if this article is to believed, the next Xbox seems mighty ambitious...
Ask just about any games developer what they want they want most from a console and almost always the response will be "more memory" yet the trend in console hardware development is to dedicate ever-increasing amounts of RAM to the operating system. Why?
Perhaps the most high profile example of this recently is the Nintendo Wii U - 1GB of memory sounds positively luxurious compared to the sub-512MB available to developers of PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 games, but it's actually just 50 per cent of the total onboard memory of the machine - another 1GB set aside for the operating system. And it's not just Wii U either - though established figures aren't in the public domain, both 3DS and PlayStation Vita dedicate generous amounts of memory to the OS - RAM which could be gifted to developers.
So what's going on? Put simply, the platform holders have cottoned on to the fact that gamers want more from their devices and they want instant access to more features in a seamless manner during gameplay.
The Wii U's 1GB of reserved RAM is something a little different though, the extent of which we've yet to see fully demonstrated.
Microsoft and its next generation Xbox appears to offer up the most ambitious plans for a console operating system going forward. On the 360, the OS - with technical underpinnings going all the way back to Windows NT - occupies a mere 32MB of system space, but according to a well-placed source who has worked directly on major first party Microsoft console titles, the new Durango sees OS resources increase enormously.Microsoft is so serious about its design for a multi-tasking console that it is trying to patent the concept. This diagram for its submission shows processors for both games and OS in the top left, and next to that, two GPUs. Hardware video encoding is also built-in.
Based on this information, the next-gen Xbox could feature 8GB of memory in total, with up to 2GB reserved for OS functions - a phenomenal figure when compared, say, to the 1GB total found in the iPhone 5. Microsoft's vision for the next-gen OS is ambitious in scope: both the leaked Xbox 720 discussion document and the firm's own 2010 patent applications suggest that the OS - or "platform" as it is described - have dedicated CPU and GPU components, separate and distinct from the resources available to developers, who only have direct access the "application" areas of the hardware.
The patent application itself is an in-depth filing on how Microsoft's engineers reconcile two internal architectures within a single box, balancing components in order to guarantee quality of service from both simultaneously. In short, the design strongly suggests that the next Xbox will run OS-level apps and games at the same time - an extreme implementation of multi-tasking, if you will.
But the OS's ballooning RAM allocation, including dedicated processing units for OS-level functions - these are elements of the Durango spec that are looking more and more like a lock for the final retail machine. It's an ambitious design, arguably somewhat over-engineered for a games console, and the question is to what extent these features will offer value to the audience - we can only speculate for now, and even our best guesses can't justify to us the sheer expensive of this approach. What is curious is that it's Microsoft that is making the running here: everything we have heard so far about Orbis, or PlayStation 4, is that its technical make-up has far more in common with what you would expect from a next-gen console design - essentially a PC boiled down into a smaller, console-sized box.
Could transmedia gameplay or some other feature embedded into Durango give it a unique selling point, in the way that motion control disrupted the current generation? If the rumours are true, Microsoft will certainly be hoping so, based simply on the huge investment it would have made in terms of both R&D and production of the final silicon.