The engineers in Microsoft's windowless next-gen Xbox silicon lab are rattled. And understandably so. We're in their office, after all, and we have a mess of cameras in the one place you're not allowed to have cameras (or even cellphones). We're obviously outsiders on Microsoft's multi-building, security-heavy Mountain View campus, especially given our quartet of esteemed escorts: Todd Holmdahl, Ilan Spillinger, Nick Baker and Greg Williams. These four gentlemen are leading the charge on both Microsoft's next big thing and, perhaps more importantly, a major effort to internalize silicon architecture at the traditionally software-focused megacorp.
The skittish engineers aren't worried we'll film the mess of 24-inch LCD screens running video-compression tests, or the rows of desks with water hose stations used for temperature stress tests, or even the sea of circuit boards in various states of disrepair -- that's all standard for any Silicon Valley computer lab. It's really just a single chip that's causing concern: a custom-built Microsoft SoC that sits at the heart of the Xbox One. It's this SoC that has us in Mountain View, Calif. -- in Silicon Valley, literally down the road from Google -- a mere five days before Microsoft will unveil its next game console to the world. Over six hours last Friday, we learned not just about that SoC, but also how the company plans to utilize it in the new console. We spoke with its four lead hardware architects. We toured the labs where they are testing the silicon, and where the next-generation Kinect was born. What follows is more than a look behind the silicon that drives the next Xbox -- it's a deep dive into the changing approach Microsoft's taking to creating devices.