CPU GPU RAM / Memory
Perhaps the biggest question when it comes to the Xbox One is what will actually power it. We now have that information.
Thanks to the talented folks at Digital Foundry, we now have official and confirmed specs for the Xbox 2, codenamed “Project Scorpio!” After being invited to Microsoft's campus in Redmond, Washington, Digital Foundry was given Microsoft’s blessing to publish the final specs of the Xbox 2/Project Scorpio.
Ready to see the future? Let’s dive in!
Microsoft has been boasting some incredible benchmarks for Project Scorpio/Xbox 2, and we’ve all been wondering how they will possibly hit them. The answers are finally here, and it’s even more impressive than we thought. Microsoft has combined incredible horsepower with cutting-edge design and some really unique approaches to common issues when building consoles.
It all comes together into a passion project and truly showcases what Microsoft is capable of when they put their minds to something. Xbox 2 (Project Scorpio) is here to show that Microsoft can hit its target goals and truly create the most powerful console ever built.
During their time at Redmond, Digital Foundry saw a Forza Motorsport demo running on Xbox Two/Scorpio at native 4K and with Xbox One equivalent settings and still hitting 60 frames per second. This showed that Microsoft could easily get their new system running at 4K with a wide range of games.
Furthermore, 1080p users stand to gain a lot as all improvements surrounding graphics will be available for them on their current television sets. Now, without further adieu, here are the final specs for GPU/CPU/RAM:
- CPU: Eight custom x86 cores clocked at 2.3GHz
- GPU: 40 customized compute units clocked at 1172MHz
- Memory: 12GB GDDR5, 326GB/s bandwidth
- 4K UHD Blu-ray optical drive
These are all well above Xbox One and indeed PS4 Pro. For example, even the PS4 Pro manages to hit 911MHz with its 36 compute units, but Scorpio is touting 40 units clocking at 1171 MHz!
Image via Eurogamer/Digital Foundry
Furthermore, another major blow to PS4 Pro is the inclusion of a 4K UHD Blu-ray drive in Project Scorpio/Xbox 2. This is something that the PS4 Pro lacked, and it was a major point of contrition with fans. Kevin Gammill, Group Program Director of the Xbox Core platform, spoke at length with Digital Foundry about their goals and ideas surrounding 4K resolution. For example:
”It’s a lot more than delivering those eight-million-plus pixels to the screen while playing games. It’s about delivering those pixels with 4K assets so they look great. It’s about delivering those pixels with HDR and wide color gamut fidelity. It’s about delivering those pixels with no loss of frame-rate compared to the 1080p version of that title - that’s super-important to us.”
At the center of this new system, is the Scorpio Engine, which is the new SoC (system on chip) that was developed between Microsoft and AMD. Microsoft also developed an internal tool called PIX (Performance Investigator for Xbox) that allowed them to do GPU trace capture.
Since they were working on a mid-generational refresh, they had plenty of completed titles to work with in their testing efforts. In order to reach their goals of titles being rendered at native 4K, they had to work closely with AMD to create highly customized parts for this new system.
Kevin Gammill explains:
”What we did was to take PIX captures from all of our top developers. By hand we went through them and then extrapolated what the work involved would be for that game to support a 4K render resolution. Now we had a model for all of our top-selling Xbox One game where we could tweak the configuration for the number of CUs, the clock, the memory bandwidth, the number of render back-ends, the number of shader engines, the cache size. We could tweak our design and figure out what was the most optimal configuration.”
What’s incredible, was how all this work was done years before they started working on hardware. They used this data to approach AMD with their plans. The final result comes in the form of 40 Radeon compute units in the Scorpio Engine that are clocked up to 1172MHz, which is far above both PS4 Pro and Xbox One.
They manage to achieve these specs through the use of clever engineering that we’ll discuss in a moment. In addition to this huge increase in power, they also managed to doubled the shader engines, the render back-ends, and quadrupled the GPU L2 cache size, all for the sake of targeting 4K.
All-in-all, Microsoft has indeed managed to reach the 6.0-teraflop target that they had in mind for the GPU. Of course, rendering graphics at 4K, along with resolution, is another beast entirely. Fortunately, Microsoft was ready for this challenge.
Nick Baker, Distinguished Engineer, Silicon, talked about how Microsoft didn’t want to build a GPU and then be lacking memory when it came time to bring out the big guns. Their research pointed to a bandwidth over 300GB/s, so they settled on 326GB/s.
They achieve this with a 384-bit GDDR5 interface with 12 channels, 32 bits each. In total, we’re looking at 12GB of GDDR5 RAM, 8 of which is available to developers, and four of which is available to the system. This is one gigabyte more than the reservation compared to Xbox One, which is used to run the menu at native 4K.
The eight cores promised are indeed customized Jaguar cores as we speculated, but they are unique to Scorpio’s architecture and help bridge the gap between Xbox One and Xbox One S, while still pushing the performance forward.
While these new cores are indeed 31% more powerful than Xbox One, the real news story here is the way the GPU command processor handles instructions from the CPU. As part of this new architecture, Microsoft moved Direct3D 12 to the command processor of the GPU. This allows the games to more efficiently send commands from to the GPU.
Normally, processing draw calls is something that takes thousands or hundreds of thousands of CPU instructions, but Scorpio/Xbox 2 can offload any draw call in just 11 instructions or 9 for a state change.
While not using Ryzen cores, Microsoft is pleased with the performance here and argues that it will keep the price where consumers will be willing to purchase the new console. Looking at the Scorpio Engine as a whole, it is measures at 360 square millimeters and packs seven billion transistors into that space.
Microsoft has also confirmed that 1080p supersampling is handled on the system level, as opposed to making the developers add it in as a feature. This is something PS4 Pro games don’t guarantee, which is a shame because it does add some nice image quality.
So now we come to the big question:
How do they pack all of this into a box without it overheating?
In this regard, Microsoft has brought the heat (pun intended), with several unique design choices. They’ve gone through and tuned the voltages for each chip to eliminate excess heat while still giving them the power they need. They call this the “Hovis method” which is named after the engineer who created it.
Image via Eurogamer/Digital Foundry
Every Scorpio Engine processor that gets built has a specific power profile, as opposed to a single blanket profile that is supposed to fit all. There’s still the problem of head, which Microsoft also handles really well.
The use a vapor chamber heat sink. It is composed of a copper vessel that contains ionised distilled water in a vacuum. The water absorbs the heat and condenses it on the hink sink fins. Standard fans wouldn’t be enough to handle the output here, so Microsoft went with a custom centrifugal fan.
Leo Del Castillo, General Manager of Xbox Hardware Design, describes it as a supercharger on a car. If all this has you worried about a giant brick of a power supply, you can breathe easy because they power supply is still internal.
Storage - Hard Drive
We’re used to having masses of storage at our fingertips today, and yet there is a very real possibility that the Xbox Two will actually come equipped with less hard drive space than its predecessor, the Xbox One’s 500GB. Is this because we’ll have found some way to be ultra-efficient with graphics and processing in the future?
When Microsoft released the Xbox One S, they offered it in a 500GB, 1TB, and 2TB model. In an interview with NZ Gamer, Phil Spencer talked about a similar approach with Xbox 2 (Project Scorpio) saying:
"That said, the opening price point of the Xbox One S, and the different hard drive sizes, that is a critical part of this whole product. When I think it as a product line, you should expect the pricing to kind of be in line with that."
With the release of Xbox 2/Scorpio's specs, we've seen that the system will ship with a 1TB hard drive, but the bandwidth will be 50% higher than that of the drives in the Xbox One and S. The hard drive is also situated in the system with dampeners to absorb vibration and reduce errors rates and optimal data throughput.
So it's perfectly reasonable to expect Xbox 2 to come in various hard drive sizes. The question is, how big can we go?
Another possibility is an emerging hard drive technology called Shingled Magnetic Recording. With this technology, in conjunction with other advancements, we could be seeing hard drives as large as approximately 100 terabytes! That's 10, 200 gigabytes compared to the measly 500 you get with the Xbox One. Of course, games are becoming larger in size too, so will this be enough?
Microsoft had a desire for the Xbox One to be an always online games console; however the internet technology was not really at the level that could support such a dream. That won’t always be the case however, and as internet technology improves we may well become a world with all of our games, all of our movies, all of our music and basically all of everything stored within the cloud.
XBox 2 Controller
Back when the Xbox One was just a rumor some speculated that it might be the console to do away with the classic controller, instead replacing it with some other device or relying entirely on the Kinect to control our favorite games. Instead, Microsoft launched a new and improved classic controller to go with the Xbox One, with design and functionality very similar to that of the Xbox 360, just slightly tweaked in many different areas to give a better overall feel.
We now know that your controllers and accessories will work on Xbox 2/Project Scorpio. Everything moves forward, but Microsoft never said they won't introduce new options. Much like the Elite Controller, Phil Spencer has likened this new console to the equivalent of an elite controller in terms of it's premium nature.
Our prediction is that Scorpio/Xbox 2 will at least get its own VR-exclusive controllers.After all, every VR headset has some kind of solution for motion controllers. HTC Vive comes with a pair, Oculus Touch works for the Rift, and Sony has PlayStation Move.
Microsoft has never done physical motion controllers, they instead opted for the Kinect. Currently, their line of Windows 10 headsets don't need a camera for tracking, but what if the Kinect made a return as a means of tracking movement in VR? It would certainly give Microsoft an edge by offering hands-free virtual reality experiences, but it would need to work far better than the Kinect has worked in the past.
Even so, it's an idea. Regardless, your controllers will work just fine on this new console.
The Future Versions of Xbox
At present it is impossible to say with any certainty exactly what the specifications of a future Xbox will be, but that doesn’t stop us from speculating! Technology is changing so quickly today that the games console of ten years in the future could be a marvel, almost beyond the comprehension of today’s gaming industry. These changes are moving at an accelerated rate. Keep in mind the first Xbox was originally meant to be a console that ran on the Direct X gaming structure, so it was essentially supposed to be a PC in a console. The name came from the fact that it ran on a modified Direct X, therefore Xbox. An interesting story, and a goal that Microsoft has been pursuing slowly but surely with each generation.
The original Xbox didn't quite hit that PC feel, and the Xbox 360 had a web browser, but again, not the same level of power and quality as PC. Then the Xbox One came around and now the line is blurrier than ever. Microsoft recently announced that the Xbox One would soon be running on Direct X 12, and while this won't change the game as much as originally thought, it's still a major step towards a unified PC and console future. Of course, hardware will always be the straw that broke the camel's back. PC rigs continue to outpace the consoles are new video cards, processors, and RAM upgrades become available. So, what does this mean for the Xbox Two?
Phil Spencer's vision for the future involves a console that can be upgraded. This would completely remove the need for new consoles. When the processor started to become obsolete, Microsoft would just issue another one and you would replace it when you had time. It's not a bad idea, but the concern that comes to mind that is that games would be more complicated like PC.
No one wants to check their console's specs to make sure it will run a game, that's why we buy consoles. Regardless, when you look at the specifications of the original Xbox compared to the Xbox 360, and the Xbox 360 compared to the Xbox One you start to realize just how far games consoles have come in the last couple of decades.
Microsoft is already moving towards this goal by creating a "unified Windows 10 platform." Xbox One and PC both run on Windows 10 these days, and that's just the beginning. With the implementation of "Play Anywhere" on specific titles, people can already buy a game on Xbox One, and play it on the PC without any problems.
This represents the first step in Phil Spencer's vision. Xbox 2 (Project Scorpio) will also continue this by incorporating high-end hardware to support 4K and VR. All of this, and you won't lose out on your games because of compatibility. Everything you have now will work on Xbox Two. That includes controllers and games alike. Likewise, anything new that comes out will work on the older system.
The only specific things to Xbox 2/Project Scorpio, will be VR titles. Other than that, everything moves back and forth between the two. This creates what Microsoft calls the Xbox Family. The devices all work together and are compatible with one another, thus eliminating the pressure or the hassle of upgrading.
It's clever, and while Xbox Two is coming in 2017, it won't be the last console from Microsoft.
What do you the Gamers think?
Do you have any thoughts about the specification of the Xbox Two? What do you think will power the future of gaming? Will we still play using controllers, or will everything be controlled by motion or voice? If you could change one thing just one thing for the future Xbox 2 what would it be? Have your say in the comments below!