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Microsoft Developing Console Chips 129

The Cheesecake writes "The New York Times is running an article that says that Microsoft is looking into designing and developing microchips. These will primarily be for the next generation of the Xbox. They also mention it could be used for things like voice recognition. They look to be doing this through a process designed by UC Berkley which makes it possible to reconfigure computer designs without the cost of making finished chips."
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Microsoft Developing Console Chips

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  • by blueZ3 (744446) on Friday October 20, 2006 @03:02PM (#16519831) Homepage
    I can see it now:

    Dear aunt, let's set so double the killer delete select all!!
  • Same old same old (Score:1, Interesting)

    by aedan (196243)
    So now they shaft Intel and AMD.

  • by otacon (445694)
    First it's software, then it's computer chips, then it's robots, then it's...well we all saw Terminator...
    • by gEvil (beta) (945888) on Friday October 20, 2006 @03:08PM (#16519945)
      First it's software, then it's computer chips, then it's robots, then it's...well we all saw Terminator...

      Oh shit! They're gonna start making politicians?!?
    • by krell (896769) on Friday October 20, 2006 @03:14PM (#16520049) Journal
      "First it's software, then it's computer chips, then it's robots, then it's...well we all saw Terminator..."

      But for a while, we will have to put up with Microsoft Robot, whose face goes entirely blue for no reason at all, which crashes into the wall several times a day, which has trouble obeying you since it is constantly bombarded with commands from all over the world, and which considers the Asimov Laws of Robots as mere recommendations.
      • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

        by Anonymous Coward
        Greate, its good to hear in the future MS will at least take standards more seriously
        • by Bugs42 (788576)
          Greate, its good to hear in the future MS will at least take standards more seriously
          What, you think MS doesn't take them into account now? How else could they manage to miss the mark everytime without fail?
      • by Anonymous Coward
        [adult swim] rocks Lord Adamus ka-kien.
        • by krell (896769)
          IF FLCL is that anime thing, I'd never seen it or even heard of it before (I just now looked up the acronym to see what it was).
    • by ZiakII (829432)
      It's google thats going to take over the world... I'm telling you, google is skynet.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by jfclavette (961511)
      Microsoft Robotics [microsoft.com] You're too late.
    • by Blakey Rat (99501)
      At least Sarah Connor will be safe.
    • by Bega (684994)

      Well don't worry, like the article said;

      ..which makes it possible to reconfigure computer designs without the cost of making finished chips.

      There's no need to worry. This thing, like their other products, will never be finished. I think we're safe, no need to get that bunker just yet.

  • Not such a ... (Score:1, Flamebait)

    by gt_mattex (1016103)
    far fetch from making software without actually finishing it. Will the chips be shipped and tested by xbox owners?
  • Gotta spend! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by iluvcapra (782887) on Friday October 20, 2006 @03:04PM (#16519879)

    Gotta spend that 10-digit R&D budget on something. Anything.

    Lots of R&D projects make MSFT look like a buy with growth potential. Competent maintenance of a core business (like Windows or Office) would make it look like Otis Elevator.

    • Re:Gotta spend! (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Quasar1999 (520073) on Friday October 20, 2006 @03:08PM (#16519951) Journal
      Call me crazy, but didn't Microsoft sign some sort of deal that they wouldn't enter the chip market a decade or so ago? Or am I remembering incorrectly?
      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by Anonymous Coward
        If it was just the general CPU market they said they wouldn't enter, then something specialized like the console market would be a completely different beast. Especially considering we know the chips will be intended for one product.

        Personally, I think they've just got a case of Apple envy.
        • by maxume (22995)
          Bad at math? Microsoft has a profit margin of 28%. Apple has a profit margin of 10%. Microsoft is laughing all the way to the bank.

          Apple is chic, executing perfectly and has great products, but software is oh so much more profitable than shiny happy hardware.
          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by rtb61 (674572)
            That profit margin is of course limited to windows and office. Currently the profit marging for hardware whilst far far larger has a minus sign in front of it and is recognised by most people as a loss.

            M$ has low customer apeal, as a brand label it sucks and beyond it's monopoly position on the os and office suite, which is currently being eroded, it has no customer loyalty. Take for example their new music player, how well will it sell, it depends upon how many of their potential customers they managed t

    • Re:Gotta spend! (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Grishnakh (216268) on Friday October 20, 2006 @03:40PM (#16520355)
      Which is why Otis Elevator is obviously doing a terrible job in the market. They should be coming up with wacky new designs and trying them on their customers. It's ok if a bunch of people get killed in their beta-version elevators, as long as the company is showing sign of growth, because that's what stockholders want to see.

      In the world of publicly-traded companies, a stable company that makes a great product and loyal customers but doesn't continue to grow is a very bad thing.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by hcob$ (766699)
        In the world of publicly-traded companies, a stable company that makes a great product and loyal customers but doesn't continue to grow is a very bad thing. Only since the 1990's(and possibly the 1980's). Prior to this time, Public companies focused on building value INTO the stock and returning dividens. In those cases a solid company with good customers and steady revenue flow was highly sought after.

        But then came the .COM bubble and the day-traders. These two factors combined into the idea of:
        • by Grishnakh (216268)
          Hopefully the current economic growth(and this seems likely) is swinging away from that mentality and we'll start seeing people being able to live off stock dividens again. One can hope.

          I hope you're right. Otherwise we're all in trouble.
        • by Dantu (840928)
          In the world of publicly-traded companies, a stable company that makes a great product and loyal customers but doesn't continue to grow is a very bad thing. Only since the 1990's(and possibly the 1980's)

          Let's not forget the tax difference! In Canada stock apreciation is a capital gain so only 50% of it is taxable, but you pay full tax on dividends. If your marginal tax rate is 40% (middle class) then you take home 20% less with dividends than with capital growth.... of course no one wants to see a lot of
  • If you've ever browsed through the old Windows C library header files, you notice some "Copyright Berkeley Systems Division" type stuff in there... no surprise that's where they turn!
    • by ATMD (986401)
      Didn't Microsoft pick the BSD sockets system when it needed to implement inbuilt networking? Could be to do with that...
  • by thewiz (24994) * on Friday October 20, 2006 @03:05PM (#16519903)
    Will their chips turn blue when the console crashes?
  • Another amazing Microsoft Invention
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/FPGA [wikipedia.org]
    • by Anonymous Coward on Friday October 20, 2006 @03:26PM (#16520185)
      Honestly, what could be possibly be the satisfaction in making up nonsensical things like this in order to ridicule them? Could there possibly be a cheaper form of argumentation? Nowhere in the article is anything that anyone with brain function could possibly construe as "Microsoft Invents FPGA".
      • I work in FPGA. It is now possible to use FPGA for rapid prototyping of your IC, making design changes quite easily. When the design is finalised it is quite easy to get these converted to a structured ASIC. See Altera Corporations Hardcopy. Though I don't agree with the Microsoft invents FPGA sentiment it could be where the parent is coming from.
  • by peter303 (12292) on Friday October 20, 2006 @03:08PM (#16519947)
    Sun, SGI, DEC and IBM were disappointed in off-the-shelf CPU chips. Sun switched from Motorola to in-house SPARC. SGI bought MIPs to control CPU development. DEC had the most respected chip in the business. Apple used IBMs design. None of these enterprises were considered great commercial successes. Most of the survivors use Intel or AMD now. The big guys can come up with new versions each year or so and catch up to the "boutique" designs.
    • IBM are the odd one out there; Apple fizzled but IBM are still making their own chips; and have plenty of other buyers. And Freescale and AMCC make the same kind of chips. And Xilinx have synthesisable ones. There are lots of options. I don't see the POWER5 market fizzling soon for IBM's own-chip own-servers market, even though they do use Intel and AMD.
    • by ivan256 (17499) on Friday October 20, 2006 @03:31PM (#16520247)
      None of these enterprises were considered great commercial successes.

      If you don't call DEC's Alpha chip a 'great commercial success', than what is? Does it still have to be on the market? What chip from the Alpha era is still on the market? They've all been redesigned since.

      The only reason the Alpha 'failed' is because DEC's support business was so much more profitable than it's CPU business.

      The big guys can come up with new versions each year or so and catch up to the "boutique" designs.

      Intel only managed to catch up with the Alpha for two reasons: They stopped coming out with new versions of the Alpha, and Intel implemented patented Alpha designs without a license. It's not really a fair argument to you though, since Alpha wasn't 'boutique', and DEC *was* one of the 'big guys'.

      Similarly, SPARC was *the* CPU of the .com boom. How many do they have to sell to be a 'great commercial success'?

      All the magic is out of CPU design. Lots of people know how to do it, and do it well. The hard part these days is in the manufacturing process, and you can buy that. There is no good reason not to design your own CPU if you can reasonably expect to sell enough of them,
      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        "If you don't call DEC's Alpha chip a 'great commercial success', than what is? Does it still have to be on the market? What chip from the Alpha era is still on the market? They've all been redesigned since."

        I'm a huge Alpha proponent, so please understand that when I ask you what the hell you're smoking. Alpha was a monumental "commercial" failure. It was a huge "technological" success, but for many reasons it failed commercially. Heck, Apple sold more G4 Macs in a single quarter than DEC (and Samsung a
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by MichaelSmith (789609)

        It occurs to me that the DRM in the XBOX starts at the hardware level. So if MSFT wants to really lock down their systems making their own hardware would be a good place to start.

        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by jackbird (721605)
          Yeah, because when MS is really serious about making something that Just Works, especially a security product, they turn to their industry-leading in-house talent.
      • by xenocide2 (231786)
        If you don't call DEC's Alpha chip a 'great commercial success', than what is? Does it still have to be on the market? What chip from the Alpha era is still on the market? They've all been redesigned since.

        How about, MIPS, x86 or PPC? ARM should probably also qualify, perhaps even bump MIPS off the list ;).
      • <blockquote>All the magic is out of CPU design. Lots of people know how to do it, and do it well. The hard part these days is in the manufacturing process, and you can buy that.</blockquote>

        My bullshit detector is going wild here. The magic is not all out of cpu designs. If you believe that, well you can go the way of the alpha.

        The magic is not out of it. Most of the basics have been covered, that is true, and manufacturing process matters a lot; also true. But the manufacturing process is also not just a matter of "throwing a lot of money at it". However as I'm not as familiar with the manufacturing side of things, I'll stick to the areas I know, like processor design.

        If the magic were gone in CPU design, and it was all about manufacturing, why do both ATI and Nvidia compete so heavily, and why can one produce chips faster than the others (although it switches too often for me to care). Sure they may not be general purpose processors, but they're highly important, and they are processors. Additionally while the changes in intels designs may be more on the level of incremental improvements (doubling cores etc) it doesn't mean there's not a lot of research going into it.

        Now if you take the narrow mind that the magic in single core superscalare processor architecture is gone, sure. I'll agree with you there. That's a well studied problem. The research community moved on years ago. Simplescalar results no longer mean anything. However their is a large amount of research and development being done in the system design (the system level being restricted to a single chip). Cache-processor(s) interaction, efforts to improve programmability of chips etc etc.

        Designing your own chip is a very very risky endeavor, even if you have multiple billions of dollars in the bank like microsoft does. If they manage to pull this off; more power to them. It's a very challenging process, and will not be done by grunts (i.e. it will require roomfuls of PhDs working on various parts of the project. Your comment about being reasonable to design your own... well I tend to disagree. Building the chip used in the xbox360 from scratch would have cost far more money than leveraging the design and knowledge expertise that IBM already had. Plus the chips needed for consoles have nowhere near the volume required to build their own fab. So in that case, that means they would contract out the fab work, and so the whole point is in their design. Sure looks like design is dead to me.

        Phil

    • by Jeff DeMaagd (2015) on Friday October 20, 2006 @03:57PM (#16520599) Homepage Journal
      IBM's PowerPC design is in all the next-gen consoles, PPC was in Tivo too. IBM has a lot of PPC systems in the Top 500 supercomputer list. I wouldn't call PPC a commercial failure. A lot of embedded designs still use ARM variants (Intel's XScale was derived from DEC StrongARM), among others. I think MIPS is used in a lot of embedded systems, take a look at Linksys's WRT54G. When you get away from what you'd call a conventional computer, there are a lot of viable CPU architectures.
      • by irtza (893217)
        An unbelievably strong point, after all ARM is the #1 architecture for general purpose processors - not IA32. As long as your willing to consider all devices and not just desktop/laptop computers. Cell phones world wide use ARM more than any other architecture. PDAs use ARM more than any other architecture, and if your not willing to call these devices computers, then I'm sure you'll agree computers only came into existence in the latter half of the 90s.
        • by Björn (4836)
          An unbelievably strong point

          Absolutely. The ARM processor family has 75% of the market for embedded 32-bit processors.

    • But Microsoft's chip is so fast, it will make Windows Vista run quickly. Oh wait, nothing is fast enough for that.
  • by Numbah One (821914) on Friday October 20, 2006 @03:09PM (#16519963)
    I wonder if Uncle Bill and Uncle Steve are looking to enforce DRM through hardware or remove (or severely restrict) the ability to mod-chip the next-gen Xbox.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Have Blue (616)
      Until someone mods the Xbox 360, they've effectively removed that ability from it as well. The DVD firmware hack will only let it run copied games, not unsigned code.
    • remove (or severely restrict) the ability to mod-chip the next-gen Xbox.

      This has basically already been done. Everything coming out of the chip is encrypted, with IBM enterprise technology. If they did it themselves, they'd have to come up with their own way. Not saying they can't, but IBM has already proven theirs.
  • by Skiron (735617) on Friday October 20, 2006 @03:13PM (#16520021) Homepage
    ... you will get a new chip delivered every first Tuesday in 'snail mail' with instructions for removing the old chip and soldering and what not on how to install the new chip update due to 'important "critical" security updates".

    Oh Yea?
  • Wow, it just struck me that I haven't heard that term since about 1989!
  • by theid0 (813603)
    NAI announces a new generation of security products, dubbed "McAfee Microchip Edition Software Suite (MESS) 1.0"

  • Fatal Error (Score:1, Interesting)

    by BSOD DOC (1008507)
    Here come the new hardware induced BSOD's...
  • by Doc Ruby (173196) on Friday October 20, 2006 @03:24PM (#16520165) Homepage Journal
    "They also mention it could be used for things like voice recognition."

    Every time Microsoft introduces another new platform, whether OS, Office, HW, game console, or new executive, they promise voice recognition. Of course they never deliver.

    Even the dedicated voice recognition researchers and developers don't have real voice recognition on any HW. MS doesn't do the kind of basic research necessary to move further down the road. And it doesn't even productize the R&D done by others - it copies or buys products from competitors. Or it keeps doing it wrong every time, until expectations are low enough that small improvements are declared victory.

    The people who deliver useable voice recognition will work it out in the open telephony world, which has enough focus, money, constraints and momentum to actually get across the threshold to universal, untrained voice recognition that does something limited, but at least as perfectly as humans do.

    Next we'll hear that these chips will be good for a "database filesystem"...
    • The only voice recognition command I need is:
      when I yell "DAMMIT!!!" at the top of my lungs, I want the OS to gracefully recover from a blue screen of death and automatically save the term paper I've spent ALL NIGHT writing.

      (yeah, I know I'm supposed to save often, but you can't tell me it hasn't happened to you, too.)
      • Well, I've never written a term paper on a computer that flashes up a blue screen of death :) It probably also helps that command-s-return has been my "new paragraph" key sequence for as long as I've been writing papers on hardware that supports that :)
      • i see that you have replaced your EllenFeiss account with this new username
      • by strstrep (879828)
        I write my papers in LaTeX, typically. I use vim as my text editor. Every single change I make is written to a swapfile. If my computer crashes, I can reopen the file and recover everything (except maybe my last keystroke). If the system can't write to the swapfile, it tells me so that I can save the original copy, close the program, and reopen it, or otherwise address the problem.
      • back to being serious for one second... there are three mistakes people make:
        • not saving at all
        • not turning on regular auto-save
        • not regularly saving the file with a new name

        An example of the final one is to save with a new name like mydoco.20061021-2110.doc

        Why? because if the word processor crashes during saving, you won't destroy the only version of your file... and if it does get corrupted, you can revert back to older versions. Sometimes you realise that during copy/paste/edit you accidentally DIDN

    • by asuffield (111848) <asuffield@suffields.me.uk> on Friday October 20, 2006 @07:43PM (#16523715)
      Every time Microsoft introduces another new platform, whether OS, Office, HW, game console, or new executive, they promise voice recognition. Of course they never deliver.


      Voice recognition is the sort of thing that stupid people love to hear about. The trouble is that we've got voice recognition already, and it just bites. It's a lousy way to control a computer. Computers cannot respond to unstructured input, and very few users, even those who are normally considered technically adept, are capable of speaking in a well-structured manner. The limitations of the mouse-and-keyboard interface are also their strength - by constraining the user to a limited set of actions, they greatly increase the stupid user's ability to figure out what to do. If you let somebody sit there and say anything, they'll sit there all day without saying anything that the computer can understand. Prompting them doesn't work because most of these people never read anything that is displayed on the screen.

      Or, more briefly:

      Most computer users can grasp the concept of pointing and clicking with a mouse. Very few computer users can grasp the concept of speaking with correct grammar. While we are doing reasonably well at parsing and interpreting more-or-less correct english (as is reasonably common in written form), there is presently no ability to write software that can comprehend the gibberish that most people speak. You probably need human-level intelligence to manage it.

      Voice control is a white elephant.
      • by Doc Ruby (173196)
        Well, voice recognition would really improve telephone communication, which is the most widely deployed "terminal", and destined to become even more the main interface. At least people have lowered expectations, and limited scenarios, for its eventual deployment.

        I think the main barrier to voice recognition success is that people are unforgiving of less than perfect machine response. We're much more forgiving of humans - our standard of recognition is unrealistically high, but we let it slide, try again, ju
        • by vidarh (309115)
          Actually voice recognition is becoming quite common in IVR (interactive voice response) systems. The local cinema chain for instance, use it to let you choose which cinema you want to be put through to. This works reasonably well, as the number of "legal" responses is limited. Unfortunately for me English is not my first language, and my Scandinavian accent seems to really mess up the recognition - the worst misrecognition so far was mistaking "London" for "Birmingham"... I'd really love to see the code for
          • by Doc Ruby (173196)
            I tend to agree with your take on voicerec. Except where you say that the cinema IVR works "reasonably well", though it chokes on your Scandinavian accent. Many Americans, for example, can't distinguish most Scandinavian accented English from a "British" accent, especially given the typical Scandinavian English fluency. But we can recognize the words clearly, usually considering it more "proper English" than even our own fairly colloquial dialect. Your IVR system can't even do that, within the narrow "cinem
  • by soft_guy (534437) on Friday October 20, 2006 @03:25PM (#16520169)
    They will now be called Microhard.
  • by JonTurner (178845) on Friday October 20, 2006 @03:28PM (#16520215) Journal
    >>makes it possible to reconfigure computer designs without the cost of making finished chips

    Dear Bill,

    There are two other ways to "make it possible to reconfigure computer designs without the cost of making finished chips"
    1) buy the finished chips from someone else
    2) use FPGAs if the design must change on-the-fly or after delivery to customer.

    On the other hand, that's what software is for.

    You're welcome.
    --
    Jon
  • by SysKoll (48967) on Friday October 20, 2006 @03:32PM (#16520261)

    August 9, 2010: Microsoft announced today he first patch for their first microchip, the MSME VID2009 videogame engine core.

    The VID2009 chip was recently taped out by the newly formed MS Micro-electronics division. It was widely acclaimed as a new era for MS, altohugh the two analysts still not paid by MS voiced concerns about how the usual Microsoft quality control would not fly with electronic microchips.

    MS issued the patch in response to reports about VID2009-equipped videogame consoles spontaneously bursting into flames and cutting users' fingers by snapping the DVD reader door too quickly. The reports have been piling up since 2007. "Since MS bought every other game console maker, it's not like we consumers have a choice", says Gaban Tycho, a self-appointed gaming affair watchdog. "Face it, today's dedicated gamer has either burnt skin patches or missing fingers. Sometimes both. Hey, since you've got fingers, could you open that bottle of burn lotion for me?"

    Today's patch is expected to solve these issues, although initial reports show it might introduce other problems: when the voice recognition headset is used and the user pronounces the word "Linux", the patched unit sends 110V AC through the headphones.

    The patch is replacing 53 logic gates, changing two nano-instructions and rerouting 12 clock signals inside the VID2009 chip. A small issue might delay the application of the patch, though: It requires replacing the chip itself. An MS spokeperson said that the replacement was covered by the standard MS two-week warranty, but that older units would have to be discarded.

    As usual, the MS Patch Police, a team of electronics expert affectionately known as the Blue Squad of Death, will patrol neighborhoods and listen to howls of pain to determine where faulty consoles might be located. Unpatchable units will be shredded at customers' premices. "I hate those guys", Tycho said. "Last time, I stepped on my cat's tail and here came the Blue Squad, ramming through the door. They couldn't find the console so they destroyed the toaster instead."

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by 14erCleaner (745600)
      Today's patch is expected to solve these issues, although initial reports show it might introduce other problems: when the voice recognition headset is used and the user pronounces the word "Linux", the patched unit sends 110V AC through the headphones.

      Fortunately, nobody knows how to pronounce "Linux".

  • Branching out. (Score:4, Interesting)

    by headkase (533448) on Friday October 20, 2006 @03:36PM (#16520315)
    It's nice to see Microsoft bringing quality to new markets ;). Seriously, Microsoft has to hedge it's bets - Windows and Office may not be cash cows forever. Twenty years from now Microsoft might be like IBM is today - important, influencial and profitable but not the young vigorous company it used to be. Microsoft should go for providing the best standards-based tools and environments it can. I believe that Microsoft place in the future is guaranteed and that at some point in the future they will be selling window managers for X alongside APIs that make everything easy to create and use (C#, XNA, Self configuring and healing networks, etc.). Microsoft's vast cash stores and pool of seventy odd thousand employees represents a major force in computing so don't be surprised when ten years from now you can download GPU updates if you were smart enough to buy a top-notch Microsoft console ;).
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by pandrijeczko (588093)
      You've highlighted some valid plus points in MS branching out but please do not forget the likely negative points also - anything Microsoft (or Apple or any other hardware/software/media corporation for that matter) do in the future is likely to have a high degree of lock-in for any customer.

      Yes, that means hardware and software DRM - and when you're locked in for several years paying a "tax" to Microsoft, those plus points might well start looking less attractive...

  • They can't be serious about this. Do they really think they can compete with design powerhouses such as IBM, Intel, or AMD? And game console chips have to be relevant five years from now, which is an even bigger challenge. Sounds like FUD to me to get a better deal from their supplier. Sell me your chips cheaper, or I'll go out and make my own!

    And this isn't to mention that microprocessors these days are so encumbered with patents that you'll need major cross-licensing with every other major manufactu

  • The CELL processor. Just notice how successful the Cell already is.

    To be honest, Microsoft wants to make a profit, the best way is to do everything in house, but seeing how low the quality of their systems are I don't know if we want them to work on processors? Imagine now you're phone stop working because the processor breaks? That's impossible you say? Well it was rare for a console to stop working before Sony and Microsoft got into the market, and at the same time Nintendo seems to have high quality
  • Hi! I'm Microsoft! I know people are starting to go a little mad about the imminent arrival of the PS3 therefore the Marketing Dept. require you to know that we'll have some simply awesome hardware in the future! So don't be PS3! No! Wait for the Real Emotion Chip (TM)!

    (This has been a public service broadcast.)
  • Wont it be ironic if in 10 years Microsoft is doing what Apple is doing now (selling windows on their own hardware only) and vice versa?
  • Once upon a time they did make some hardware ( anyone remember the z80 card? )

    If they wanted too, they could make their own line of PC's, and of course vista would run better on them then on the competitors. Bundle them with enterprise agreements... eeek!

    Be afraid of this movement, be very afraid.
  • For the company that has the widest ranging, most popular OS, it only makes sense for them to make the chips that run them to optimize the process. And, for all those people who complain about Microsoft's products being so crappy... it's probably the same buggers who make the viruses that bring those systems down all the time. A hardware solution is mostly invulnerable to those software threats that have ruined Microsoft's reliability and reputation. If Microsoft didn't have to worry about programming ub
  • But does it run Linux? Seriously...come on....
  • Two words.

    WGA Processor.

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