CPU, Gaming

A Must Read: How Microsoft screwed Sony

Most of my readers probably aren’t into books. We spend most of our time living in fifth and sixth gear, and most of the time, the only free time that we have is between midnight and 1-2-3AM – thus we steal the night to have some life for ourselves. However, if you are into this industry, there are several titles that are a must read, and that club just got a new “a must” title.

The Race for a New Game Machine is a fantastic title, an absolute must read. The book was penned by David Shippy and Mickie Phipps, disclosing bombastic details about the development of Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. It effectively shows that IBM betrayed Sony and Toshiba and took Sony’s and Tosh’s money to develop the CPU for Microsoft Xbox 360 console. Yes, you’ve read that right. The topic of this book could have ended in court if Sony and Toshiba managed to find any loopholes in their contracts with IBM – sadly for them, IBM was all too wise to sign a contract that would not give them enough free space to play with.

Long story short, IBM’s Cell PowerPC core ended up tripled and landed itself inside Microsoft Xbox 360, without Toshiba and Sony learning the truth until the bicker end. This is an excerpt from this bombastic title:

IBM provided the bulk of the manpower, with the design team headquartered at its Austin, Texas, offices. Sony and Toshiba sent teams of engineers to Austin to live and work with their partners in an effort to have the Cell ready for the Playstation 3’s target launch, Christmas 2005. But a funny thing happened along the way: A new “partner” entered the picture. In late 2002, Microsoft approached IBM about making the chip for Microsoft’s rival game console, the (as yet unnamed) Xbox 360. In 2003, IBM’s Adam Bennett showed Microsoft specs for the still-in-development Cell core. Microsoft was interested and contracted with IBM for their own chip, to be built around the core that IBM was still building with Sony.

All three of the original partners had agreed that IBM would eventually sell the Cell to other clients. But it does not seem to have occurred to Sony that IBM would sell key parts of the Cell before it was complete and to Sony’s primary videogame-console competitor. The result was that Sony’s R&D money was spent creating a component for Microsoft to use against it.

IBM employees were hiding their work from Sony and Toshiba engineers in the cubicles next to them; the Xbox chip being tested a few floors above the Cell design teams. Mr. Shippy says that he felt “contaminated” as he sat down with the Microsoft engineers, helping them to sketch out their architectural requirements with lessons learned from his earlier work on Playstation.

We'll just take things in red, and leave Sony and Tosh to cope with the rest.

MSFT: We'll just take things in red, and leave Sony and Tosh to cope with the rest.

You can buy the book for mere 15 bucks on Amazon.com and trust me, it will give you more hours of fun that most of games that came out in 2008.

  • Andre

    xbox 360 has a triple core, IBM power processor and, and as we all know power processor is an all IBM design. so what gives?

  • Andre

    by the way, i know you from the days of writing for inquirer. what happend? why you left? was it charlie? :)) 😀

  • This kind of thing happens all the time , but it is not necessarily a ‘contamination’ thing.

    Let’s say that ATI (chips to be found in the XBox360) move to a new process ahead of their rivals…

    …and those chips are made at TSMC…

    …who manage to improve their processes and learn ‘generically useful stuff’ with that move…

    …which then benefits nVidia (chips to be found in the PS3)

    No one says that there is ‘contamination’, TSMC’s reputation is impeccable, and yet there can be no doubt that the company that goes ‘second’ will have an advantage

    Considering the effort Sony puts into the contracts it signs with music artists etc, it is pretty poor for to ‘break down weeping for them because they may not have had enough legal expertise available when creating their contracts’

    This happens all the time, in multiple industries

    If you choose to ‘go first’ – with ANYTHING – then you can be almost certain that your competitors will benefit one way or another

    e.g. Theo analyses the global IT market, lesser press read the article and use it as a ‘starting point’ for their own ‘original work’ – happens all the time and twice on Sundays :~)

  • RE: Andre
    Hi Andre, well, the story is never that simple. PowerPC core is not the same PowerPC core, just like Pentium 2 has nothing to do with Core 2 (they use the same instruction set and that’s about that – one is a CISC, one is a RISC-translating-into-CISC).
    When you read about AMD and Intel and their processors, underlying commonality is the instruction set, but that’s about that.
    Even better example would be ATI and nV… they both support DX10 and OGL, but they operate in completely different architectures.
    PowerPC inside Cell is not the G4 or G5 processor, but sure as heck is not the same core as Power6… it is a custom built core between IBM, Sony and Toshiba – and full name is STI Cell anyways, not IBM Cell.

    On a personal note, I used to work at Tom’s Hardware and TG Daily after I left INQ. As you can see by INQ today, it is in a state that was lead to by its bosses, who got fired and replaced in the process. I had the idea of increasing the quality of the site with a project INQ 2.0, and the goal of the project was to increase revenue for The INQ by implementing latest technologies. Well, that plan got shot down and long story short, I left the company because of a better offer and moved to US.

    I wish INQ all the best, but that site is now a shadow of its former self… at the time when Charlie, Nova, Fudo and I were there in full speed, you had variety, now in most cases, you have senseless bashing of one side and glorifying another.
    Personally, I am a member of IFJ and RWB and I do go by journalist code of objective reporting, looking from all sides before giving my PoV.

  • RE: Andrzej – well, I think that book is worth the read, and then you can see how MSFT screwed the pooch.

    There is nothing wrong with TSMC working, or there is nothing wrong with ATI/AMD designing a standard and then giving it to all to use.

    But to take a CPU that is in development, give it to competitor, cut all the SPE’s and Rambus references, copy it three times and offer as a new product before the first one is out the door is really… well, the authors of the book have right to their opinion. And just by some case, I agree with them.

    Then again, even that didn’t help MSFT, since they screwed majorly in the design stages… a source of mine is writing a book about the RROD and the fact that Microsoft knew about it. Will that end in a class-action suit? God only knows… all I know is that MSFT knew that the consoles will have “higher than acceptable percentage of faulty consoles”.

  • the infamous RROD… Geez we just bought an XboX360 for our kid! and right after I read for the first time of the RROD! If I oculd have learnt it before…

    The console is working fine, for the moment. I hope nothing happens.

    As per the book: I’ll try to find it on German Amazon, and consider it as a personal (from me to myself) late X-Mas gift. Really looks like an interesting read as you put it.

  • …there’s probably an interesting question to be asked about the amount of ‘super fast memory’ you need to be able to implement AA with no cost – especially as the world moves toward HD gaming around 1080p ;~)

  • well, not sure it has everything to do with “super fast memory”… rather how you deal with the chip internally. Nv doesn’t have fixed-function AA hw in GT200, ATI put dedicated FF in 4800 and we all saw the difference… compare 8xAA at 1680×1050 on GTX260/280 and 4850/4870, and that comparison shows how good dedicated hw is.

  • Andre

    I thought that IBM worked on the PowerPC part and sony and toshiba worked on SPE parts and then it got combined. Now I got it.

    about inquirer; I started reading it 5 or 6 years ago and obviously it isn’t what it used to be. After all, without you and fuad, there isn’t much to read. 😀

    there is something I would like to ask but you don’t have to answer it if you don’t want to.
    what is going on between charlie and nvidia? he seriously dislikes nvidia. do you know anything about it? as I said you can chose not to answer. or maybe I should ask charlie himself. 😀


  • Hi Andre,
    well, I still wish all the best to the INQ, but after I had some communication with the authors there, I am somewhat doubtful. Making errors in articles and then attack a ex-colleague that explained where the error lies is sadly, not the way to go. Person in question then continued its tirade on skype with other colleagues, and let’s be honest, that is not the way to deal with a problem – that comes out from mis-reading a press release. That person is not Charlie, to make things clear.
    When it comes to Charlie and Nvidia, I think you should ask him. From my 2.5 years on The INQ, I saw what games nV is playing around (saw a lot of shilling from Intel and ATI as well), and after all, my 10 year history with them almost ended up in courts – I was threatened with legal action twice (discovery of cheating in 3DMark2001 and Adrianne for GeForce 8 launch). But anyways, even with all the faulty play, I’ve never crossed the line myself. Company line is one, people are another.
    I was also attacked by nV in the case about GeForce 8600 and bad material (neither Charlie nor I had no idea what we stumbled upon back in spring of 2007), but yet, somehow I failed to take things personally. Same went with my issues with Intel, AMD, ATI etc etc.
    I’ve read the 3D googles piece and sadly, consider that the article failed to deliver the right information and some errors inside the piece were irritating, especially in light of nV having demonstrations of 3D glasses in front of 50-100 people using a single emitter.
    It all depends how you take on things – back in 2005, Fudo was raging all about R520 having 24 shader units, since that was the number of shaders in GF7800. My story that contained details about complete X1K line was shot down until Fudo ran a piece that confirmed 16 shaders for X1800. Only then my “X1900 has 48 shaders, RV570 has 36, RV530 is 12 etc.” got green light (months ahead of their launches). No hard feelings there, we both felt we have better sources. Later, Fudo had better information about Radeon 4800 series, I was in the wrong – again, no hard feelings. Are we humans, or are we dancers? 😉
    Some people had Radeon 4800 cards on their hands before both Fudo and myself, and were bragging in chats that they are going to run all the details blah blah, yet they didn’t until the NDA was lifted. These people are the ones you have to worry about – all talk, no substance.
    Giving judgement to something you haven’t used personally is irresponsible, though. I saw my one of my former publications putting a piece about iPhone and Blackberry Storm, where Storm was criticized for earplugs equally bad as ones on the iPhone. Since Bold and Storm come with same brilliant in-ear noise-isolating ear pieces that make iPhone ones – “cheap chinese rubbish” – well, that didn’t landed well. Why? Because the reporter didn’t even saw the Storm, yet he was forced to write an opinion piece without even seeing them. Thus, I viewed that as a management fault, not the journalist. When you’re editor-in-chief, you want content for the site done in a timely manner, and sometimes you go overboard, instead of creating an infrastructure where journalists can work and get information properly written.
    At the end of the day, you can view business from two sides – you can take business personally and go through such amount of stress that will end up with continuous or temporary ED (just for the record, that happened to me – and I quit my job, lost 14 kilos and got calmness in my life – ironically, that happened after I quit Vidi and joined the INQ, which was much more stresfull environment – on paper.). Or, you can view job as your responsibility and be satisfied with everything that you do, even if you don’t have enough time to write all that you want to write about.
    Personally, I love my job. I truly enjoy in the fact that I was blessed with the ability to work the job that I love, and that job brought me to the heart of Ferrari, Mercedes, Lufthansa, Airbus and others. I traveled the world thanks to super-compressed sand and I will always have responsibility to the people that enabled me to live my life – and those people are you, my dear readers, and partners.
    My company will be an interesting take on the industry, and we will see will I fail or succeed. Yes, you can expect “No Marketing BS allowed” sign at the front door. But I don’t expect to be perfect, just enable my journalists to do their job in best possible way.
    And yes, we won’t put our personal opinions about individuals in front of the facts. Is a product or technology valuable to you or not – that has to be publication’s mantra, being that an analyst house or a media house or whoever.

  • Andre

    Thanks Theo. Good luck to you. Keep up the good work.