The Playstation 2, XBOX, & GameCube

October 26, 2000 marked the date of the current video game console war in the United States, when Sony released its Playstation 2 (PS2) home video game system. A little over a year later, Microsoft and Nintendo joined the battle for the home video game market with their consoles, bringing about one of the most exciting video game battles in nearly a decade.

Hardcore gamers rarely choose between platforms, simply because each platform can bring about different gaming experiences in their own unique ways. However, for either monetary reasons, or just because many gamers feel they shouldn't have to lay down several hundred dollars on three gaming platforms to get a quality experience, most usually end up investing in one gaming system. If shopping for a child, friend, or yourself, it's difficult to choose one platform over another. But, with a little information, selecting a gaming platform can be easy when you know how to weigh the differences. 

The Technical Specifications

Considering the capabilities of each gaming platform is an important consideration. In this round of consoles, the differences in power are greater than ever before. However, each system's capabilities do not always give a clear indication of the gaming experience. Even a graphically superior terrible game is still a terrible game. Below is a breakdown of each system's technical specifications. 

Playstation 2

  • Processor: "Emotion Engine"
  • Speed: 294.912Mhz
  • Main Memory: 32MB RDRAM
  • Memory Bus Speed: 3.2GB per second
  • Floating Point Performance: 3.2 GFLOPS
  • Graphics Processor: "Graphics Synthesizer"
  • Graphics speed: 147.456Mhz
  • Video Memory: 4MB DRAM
  • Video Memory Bus Speed: 48GB per second
  • Polygon Draw Rate: 75Million per second
  • Screen Output: 480i
  • # of Sound Channels: 48 + programmable voices
  • CD/DVD speed: 24x / 4x
  • Game Disc Capacity: 4.7GB(single layer)
  • DVD Playback: Yes
  • Controller Ports: 2 (more than 2 requires an optional accessory)
  • Digital Audio Out: 1 Optical
  • Backwards Compatibility: Yes (PS1 software)
  • Hard Drive: Optional (Hard drive not compatible with slim version PS2)
  • Online Enabled: Optional (Broadband and modem compatibility built in on slim version PS2)


  • Processor: "Gekko" IBM PowerPC
  • Speed: 485Mhz
  • Main Memory: 40MB Total
  • Memory Bus Speed: 2.6GB per second
  • Floating Point Performance: 10.5 GFLOPS
  • Graphics Processor: ATI/Nintendo "Flipper"
  • Graphics Speed: 162Mhz
  • Video Memory: (shared from main)
  • Video Memory Bus Speed: 2.6GB per second
  • Polygon Draw Rate: 33Million per second
  • Screen Output: 480i, 480p (480p requires a separate cable accessory)
  • # of Sound Channels: 64
  • CD/DVD speed: Not available
  • Game Disc Capacity: 1.5GB (Diminished capacity due to proprietary 3" optical disc)
  • DVD Playback: No
  • Controller Ports: 4
  • Digital Audio Out: none
  • Backwards Compatibility: No
  • Hard Drive: No
  • Online Enabled: Optional


  • Processor: Custom Intel Pentium III
  • Speed: 733Mhz
  • Main Memory: 64MB DDR
  • Memory Bus Speed: 6.4GB per second
  • Floating Point Performance: Not available
  • Graphics Processor: Custom nVIDIA (Variant of the GeForce 3 graphics chipset)
  • Graphics Speed: 250Mhz
  • Video Memory: (shared from main)
  • Video Memory Bus Speed: 6.4GB
  • Polygon Draw Rate: 100+Million
  • Screen Output: 480i, 480p, 720p, 1080i (480p, 720p, & 1080i require the HD playback accessory)
  • # of Sound Channels: 256
  • CD/DVD speed: 2x-5x (CD read speed unknown)
  • Game Disc Capacity: 4.7GB(Single Layer)
  • DVD Playback: Yes (With DVD playback accessory)
  • Controller Ports: 4
  • Digital Audio Out: 1 Optical (with Advanced or HD playback kit)
  • Backwards Compatibility: NA (There was no predecessor to the XBOX)
  • Hard Drive: 10GB internal
  • Online Enabled: Ethernet built-in (XBOX Live service subscription required. Broadband Internet Compatible Only)

Examining the Choices

Sony's Playstation 2

No one in the gaming industry underestimates Sony's current dominance with the Playstation 2 (PS2 for short). With a year head start on the competition, Sony had significant market share before the other systems were even available. While that has served as one of the main reasons for their dominance, they undoubtedly have the widest selection of game titles available for their platform. The PS2 has mass appeal when it comes to gamers, with titles ranging from adult oriented games like the Grand Theft Auto III series, to a wide variety of children's titles, and everything in between.

Being first on the market does have its downside for Sony, considering that in many ways the technology that drives the PS2 is inferior to Nintendo's GameCube, and drastically inferior to Microsoft's XBOX. As game design becomes more processor demanding, game titles often run slower on PS2 hardware or cannot be run on the PS2 at all, which limits certain game titles from making a PS2 debut. However, specifications aside, the PS2 is a powerful gaming platform with graphics and speed that the specs don't reveal.

Some nicer perks to the PS2 include built-in DVD playback, which allows the PS2 to double as a DVD player, and newer units even tie in progressive scan playback as well. The Dual Shock 2 controller is functional and easy to operate. In fact, the physical design of the controller has not changed since the Dual Shock controller was introduced to the original Playstation console, which provides instant familiarity to new PS2 owners.

New to the scene is a slim design version of the Playstation 2, which has drastically shrunk the physical size of the unit. In this hardware change, Sony has removed the motorized loading drawer, axed it's iLink (IEEE-1394) interface, and removed any possibility to purchase the add-on hard drive (which is required to play Final Fantasy XI). On the upside, Sony has built-in the once before optional modem and broadband adapter, which allows for online gaming sessions right out of the box. 

PS2 Summary

  • Most game titles to choose from
  • Easy to use controller
  • Also serves as a DVD player
  • Not as powerful as other systems
  • Some games may play slower

Nintendo's GameCube

Nintendo launched the GameCube console in the US on November 18, 2001. Avid gamers will always hold an allegiance to Nintendo, merely because they hold some of the most popular game franchises in history. Super Mario Bros., and the ever-famous Legend of Zelda are probably enough to keep Nintendo in business forever. On the warfront, they are truly an oddity when compared to the PS2 and XBOX, considering that their unique approach to hardware and software design make them difficult to compare to other systems.

Nintendo has revolutionized the gaming industry several times. They are truly an inspiring company, mostly because they are willing to take chances that the other giants would never take. In their spotted history, they have revolutionized the gaming world at least 4 times, with each of their console systems making huge strides in the way we all play games. But as their history reveals, they are a company that makes mistakes, and it has been those mistakes that have kept them out of the main spotlight in gaming for the last 2 console generations. However, with due respect to Nintendo, they are known to make some of the greatest games available. Games that are truly a joy to play, and which other makers can only try to mimic.

The GameCube takes a radiaclly different approach to their hardware and software, which gives it significant strengths and weaknesses in the current console war. The GameCube's main strengths include a new way to experience gaming, both in the systems capabilities and in the method of control. Every Nintendo system brings about a new controller design, and the GameCube is no exception to the rule. It's a bit awkward at first, but overall it is exemplary for certain gaming categories. Until recently it has been the smallest of the three consoles, including a little handle for easy portability. It has recently been dethroned by Sony's slim PS2.

It's weaknesses include Nintendo's desire to introduce yet another proprietary disc format. Anyone will admit that the Nintendo's 3-inch mini optical discs are cute and unique, but most feel they tend to subtract from the systems overall feeling of power that a system should emanate. In the last console war, Nintendo's N64 was a much more powerful machine than Sony's Playstation, but their choice of using a cartridge based format seriously diminished the system's value. Their choice has unfortunately done so again, as Nintendo has opted for much reduced game capacity (less than half of their competitors), just to be unique. This means that games that fill disc capacity for other systems could span multiple discs on the GameCube. The other knock against the GameCube is that even though many people love the GameCube controller, it lacks the total number of control buttons as the other systems. These combined can make it difficult for third party game makers to publish their works to the GameCube, if they even try to publish them at all. These have been some of the key reasons why many game titles are published to the PS2 and XBOX only.

Overall, Nintendo is widely considered to be a child friendly game system. In the last console war, the majority of Nintendo titles were more targeted to youth than the teen or adult gamer. However, times are changing, and Nintendo is hoping to shed the misconception of only being a child's toy. While it is true that the GameCube has been successful at acquiring some adult oriented titles, their core demographic still belongs to children.

Another major advantage to GameCube owners is that they get something not found on other game machines, Nintendo games. You won't find Mario or Zelda anywhere but on Nintendo hardware, which for most can be reason enough to own one. Nintendo makes truly original, and best of all, fun games. Although their hardware is limiting at times, it all comes down to the games, and Nintendo is in a league of their own when it comes to fun games. 


  • Known as one of the best game publishers
  • Many exclusive game franchises, including Mario & Zelda
  • Questionable controller design
  • Small form factor
  • Lots of safe, youth oriented content

Microsoft's XBOX

Many didn't know what to think when Microsoft entered the video game console fray on November 15, 2001. The last generation was mostly warred between Nintendo and Sony, considering that Sega's Dreamcast failed miserably enough to remove them from the hardware wars for the foreseeable future. Everyone knew what to expect from the previous candidates, but Microsoft's financial power filled prospective gamers with both excitement and fear.

First, the fear. Microsoft's seemingly endless money supply gives it a major leg up among the various console manufacturers. Although Sony is certainly not poor, Nintendo was weak from the overall slaughter of its proir console, the N64. Without its success in the handheld market with its Pokemon franchise, Nintendo would have surely been doomed. On the other side of the equation, many feared that Microsoft could buy their way into power, mostly by purchasing popular software companies like Square Enix, EA Games, and Sega, which would have seriously shifted power to Microsoft's platform. They did buy several struggling software companies, but nothing that would have swayed all of the good game franchises to Microsoft.

Now, the excitement. Not to anyone's surprise, Microsoft released the most powerful gaming platform in history, the XBOX. (As a side note, the XBOX was the first console in history to be introduced to the United States before Japan.) In terms of technical ability, the XBOX is superior to any of the current video game consoles. It's roots stem from the PC world, using a proprietary Intel processor and a variant of the nVIDIA GeForce 3 graphics chipset. Microsoft was also the first to release a console with a built in hard drive, equaling 10GB of space. This allows for game updates to be downloaded from the Internet, CD's to be ripped to the drive and imported into games, as well as direct saving of games which would normally require the purchase of a separate memory card. The XBOX is faster, more feature packed, and with graphical superiority to all competitors. Yet, it sits at number 2.

Microsoft has learned that power alone does not make a great gaming console, as stated above; it's all about the games. The XBOX has a few groundbreaking titles in their lineup (Halo alone has sold millions of copies), but truly great games seem to be scattered among lots of mediocre ones. It also had problems with the controller design, which lots of people complained about from the beginning. The original controller design was just too big for the average person, and unmanageable by children. Microsoft heard the cries after launch, and soon released the controller "S", which was reworked to make the controller smaller. As a result, Microsoft included it with the system when the XBOX was launched in Japan (since it's rumored that the Japanese have smaller hands).

The XBOX has its share of unique features. The XBOX was the first game system designed for an HDTV set. With a special $20 adapter, games could be designed and played back in high definition resolution. Though it's unfortunate that few games have truly taken advantage of this feature, the ones that have look spectacular. The XBOX can serve as a DVD player, but that too requires another accessory. It sports real-time Dolby Digital support for games, which provides a truly immersive sound environment when played through a surround system (but it requires an accessory pack to get the digital output).

Unlike Nintendo and Sony, Microsoft has almost exclusively targeted an older audience from the beginning, which means that children's titles are not in abundance. As a whole, Microsoft has been interesting to watch. They've made plenty of mistakes along the way, but they're playing the game much smarter than they were 3 years ago. Today, as game makers try to push the envelope in game design, the XBOX has the power to accommodate them better than any other current system, which has been noticeable within the last year. The XBOX is getting many exclusive titles as of late, mostly because the games being created are simply too much for the other systems to handle. And, when a title gets released for more than one system, the XBOX usually plays them faster and with better graphics. 


  • Most powerful game system to this console generation
  • Original controller too big for most users
  • Built in 10GB hard drive
  • HDTV support
  • Optional accessories required for nearly all advanced features
  • Superior speed and graphics performance
  • Game titles geared more towards adults, less at children

More Help:

For advice on choosing between the Sony Playstation 2, Nintendo Gamecube, and Microsoft XBOX, check out the article Choosing Between the Playstation 2, GameCube, & XBOX

For parenting tips, check out the article Tips For Parents About the Video Games Children Play


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