Reports claim that Microsoft has commissioned both IBM (primary) and Global Foundries (secondary) to build a PowerPC-based System on a Chip (SoC) -- codenamed Oban -- for the next Xbox console (720/Loop/Next). The reports also claim that the 32-nm chip entered production back in December 2011, and will be available for development kits slated to arrive at game studios by April.
But don't get too excited just yet -- this doesn't mean the next console will hit the streets by the end of the year. This initial run will be for the development kits only, but does indicate that developers will get started on titles for the upcoming console sometime in 2Q12. The SoC will supposedly include an ATI Southern Islands GPU, or modified 7000 series, and could enter mass production by the end of the year.
"There will almost assuredly be several revs of Oban before silicon is finalized, that is just the way things are done," SemiAccurate reports. "The first few of these chips should be coming out of the oven in late February barring any unforeseen problems, so dev kits with real silicon are likely for March, earlier if you are really important."
The news of the development kit SoC seemingly falls in line with a leaked roadmap that appeared late last year. According to Microsoft's forecast, an Xbox SDK will be released at E3 2012, followed by the console's big reveal at the same gaming convention the following year. If all goes well, Microsoft will likely launch the next Xbox console sometime around Build 2013 which typically takes place during September.
Reports surfaced nearly seven weeks ago claiming that Microsoft's Oban SoC had finally been taped out. Developers at the time said that Microsoft had not contacted them in regards to the next-gen console's progression. Yet immediately after tape-out reports began to surface, Microsoft supposedly began briefing developers about the upcoming SoC and forced them to sign an NDA.
Unnamed insiders now claim that Microsoft's initial SoC order was for around 10K (300-mm SOI?) wafers, mostly produced by "a foundry with a blue three-letter logo" with a sizable chunk handed off to Global Foundries. To some degree, an x86-based SoC does make sense given that Microsoft wants to unite its three platforms with one user experience: Windows 8, Windows Phone and Xbox.
UPDATE: This report claims that the GPU will be separate, and will be based on AMD's 6000 series instead -- something akin to the Radeon HD 6670 which supports DirectX 11, multi-display output, 3D and 1080p HD output. Raw graphics processing power is expected to be 6 times that of the current console, and yield 20-percent greater performance than the upcoming Nintendo Wii U.