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The Xbox 720 question: five features we expect from Microsoft's next Xbox

Xbox 360 is ripe for replacement, but what techno treats will its successor bring?

Call it Xbox 720. Call it Xbox Infinity. You can even call it Durango, for that's its internal codename at Microsoft. Whatever, the next Xbox (or Xbox Next, as we'll call it in this piece) is on its way. Microsoft is absolutely not discussing the subject, but the cluster of games releasing early 2013 and the deafening silence from summer onwards, plus unending industry gossip, suggests an E3 reveal and a Christmas release.

Based on the best available facts, a little inside knowledge and a few of the most realistic rumours, here's a little entirely unofficial guesswork from Jeremy Laird on what to expect from the most important new gaming device of the next decade.

1. A more powerful CPU
What was once cutting-edge, courtesy of three processor cores and one of the first graphics processors with unified shaders, is now beginning to bump up against the imaginations of game designers.

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On the CPU side, there are three obvious options in terms of processor core design: ARM, as used in smartphones; the x86 tech used in PCs and the original Xbox; or PowerPC, the CPU used in the Xbox 360. In many ways, it doesn't matter. All three architectures are more than capable of getting the job done. The only issue is backwards compatibility for existing Xbox 360 titles - something that Microsoft's unlikely to sacrifice, in these budget-conscious times - which could be solved by including some PowerPC cores.

Our bet is four x86 or PowerPC cores running at between 2GHz and 4GHz depending. But it's not the CPU cores that will do most to transform Xbox Next's gaming prowess. Nope, that'll be graphics and memory.

2. A high-capacity optical drive
With Xbox 360 games now routinely coming on multiple DVDs, Blu-ray is the likely choice for the Xbox Next's optical drive. It's Sony-backed tech, which will sting a bit, but it can store huge amounts of data and is a lot cheaper than it used to be. But with games increasingly being delivered and played online, does it actually need one?

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Yes, is the short answer - spotty broadband provision means the world isn't yet ready for a console that delivers games exclusively online. One plausible option is two versions, one with and one without Blu-ray, the former eventually being phased out.

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