The first development kits for the 360 available were created before the final Xbox retail hardware had been finalised as as such it has a few differences and is considerably weaker than what became the retail unit. There were two Alpha development kits before they moved on to the Beta versions.
The image on the left shows a rather large delivery of PowerMac G5s that was delivered to Microsoft! This photo was taken by Michael Hanscom who was a contractor working for the MSCopy print Shop at the time (He was fired for posting this photo to his blog) 1.
But why would Microsoft buy so many of their competitors flagship product? Well to turn them into Xbox 360 development kits of course!
The Powermac G5 was an ideal candidate for an early Xbox 360 development kit as it uses the same PowerPC chip destined for the Xbox 360, when fitted with the ATI Radeon 9800 Pro (128MB) graphics card it turned it from a Mac into a Xbox 360 Alpha 1 XeDK.
These were used by only the earliest of 360 game developers and were used between October 2003 and some time in Autumn 2004 2.
These development kits used the Original Xbox controllers with a USB connector soldered on to the end instead of the normal xbox connector 3.
While the image on the left might look like a standard Apple PowerMac G5 with an Xbox controller on top, however it is actually the Xbox 360 Alpha 2 Development Kit!
The CPU for this unit was only dual core 2GHz compared to the retail units three cores clocked at 3.2GHz.
These were used at E3 2005 to showcase the upcoming Xbox 360 games 4.
One very interesting fact about this unit is that it came with an early build of the Fusion Emulator which played original Xbox games on the 360!
Sometime during late 2004 and early 2005 Microsoft started sending out the Beta versions of the development kit hardware, which were much closer to what would become the retail hardware than the Alpha Units.
Note that the labels Beta 1 and Beta 2 were given by the community and not their official titles inside Microsoft.
The first Beta development kit wasn’t shipped for very long before it got replaced by its second generation, this makes it much harder to find. The Kit looks like a standard Xbox 360 with a hat on. That hat is known as a sidecar and it is where most of the interesting development hardware is located.
The development hardware board in the first Beta is called the Titan Kernel debugging board and it comes with Krypton prototype controllers 2.
One major difference between this one and version 2 is that it can only play XEX1 format executables and thus is very limited in what it can play as most 360 games and application are in XEX2 format 2.
The second Beta version was very similar to the first however it has the huge advantage in that it can play XEX2 format games, this makes it much more appealing to purchase today to play prototype games on.