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The new "Falcon" motherboard with revised CPU cooler  (Source: JWSpeed, Xbox Forums)

Old 90nm CPU cooler as found on most Xbox 360 "Zephyr" motherboards

The new "Falcon" CPU after removal of heatsink  (Source: JWSpeed, Xbox Forums)

The new "Falcon" heatsink after removal from motherboard  (Source: JWSpeed, Xbox Forums)
65nm "Falcon" CPUs and revised heatsinks found in latest Xbox 360 "Halo 3" hardware

When it comes to computer processors, the advantages of a die-shrink are undeniable. For chip makers – and overclockers – a processor manufactured at a smaller process can open up more headroom for faster clock speeds, or decrease power consumption and cooling requirements. A die-shrink is a much-lauded happening in the computer world. For consoles, however, a die-shrink usually occurs without much fanfare – except in the case of the Xbox 360. Gamers have been waiting for months for the arrival of 65nm Xbox 360 chips, with the hope that the cooler-running processor would mean more stable hardware.

Microsoft’s latest console may be home to some of the best software, but in terms of hardware, the Xbox 360 is commonly thought to be unreliable. DailyTech uncovered in July a defect rate as high as 33 percent for all Xbox 360 consoles. Just days after the report’s release, Microsoft extended its warranty coverage of the Red Ring of Death defect to three years.

Although Microsoft refuses to tell the public what the main cause is of the failing hardware, but most point to inadequate cooling of the 90nm graphics processor. Evidence of this came when users reported of receiving both new and repaired machines that featured a new heatsink design intended to better cool the GPU.

Aside from introducing improved cooling, Microsoft was also in the process of moving its 90nm chips to the 65nm process. The first hardware revision to implement a 65nm chip was codenamed “Falcon,” and consoles featuring the new design are hitting store shelves now, according to consumer discussion on the official Xbox forums.

A brave individual with the Gamertag “JWSpeed” dissected his new Halo 3 Special Edition console to discover inside a new, simplified heatsink design. Upon further inspection and the removal of the heatsink, a new CPU branded with a “CANADA” label rests on the motherboard.

The new heatsink design does away with the heatpipe, indicating that the cooling requirements of the new chip are less intense than of the old design. For reference, the console examined to have the new hardware was built on August 24, 2007 from team “FDOU” and lot number 734. Those interested in learning how to tell if an Xbox 360 console features the new chip without voiding the warranty should refer to a guide from the Xbox forums.

Strangely, the chip that makes the move to 65nm in “Falcon” affects only the CPU, rather than the trouble-causing GPU. Of course, making the CPU at 65nm is also a cost-cutting measure for Microsoft, as the chip will be smaller and 50 percent less expensive to manufacture. Without moving the GPU to 65nm, however, it is impossible to know if the new “Falcon” models are still at risk of the Red Ring of Death.

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By Didou on 9/30/2007 4:18:42 PM , Rating: 2
Does the CPU die look smaller than the 0.09 one ?

RE: Question
By ADDAvenger on 9/30/2007 4:26:54 PM , Rating: 2
The die itself is, while the package it's in will look to be the exact same size as before.

RE: Question
By ShapeGSX on 9/30/2007 5:24:31 PM , Rating: 2
The silicon is visible in that photo of the chip. There is no package around the silicon.

It would be better to see a picture of the chip from directly above.

RE: Question
By Goty on 9/30/2007 7:01:33 PM , Rating: 2
Yeah... you know all that green stuff around the shiny part? That's not silicon, that's definitely the package.

RE: Question
By afkrotch on 9/30/07, Rating: -1
RE: Question
By jacarte8 on 10/1/2007 11:18:19 AM , Rating: 2
No it's not in this case, clown

RE: Question
By ShapeGSX on 9/30/2007 8:08:45 PM , Rating: 5
Yes, the green is the package. But there is no package over the silicon. What you see in the middle of the green package is the actual silicon. They are using flip chip packaging, which is quite common these days.

Read about it here:

[quote]The reason it is called "flip-chip" is because the exposed part of the core you are looking at is actually the "bottom" of the core; it is flipped so that the core can have direct contact with your heatsink to improve cooling which is vital when looking at the heat production of today's processors.[/quote]

There is no heat spreader.

Intel desktop processors have a heat spreader over them.

Laptop processors don't (the back of the silicon is exposed).

What you see in the middle of the package on the 360's CPU really is the silicon. Around the silicon, which looks like glue is called "underfill", which is used to reduce stress. All of the connections from the silicon to the package are done through the bumps on the top side of the chip. The chip is then flipped upside down and attached to the package. The back of the silicon is exposed for the best thermal contact with the heat sink.

RE: Question
By afkrotch on 9/30/07, Rating: -1
RE: Question
By Carl B on 9/30/2007 11:57:50 PM , Rating: 2

RE: Question
By murphyslabrat on 10/1/2007 2:30:54 PM , Rating: 2
This was intended as a consumer-electronics device. Therefore, no die-protection is required, as they do not expect people to go swapping heatsinks. Also, as concerns heat-spreading, that's what the heatsink is for!

RE: Question
By JeffDM on 10/2/2007 10:34:02 PM , Rating: 1
Actually, an intermediate heat spreader plate lowers thermal conductivity. AMD relented on it mainly because people were damaging their chips through improper assembly of their desktop PCs. That's not a problem with a device where the user can't install the chip themselves.

RE: Question
By Sahrin on 10/1/2007 11:30:36 AM , Rating: 2
"Package" typically refers to the electric and organic materials that are used to a) connect the die to the system itself electrically and b) create a physical case for the processor. A Heatspreader is not part of the "package" - it is a compnent added afterwards as a heat/die protection tool. The method of packaging has nothing to do with the package itself - the die is attached the package, flip-chip or otherwise. Either way, the package would be the green silicon card and the die would be the silicon rectagon in the middle. I think you're misinterepreting the poster's comments.

RE: Question
By Carl B on 10/1/2007 12:02:07 AM , Rating: 4
I want to add that moving to 65nm doesn't automatically mean half as large, let alone half as expensive...

Those are arbitrary theoretical scalings; but the truth is best derived from the actual die size compared to the previous 90nm chip, something that we should be able to determine fairly readily now. Then as to the cost, it'll be a factor of the yields and process maturity.

I think the article goes too far in making a 50% blanket statement; it's a lot more nuanced than that.

RE: Question
By ImmortalZ on 10/1/2007 8:26:11 AM , Rating: 3
True. 90nm -> 65nm is not an optical shrink. It's a chip redesign as well. The core might not be 50% smaller.

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