Gates unwraps the XBox at consumer show

InfoWorld |  Operating Systems

LAS VEGAS -- Microsoft Chairman and Chief Software Architect Bill Gates offered the first look at the company's Xbox game console here Saturday, as the giant software maker prepares to do battle against Sony Corp.'s Playstation 2 for a slice of the video gaming market.

Microsoft's first gaming console is a sleek black box about eight inches square and three inches high, with a large X embossed on the top and a neon green bay at the center into which DVD disks can be inserted. The company showed two shoot-'em-up video games running on a developer version of the Xbox in a demonstration designed to show off the machine's superior graphics performance.

"What you're seeing here is the final Xbox except for a couple of chips that are so state of the art they won't be done until we finish the manufacturing, we'll just plug those in," Gates said, speaking to a packed theater audience at the start of the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) here. "Everything else will be as you see it."

Gates confirmed that the Xbox will be powered by an Intel processor and a separate graphics chip being developed by Nvidia. It will have four ports for multi-player gaming, an Ethernet port for loading video and other data at high speed, and a "rumble" capability so that users can feel the action on the screen through the game's controllers, Gates said.

"The graphics capability is over three times greater than what's been available before," Gates claimed. When a DVD disk is inserted into the Xbox it takes only 8 seconds for a game to load and start running, he said. Because the Xbox has an 8G-byte hard drive, games that have been played previously are stored locally and don't have to be reloaded, he added.

Professional wrestling star The Rock joined Gates on stage to bring some celebrity to the unveiling. Among the games on tap for the Xbox is the World Wide Wrestling Federation's Raw is War. "To the untrained eye, it might just appear that The Rock and Bill Gates don't have a heck of a lot in common," said The Rock, who likes to refer to himself in the third person, and momentarily dwarfed Gates on stage.

The Xbox is due to ship in the U.S. by the end of this year, and in Europe by early 2001. Pricing hasn't been announced, but Microsoft has said its product will be priced competitively with other machines on the market. Sony's PlayStation 2 retails for $299 in the U.S.

Gates also offered the first public demonstration of Whistler, the codename for the next version of Microsoft's desktop operating system for home and small business users due out later this year.

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