When Atari released the Jaguar system in the mid-'90s, its marketing department tried hard to convince the world that the system's (arguably) 64-bit CPU architecture made it "better" than competitors that were merely 16- or 32-bit. For the next generation of consoles it looks like such numbers games might be moving to a focus on the console's CPU cores, as Microsoft is rumored to be packing 16 cores into the processor for its Xbox 360 follow-up, code-named Durango.
The rumor comes from Britain's Xbox World magazine (via sister site Computer & Video Games), which cites information from unnamed developers that reportedly got their hands on Durango development kits last month. Those kits are reportedly "powered by a state of the art 16-core IBM Power PC CPU," alongside the same kind of Radeon HD 7000-series graphics cards that had been previously rumored for the upcoming system.
At first glance, a 16-core architecture would seem like a ridiculously over-the-top bit of future-proofing for a system that's expected to hit store shelves near the end of 2013. As we noted in a recent report on the potential power for the next console generation, most current PC games struggle to max out even three cores on current high-end Intel Sandy Bridge processors. Xbox World speculates that all those extra cores might be needed to drive the next generation of Microsoft's Kinect 3D camera, which they speculate will be able to track multiple players "down to their fingertips."
Then again, speculating on what a 16-core console could really do is a bit of a fool's errand unless we know just how powerful each of those cores are, and on this score current rumors are silent. If each core is comparable to the current Xbox 360's Xenon processor, then the new system's CPU would indeed be a powerful workhorse that easily outclasses the rather pedestrian graphics hardware it's rumored to run alongside. If Microsoft is just packing the system with a lot of cheaper, less-powerful cores, however, that "16 core" number could end up being as meaningless as the "64-bit" claim was for the disappointing Jaguar.
We might know which option is closer to correct sooner than later—Xbox World claims that some developers are working to show off software meant for the next console generation by June's E3 show, despite promises from both Sony and Microsoft that neither will reveal new hardware at the event.