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The Top Game Consoles Compared

By Gary Berline Just three players rule the market for dedicated game consoles—Microsoft, Nintendo, and Sony—but that doesn't seem to diminish the difficulty of choosing a system. What the field lacks in numbers it makes up for in competitiveness—and although that's good for your pocketbook, deciding what to buy becomes more challenging. With the time for gift-shopping rapidly dwindling, we've stepped in to help speed the process.

Assuming that competing console systems all perform adequately—and the current ones do—the major factor in choosing should be the type of games you expect to see replacing homework, household chores, and social responsibilities. And the games available depend on the console's target audience. The Microsoft Xbox aims at all ages, but perhaps tilts toward the older crowd. Nintendo, of course, is known for its titles geared toward little kids, but has been wooing those beyond grade school, also. The Sony PlayStation 2 has titles available for the younger set, but leans the other way.

Although your primary deciding factor should be the titles your gamer cherishes, you'll still want to be able to compare the systems themselves. For that purpose, we've collected our original reviews of the Microsoft Xbox, the Nintendo GameCube, and the Sony PlayStation 2, all of which have been on the market since at least 2001. We also have a new executive summary of the thinner, redesigned PlayStation 2, a more recently introduced entry.

Microsoft built the Xbox around a 733-MHz Intel Pentium III CPU, a custom nVidia graphics chip set, and 64MB of DDR system memory, intending to overwhelm the competition with raw processing power. That didn't happen, but the system certainly doesn't lack for muscle. Many users, however, found the large size of the unit, and especially its controllers, a bit overwhelming, although the latter could accept two memory cards. (Plenty of different controllers are available these days.) The machine, essentially a general-purpose computer in the guise of a game console, contains a built-in hard drive, 10/100 Ethernet, and support for DVD movie playback. Much to Microsoft's displeasure, the possibilities of a cheap PC that could easily be subverted to other uses has not been lost on the hacking community.

The Nintendo GameCube is roughly the shape of a tissue box, about half-again as large, and is made easily totable with an attached handle. The unit is reasonably powerful, has two memory-card slots, and a pair of expansion slots at the bottom. Unlike the Xbox and PS2, which use DVD media, this system requires proprietary 3-inch optical discs. It is, however, a very inexpensive system with a fair number of available titles. Our "Xbox Versus GameCube" review gives a head-to-head comparison of the two.

The Sony PlayStation 2 also has quite a library of games, especially since it works with the original PlayStation titles. It has just two controller ports, versus the four of the Xbox and GameCube, but it does come with two USB ports and one FireWire. An inexpensive adapter lets you use more controllers, and you can store games on an optional memory card. The system can play DVDs (you'll need the optional remote) and has Dolby Digital surround sound. The redesigned PS2 drops the FireWire port, which few accessories used, but adds a built-in network card, modem, and IR port that works with a remote for DVD viewing. Although its capabilities are almost identical to the earlier PS2, this one is a marvel of miniaturization. It drew quite a lot of oohs and ahs from a sizable crowd in our offices.

Time's a-wastin', but stop fretting. Read our reviews, then make your pick, and let the games begin.

Copyright © 2004 Ziff Davis Media Inc. All Rights Reserved. Originally appearing in PC Magazine.





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