My home server has, for a few years been a basic C2550 Atom board, but as with many tech things I longed for a little more power. 

I chanced upon a thread on STH which described a weird motherboard that was selling on ebay.ca, it was for a board with two nodes on one board and they were Intel D-1541 (8c16t) and had dual 10G SFP+ per node. So they are quite powerful.

I bought one, paid my dues (duties) and installed it in the case. They aren’t easy to use because they have no GPU and the BIOS is very exotic (exposing every possible parameter in meticulous detail). The boards also have no PCIe slots, only M.2 and OCP slots, and the OCP slots are backwards! (they are backwards because they were designed for M3008 SAS/SATA controllers instead.

I got Proxmox working fine on one node and eventually on the second node, but ultimately, I decided I would search for something more practical. Eventually I found a deal on a D-2143 which is slightly better but only a single 8c16t board. It has PCIe slots and SFF-8347 SAS connectors, everything you could need.

The board arrived… and upon testing was DOA! Damnit.

So off that goes back to the seller.

Now, I’ve found another deal, I am working my way up the food chain here, it’s an Intel E-2247G which is also 8c16t but peaks at a much higher peak GHz and has Intel UHD 630 GPU. 

So, now I await delivery… Three motherboards in a year? What does 2021 hold.

So, this morning I was having a retro moment and wondered about the original Xbox, the classic one from 2001 which was so popular. It was build on a pseudo Windows system with an Intel processor. Then I remembered the PS2 slim which was reintroduced long after the PS3 had taken over as Sony’s flagship and how Sega have also licensed their technology to create retro clones.

If we look at the Xbox1’s original specification:

CPU: 700MHz Pentium III Coppermine
RAM: 64MB DDR1 @ 200MHz
GPU: Custom NVidia ASIC @ 233MHz
Audio: NVidia custom Surround Processor
Storage: 8GB IDE HDD
Optical: DVD-ROM
Security: Secure BIOS
Extras: 100Mbit Ethernet, Analogue Component HD, USB1.1, and other AV connectors

So, when you compare this to the CE 3100 from Intel, which is being used by set-top box vendors to build the next generation of multimedia products, you find some interesting parallels:

CPU: +800MHz Pentium-M
RAM: Up to 3GB DDR2
GPU: Intel GMA500 (PowerVR SGX 535)
Audio: Dual core 337MHz DSP processors
Storage: Flash or SATA
Optical: DVD via SATA
Security: Crypto-processor
Extras: GBit Ethernet, HDMI, USB2, and other AV connectors

So, Dear Microsoft, why not ‘Reload’ the old XBox classic as a new product and get some revenue from that old architecture? The CE range supports DirectX 9, so there should be legacy support for the graphics calls. I don’t know how the GMA 500 compares to the Xbox1’s custom ASIC but they are 8-9 years apart in development so they can’t be too different. If there are differences they might be resolved with a bucket of faster DDR2 RAM and the better CPU clock.

I would imagine an XBox Reloaded spec would look something like this:

SoC: Intel CE3100
RAM: 256MB of DDR2 @ 800MHz (a bucket extra useful for other things)
Storage: 8GB of Flash (shouldn’t need more, but can utilise USB 2 flash or HDD)
Optical: Slimline DVD-ROM
AV: HDMI, TOSLink, Composite
Networking: 100Mbit ethernet (GBit might increase power/cost)

The whole thing should be able to emulate the Xbox’s original design without much special assistance, just the addition of SATA support to the microkernel, modification of the security mechanism and replacement of the graphics drivers (the highest risk element). If there was any problem with this it might even be possible to use a microkernel bootloader or BIOS to emulate the IDE on SATA in legacy mode and possibly even map the GPU calls. I would put a bootloader on the box which booted a version of MeeGo Linux stored in Flash as an alternative media player tool and possible DVD player alternative function.

Thus you would have a decent media player, a TV browser and a most importantly of all: a very cool retro-games console capable of playing games like Halo, Project Gotham Racing, MotoGP and Splinter Cell. All for under £100 retail! I know you can get a new Xbox 360 for £160 but there is always a market for the retro and a lower end product. The return on investment could be good and it could reach new markets as a “computer for all” in developing markets!