Today NVIDIA will be announcing an integrated chip, dubbed the MCPX, for Microsoft's Xbox. The MCP, or Media Communications Processor, is touted by the company as being an advanced architecture for 21st century appliances.
Scheduled for release in fall 2001, Xbox is Microsoft's next generation video game console. The Xbox will be powered by an Intel 733MHz CPU, a custom graphics chip designed by NVIDIA, an 8GB hard drive, 64MB of memory, a 3D audio processor, and broadband connectivity for online game play.
To those of us familiar with NVIDIA, it's common knowledge that NVIDIA was selected by Microsoft to design the graphics processing unit (GPU) for the Xbox. Based around the technology present in NVIDIA's GeForce chipset, the GPU for the Xbox will be a power packed processor capable of theoretically delivering 150 million polygons per second. But why stop there?
|Media Communications Processor
As I learned this past spring, NVIDIA's strategy consisted of entering new markets to assure future growth. In a presentation given by Mike O'Hara, Vice President of Investor Relations and Communications, we found that a goal of the company was to enter what is known as the Personal Digital Appliance (PDA) market. The PDA would be capable of combining text, graphics, video, audio, and communications in a small form factor.
Enter NVIDIA's Media Communications Processor. A key part of NVIDIA's PDA strategy, the MCP is analogous to a swiss army knife in that the MCP contains many capabilities that already exists in todays personal computers. The MCPX supports the Universal Serial Bus (USB) which allows a host of input devices such as game controllers, digital cameras, and optical devices to be connected to the Xbox.
The MCPX also offers a solution for high density storage devices and the communications arm of the chip has been coined as a router on a chip. Multiplayer gaming on the Xbox will be accomplished using existing technologies including ethernet, cable modems, 56K modems, and HomePNA 2.0 (home phoneline networking).
Equally exciting is the audio processing unit (APU). Similar in concept to the GeForce GPU, the APU will be hardware accelerated thus alleviating the central processor of handling audio chores. The APU will be the first DirectX 8 audio processor which consists of four independent hardware processors. The APU will be able to deliver 256 2D and 56 3D voices along with 3D effects such as reflections, occlusion, and reverb. Add in real time support for Dolby Digital A3, and the MCPX offers an advanced audio solution for the Xbox.
While the MCPX is designed for the Xbox, it is clear that the product also represents NVIDIA's first step in entering the integrated chipset market. There have already been reports that NVIDIA is very close to offering an integrated graphics processor in the near future. However, the company is declining to comment, but it's possible that the MCP will also find a home in future PCs as well.
With the excellent track record NVIDIA has in the graphics chipset market, the company has also enjoyed unprecedented levels of financial growth following the Xbox deal with Microsoft. It's not often that a company gives you $200 million for research and development. The cash advance by Microsoft proves that NVIDIA has the know-how to get new and better products out the door and into the market.
Will the Xbox be a success? That's difficult to say at his point as the product is still a year away from market. But my money says that it will be as prototype sets have already found their way into developers' hands. Thus far, over 150 developers have already signed up or are considering developing content on the Xbox. Throw in the performance NVIDIA will be delivering from next generation graphics processors plus the release of Microsoft's DirectX 8, and it certainly looks like a winning combination.
Update: This article at EETimes confirms that NVIDIA will indeed be entering the PC chipset market. It states that a variation of the MCPX processor will be used as a South Bridge core logic devic.