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!

A little while ago I purchased a second hand Fujitsu-Siemens Scaleo EVi 2535 Home Theatre PC which ran Vista and now runs Windows 7. I recently upgraded it from the original 1.86GHz Core2Duo processor and 2GB of RAM to have now a Q6600 quad core 2.4GHz processor and 4GB of RAM (using a Zalman fan to keep it at a good temperature. I also supplemented the on-board Intel graphics with an nVidia GeForce 210 graphics card with 512MB of GDDR2 RAM (capable of also sharing 1.1GB of system RAM). Overall the only thing left to upgrade is the noisy DVD drive tobe a quiet BluRay.

I wondered if I could do better than Windows 7 and so I looked towards Linux. I installed Kubuntu 8.10 easily enough, but getting the nVidia drivers working was a pain, then when I installed LinuxMCE it took me hours to try and resolve the dependencies. After this it finally launched, but got stuck in a loop because it didn’t install correctly and you can’t un-install it.

I then re-installed 8.10, in order to use MythTV and updated the OS to 9.04 as it suggested. Then I also had to have the nVidia packages installed and that was grief because the wifi refused to authenticate for most of the time I had allocated. Then when I got the nVidia drivers installed it started freezing at random. So, I removed the hard disk and returned to Windows 7. Windows MCE isn’t perfect and I like Linux as a server but overall I can’t live with dependencies like that.

I will continue to look at Linux and welcome any suggestions but overall I can’t spend days of my life just to get something not working.

Continued…