Microsoft has been somewhat of an open book leading up to the launch of the next-gen Xbox console, especially when compared to its main competitor, Sony. Over the last few months, we've learned of clever, consumer-focused initiatives like Smart Delivery, and have even seen the final design of the console itself. It's been a refreshing approach to a console launch, though there are still plenty of questions that we've been dying to know the answer to.
Today, our sister site Digital Foundry published the full reveal of the Xbox Series X. It's an impressive write-up featuring Digital Foundry's customary level of detail, and there's a heck of a lot to unpack. We've read the report carefully, and have broken out our main takeaways. From machine-learning HDR implementation, to a look at how older games will benefit from the new hardware, here's five things we learned from the Xbox Series X specs reveal.
As always, a big thanks to the fine folks over at Digital Foundry for the reveal. Be sure to follow the link above to read the full article we're referencing.
1. We Now Know the Xbox Series X's Full Specs
We've known bits and pieces with regards to the Xbox Series X system specs for a while now. For instance, Microsoft already revealed that the console will have a 12 teraflop CPU, and will be targeting 4K at 60fps as a base. However, we now have the full system specs for the Xbox Series X, which you can read below:
- CPU: 8x Zen 2 Cores at 3.8GHz (3.6GHz with SMT)
- GPU: 12 TFLOPs, 52 CUs at 1.825GHz, Custom RDNA 2
- Die Size: 360.45mm2
- Process: TSMC 7nm Enhanced
- Memory: 16GB GDDR6
- Memory Bandwidth: 10GB at 560GB/s, 6GB at 336GB/s
- Internal Storage: 1TB Custom NVMe SSD
- IO Throughput: 2.4GB/s (Raw), 4.8GB/s (Compressed)
- Expandable Storage: 1TB Expansion Card
- External Storage: USB 3.2 HDD Support
- Optical Drive: 4K UHD Blu-ray Drive
- Performance Target: 4K at 60fps up to 120fps
There's a lot to take in with these specs, but it's very hard to argue that they aren't seriously impressive. We now have confirmation of expandable storage, and it's interesting to see that Microsoft is going for a custom 1TB SSD for the Series X's internal memory. A cool tidbit from the Digital Foundry write up is that the CPU is capable of running four Xbox One S sessions at once, demonstrating the extent of the power under the new console's hood. Microsoft has been saying for a while now that the Xbox Series X will be twice as powerful as its predecessor. We now know what exactly that looks like.
2. Automated Machine Learning Can Apply HDR to Any Backward Compatible Title
Those of you with HDR screens may be interested to know that Microsoft is employing a state of the art machine learning algorithm to dynamically add authentic HDR to backward compatible games. Even more impressive is that it can add it to games that never supported it to begin with.
The example used in the report is the Xbox One X version of Halo 5, which never released with HDR support. The aforementioned algorithm uses technology employed in Gears 5 to add HDR to other games. As a result of this technology, Halo 5 can achieve true HDR, with the brightest content reaching a full 1000 nits.
Microsoft ATG principal software engineer Claude Marais says that this HDR tech 'can be applied to all games theoretically, technically,' and even shows it working on Fusion Frenzy (an almost 20-year-old Xbox game). The fact that even a game as old as Fusion Frenzy can present convincing HDR is very promising indeed. It suggests this technology can theoretically be extended to the entire Xbox library.
3. There's an Updated Minecraft Raytracing Demo and it Sounds Seriously Impressive
Ray tracing is one of the most tantalizing promises of the next-gen console cycle, and Microsoft seems to be bringing out the big guns. The Digital Foundry report describes an early Xbox Series X Minecraft ray tracing demo, based on the Nvidia demonstration we saw at last year's Gamescom (you can watch that below). Previously, there had been concerns that consoles would struggle to effectively offer true, path-traced ray tracing at an acceptable budget, but comments from Digital Foundry's Richard Leadbetter suggest that Microsoft has pulled it off:
Xbox Series X is capable of delivering the most ambitious, most striking implementation of ray tracing—and it does so in real time.
Microsoft has made use of RDNA 2 architecture to effectively map ray traversal. The result is a simulation of the way light works in the real world, adding depth and ambience to selected games. Head over to the Digital Foundry Report for a look at this technology in action.
4. Series X Only Has Twice the System Memory of its Predecessor, But That Doesn't Matter
In the previous console generation, we saw system memory increase by a factor of 16. Even so, storage space was one of the most contentious issues plaguing the Xbox One and PS4, because as file sizes ballooned, many found they were quickly running out of space. Interestingly, the Xbox Series X's system memory is only twice that of the Xbox One, which may seem disappointing at first glance. Thanks to smart new changes to the way memory is used, however, there should be more than enough. A technique called Sampler Feedback Streaming (or SFS) is being employed, which aims to cut down on memory wastage when loading textures.
All of this means that Microsoft has essentially added a multiplier to the way physical memory is used. By leaning heavily on SSD storage, it seems that Xbox Series X will make better use of its internal memory, a point proven by the new Quick Resume feature. We've heard of Quick Resume before—it essentially allows players to switch between multiple game sessions seamlessly. Now we have some important context as to how it works.
5. We Have Proof That Some Xbox One S Games Will Run at Higher Resolutions On Xbox Series X
Backward compatibility has become a core pillar of Microsoft's Xbox strategy over the last couple of years. Xbox Series X will be fully compatible with all Xbox games, and as the DF report reveals, it'll make them look and play better than ever. The example shown off was Gears of War Ultimate Edition, which when played on Series X resulted in a 2x resolution scale. What was originally a 1080p game was taken all the way up to native 4K. Phil Spencer previously revealed that selected Xbox One S titles will run at higher resolutions on Xbox Series X, but this Gears of War demo really highlights the improvements that can be achieved. Compatibility program lead for Xbox Peggy Lo indicates that the team is hard at work looking at other areas of improvement for older games on Xbox Series X:
Things that we're looking at include improving resolution for games, improving frame-rates—maybe doubling them!
An interesting part of the technique being used to improve older games is that it occurs completely at the system level, meaning developers need not get involved with the process at all. This will no doubt help Microsoft keep things consistent across all Xbox games, and get rid of any of the bottlenecks that occur when working with multiple developers at once.
We'll likely be hearing more on Xbox Series X in the coming days and weeks, so stay tuned for further updates. Elsewhere on USG you can learn the actual size of the Xbox Series X console (LINK), and you can find a breakdown of how Smart Delivery feature will work. Look for Xbox Series X to be released this holiday season.