Is Microsoft Staffing Up For Its Next Xbox?

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A few LinkedIn job listings for a "next generation console" may indicate a new Xbox from Microsoft is finally getting underway. Not that it'll happen anytime soon, but the question's been asked: Will next-gen consoles look like traditional client-powered set-top boxes, or the "dumb" cloud-computing devices companies like OnLive are rolling out? The job listings indicate the former.

"The Xbox Console Architecture team is hiring for a Graphics hardware architect position," reads the first job description for a "hardware engineer," adding that the team handles "defining and delivering next generation console architectures from conception through implementation."

The description indicates the "ideal" candidate would have "a broad background in 3D graphics rendering architectures and algorithms," "a solid understanding of graphics hardware implementation, including design methodologies and production yield and cost analysis," knowledge of "how state-of-the-art PC and/or console OS, driver and application code is designed and how it interacts with graphics HW/firmware," and--my emphasis--"must have taken designs from investigation to end-customer shipment during their career."

The second position for a "senior architect and performance engineer" on the same team is after someone to get "involved in product definition from early evaluation all the way through high volume manufacturing," and who'd focus on "performance evaluation and modeling."

This position's responsibilities include "pre-silicon [i.e. modeled] performance...validation," performance verification "for specified workloads," "post-silicon [i.e. after fabrication] performance validation," "architectural investigation into vendor [e.g. Intel, AMD, Nvidia, etc.] offerings," "benchmarking," performance tool design, and debugging.

A third position for a "hardware verification engineer" teases playing "a key role in the development and verification of the Xbox and future platforms" and includes responsibilities for "the design verification and qualification of the Xbox console at the component, motherboard, and system levels."

Make what you will of the three, but they don't sound like an Xbox handheld or an Xbox Even Slimmer. And with all the local processing lingo, I'd say--at least at this point--that Microsoft's not really persuaded by the whole cloud-streaming-games phenomenon.

It could, of course, be a red herring, designed, say, to lure someone with those skill sets, but for a very different sort of project, or even to throw off the competition. Surely Microsoft knows the industry's hungry enough for "what's next" crumbs and realizes public listings like these are bound to get splashed around. This could just be "give us a call" code for something else entirely.

What's more, it doesn't tell us much about timetables. Computer design (that's what consoles are, after all--living room computers) doesn't suddenly start or stop. Companies like Microsoft no doubt have researchers eyeballing the multifarious semiconductor industry constantly, weighing this technology against that one and extrapolating conceptually.

We keep hearing the current console cycle could last a decade or more. For Microsoft, that means a new Xbox probably won't turn up until 2015.

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