Welcome to Valhalla: Inside the New 250GB Xbox 360 Slimby Anand Lal Shimpi on June 18, 2010 1:59 AM EST
I own a total of five Xbox 360s. Four of them have died. Three because of the Red Ring of Death, all out of warranty. Many have had serial Xbox 360 failures, I had them in parallel.
The last revision of the Xbox 360, codenamed Jasper, was supposed to fix the infamous RRoD problem. So far my Jasper has been running fine. While Microsoft never confirmed the cause the RRoD seemed to be a result of poor cooling and manufacturing issues (either at the die/underfill level or at the solder level or both).
Needless to say, I wasn’t terribly happy about purchasing a sixth Xbox 360, but here it is:
This is the latest revision of the Xbox 360, commonly referred to as the Xbox 360 Slim thanks to its shrinking in virtually all dimensions compared to the previous white box:
The internals are mostly new, featuring for the first time a single chip with CPU, GPU and eDRAM. Prior to this motherboard revision the Xbox 360 motherboard had two discrete packages, one with the CPU and one with the GPU + eDRAM.
For those of you who don't remember, ATI originally designed the Xbox 360's GPU and called it Xenos. The GPU was the first we ever looked at that used a unified shading architecture, so there were no dedicated pixel or vertex units. The core was made up of 48 shader processors and each SP could work on a vect4 plus a scalar op in parallel. These days we'd probably call it a GPU with 240 cores, although it's a bit dated from a functionality standpoint. The GPU runs at 500MHz and is also home to the memory controller.
On a separate die, which ATI referred to as the daughter die, was 10MB of embedded DRAM along with all of the hardware necessary for z and stencil operations, color and alpha processing and AA. This eDRAM and associated logic helped Microsoft bring AA to games and improve overall performance compared to what was possible at the time with conventional architectures.
The CPU, codenamed Xenon, implemented three in-order PowerPC cores with SMT support - meaning the whole chip could work on six threads at the same time. The design was ahead of its time but given its 90nm manufacturing process it only had 1MB of L2 cache to share among all three cores. These days it isn't really considered the ideal approach to a many-core CPU. Private L2 caches with a large shared L3 cache is preferred for scaling beyond two cores.
Leading up to Jasper, each die was shrunk independently with each Xbox iteration. The table below shows us how:
|Xbox 360 Revision||CPU||GPU||eDRAM|
With the new Xbox 360 (codenamed Valhalla), at least two, possibly all three of the die are combined and placed on a single package:
Bringing it all onto (presumably) a single die makes cooling much simpler as now there’s only one heatsink and one fan for all of the major heat generating components in the unit. This level of integration is made possible only by the not-so-magic of Moore’s Law. At 40nm it shouldn’t be a problem to bring all of those components onto a single reasonably sized die, which in turn reduces Microsoft’s manufacturing costs. It’s not totally clear whether Microsoft is building these chips on a 40nm, 45nm or 55nm node. The 40nm approach would make the most sense but TSMC is very capacity constrained at this point so it would be a slow ramp before all Xboxes got the Valhalla treatment. Update: Apparently 45nm is the magic number. The new CGPU is rumored to be made at Chartered Semiconductor, now under the ownership of Global Foundries.
The uncertainty is because of a pesky heat spreader. While previous Xbox 360 CPU/GPUs were visible to the naked eye once you popped the heatsink off, the Valhalla design has a heat spreader covering the Xbox CGPU (Microsoft’s term, not mine). Unwilling to potentially kill yet another Xbox 360, I’ve left my heat spreader intact for the purposes of this article.
What follows is an entire dissection guide for those of you who want to get inside the new Xbox 360 (for whatever reason you might have ;), as well as some power/noise information for those of you contemplating the upgrade.
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CityZ - Friday, June 18, 2010 - linkI see a potential problem with the power plug waiting to happen. It appears as if the prongs on the power plug are symmetric, though one delivers +12V and the other +5V. The plastic on the case and the plug makes a D-shape that only allows the plug to go in one way. However, someone who's taken their case apart won't have this protection. They might plug it in the wrong way and zap their MB/PS.
adam92682 - Friday, June 18, 2010 - linkOne of the many reasons you aren't supposed to open the system.
casteve - Friday, June 18, 2010 - linkOnly 17.6W difference between idle and load power for Valhalla? While the idle power is better w/ ea generation, it seems they dropped the ball on this gen. An i5 661 + HD5870 based PC only draws 67-70W AC at idle.
logikil1 - Friday, June 18, 2010 - linkI haven't been able to locate what revision of HDMI the new 360 uses. I believe the original used 1.2 and was curious if MS went to 1.3 or 1.4 with this system.
aforty - Friday, June 18, 2010 - linkI'd really loved to have seen some noise level comparisons between the new Slim and the first generation Xbox 360. I have a first-gen and the noise is pretty much why I now prefer my PS3. However I'm thinking about upgrading and would love to see how the new Slim stacks up against what I currently have in the noise department. The power consumption already looks really good compared to what this thing sucks down.
Thanks for the breakdown!
Anand Lal Shimpi - Friday, June 18, 2010 - linkUnfortunately my first gen 360 is now dead otherwise I could've provided more data :-P
Pirks - Friday, June 18, 2010 - linkAnand please tell us, I saw a youtube video ( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wwINtoQpyNc ) where Xbox Slim does scratch DVD when you move it a little while PS3 doesn't. What's your personal take on that? Does Slim manual say something about danger of DVD scratching? Any warning labels on the Slim itself?
Anand Lal Shimpi - Friday, June 18, 2010 - linkThere's a warning sticker on the DVD drive telling you not to move the console while a disc is in there. I meant to take a picture of it but forgot once I got into the teardown phase.
As long as you're mindful of it it's a non-issue, however I have come very close to accidentally ruining a game or two when I wasn't paying attention. It is silly and MS could easily fix it, but the 360 isn't about high quality hardware, it's about profitability.
Pirks - Friday, June 18, 2010 - linkFuck Ballmer.
Rob100 - Friday, June 18, 2010 - linkWhy oh why have they made it a nasty gloss black finish
If it was available in a matt "no scratch, no finger print, no dust" black finish I'd buy one, but from the pics I've seen it just looks cheap and nasty
I will be sticking with my Elite thanks which if you ask me looks 10 times better than this - what were they thinking...
If I wanted a quieter 360 then I would of bought an "arcade" and stuck it in a Lian Li XB-01B