3 GHz PowerPC Game Console Madness

It was the best of times for IBM. Nintendo, already using a PowerPC processor in its GameCube, will be using a new IBM CPU in Revolution, its next generation gaming system. 

The Rumor Mill

Sony partnered with IBM to develop the Cell processor, which is related to IBM’s POWER architecture and PowerPC chips. Cell processors will be used in the Playstation 3, due to ship in Spring 2006.

And this week Microsoft unveiled the Xbox 360, yet another gaming system based on PowerPC architecture.

It was the worst of times for Microsoft. They’ve had to buy Power Macintosh G5s from Apple, modify them, and ship them out as Xbox 360 development systems.

It was the best of times for Apple. They’ve been selling Power Mac G5s to Microsoft, of all people, and Microsoft has become one of Apple’s larger customers.

It was the worst of times for Intel. They’ve been selling CPUs to Microsoft for the original Xbox, which is going to practically vanish into sales oblivion once the Xbox 360 ships in November.

Macs and Gaming

One of the weakest areas for the Mac has been serious gamers, who buy tricked out Windows computers, upgrade them with faster drives and better graphics cards, and then overclock the CPU and GPU for even higher performance.

Our attitude at Low End Mac: Let them buy consoles. If you want to play games, buy something designed for that. It’s silly to use a $3,000 tweaked computer for gaming when a $200 console offers great performance and – at least so far – doesn’t get infected with viruses.

All three next-generation gaming systems will have 512 MB of RAM, Internet support, killer graphics chips, hard drives, and one or more PowerPC processors running at 3.2 GHz or so – and they’ll retail for less than the 1.25 GHz Mac mini.

I’m hoping Apple is going to offer Power Mac G5 systems that fast by the time Xbox 360 ships, but the really neat thing for game developers is that all three gaming systems and all Apple computers are going to use CPUs from the same processor family.

That should facilitate porting today’s hot new games to the Mac!

Render That

There’s one other aspect of these “game machines” that seems to have been missed by everyone so far – these could be amazingly cheap units for building a render farm. Port Linux or OS X to the hardware, have your Mac distribute rendering tasks to the game consoles, and you can have the capabilities of Pixar, Lucas, or Dreamworks for pennies on the dollar.

Or set one of these boxes up with an external USB 2.0 hard drive as a home file server. Port Proliant’s PhoneValet, plug in their USB-to-phone dongle, and you’ve got a 10 mailbox digital answering machine. Install a FireWall and have it manage and share your Internet connection. Shoot, set it up as a personal Web server with Apache.

Mac mini Killer?

If Apple wants to tap into a potential market, they should create versions of OS X for each of the game consoles, along with the iApps. Charge US$149-199 for the bundle. Give these gamers Safari for browsing, iChat for messaging, iMovie for editing their DV movies and television programs. (Someone is bound to build a video-to-USB 2.0 connector for these. The same goes for add-on hard drives and DVD burners.)

Apple could make more off the bundle than they do selling the Mac mini, which will probably have to get faster and see a price cut to remain viable once the humongous Xbox 360 ships. (Nintendo’s Revolution appears to be smaller than the Mac mini.)

Color Classic Redux?

Here’s a really wild idea. Instead of replacing your ancient low-end Mac, if Apple were to port OS X to these consoles, you could buy one of them, pick up the OS X/iApps bundle, and use your old Mac – maybe even a cute little Color Classic – to control is over ethernet.

Maybe that sounds crazy, but imagine the potential of porting VNC (Virtual Network Computer) to these consoles.

Apple’s got to come up with something, because once Microsoft is selling a triple-core 3.2 GHz game console, those US$2,999 Power Macs are going to seem awfully expensive.

– Anne Onymus

Keywords: #powerpc #xbox360 #playstation3 #gamecube #wii