It's fair to say that Microsoft has been tight-lipped about Scorpio since their announcement of the console at E3 2016. We've been left with only speculation and rumors to go on. Thankfully, all of that has changed. We're pretty sure Microsoft's not happy, but a whitepaper has leaked that shows us a glimpse of Xbox Two's specs.
Not only this, but a developer has spoken out about the true nature of this 4K console, and shots have been fired! Let's dive in and see what juicy details await!
Xbox 2 (Project Scorpio) Specs Leak: We Have The Power!
Thanks to the wizards at Digital Foundry, we now have new information from a leaked whitepaper that Microsoft provided to developers. The paper is entitled "Reaching 4K and GPU Scaling Across Multiple Xbox Devices" and it provides some new details on how Scorpio/Xbox 2 will reach its lofty goals.
The first and most interesting development, is the fact that Xbox Two (Project Scorpio), will be ditching the ESRAM that the Xbox One and S models are using. Even with this fact in place, however, Microsoft still urges developers to optimize as if it were there so their games perform well on older Xbox hardware. Remember, Xbox 2 isn't going to have any exclusives, barring VR titles.
Within the Xbox One, ESRAM was used to offset the slower DDR3 RAM in the console because of its blazing bandwidth. The biggest problem this presented was the low amount of ram given to developers to work with. In the whitepaper, this type of RAM is ruled out as an option for Scorpio.
The paper reads:
"ESRAM remains essential to achieving high performance on both Xbox One and Xbox One S. However, Project Scorpio and PC are not provided with ESRAM. Because developers are not allowed to ship a Project Scorpio-only SKU, optimizing for ESRAM remain crucial to performance on Microsoft platforms."
This is interesting news because it was assumed that ESRAM would be used in some capacity on Xbox 2 because the 320GB/s bandwidth couldn't match the lower latency provided by ESRAM. Microsoft's explanation is that Scoprio's higher system memory bandwidth outpaces the wide bandwidth offered by ESRAM.
The whitepaper also confirms the 6 teraflops of GPU processing power. It reiterates that Xbox 2 (Project Scorpio) will indeed have 4.5 times the power of Xbox One. A juicy comment in the Whitepaper also gives developers the option to make games look and play better on Xbox 2, much in the way that developers have harnessed the increased power of PS4 Pro.
The comment is as follows:
"We acknowledge that developers may not wish to spend all of the additional GPU resource of Project Scorpio on resolution, and this is not mandated. To make the best games possible, developers will inevitably spend GPU resources on other quality improvements such as higher fidelity shadows, reflections, texture filtering, and low draw distances. Another option developers might consider is frame-rate upscaling - running graphics at 60Hz but the GPU at 30hz and interpolating animation."
In other words, Project Scorpio/Xbox 2 will not force developers to solely dedicate its power to 4K. This is excellent news as it opens the avenue for games to not only look better, but play better as well. One downside to this news, is the technique suggested at the end with interpolating animation.
Suggesting this tells us that Microsoft isn't opting for more powerful CPU cores beyond the eight they've promised and the overclocked speed. This rules out the console using Zen architecture cores for the time being and leaves us with customized Jaguar CPU options.
The focus of the paper is really on how developers can use the additional GPU power to scale games up to 4K. The paper suggests two ways that developers could achieve 4K:
The first suggestion the paper offers is one that involves cutting down intensive effects to boost the overall efficiency of the GPU while utilizing a full 4K framebuffer. The paper describes using this technique with effects like SSAO, SSR, shadow accumulation, global illumination, and non-important global lights.
It takes a half-resolution effect rendered at 1080p and then up-samples it to 4K. In doing this, the effects could still theoretically look better than they would running at, say, 900p on Xbox One. In other words, you save power by downscaling the effects, and when you bring them up to 4K with a framebuffer, the effects like lighting and shadows look even better than they would running at full power on a lower resolution.
It's a balancing act to be sure, but a clever way to get to 4K without sacrificing overall graphical quality.
2. Sparse Rendering
The other suggested technique is one that PS4 Pro has called "checkerboard rendering." This technique was shown off by Mark Cerny during the PS4 Pro's announcement presentation and it does a surprisingly good job of bringing resolutions up to 4K standards, but in the case of PS4 Pro, it doesn't always provide native 4K, which is what Microsoft is promising on Xbox 2. The technique involves rearranging the pixels with a frame buffer to increase the resolution for each rendered frame.
So wait, does this mean Microsoft is going back on their promise of native 4K? Not quite. In the whitepaper, one first-party title is confirmed to be running at a native 4K using the suggested techniques. They don't say which one it is, but Digital Foundry believes it is Forza, and I would be inclined to agree.
These techniques are already being used on PS4 Pro to great effect, and with time and experience, this bodes well for Scorpio. The paper only confirms the lack of ESRAM, a boost in the L2 cache, and support for memory compression tech. It does not cover the details on the system's CPU and that leaves room for Microsoft to really bring the heat.
We're not done yet, though. In the wake of this leak, one developer has spoken out and shots were fired!
Ori and the Blind Forest Creator: 'Scorpio is a Full Blown Next-Gen Machine'
Thomas Mahler, creator of the Xbox One exclusive "Ori and the Blind Forest" took to the NeoGaf forums and answered one user's question about Xbox 2/Project Scorpio. The question was "Is Scorpio their PS4 Pro, or a new generation? I am super confused."
Thomas replied with the following statement:
All consoles now are x86 PCs and the architecture will remain the same, that's why Sony was able to quickly iterate on the PS4 and make a beefier version of it.
Scorpio is a next-gen machine with the added benefit that all your old games will still be compatible. From this point on, similar to PCs, you'll not lose your library when you buy a next-gen system. I guess since NeoGAF is confused, Microsoft will need to do a little work to make it clear to everyone that Scorpio isn't just a half-assed upgrade (which the PS4 Pro kinda is...), but a full blown next-gen machine that's just backwards-compatible to your current library.
Not only is this a bold statement, but you can practically smell the gunpowder from the shots fired at Sony. In comparison, Thomas is calling the PS4 Pro a middling upgrade when stacked again the jump in power that Xbox 2 (Project Scorpio) is offering. Of course, Microsoft is trying to distance itself from calling the system next-gen and instead refers to it as part of the Xbox Family.
Marketing confusion aside, this new information is very interesting. What do you think of it all? Will Project Scorpio (Xbox 2) truly blow PS4 Pro out of the water? Let us know your predictions in the comments!