Following on from the Nintendo 64, Nintendo went to redesign their home console, and as the first of theirs to use optical discs for games. Compared to the N64, it’s an improvement in developer user-friendliness using a more familiar PowerPC processor which was in use with Macs, and a better-designed system bus and interface. However the limited drive storage became a roadblock to developer looking to port the more complex and cinematic games over to the cube, and Nintendo’s publishing polices would let the system down.
The GameCube had one goal in mind, play video games and play them well. The GameCube cannot play DVD discs or audio CD’s allegedly due to licencing fees for those formats but also became its design to accept 8 inch DVD based discs instead. The core GameCube design is thought to be similar to the original PlayStation template design, with a disk drive, memory card slots, controller (4 of them) ports and miscellaneous expansion slots.
The core of the GameCube is its PowerPC Gecko processor which is based off the PowerPC 750CXe, similar to the G3 processors found in the iMac and iBook computers, however new SMID instructions and floating-point registers were added to the performance. This isn’t the same as the AntiVec instructions introduced on the G4 processors Apple had used.
Whilst the Nintendo 64 prided itself on the unified memory model, GameCube went in a different direction, based on the past experience of developers who found the N64 too bandwidth limited for both the CPU and the RCP. The GameCube appears to have multiple pools of memory with plenty of bandwidth for each pool:
• 24MB of main system RAM, using 1T-SRAM: The main system memory
• 16MB of ARAM: Used to store audio samples and off screen textures and can be used as a paging file, similar to how virtual memory works on PC or Macs of the era
• 3MB of eDRAM (Embedded DRAM) similar to the eDRAM on the PS2, and acts as a framebuffer and texture cache in separate memory pools
In contrast both the PS2 and Dreamcast use a traditional memory pool architecture where there is the main system RAM and video memory pool as would be found on a PC, whilst the Xbox had a unified DDR RAM pool (Despite it being very close to a PC arch). Still its worth looking at the 24MB pool of Ram as the systems main memory with the eDRAM being enhanced caches developers can use. The ARAM meanwhile can be thought of as an early SSD, being used as a buffer for data. Clearly Nintendo wanted to preserve the cartridge like loading times as much as possible and encouraged the use of ARAM for that purpose.
The Other Cube
Apple also released their own interpretation of a Cube computing device, also containing a PowerPC processor and Ati graphics (Based on the Radeon rather than ArtX). Compared to the game, it has a 450Mhz or a 500Mhz G4 CPU which would put it ahead of the GameCube (Assuming the game make use of the Antivec enhancements). The original ATI Radeon is used with dedicated 32MBof memory and supports MPEG2 acceleration. I’m not sure how this compares to the ArtX based processor in the GameCube, since after ATI acquired ArtX it influenced the design of later Radeon GPUs like the R300 (used in the Radio 9700) Some models used the Nvidia GeForce 2.
This take on a unique design, modelling itself on the Dualshock template rather than the Nintendo 64 design, however the analogue sticks are asymmetrical with the d-pad, and the analogue sticks are not clickable. The face buttons also follow a unique design, with the large A button being the centre of attention, and the B situated close. The X and Y buttons are cast as secondary buttons and do not have their own colours, being grey and having an uncommon shape. Typically the A button is used to select options in games and is considered the select button, with the B button being the back or cancel button instead.
The shoulder buttons also follow a unique design, with the L and R buttons being fully analogue, along with a single Z button serving as R1. There is only one Z button on the right, with no equivalent on the left, I’m not sure why this was the case, was there a technical limitation that prevented an extra button on the GameCube? Maybe it cost too much to implement an extra button?
Like other optical disc-based systems the GameCube lacks internal user-writable memory, therefore external memory in the form of memory cards are required to save user data. The GameCube had two memory card slots to store the users game saves, of which multiple sizes exist.
Nearly all games support memory card slot 1, with slot 2 being supported in some titles.
The GameCube was designed as a pure console, and was the last Nintendo console that was considered cutting edge in comparison to its competing consoles, Nintendo would alter release the Wii which was based largely on the GameCube architecture, and could be considered a directors cut of the GameCube with added motion controls.
The design of the GameCube was considered ahead of its time, and Nintendo would carry the IBM/ATI design into the Wii and the Wii U. Even the Xbox 360 would carry a similar design, and could be considered a distant cousin of the GameCube.