Is Microsoft working on new, smaller Xbox 360?

Purported motherboard picture leaks on a Chinese forum

SPECULATIONS ABOUT A smaller Xbox 360 have taken off again today after a picture of what is said to be a new Xbox 360 motherboard has appeared on a Chinese forum. Rumours of a smaller Xbox 360 started way back in 2008 with speculations about a 45nm chip codenamed Valhalla that was supposed to appear last year but never showed up.

There isn’t much information to go by except a single picture on the A9VG forums posted by one of its members, but there are a few giveaways that make this look somewhat legit. First of all the Xbox 360 southbridge is clearly visible and it seems to be the same chip used on the Jasper motherboard found in the latest Xbox 360 consoles. The other chip that you’ll notice is the scaler, which again looks identical to the one on the Jasper motherboards.

Other giveaways include the ports, which again look very similar to those on the current crop of consoles, with a few obvious modifications. For starters there appears to be only one controller port rather than two, but considering that most people use wireless controllers this is hardly a major issue. The front USB ports still appear to be in place and the same goes for the rear AV connector. However, this is where things get a little bit interesting. The power connector is a completely different design and what appears to be an optical S/PDIF connector is also present.

The Ethernet port and presumably the accompanying USB port are also present, as with the current models, but there are two additional blocks of connectors on the new board. There will be an HDMI connector located somewhere, but we can’t quite figure out what the additional ports are for. We’d hazard a guess that there’s at least another pair of USB ports, especially as Project Natal is likely to connect to the console via USB and as the current Xbox 360 consoles only have three USB ports, a couple of extra ports wouldn’t hurt.

The new board carries a pair of internal SATA ports, and that’s one more than the current models, although it seems to retain the custom power connector for the optical drive. What you’ll also notice is that the custom hard drive connector that the current consoles are using is missing, which suggests that the consoles based on the new motherboard will be using an internal SATA drive, or possibly even a user accessible hard drive bay as per the PS3.

There are several other custom connectors on the board as well, but many of these could be for debugging purposes and might well be removed on the production PCB. The power regulation circuitry has also been vastly simplified and what appears to be the reason behind this is that the Valhalla rumour is set to come true, that is, the Xbox CPU and GPU have been moved into a System-on-a-Chip type design.

On the first picture, the chip is covered by a rather large heatsink and a fan, although it doesn’t appear as if this is the final cooling solution. However, there’s a second picture a few pages later in the same forum thread that shows the chip without cooling and it looks very different to the current crop of Xbox 360 chips. A heatspreader has been added to the new chip, so it’s hard to see what’s going on, but the new SoC is rumoured to be a 45nm design. We’re fairly certain it’s not a real SoC design, but rather what is known as a MCM or Multi-Chip-Module package, just like the current GPU in the Xbox 360..

The PCB appears to be at least a third shorter, but about as wide as the one in the current consoles. It appears to be almost square in shape which should lead to fairly compact consoles based on it. Microsoft seems to have taken a leaf out of Sony’s book here and figured that a console redesign will make for a much more interesting product refresh rather than launching yet another special edition of the console. A smaller console should also appeal more, as not only will it take up less space, but it will also look better next to that HD TV in your front room.S|A

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