antialiasing. The secret to the MX's ultra-high performance lies in its radical hardware architecture. Unlike all others before it, the MX's RAM is incorporated into the same chip as the CPU and graphic processor. Set up in this manner, game information can now run at the same clock speed as the CPU (a 110 MHz Power PC 604) or the graphic processor (which is basically a 128-bit ASIC). The MX is less than a year away from completion, but 3DO has already shown the technology to a large Japanese software company who has shown interest in developing for the machine and perhaps even buying the hardware rights outright. The mystery software company is led by a certain Mr. Hironobu Sakaguchi, but you didn't hear it from me.

Nintendo was very impressed with MX technology. By 1997, the 3DO Systems group was owned by Samsung and renamed CagEnt. Nintendo offered to outright buy CagEnt and the MX chipset from Samsung in 1997. Nintendo was working with CagEnt to redesign MX around a MIPS CPU because Nintendo and its partners didn't have a license for PowerPC CPUs at the time. MX was the first game console chipset to use embedded memory (well PS2 was in development at the time but MX dates back to 1995-1996), and it is said that Dolphin/GameCube's design owes something to the M2 and MX. The plan was to replace Nintendo 64 as early as Christmas 1999 in Japan with an MX-based console. The deal between Samsung/CagEnt and Nintendo broke down because they couldn't agree about the console's media, DVD vs cartridges. Nintendo walked away and made a deal with ArtX in 1998 (and IBM in 1999) to develop Dolphin/GameCube.


From the EGM clip, even Square Soft was apparently interested in buying the MX to use as its own console! This rumor was also in GameFan.


Next Generation Online April 1998 article about Nintendo and MX

http://groups.google.com/group/rec.games.video.sony/msg/b4477af5daddd0c7?dmode=source

Although experts acknowledge that the video games business is surprisingly
incestuous by even Jerry Springer’s standards, recent developments taking place
within two of Seattle’s biggest corporations have made that fact clear for the
whole world to see. Next Generation Online exclusively reports on how Nintendo
and Microsoft wound up eyeing the same company’s chipset for the year 2000’s
biggest game console.



Few in the video game industry are aware of a rift that formed between Nintendo
and partner Silicon Graphics, Inc. just as their jointly-developed 64-bit game
console rolled off production lines. Already beginning to feel financial
strains due to changing market conditions for their high-end graphics
workstations, Silicon Graphics found itself arguing over component profits with
notoriously tight-fisted Nintendo as the system’s American launch MSRP
was lowered at the last minute before release. Although the companies
maintained their working relationship, the decidedly traditional and hard-
lined management at Nintendo had taken offense, and no longer considered SGI a
lock for development of Nintendo’s post-N64 game console.



Then several important events took place during 1997 inside of Nintendo, SGI
and one of their former competitors. Weak Japanese sales of the N64 and its
software lowered the company’s confidence in the N64 platform, and American
sales were projected to fall off as key internal software titles were
continuing to miss release targets by entire seasons. Demonstrably strong sales
of PlayStation games in the inexpensive CD format had weakened the appeal
of Nintendo’s third-party development contracts, and Nintendo started to
believe that it was in the company’s immediate interest to prepare a new
console for release as soon as Fall of 1999. At the same time, a number of
Silicon Graphics key Nintendo 64 engineers left the company to form the new
firm ArtX, with the express intention to win a development contract for
Nintendo’s next hardware by offering Nintendo the same talent pool sans SGI’s
manufacturing and management teams.



As it turns out, most of the industry’s top 3D chip experts have been lured
away from smaller firms by accelerator developers NVidia, 3Dfx and NEC, so
Nintendo’s pool of potential partners was already shrinking when it began to
shop around for a new console design team. Enter CagEnt, a division of consumer
electronics manufacturer Samsung, and here’s where the confusion begins: CagEnt
was formerly owned by 3DO, where it operated under the name 3DO
Systems and developed the M2 technology that was sold to Panasonic for $100
Million some time ago. When 3DO decided to exit the hardware business, it sold
off the 3DO Systems division to Samsung, which named it CagEnt and gave it
roughly two years to turn a profit. CagEnt owned three key technologies: a DVD
playback system, a realtime MPEG encoding system called MPEG Xpress, and a
completed game console with a brand new set of console-ready chip
designs called the MX. Adrian Sfarti, who had formerly developed the graphics
architecture design for SGI’s Indy workstation, was the head of the MX project.



The MX chipset was a dramatically enhanced version of the M2 chipset sold to
Panasonic and Matsushita, now capable of a 100 million pixel per second
fillrate and utilizing two PowerPC 602 chips at its core. (CagEnt’s executives
also boasted of a four million triangle per second peak draw rate, though the
quality of those tiny triangles would of course have been limited). Nintendo
executives Howard Lincoln and Genyo Takeda were among a group of
visiting dignitaries to tour CagEnt’s facilities, culminating in late 1997 or
early 1998 with a formal offer from Nintendo to acquire CagEnt outright. At
this point, Nintendo had terminated its development contract with SGI (see
SGI/MIPS Loses Nintendo Business).



As purchase negotiations continued, Nintendo worked with CagEnt engineers on
preliminary plans to redesign the MX architecture around a MIPS CPU, as
Nintendo’s manufacturing partner NEC has a MIPS development license but none to
produce the PowerPC 602. Nintendo and CagEnt flip-flopped on whether the
finished machine would include a built-in CD-ROM or DVD-ROM as its primary
storage medium, with Nintendo apparently continuing to insist that ROM
cartridges would remain at the core of its new game system. Yet as DVD and MPEG
technologies would have been part of the CagEnt acquisition, Nintendo would
probably have found some reasonable use for those patents eventually. The
MX-based machine was to be ready for sale in Japan in fall 1999 -- in other
words, development of games for the new console would begin within literally
months, starting with the shipment of dev kits to key teams at Rare and
Nintendo’s Japanese headquarters.



Although the asking price for CagEnt was extremely low by industry standards,
talks unexpectedly broke off in early 1998 when Samsung and Nintendo apparently
disagreed on final terms of CagEnt’s ownership, leaving Samsung’s management

desperate for a suitor to buy the company. CagEnt aggressively shopped itself
around to other major industry players. SGI’s MIPS division, reeling from the
loss of its N64 engineers to ArtX, allegedly considered
acquiring CagEnt as a means to offer Nintendo the technology it had already
decided it liked. Sega, 3Dfx and other companies toured CagEnt’s facilities and
finally CagEnt found a suitor.




In early April, Microsoft’s WebTV division ultimately acquired all of the
assets of CagEnt and hired on most of its key personnel. WebTV and Microsoft
apparently intend to use the MX technology at the core of their next WebTV
device, which as might be guessed from the graphics technology, will no longer
be limited to simple web browsing and E-mailing functionality. The next
generation WebTV box will be Microsoft’s low-cost entry into the world of
game consoles, melding the functionality of a low-end computer with a
television set-top box and game-playing abilities. Having worked with Sega
behind the scenes since 1993 or 1994, Microsoft has been quietly gathering the
knowledge it needs to market and develop games for such a device, and now it
has the hardware that even Nintendo would once have wanted for itself.



As for Nintendo, all signs point to a very unpleasant near future for the
Japanese giant. Lacking internal hardware engineers with the necessary
expertise to develop the next high-end chipset, Nintendo is now all but forced
to either partner with ArtX, or one of the 3D accelerator makers who have been
sucking the industry dry of all its most talented people, or perhaps join with
one of its other major rivals. The latest word has it that ArtX and
Nintendo are in talks to work together, perhaps under circumstances similar to
those under which Nintendo would have acquired CagEnt. Unlike CagEnt, however,
ArtX does not have a finished console or even half-completed chip designs to
sell Nintendo, and it would be unlikely that Nintendo would be able to scrape
together a reasonable system by Christmas 2000 with ArtX’s present limitations.
Additionally, SGI’s recent series of strategic lawsuits
against Nvidia and ArtX seem to be intended to serve as garlic and crosses to
stave off any Nintendo alliance with its tastiest potential allies: Nintendo
might well fear developing a new console only to find out that its core
technologies or employees are depending upon infringed patents, regardless of
the merits of those patents or the lawsuits.



Meanwhile, the company continues to harbor tremendous concerns for the future
of the Nintendo64 platform, which appears to be sinking deeper and deeper in
Japan by the day. Nintendo’s negotiations with CagEnt shed light upon the
tremendous dependence the Japanese company now has upon Rare, which has been
responsible for a number of the Nintendo 64’s best-looking games and at least
two of the machine’s most popular—Diddy Kong Racing and Goldeneye 007.
As Nintendo’s Japanese development teams have never been known for their
ability to stick to release schedules, the company’s third-party rosters have
remained bare and its management has remained dogmatically fixated upon silicon
chips as its sole means of profit, Nintendo’s problems have set the stage for a
truly interesting set of negotiations come this E3.



To sum up, readers need to understand that decisions and relationships made
early in the design process of a new console can dictate a company’s standing
in the industry for the following five years. Ripple effects from these
decisions can be felt in a company’s bottom line can be felt for even longer.
Nintendo has found itself in the unenviable position of being without an
established partner and with the clock ticking down. If Nintendo should
choose to go with ArtX (assuming it’s able to fight off SGI’s lawsuit), it will
need to complete a chip design is an extremely short period of time. If it
doesn’t go with ArtX, Nintendo will have to find a technology that is already
suited to the console market or one that can readily be changed to suit a
similar purpose. Either way, at this point the chances of Nintendo hitting its
desired 2000 release with a new system are extremely slim.
 

camineet

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Mar 30, 2007
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jarrod said:
I wonder how the MX console would've stacked up against Dreamcast?

The "safe" version of MX without embedded RAM in the graphics chipset, which was only twice as powerful as M2: Dreamcast would've beaten it without a doubt.

The "ambitious" version of MX *with* embedded RAM in the chipset, allowing higher fillrate & polygon count: MX might've rivaled or even perhaps beaten Dreamcast.



Here is the first mentioning of the MX that I ever saw, from Intelligent Gamer Fusion magazine:
Also mentioned in the article is how two new chipsets are supposedly under development. One is an enhanced M2 codenamed MX and is described as 'M2 on steroids'. BTW it is mentioned that the M is really most likely a common moniker used for version 2 type projects meaning it stands for mark, thus 'Mark 2'. And in MX the X is obviously a variable. MX so far 'offers twice the performance of the M2 chipset...currently intended for PC and arcade use...'. Finally the totally newer chipset is codenamed S42 - S being just another letter like M and 42 being the one calculated as the meaning of life by the computer Deep Thought in the Hithchiker's Guide to the Galaxy. S42 being post 64bit era forecasting that probably is the equivalent of the M2 when the Opera was being made.
That then next-next generation 3DO console, beyond MX, codenamed S42, would've been, of course, the M4.


First mentioning of MX with RAM directly in graphic chipset, from Intelligent Gamer Fusion magazine, May(?) 1996:

As for MX (see IG's Fusion issue 10), the current concept being tossed around is the idea of actually including the video RAM frame buffer within the actual MX chipset rather than externally -- as transferring data from separate RAM chips to the math processors is one of the most vital time delays in any computer or game console, having the RAM bundled with the fast MX chipset would mean incredible speedups in processing. Developers claim that such an MX chipset could deliver -- believe it or not -- 15-20 million polygon per second performance.

The drawback? The failure rate of such combined chips could be prohibitively high -- between the RAM and the high-intensity math processor, the chips could fail in production at a rate of 20% or greater depending on how much RAM was included on a chip. Additionally, the heat generated by such a configuration would mandate special cooling measures. Regardless, the premise is food for thought and some additional RAM may well wind up in the final MX design.
 

jarrod

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Jun 6, 2004
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camineet said:
"safe" version of MX without embedded RAM in the graphics chipset: Dreamcast would've beaten it.

"ambitious" version of MX *with* embedded RAM in the chipset: MX might've beaten Dreamcast.
It's just interesting that they sound pretty much on level. Knowing Nintendo though, their MX console probably wouldn't have come out until 2000 anyway for whatever reasons (cost cutting, software R&D, etc). Sort of like GameCube (ready for fall 2000, held back for fall 2001).
 

camineet

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Mar 30, 2007
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jarrod said:
It's just interesting that they sound pretty much on level. Knowing Nintendo though, their MX console probably wouldn't have come out until 2000 anyway for whatever reasons (cost cutting, software R&D, etc). Sort of like GameCube (ready for fall 2000, held back for fall 2001).
Yes exactly.
 

camineet

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Mar 30, 2007
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http://www.winnetmag.com/Article/ArticleID/17783/17783.html

Microsoft reportedly working on game console
A Web Exclusive from WinInfo
Paul Thurrott

Microsoft Corporation reportedly intends to allow its next-generation WebTV device to compete with the Nintendo 64 and Sony Playstation game consoles. The story is rather complicated, but it goes something like this: A few years ago, a company called 3DO was working its own next-generation game console, which was dubbed the M2. The M2 contained three key technologies which were pretty impressive for their day: DVD playback, MPEG3 decoding, and a new chipset called MX. When it became clear that 3DO was going to have to exit the hardware market for financial reasons, it sold the M2 technology to Samsung, which created a division called CagEnt that had two years to make money with it.

CagEnt's MX chipset from the M2 technology utilized two PowerPC 602 microprocessors at the time: the same CPU that powers Apple Macintosh computers. In late 1997, Nintendo visited CagEnt in search of a new 3D chipset since its relationship with Silicon Graphics had fallen apart and sales of the Nintendo 64 were slower than expected. In early 1998, Nintendo officially terminated its relationship with ailing Silicon Graphics and offered to buy CagEnt outright.

While details of the sale continued, Nintendo worked with CagEnt to wrap its MX chipset around a MiPS processor, as the company's consoles use NEC MiPS CPUs, not PowerPC. The plan was for the new MX-based machine, complete with hardware 3D, DVD-ROM, and cartridge capabilities to be ready in time for Christmas 1999. Unfortunately for Nintendo, talks with Samsung broke down within a few months.

That's where Microsoft stepped in.

In Early April, the company bought CagEnt through its WebTV division, acquiring all of the assets of CagEnt and its key personnel. Microsoft's plan is to use the MX technology as the core of its next WebTV device, which will clearly be used for more than Email and Web browsing. In fact, Microsoft has quietly been gaining the knowledge it needs to compete in the game console market through its parternship with Sega and it's likely that a Microsoft-backed, Windows CE-based WebTV device could even be co-created with that company.

All this puts Nintendo in a bind, of course, and the company will be unable to create a new console in time for Christmas 1999 now. Its current plan is for the next device to reach stores in late 2000 instead, though its unclear who they will be able to partner with to make such a goal.
 

camineet

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http://dir.salon.com/story/tech/books/2002/04/25/opening_the_xbox_excerpt/

"The beauty contest"

Bill Gates presides as Microsoft's WebTV and Xbox development teams duel for the honor of attacking Sony.

By Dean Takahashi


Apr 25, 2002 | Chapter 9: The Beauty Contest

The game strategy meeting with Bill Gates occurred in the boardroom at Microsoft headquarters in Building 8, an office building that looks like a couple of small letter "t"s connected at the tips when viewed from the air. The room wasn't ostentatious. It had a big oak table that probably looked chic in the 1980s. There were big black leather chairs with soft cushions, enough to seat about 20 people. There were no exterior views, so the executives meeting in the room could gather without fear of eavesdropping. One wall of the room was made of glass; that was the side that bordered the hallway that led to Gates's office. Outside the entrance, stacks of papers were piled high. Several executive assistants to Bill Gates controlled access in the waiting room.

The atmosphere was nervous. The meeting was set up as a beauty contest. The Xbox presenters included the Four Musketeers [Seamus Blackley, Kevin Bachus, Otto Berkes and Ted Hase], who were joined by Nat Brown, Ed Fries, Rick Thompson (vice president in charge of hardware), David Cole (vice president in charge of consumer Windows), Jay Torborg (the director of multimedia), and Rick Rashid (vice president of research). Nat Brown was the appointed speaker for the Xbox side.

The other side included WebTV's Dave Riola, Tim Bucher, Bruce Leak and others; vice presidents Craig Mundie and Jon Devaan; and Ted Kummert, Chris Phillips and Harel Kodesh of the Windows CE group. Neutrals included Eric Rudder (Bill Gates's technical assistant) as well as a variety of other executives. The timing of the meeting was good. The scheduled recess in the antitrust trial had stretched from five weeks to more than three months. Gates wasn't distracted. Noticeably absent was Steve Ballmer, Microsoft's president.


Craig Mundie began the meeting, saying that everyone believed there was a threat to the PC business in the home because of the PlayStation 2. The question at hand was whether Microsoft would come "down from the PC" to do battle with the PS 2 via the Xbox, or come "up from the appliance world" via WebTV.

Nat Brown gave the Xbox presentation first, with Blackley and Bachus piping up to bolster him. Hase stayed silent so he could be the observer. He wanted to listen so he understood what every person's position was. His job was to read the body language to figure out who was engaged or detached from what was being said and then tell everyone about it in the post mortem. Brown began talking about slides showing the Xbox's "guiding principles," which included taking advantage of PC volume economics. He said the Xbox would capitalize on Windows assets for its operating system. It would try to harness the enthusiasm of game developers and rely on existing technology. PC makers would launch the box in the fall of 2000 with a PC microprocessor, graphics from either Nvidia or 3Dfx, a network connection, a DVD player, 64 megabytes of dynamic random access memory, and, most controversial of all, a hard disk drive. The box would run PC games and Xbox games. The machine's graphics would process about 50 million polygons per second, which was less than the PS 2. But it would also be updated every two years, giving it a chance to leapfrog the PS 2 and take advantage of new graphics technology.

Brown said the goals were to make money, expand Microsoft's technology into the living room, and create the perception that Microsoft was leading the charge in the new era of consumer appliances. The initial cost estimate was for a machine with a bill of materials (engineering talk for cost) of $303. That machine would debut in the fall of 2000 and use a $20 microprocessor running at 350 megahertz from Advanced Micro Devices. The machine would also have a $55 hard disk drive with two gigabytes of storage, a $27 DVD drive to play movies, a $35 graphics chip, $25 worth of memory chips, and a collection of other standard parts like a motherboard, and power supply. Over time, these prices would decline. The WebTV crew weighed in again with their objections. They said the hard disk drive was unnecessary and too expensive. Brown said hard disk drive prices were falling and that he had seen one priced as low as $35. But Chris Phillips remembers thinking, "Oh great, you found a cheap hard disk on eBay and now you think that's what they cost."


The PlayStation 2 didn't have a hard disk, though Sony was considering one as an add-on device. The WebTV team noted that Nintendo had planned to introduce a hard disk for the N64 as an add-on peripheral, but found it would cost as much as the box itself. But Ed Fries piped up and said that the hard disk drive was key to online gaming and it represented the next evolution in console hardware.

"I believed the hard drive would fundamentally make online games possible, and make stand-alone single player games more interesting," Fries said. "It was just the next evolution of console hardware to me."

The endorsement from Fries caught Gates' attention. Like Fries' boss, Robbie Bach, he trusted the opinion of Fries, who had earned respect because he had made so much progress in growing the games business. The hard drive could store far more data than the 64 megabytes of DRAM chip memory in the rest of the box, or the mere 40 megabytes in the Sony PS 2. As such, it could store much richer graphic details. The hard drive was also 100 times faster at fetching data than a DVD drive fetching data from a DVD disk. Hence, game developers would be able to create extremely detailed models, and then transfer that data from the DVD disk to the hard drive as a cinematic clip was playing so that the player never noticed any delays. Such details could make game environments far more interactive and malleable than in current games.

Other chunks of the hard drive could be used to store saved games, so that users could pick up where they left off without having to plug a memory cartridge into the box. And the hard drive could store new levels for a game that could be downloaded from the Internet through the fast Ethernet connection in the back of the box.


Gates said he felt like the hard disk would help set the machine apart from the other consoles. Some debate focused on whether Microsoft would get more mileage by adding more chip memory, increasing it from 64 megabytes to 128 megabytes, rather than adding a hard drive. But Gates said he agreed with Fries. Blackley showed a demo of Bleem! software that could take a PlayStation game and run it on a PC to prove that the PC technology that would be used in an Xbox would be able to run console game code.

The WebTV team also said that there was no way that Microsoft would be able to create an Xbox operating system in time. But the Xbox team said they would adapt Neptune, a new version of the Windows 98 operating system, by focusing it on what was needed for gaming. The system would be less crash prone because the hardware would be stable and it would rely on known PC tools. The market target was the 29 million 16-to-26-year-old males who were the fanatical core of gaming.

The Xbox team by now expected their project to cost $500 million, but they really had no good numbers supporting the estimate. A "business model" spreadsheet in the presentation showed that the team expected to sell 1.8 million Xbox consoles in 2000, with steady improvement every year leading up to sales of 30.2 million consoles in 2005. Microsoft itself would lay out $226 million in expenses in the project's first year, not counting the costs its manufacturing partner would incur. Microsoft did not plan to charge royalties to developers, and this was considered a perk that would get developers to defect from Sony, which charged them $7 a game. Hence, Microsoft's cumulative loss for the first year was expected to be only $169 million. But by 2005, Microsoft's cumulative profit over five years was expected to hit $913 million. Microsoft's market share in the business could grow from 10 percent of annual sales in 2000 to 35 percent in 2005.

The early plan wasn't all that ambitious. It called for only 50 employees at first, largely because Microsoft would license and subcontract most of the work to others. The numbers weren't really an educated assessment of what it would take to succeed in the games business today. Rather, the numbers showed how naive Microsoft was in its initial expectations as it marched off to battle -- much like the troops in World War I. It expected to encounter little resistance, not prolonged trench warfare. Don't worry boys, we'll win this and be home by Christmas.

For much of the meeting, Gates listened quietly. He asked how easy it would be to convert games from the PC to the Xbox and vice versa. Blackley said it would be easy to switch between PC games and Xbox games because of the common DirectX architecture. Game developers already knew the DirectX tools that would be used for Xbox games, so there was no tiresome learning process for them. The team hadn't really decided exactly what it would put inside an Xbox operating system and what subset of PC applications an Xbox would be able to run. The Xbox team figured they had to say the box would be PC compatible whether or not that was really the case in the end. Some of the team felt the box shouldn't run Windows, but they weren't prepared to tell Gates that yet.

"When we talked about PC-compatibility for the Xbox, that came from the fear of Bill," Blackley said.


Ted Kummert, head of the Windows CE contingent, and Dave Riola of WebTV spoke for the other side. But when they started talking, the meeting time was almost out.

"We need to build a product that competes head-to-head with Sony," Riola said. "We should embrace their business models."

The WebTV team described a subsidized console that would cost about $183 and quickly fall to $150 the year after launch. It would have no hard disk drive and would therefore match the other consoles on cost. Only such a console would do damage directly to Sony's business, they said. In contrast to the earlier proposal with non-PC components, this console now included a $20 Intel-compatible microprocessor and a $30 graphics chip from Nvidia. The highest-priced item on the list of materials was $40 for memory chips. But the rest of the bill of materials was complete, down to $2.14 for the cables and $4.85 for screws.

"I'm concerned that we're not trying to take money away from Sony and we're not trying to build a new business for the future," Riola said.


The WebTV box would also use Intel-compatible chips, but it would have a graphics chip that would be useful across a variety of devices, including WebTV, a game console, and other appliances. Consumers could pay extra to get additional advanced television features such as WebTV's Internet service, high-speed Internet access or digital video recording. Microsoft would invest $300 million to design the console, spend another $500 million on marketing, and $200 million to build the machines. This effort could be a joint venture with Sega or Electronic Arts, but Microsoft might go it alone.

Riola said that Microsoft should take advantage of WebTV's world-class chip team to design the chips itself, rather than use technology from PC component makers. He said the console would be successful if Microsoft would throw things out of the PC architecture that weren't necessary in the console space. Kummert said the console could use the Dragon version of the Windows CE operating system that Sega was using. He said Microsoft should fund additional CE-based Sega games, and WebTV should provide Internet service for the Dreamcast in the United States.

"Windows CE is the only environment that provides predictability in the operating system," he said.

This software would be integrated with DirectX 8.0, the next version that Berkes would deliver after he finished DirectX 7.0. Berkes and Nat Brown looked at each other and raised their eyebrows. They were thinking the same thing.

Bill Gates detected the problem. Windows CE had to be made compatible with the upcoming version of DirectX 8.0. He interrupted the presentation and asked who was working on this project. Berkes, who was in charge of developing the latest version of DirectX, said to Gates that he didn't know anything about it. He would need a lot more programming resources to make sure that this conversion would happen and if done it would be a slow process. "It wasn't a credible claim" that Windows CE would be synchronized with DirectX anytime soon, Berkes said. The Xbox team had considered using Windows CE, but they dropped it as soon as they discovered the file size for CE programs was limited to 32 megabytes; they would have had to partition a hard drive into thousands of parts just to make CE run. Hence, the WebTV people didn't have a good software story. They hadn't had the presence of mind or resources on short notice to put together a demo that showed Windows CE working with a new version of DirectX. Gates also hammered the failure of Windows CE in the Sega Dreamcast.

"Tell me who used Windows CE in a Dreamcast game," Gates demanded.

Kummert had to reply that very few game programmers had done so. He and Phillips offered a half-hearted response about why that was so. Gates knew the matter all too well already.

The Xbox team countered that the WebTV plan to create a custom graphics chip from scratch would likely take too long to design given the short market window. Jay Torborg, Berkes' boss, thought that was the weakest part of the WebTV plan. Torborg had spearheaded a graphics chip project dubbed Talisman years earlier that ended in failure because designs for the chips ran horribly off schedule. By the same token, the WebTV team didn't believe that the Xbox could produce a version of their operating system in time to finish a box for 2000.

Watching from the sidelines, Rick Thompson of the hardware group had taken a neutral stance in what he called the "peanut gallery." But he looked at the pedigrees of the players. Chris Phillips, Dave Riola and Ted Kummert had game market experience. Mundie and Devaan were high-ranking and seemed somewhat open-minded to Thompson in spite of how the Xbox team felt. WebTV's leader, Steve Perlman, was pretty much out the door. On the Xbox side, Blackley and his cohorts worked for technical stalwarts like David Cole of the consumer Windows group and his lieutenant Bill Veghte.

"These guys were known quantities," Thompson said his thoughts ran at the time. "Ted Kummert's group didn't have a deep keel. They didn't have a proven leader."

The strategy of Ted Hase was coming to fruition. He was beating the other guys by bringing more allies with heavyweight reputations to the fight.

Overall, Gates reacted more favorably to the Xbox team. "There is no doubt we need to do the PC-down approach. If we do anything, it will be more like the Xbox."

He liked the idea that the Xbox would run a broader class of software than the WebTV box, including educational software or productivity software. Gates wondered how the business model would work, and he asked the teams to do more work figuring it out. Craig Mundie asked if there was a role for a machine that didn't have a hard disk.

"I'd love to attack [Sony] from both fronts, but can we really hope to execute on both plans?" Gates said.

He worried that software providers would be confused because there would be "no continuity of message" coming from Microsoft on games. Rick Rashid, an early convert among the executives and head of research, agreed that a two-pronged effort would have been confusing, fragmenting the game developers into camps.

Blackley was surprised that Gates seemed so engaged in the proposal, and he was relieved that Gates was even paying attention, given all of his big responsibilities, not the least of which was the government's antitrust case aimed at breaking up Microsoft. Gates had other worries as well. He wondered aloud if America Online planned to dive into the games space. AOL had already talked about an AOL TV service that it planned to launch with cable TV companies like Time Warner, its future acquisition target.

At the time, Blackley got the impression that Gates thought of the Xbox as a pet project, and a WebTV representative agreed that Gates seemed biased.

"The Xbox team had the right idea," Gates said later. "Empower the artists with a platform that inspires them to do amazing work."

Blackley saw from Gates's questions that the company had to work through a lot of problems quickly if it was going to get a box out in 2000. Bachus was disappointed that he didn't see a flash of the legendary Gates temper. "I was looking forward to classic Bill," he said later.

But the Xbox crew had convincingly covered many points. "Our argument was to start where the company was strongest, with PC technology and PC software code," Bachus recalled. Microsoft faced an immediate threat with the PlayStation 2, and it needed to do something to stop Sony from taking all the hardcore gamers. If they failed to do that, then none of the other things would matter. And if WebTV's box spent its time doing a mix of functions, then it wouldn't do games well enough.

"Our goal needs to be to contain Sony," Gates said.

But Gates left a glimmer of hope for the WebTV team. He said he wanted a "common graphics architecture" between the PC, the Xbox and WebTV. He said this would enable devices in the home to take advantage of high-bandwidth connections. This fateful suggestion turned into a new form of the old Microsoft strategy tax, slowing down the Xbox again.

"The strategy tax was very real," recalled Eric Engstrom, the former Microsoft "Beastie Boy" who had created DirectX and a few other Microsoft projects before leaving to start his own companies. "You never knew when the tax collector was going to come. You could be halfway done and then get hit with the tax bill."










http://news.zdnet.com/2100-9595_22-103341.html?legacy=zdnn

Microsoft's X-Box: Fight for the future?

By Robert Lemos
Posted on ZDNet News: Sep 27, 1999 12:00:00 AM

This month's reports that Microsoft is working on a game console to rival Sony's PlayStation 2 came as little surprise to at least one industry executive.

"I guarantee you that if there's a group that knows how to build a video game machine, it's the one inside (Microsoft subsidiary) WebTV," said Hugh Martin, former CEO of 3DO Systems Inc., which challenged the established video game industry more than five years ago.

Martin, now CEO at Optical Networks Inc., should know. You see, those WebTV engineers used to work for him at 3DO.

If WebTV does produce the rumored console, it will mark the end of a long trek for those engineers.

Long journey
When Martin was at 3DO, it was a hot startup, bringing a 32-bit game console to market almost two years before Sony produced the PlayStation. But in 1996, 3DO faced the truth: It had lost the war, selling only a million units. It scrapped its plans for a 64-bit next-generation device, known as the M2, and sold its hardware division to Samsung, a Korean consumer electronics manufacturer.

Samsung had its new company, now called CagEnt, poised to excel in the PC graphics market, scoring deals with arcade machine maker Konami and semiconductor manufacturer Cirrus Logic. By spring 1997, however, both deals had crumbled and an ailing Samsung was looking to sell CagEnt.

After a near-miss with Nintendo, Samsung sold the group to WebTV, which was by then a Microsoft subsidiary. The engineers, and almost all of the advanced graphics technology -- moved with the company. "Those guys are still there," said Martin. "They are inside WebTV in Palo Alto (Calif.)."

WebTV is open about why they bought CagEnt.

"(CagEnt) had both the intellectual property and people that we were interested in," said Alan Yates, director of marketing at WebTV Networks. While he would not confirm the existence of the X-Box project, Yates admitted, "You will see future versions of WebTV that will use the video capabilities that we acquired, as well as the 3-D capabilities."

Yates added that, while the technology was there to make an X-Box device, "our strategy right now is very, very clear: to provide additional functionality for TV."

That may change, and quickly, analysts said. With Sony using the PlayStation 2 as a "Trojan horse" to become the center of home entertainment, Microsoft should be looking at games as well.

"For Microsoft to get plugged into (the gaming console market) would not be a big stretch for them," said Jae Kim, analyst with entertainment technology watcher Paul Kagan Associates. "At the very least, it would provide another gateway into the living room."

Game developers think so, too.

"Can you see 200 million connections to the Internet and Microsoft not being a part of it?" asked one gaming industry source on condition of anonymity.

What about Dreamcast?
Still, some analysts doubted the reports, questioning why Microsoft would pursue a new game machine when its partner, Sega, has created a successful one already.

"Dreamcast meets all the goals they would set for such a device," said Peter Glaskowsky, graphics guru at chip technology researcher MicroDesign Resources Inc.

And Sega stresses that the working relationship with Microsoft could not be better. "Microsoft has been extremely supportive," said Charles Bellfield, director of marketing for Sega of America Inc.

Bellfield could not confirm the rumors of the mysterious game device. "I am sure that Microsoft is developing a whole range of products that will never see the light of day."
 

jarrod

Banned
Jun 6, 2004
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Oh, yeah, it was Microsoft. Too bad E&S didn't just bring them rather than selling their souls to nVidia, they'd have probably delivered a better cost/spec solution than what we got with Xbox 1.
 

camineet

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Mar 30, 2007
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jarrod said:
Oh, yeah, it was Microsoft. Too bad E&S didn't just bring them rather than selling their souls to nVidia, they'd have probably delivered a better cost/spec solution than what we got with Xbox 1.

Probably, yeah.


It also gets somewhat confusing, because the 3D graphics startup company, GigaPixel, was set to design a GP4 GPU for Xbox in 2000, just before Microsoft announced the Xbox with an Nvidia GPU.

GigaPixel had also been brought into the WebTV division in Microsoft. Does that mean that within WebTV division, they had both CagEnt (3DO Systems) and GigaPixel under the same roof? I think if that's the case, the combined engineering talent of CagEnt and GigaPixel could've delievered a better GPU in terms of price/performance ratio, than the NV2A that Nvidia designed.


GigaPixel was then bought by 3DFX in late 2000, just before Nvidia bought 3DFX/GigaPixel at the end of that year, but, I think that was far too late to influence the Xbox GPU design.
 

jarrod

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Jun 6, 2004
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camineet said:
Probably, yeah.


It also gets somewhat confusing, because the 3D graphics startup company, GigaPixel, was set to design a GP4 GPU for Xbox in 2000, just before Microsoft announced the Xbox with an Nvidia GPU.

GigaPixel had also been brought into the WebTV division in Microsoft. Does that mean that within WebTV division, they had both CagEnt (3DO Systems) and GigaPixel under the same roof? I think if that's the case, the combined engineering talent of CagEnt and GigaPixel could've delievered a better GPU in terms of price/performance ratio, than the NV2A that Nvidia designed.


GigaPixel was then bought by 3DFX in late 2000, just before Nvidia bought 3DFX/GigaPixel at the end of that year, but, I think that was far too late to influence the Xbox GPU design.
Yeah. I'm sure if Allard and company could turn back time, they'd have gone with (1) an internally developed GPU solution and (2) an optional HDD a la 360. If not for those two factors, I kinda doubt Xbox 1 would've been quite the money pit it turned out to be.
 

camineet

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Mar 30, 2007
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jarrod said:
Yeah. I'm sure if Allard and company could turn back time, they'd have gone with (1) an internally developed GPU solution and (2) an optional HDD a la 360. If not for those two factors, I kinda doubt Xbox 1 would've been quite the money pit it turned out to be.

Absolutely agreed, Jarrod.
 

camineet

Banned
Mar 30, 2007
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Even though M2 wasn't capable of it, I often wondered and dreamed even, if MX could handle in realtime, those CG tech demos used to hype M2:







With MX's greater polygon performance combined with its additional lighting and anti-aliasing capablities, over M2, I thought, at least in the 90s, maybe yes. Too bad we never found out.


Heh, no way man! Not even the most powerful implementation of MX with embedded RAM could do that stuff. However, perhaps M4 could have, and M4 was in development!
 

Fafalada

Fafracer forever
Jun 22, 2004
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jarrod said:
Oh, yeah, it was Microsoft. Too bad E&S didn't just bring them rather than selling their souls to nVidia, they'd have probably delivered a better cost/spec solution than what we got with Xbox 1.
Time frame for XBox 1 didn't exactly allow for much R&D time (it's funny how NVidia always gets into fallback deals like that too).
Anyway funny thing - MS also looked at PS2s GS as one of the considerations for WebTV. GS was a contender because of its inclusion of HDTV support among other things - and the chip was always designed with intent for use in set-top boxes(Sony never was a fan of single-purpose built hw I guess).
 

camineet

Banned
Mar 30, 2007
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Faf, what is your impression of the MX chipset? -- From what little is known about it, even via rumors.
 

itxaka

Defeatist
Feb 21, 2007
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Bioshock
The deal between Samsung/CagEnt and Nintendo broke down because they couldn't agree about the console's media, DVD vs cartridges
Oh Nintendo, you never learn, do you? After Sony and their PSX, you go and make another enemy that could create a console :p
 
Dec 27, 2007
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Interesting info as usual camineet.

As a side note, is there a reason we don't get this kind of info anymore? Maybe I'm not looking in the right places, but aside from general info (such as the WiiHD rumor recently) I haven't seen anything in depth about what Nintendo, Sony, and MS are thinking/planning. It'd be really interesting to know what's going on in Sony's boardrooms right. I have to imagine it's a lot like what the article says about Nintendo in 1998 (if anything worse due to not making money) but aside from some Aussie Sony manager throwing a tantrum I have no idea what's going on there.
 

shuri

Banned
Jun 8, 2004
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Bending_Unit_22 said:
Interesting info as usual camineet.

As a side note, is there a reason we don't get this kind of info anymore? Maybe I'm not looking in the right places, but aside from general info (such as the WiiHD rumor recently) I haven't seen anything in depth about what Nintendo, Sony, and MS are thinking/planning. It'd be really interesting to know what's going on in Sony's boardrooms right. I have to imagine it's a lot like what the article says about Nintendo in 1998 (if anything worse due to not making money) but aside from some Aussie Sony manager throwing a tantrum I have no idea what's going on there.
They are pretty hardcore about ndas these days.
 

Maximilian E.

AKA MS-Evangelist
Feb 17, 2006
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Ahh, thanks for the strol on memory lane..

Lots of "what ifs..." here, and how the landscape of videogaming would have changed if things went as they were intended to go.
 

grandjedi6

Master of the Google Search
Feb 22, 2007
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maniac-kun said:
square console all over my face i want it now.
Square would probably be bankrupt/bought out by now had they gone that route. Their attempt to broaden themselves to the movie world alone hurt themselves enough.
 

camineet

Banned
Mar 30, 2007
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Maximilian E. said:
Ahh, thanks for the strol on memory lane..

Lots of "what ifs..." here, and how the landscape of videogaming would have changed if things went as they were intended to go.

True, and there are alot more of these "what ifs" for every generation /era of videogaming. I could think of plenty more....Namco's 16-bit home console (1989) and Atari Midsummer / Jaguar 2 (mid 90s) are but two examples.
 

Lazy8s

The ghost of Dreamcast past
Jun 7, 2004
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For a long time, I looked all over for any trace of that article about the embedded framebuffer of MX from Intelligent Gamer Fusion. Thanks for the find, camineet!

The proposed specs were less than half the performance of Dreamcast and a year later, too. It wasn't a crazy expensive design, though, like the GS, so it would've had that going for it.
 

camineet

Banned
Mar 30, 2007
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Lazy8s said:
For a long time, I looked all over for any trace of that article about the embedded framebuffer of MX from Intelligent Gamer Fusion. Thanks for the find, camineet!
You're welcome! It has been sitting on usenet for years.

Subject: Re: M2 news
Date: 1996/05/10
newsgroups: rec.games.video.3do

http://groups.google.com/group/rec.games.video.3do/msg/b6a5b6fab5e29e0a?hl=en&dmode=source

I wish I had scans of the actual original article(s) though.


The proposed specs were less than half the performance of Dreamcast and a year later, too. It wasn't a crazy expensive design, though, like the GS, so it would've had that going for it.

Yeah, it's really doubtful that MX would've rivaled Dreamcast. Only the wildest speculation could make MX a Dreamcast-class or better machine.

I very much wanted to see both an MX-based console with embedded memory (whether it had been from Panasonic, Nintendo or Microsoft) *and* also Rendition's Vérité V4400E, a 4th generation Vérité card with 12MB embedded RAM, a 125M transistor chip, circa 1999-2000. Sounds more ambitious than PS2's GS even.
 

camineet

Banned
Mar 30, 2007
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If anyone has more information, other articles, etc about the 3DO / CagEnt MX chipset, please post it here. There is precious-little information on it.


Joe Molotov did manage to find this for me a few months back, part of a rant feature from the website Vortexgaming.com


"This time Matsushita had a very viable solution for Nintendo, the MX console. What was the MX? Well, details are sketchy, but it was supposed to be the successor of the M2. Sporting two Power PC CPUs that each alone had several times the power of the M2, and pushing a lot more polygons, this system was designed for speed. Nintendo actually entered into negotiations with Matsushita about using the technology. However, Nintendo was still a fan of MIPS CPUs and wanted to use them. The architectures where not compatible, and the MX went down just like its younger brother. Or did it? Perhaps, part of it lives in the Dolphin. Rumors persist that some of the foundations of the Dolphin are based of early MX designs. Only Nintendo knows for sure."
 

andymcc

Banned
Dec 17, 2007
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have i ever told you how much i love your threads camineet? i feel like i know a bunch about vintage consoles, and you always manage to teach me something new.
 

cartman414

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May 3, 2006
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itxaka said:
Oh Nintendo, you never learn, do you? After Sony and their PSX, you go and make another enemy that could create a console :p
Nintendo was still working on their CD-Rom upgrade/system when Sony decided to go it alone.
 

camineet

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Mar 30, 2007
8,073
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andymcc said:
have i ever told you how much i love your threads camineet? i feel like i know a bunch about vintage consoles, and you always manage to teach me something new.

Heh, I really don't know all that much. It' just, I remember a lot (i.e. I'll remember a small rumor or article from a decade or more ago) and have the patience to dig up old articles or even the text of an old post, about consoles (or games), released or unreleased, that interest me ;)

jett said:
That seriously hurts my eyes.
That's why I typed it out.
 

Raistlin

Post Count: 9999
Jun 17, 2004
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Fucking Nintendo.


Why am I not surprised this ultimately died because Nintendo didn't want to go with DVD :lol
 

Fourth Storm

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camineet said:
Heh, I really don't know all that much. It' just, I remember a lot (i.e. I'll remember a small rumor or article from a decade or more ago) and have the patience to dig up old articles or even the text of an old post, about consoles (or games), released or unreleased, that interest me ;)



That's why I typed it out.
Another great find, Camineet! Very interesting read.
 

cartman414

Member
May 3, 2006
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Onix said:
Fucking Nintendo.


Why am I not surprised this ultimately died because Nintendo didn't want to go with DVD :lol
What they wanted at the time they found in Panasonic's small "Cube discs".
 

camineet

Banned
Mar 30, 2007
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Fourth Storm said:
Another great find, Camineet! Very interesting read.

I had been looking for this particular Gaming Gossip column for a very long time. I thought it was in a late 1996 issue of EGM but turns out it was from early 1997, and I should've remembered it had Tekken 3 on the cover.
 

Celine

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Rise from the grave bwahahhaha.

Edge got an interview with Trip Hawkin 15 or so years ago where he talked about the 3DO Company ( more than 100 million losses from 1991 to 1995 ), M2 and the current ( for the time ) market situation.

A specific part caught my attention because basically reveals how a contract was almost signed by Sega to license the M2 hardware.