You might remember that a short while ago, we ran an article (and video) on the first batch of hardware crammed inside Microsoft’s Xbox One – check it here. We discussed the CPU, GPU, RAM and ESRAM. But as we know, there’s more than those components which makes up the Xbox One’s specs. So in part two of our look inside the hardware, we’ll discuss the 8GB of additional flash memory, the hard drive, south bridge and other components inside the X1.
SouthBridge Inside Xbox One
The Xbox One uses the custom X861949-005 T6WD5XBG-0003 southbridge. Okay, that’s nice I hear you say – but what exactly is a southBridge and what does role does it have inside the Xbox One?
A Southbridge is there to handle communication with a variety of different components, including the HDD (Hard Disk Drive), Wi-Fi, Blu-Ray, Xbox One’s controllers (including the Kinect 2.0) and also HDMI.
The Soutbridge effectively takes the work away from the main processor, and technically speaking the machine would still function without the southbridge doing its job. But since it handles all of the communication and not be able to input commands or load or read any data to the machine it’d be pretty darn useless wouldn’t it?
SHAPE – Xbox One’s Audio Block
The audio block inside the Xbox One (known to its friends as SHAPE) is custom designed and created by Microsoft. At it hears it is four tensilica DSP (Digital Signal Processor) cores and several programmable processing engines. They then have the one of the X1’s DSP Cores running as a control, and another two focus on vector code (for speech) and another is for general purpose Digital Signal Processing (DSP). This is also comibined with the XMA audio block, which allows sample rate conversion, audio filtering, equalization and much more on the fly. Microsoft had designed the SHAPE Audio Block to run 512 voices for game audio, while also simultaneously handling Kinect 2.0 voice commands pre-processing.
There’s a reason the Xbox One’s audio processor is so powerful – Microsoft’s experience with the Xbox 360. Several developers (including MS) had reported that for certain games, an entire thread (one of the six capable of running on the hardware) had been dedicated to audio processing. In other words, it ain’t cheap to do in software. With the AMD Jaguar being a slower CPU, MS couldn’t go this same route and so designed a powerful audio block to offload this work load. With the AMD Jaguar (which as we’ve discussed, is 8 cores, with 2 modules of 4 cores) being less powerful than the PS3’s Cell for example, it’s importance of going wide (in other words, splitting the processing over multiple cores) is growing with importance. You can compare this to the Playstation 4’s Audio DSP here
Hardware Move Engines
The Xbox One’s has many little tricks up its sleeve, and one of them are the ‘Hardware Move Engines’. The Move Engines are responsible for shunting data around the Xbox One really quickly, freeing up the responsibility from the Xbox One’s GPU or CPU. In theory, this will mean that if the CPU and GPU are working at their fullest, you’re actually saving performance because they don’t need to figure out how to move data around.
The Move Engines can go ahead and pull data too and from the ESRAM, or the systems main DDR3 RAM. It’s doing this all asynchronously and because of this you’re freeing up cycles of the GPU / CPU which would otherwise be wasted. They are fixed function, so because of this developers don’t really need to interact or issue them instructions or program them. They already know how to do their job, thank you very much!
This means that if a texture has been created and is currently stored in ESRAM, and you’re not going to need it for awhile or you’re not going to need much bandwidth its better to run it from the DDR3 memory. Therefore, the hardware move engine will snatch it from the ESRAM and place it into the relevant place. For much much more info on just how the Hardware Move Engines function, check this article out.
It can also help do things with LZ compression, JPEG Decode and so on.
8Gb of Flash Memory:
The Xbox One also features 32Gb (that’s Gigabits, not Gigabytes) of flash memory per stack, and there are two stacks total. This means that the Xbox One features 8GB of flash memory, in case you’re wondering the part number is SK Hynix H26M42003GMR 8 GB eMMC NAND Flash.
Currently there’s not been a lot said about the Xbox One’s flash memory, and Microsoft certainly haven’t revealed its purpose as yet. There are a variety of theories, including that it’s used for app snapping, a swap file, for suspend / standby mode and even for helping to store gameplay footage. One thing is certain, it’s not there for just the fun of it. The fact it happens to be exactly the same size as the systems main DDR3 system memory is also somewhat telling of its possible roles.
The Ethernet controller inside the Xbox One isn’t particularly unique or an exciting affair. It’s there to handle the communications from the traditional network cable and while its job isn’t pretty, for those of us relying on wired connections it is a necessary task. Realtek’s RTL 8151GNM is the part that Microsoft has selected in dealing with this thankless task.
It’s worth noting that Realtek are well known in the PC motherboard circles for their integrated components. they typically provide either the network connection or sound for the system.
That’s it… for now
There’s still much more to discuss of the inner workings of the Xbox One. We’ll still be speaking about its compute functions, Kinect 2.0, the software and OS setup which makes the machine tick and much more. Hopefully you’ve enjoyed the article and video and have a better understanding of the inner workings of the X1.