The industry behind the processing and memory chips is gearing up for entire new generations of slimmer hardware – as we’ve seen from many manufacturers such as Intel and Apple, smaller, lighter, more power efficient chips are slowly leading to a bright new era of tech that’s just so unbelievably slim.
Indeed, Intel’s super-slim chips have already made it into new netbooks and Apple’s work in mobile devices such as tablets and wearables are notable to say the least. But what of games consoles? These chunky powerhouses, such as the Xbox One and PS4, have heralded a new era of graphics, although the consoles themselves are currently sitting pretty with their chunky original hulls.
These newer slim models are not yet forthcoming, especially from Microsoft, whose entire Xbox 360 lineup never saw a console which made (much) difference in terms of size. This may soon change however, as the guys at AMD, the techies behind the chips inside the Xbox One, are reportedly working on developing a brand new, smaller chip for the console.
Ultimately, the new chip is nearly a third smaller than the current one – a processor measuring just 20 nanometres, down from 28nm chips used in both the current Xbox One and the PS4. Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company, the chip foundry behind the technology, explains the advantages of 20nm tech in their official blurb.
“TSMC’s 20nm process technology can provide 30 percent higher speed, 1.9 times the density, or 25 percent less power than its 28nm technology. TSMC 20nm technology is the manufacturing process behind a wide array of applications that run the gamut from tablets and smartphones to desktops and servers.”
These promises open up massive opportunities for the Xbox One – once the chip itself is replaced with one that uses less power and expels less heat, a smaller heat sink is required. Ultimately, the bulky copper and aluminium heat sink is what puts the real limitations on the console’s size.
The huge chunk of metal absorbs heat but needs to have a very large surface area to be efficient at dissipating the heat. This is done by creating copper rods bent in a curved snaking pattern to maximize surface area for the amount of space used, as well as allow better ventilation from an attached fan.
A more efficient processor means less cooling needed, so these proposed 20nm chips could really lead to a smaller Xbox One. The chips are also more efficient to run with regards to power needed, a very desirable trait for any manufacturer.
Microsoft’s horizons for this new slimmer console seem unspoiled, except of course for the expensive manufacturing process and troublesome economic factors which accompany manufacturing new chips. To understand this one must understand how chips work, and how the transistors which create binary data are crammed onto ever-smaller slivers of silicone.
The production process is much more experimental in the early stages, meaning only high end products with large budgets are likely to see the new technology – right now TSMC’s 20nm efforts are all currently being directed towards the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus, Apple’s expensive creations taking higher priority, with desktop computer manufacturers like AMD and Nvidia having to wait their turn.
Of course, once AMD and Nvidia do get their hands on 20nm chips, the first priority for both will be traditional desktop graphics cards. It’s going to be a long wait for Microsoft before AMD are able to focus on getting the chips they’ve designed into any potential slimmer Xbox One, but when they do it may quite possibly be the smallest Xbox yet.