Xbox 720 AMD heart tipped as backward-compatibility cut

Microsoft's next-gen Xbox may sacrifice backward-compatibility for 360 games in favor of easier cross-platform development for Xbox and Windows PC games, sources claim, following Sony in jumping to AMD chips. The unofficially titled "Xbox 720" will ditch IBM Power PC processors for AMD's x86-based chips, Bloomberg reports, bringing greater hardware parity to Xbox and PC, and allowing game developers to more easily release titles for both platforms. However, those upgrading from an existing Xbox 360 to the new console may be less impressed.

That's because, without some clever emulation, an x86-based console would not be able to run games designed for the older, Power PC-based versions. Any catalog of existing Xbox 360 titles would not, therefore, run on the new hardware.

Microsoft could work around that limitation by cooking up an emulator that, in effect, creates a virtual Xbox 360 within which to play older titles. However, it could also choose to chase new game sales completely, or alternatively offer some sort of cloud-based game access for older titles. Previous leaks have already suggested that the new Xbox will be designed to be permanently connected to the internet.

Sony has already paved the way for a jump to AMD silicon, confirming earlier this year that the PlayStation 4 will use a custom SoC from the processor firm. That chip will pair eight 64-bit Jaguar cores with AMD Radeon graphics, among other things, while older titles – the game discs for which will be no longer compatible with the console – will be delivered from the Gaikai cloud-gaming service.

The Xbox 720 almost certainly won't use the same SoC, but a similar arrangement of Jaguar cores is likely. AMD is particularly eager to pick up design wins from gaming heavyweights, such as Sony and Microsoft, because it offers a way out of the ever-shrinking profit margins in desktop and notebook PCs; the company's willingness to compete on price apparently left NVIDIA out of the loop, with the chip rival saying that it was unwilling to work for the sort of budget Sony had in mind for the PS4.

For Microsoft, a common system architecture between Xbox and PC would make cross-platform gaming far more straightforward, and allow it to better leverage its footprint in both categories. For game developers, there would be less investment – in terms of both time and money – required to release titles for each platform, something Microsoft supposedly hopes will court coders back to Xbox and away from more "casual" platforms or upstarts like OUYA.

Exactly when we might see the new "Durango" Xbox is unclear at this stage. Microsoft was tipped to be readying a reveal sometime this month, but is said to have squashed that timeline in favor of an event later in Q2. That could be at E3 2013 in June, or at a standalone event on May 21, other sources claim.