After almost a year of teasers and a slow trickle of information, Microsoft has finally provided a comprehensive look into its upcoming console. While the Xbox One was only comparable to mid-range gaming PCs, the Xbox Series X, however, snaps at the heels of high-end gaming rigs. That is no easy feat.
Xbox Series X Specifications
While running games with the best graphics fidelity and stable framerates is an expectation from every new console, Microsoft has outfitted the Xbox Series X with some cutting-edge technology to make a perceptible difference to the overall user experience.
The Series X will ship with a 1TB SSD that has been touted as delivering transfer speeds of up to 2.4 GB. That’s an impressive 40 times faster than traditional hard drives found on current-gen consoles. This will allow the console to boot up faster. In fact, game loading times have already been demonstrably cut down to a fraction of what it usually takes in recent Series X demos.
Instant Resume and DLI
The Velocity Architecture allows the RAM to be cached to the SSD nearly instantaneously, which in turn makes it possible to pause and resume multiple games exactly where you left them. The input and rendering subsystems have also been tightly integrated to enable Dynamic Latency Input (DLI). DLI prevents the mismatch between rendered frames and displayed frames by synchronizing player inputs immediately to prevent latency.
Variable Refresh Rate
The introduction of Variable Refresh Rate (VRR) is one feature that will significantly improve the quality of the console gaming experience. VRR allows the console to dynamically adjust the refresh rate of the attached display and synchronize it with the ever-changing frame rate. This eliminates unsightly judder and screen-tearing for a smoother and cohesive experience.
Gaming at 120fps
High refresh-rate gaming is a tangible improvement. The Series X’s 120fps support should incentivize manufacturers to ship modern TVs with 120Hz refresh-rate capability out of the box. If done well, this could bring about a positive change to the TV space.
Gaming PC Performance at a Fraction of the Cost
The Xbox Series X exceeds expectations with its raw 12 teraflop compute power. The 7nm lithography Navi and Zen2-powered System-on-Chip (SoC) packs in 15.3 billion transistors in the same die size as the outgoing Xbox One X console. The Series X is expected to pack in nearly as much performance as an entire gaming rig outfitted with the RTX 2080 graphics card. The entire console is expected to cost less than the GPU alone.
The Series X quite unusually runs its 8-core Zen2 processor at a blazing fast clock speed of 3.8GHz across all cores. That is nearly on par with the desktop offerings and gives an insight into why Microsoft opted for a non-standard shape that was the subject of a barrage of memes likening it to common household appliances. Traditional console hardware runs at lower clock speeds to reduce thermal and power limits as a cost-saving measure, but the Series X takes a rather expensive PC-esque approach to performance.
Unusual Shape Is Blessing in Disguise
To this effect, the Series X does away with puny heatsinks and small, high-pitched fans found on traditional consoles. Microsoft has instead opted for a large vapor chamber-equipped radiator to cool the SoC efficiently, with a monstrous 130mm fan drawing hot air out the top.
That’s basically the same airflow/cooling configuration (not to mention the shape as well) as the Corsair One gaming PC. With the right cooling setup, the Corsair One can easily handle seriously hot and power-hungry components such as the Intel Core i9-9900K processor and Nvidia RTX 2080 Ti graphics card.
The PC-like approach should allow the Xbox Series X to run cooler and quieter than the consoles before it. Locked processor and GPU clock speeds should also translate into a smoother and consistent gaming experience.
Developer-Friendly Hardware Architecture Equals Better Games
Microsoft made the smart move to allow greater flexibility to game developers with its new console. The Series X is undoubtedly more powerful than the PlayStation 5, but it still offers cross-platform game developers the option of using the familiar 8-core Zen2 processor in roughly the same way it would be programmed for the PS5. However, first-party and cross-platform developers willing to optimize for the Series X can tap into the higher performance of Zen2’s SMT multi-threading technology.
This allows the 8-core processor to leverage 16 logical cores for games that benefit from parallel processing. Zen2 processors running in PCs have typically shown 30 percent performance improvement with SMT. This should enable the Xbox Series X to run cross-platform games as well as the PS5, while also allowing first-party titles to outshine the competition with SMT support.
Bringing Ray Tracing to the Masses
Nvidia may be the first to introduce hardware-accelerated ray tracing with the RTX series of graphics cards, but AMD will bring it to the masses with the Xbox Series X and the PlayStation 5. Ray tracing, in the simplest terms, is a computationally-expensive approach to rendering a game. The rendering technique calculates the path of light rays on an individual basis, which allows extremely realistic global illumination, shadows, and reflections.
The inherent developer friendliness of Series X will be the key element for the success of ray tracing in general. Developers take too many risks and are to averse to resources to commit to a new technology such as Nvidia’s RTX-based hardware ray tracing. The technology only works on the latest RTX Nvidia GPUs, and that’s why only a handful of games support it.
Xbox Series X games, on the other hand, will also be launched on the PC with ray-tracing support through the DirectX Raytracing (DXR) API. Unlike Nvidia, DXR doesn’t force gamers to purchase proprietary hardware to enable ray tracing. Game developers are therefore guaranteed a large installed base of Xbox Series X and PC users who can benefit from ray-traced games without Nvidia RTX hardware.
The Xbox Series X is slated for release this coming holiday season. Is this enough to get you excited?