Game console CPUs

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MisterDNA
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Game console CPUs

Unread postby MisterDNA » Fri Oct 27, 2006 7:31 pm

Fo years I've been wondering what it is that makes a company choose a particular CPU for a console. Like why did Sega choose the 68000 for the Genesis and a Hitachi SH4 for the Dreamcast, Nintendo the 65816 for the SNES and an R4000 based design for the N64, etc.

What makes a good CPU for games anyway?

I see a lot of gamers choosing AMD's Sempron CPUs for their gaming rigs and the only difference I see with those is the huge lack of L2 cache memory. Is cache unimportant for games?

Why did Microsoft choose an Intel PIII for the Xbox? Why was it actually a Celeron and not a PIII?

Why did Sony choose the Cell design and then have the multicore beast crippled in such a way that the PS3 could never be used as a full-on computer the way the PS2 was able to be used when equipped with the Linux kit?

All of this really interests me. Most of all:

Why the HELL has there not been one of those Linux consoles released that were being talked about so much?! All one would need is a damned PC in specialized form. An outdated SFF with common hardware would do just fine for that.

The Indrema comes to mind, for one example.

Why hasn't someone gone for an AMD/Nforce/GeForce 6 platform? That's the most natural combo.

Maybe the answer is this: The most complex Linux game I ever played was TuxRacer. I haven't had a desire to look into Linux gaming any further ever since. America's Army was a propaganda piece.
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Re: Game console CPUs

Unread postby ipaddict » Fri Oct 27, 2006 8:00 pm

MisterDNA wrote:Maybe the answer is this: The most complex Linux game I ever played was TuxRacer. I haven't had a desire to look into Linux gaming any further ever since. America's Army was a propaganda piece.


On a slight tangent, I used to enjoy a good game of Enemy Territory during my very short gaming phase (on FreeBSD, actually...); I wish that would be ported to IRIX someday... :-/

Back on-topic, I think the reasons behind platform decisions are more often political than technical, though the leanings toward chips with less L2 seems more economical (for both the peecee and console builders).

I could be completely off-base though. Gaming has never really struck my fancy.

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Unread postby MisterDNA » Fri Oct 27, 2006 8:51 pm

It would be nice to just post a website and say something like:

Okay, wannabe gamers, we're going to standardize on a platform and get creative. The following hardware (available cheap) will make up your dev box:

Socket 754 motherboard featuring nForce4 chipset from good manufacturer
Athlon64 3000+ (or whatever is common and cheap)
1GB RAM PC3200 (wish DC was available on S754)
GeForce 6600GT with 128MB RAM of 500/1000 form
DVD-ROM capable of 6x or higher speed as main optical drive
DVD-RW drive as optional secondary optical drive
7200RPM SATA hard disk drive capable of at least 20MB sustained throughput
AC97 codec used for all audio
Logitech Wingman "PS2-style" controllers

Target play resolution: 1280x720 Progressive scan
Target framerate: consistent 30 or 60FPS (zero slowdown)
Standardized music codec: OGG
Standardized FMV codec: (something open-source)


In a year or two, hardware like this will be found in dumpsters. Imagine having games optimized to the point that this hardware combo (or whatever combo would be most synergistic) run better than a 2008 mid-grade system.

Nintendo got it right with the Wii. People don't need 1080p graphics to have fun. Obviously, 320x240 is shit. 480i doesn't really cut it. 480p is enough for most things. 720p is just plain great.

720p is also well within easy reach of a 6600GT. 128MB RAM for the GPU is plenty. The bandwidth of the PCI-E 16x connection is enough for even the most drastic change of the contents of the GPU's RAM between frames. And it's a native PCI-E chip.

I'd like to see some hardcore tuning done. I miss seeing Assembly code written with more beauty and attention to detail than a classical symphony. Combine the kind of talent being put to work on "cramped" systems like the Atari 2600 with the power of new-ish hardware and you have something incredible.

Like the systems where this kind of optimization was common, however, you have to have clock signals timed in multiples of each other. I don't know if that's even possible on this platform.

My flight of fancy is now boarding.
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Unread postby MisterDNA » Fri Oct 27, 2006 8:57 pm

I wonder if anyone would actually use 64-bit capabilities of a CPU?
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Unread postby hamei » Fri Oct 27, 2006 10:11 pm

MisterDNA wrote:In a year or two, hardware like this will be found in dumpsters.

I think you just answered your own question. Why do you think gaming even exists ?

Hint : $$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$

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Unread postby MisterDNA » Sat Oct 28, 2006 7:24 am

hamei wrote:
MisterDNA wrote:In a year or two, hardware like this will be found in dumpsters.

I think you just answered your own question. Why do you think gaming even exists ?

Hint : $$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$


Interesting. I always thought it was because of "fun".
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Unread postby Frapazoid » Sat Oct 28, 2006 11:13 am

It's produced for $$$ because they sell because they're fun.

Anyways,

I see a lot of gamers choosing AMD's Sempron CPUs for their gaming rigs and the only difference I see with those is the huge lack of L2 cache memory. Is cache unimportant for games?


I don't remember why, but I was told a long time ago by a game developer that large cache is a bad thing for games.

Incidentally, the original X-Box has basically a Pentium-III coppermine except that it's cache is halved. Go figure.

What I think is more interesting is the combinations of game CPUs. That's something I definately don't understand; they mix very different processors.

I mean like, I know the NeoGeo has both a 16-bit Motorola M68k and an 8-bit... Z80? Something like that, I can't remember. And the Nintendo DS has two different models of ARM processors.

Seems like the Saturn had 3 CPUs. Two were a pair and then there was a 3rd different one. I didn't give enough a shit about the Saturn to remember specifics.

Anyway, question: How does that work? I'm 90% certain SMP wasn't used in console gaming up until the XBox360 and Wii. (And I'm not exactly sure what the deal is with the PS3).

So if I have a system with a 16-bit M68k and an 8-bit Z80 (I think it was a Z80), how the hell does that work? Is seperate code loaded into the 2nd processor? Is it doing work other data behind the scenes and I don't have to worry about it? Do I have mixed instructions and they somehow magically go to the right processor?

That's what I don't understand about this open socket thing with the new Xeon and Opteron systems. I keep reading crap about putting a MIPS processor or a Cell or a Power7 into an Opteron socket. Does these mean they can be MIXED? How does each chip get the right code?

The SuperFX and other SNES coprocessors are the only ones that I think I understand. As I understand it, instructions are written into memory stored on the cartridge via DMA (the whole thing is memory anyway) and the chip does it's work operating on a framebuffer stored in memory in the cart, which is pulled off via DMA and written into the local framebuffer.

I'm sorry for the stupid question but this has been bugging me for ages and I don't even know where to start looking. Though I'm gonna go look up "coprocessor" now...
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Unread postby virtualsim » Sat Oct 28, 2006 12:26 pm

Frapazoid wrote:Seems like the Saturn had 3 CPUs. Two were a pair and then there was a 3rd different one. I didn't give enough a shit about the Saturn to remember specifics.


Why ask if you don't give a shit?

2 Seconds of Google/Wiki would have given you all the info on earth about the Saturn and its EIGHT CPUs/Microcontrollers of various kinds (now that's why it cost an arm and a leg)...

Frapazoid wrote:So if I have a system with a 16-bit M68k and an 8-bit Z80 (I think it was a Z80), how the hell does that work? Is seperate code loaded into the 2nd processor? Is it doing work other data behind the scenes and I don't have to worry about it? Do I have mixed instructions and they somehow magically go to the right processor?


Why did they mix the types? Easy answer.

You're gonna need a few chips in the console, especially in the olden days when chips where so weak. You will at least need one for sound, one for input one for display and one to run the game and coordinate everything.

While you are selecting chips, think about your PREVIOUS hardware (ie. the Master system in the case of the Genesis)
Why not use an older cheap CPU you know well in an ancillary function in the new machine? This way you can have cheap backward compatibility with less efforts. You can also allow your developers to run already developed code on it while they redo their libraries for the new hardware.

That is why there is a Z80 in the Genesis.
The Z80 conveniently runs at 1/2 the 68K speed, allowing for easy synchronization between the 2. Some games used it as an auxiliary sound processor. But the main use was as a CPU with the PowerBase adapter.
There was also a TI sound generator in addition to the Yamaha FM chip in the Genesis whose main function was to provide sound in Master System emulation mode.

This is why the PS2 has a 33MHz R3000A as its I/O processor. Makes for very easy PS1 emulation and you would need a chip in this function anyway.

The Z80 in the Game Boy Advance serves NO function with GBA software. Its just there to provide compatibility with the GBC and GB software. A very cheap (5 cents per unit?) way to boost your software library by thousands of titles.
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Unread postby Frapazoid » Sat Oct 28, 2006 2:08 pm

Okay that pretty much clears it up. Thankyous!

Why ask if you don't give a shit?


Sorry about the rudeness, I've just had a LOT of coffee and that makes me hyper and dickish (moreso than usual) :oops:
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Unread postby zizban » Sat Oct 28, 2006 7:35 pm

Currently:

Sony PS2: Emotion Engine, A MIPS chip
XBox360: Custom PowerPC chip
Nintendo GameCube: Custom PowerPC chip

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Unread postby Frapazoid » Sat Oct 28, 2006 8:09 pm

The Cube has a 750CXE with SIMD enhancements. My Lappy has a 750CX :)

The '360 and the Wii both have custom Multicore PPCs.
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Unread postby MattPayne » Wed Nov 15, 2006 2:29 am

the PS3 uses the cell processor, which i belive is also a PPC based design...
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Unread postby pentium » Wed Nov 15, 2006 6:54 am

Why did Sony choose the Cell design and then have the multicore beast crippled in such a way that the PS3 could never be used as a full-on computer the way the PS2 was able to be used when equipped with the Linux kit?

The origional theory of the design of a console that could only read media, and save a small file to an external card.
I frowned the day I heard of a hard drive installation because they have pretty much turned game consoles into media centers. Wit the PS3 not being able to handle linux or even act as a full computer, It shows that sony might realize that a game console is not a media center and these extra instalations might come back to haunt them. (like the BETA tape changer which never took off, then again, neither did beta :lol: ).
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Unread postby Dubhthach » Wed Nov 15, 2006 7:24 am

MattPayne wrote:the PS3 uses the cell processor, which i belive is also a PPC based design...


Indeed and it has a "PS2 on chip" (die shrink to single chip) for backward compat with PS1+PS2.

Cell is an interesting chip, be interesting to see what they can do with compare to Xbox360 chip which is as we know a triple-core PPC running at same clockspeed.

As for why did Microsoft use Intel for first Xbox, mainly cause it was alot cheaper buying off the shelf components (or as close to) and allowed them get a box out to compete with Sony as quick as possible.
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Unread postby jan-jaap » Wed Nov 15, 2006 7:26 am

pentium wrote:(like the BETA tape changer which never took off, then again, neither did beta :lol: ).

I had a BetaMax video recorder. I learned a lesson: I'm not going to buy a HD-DVD or blueray until one of them is dead. With new technologies these days I also wait until affordable writers exist and any copy protection schemes have been broken.
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