We know most of the surface details of the Xbox Series X already, with Microsoft dropping bits and pieces of information in the last few months. Recently the Redmond Giant revealed what’s inside the Xbox Series X and thankfully this isn’t from the PR handbook of throwing around arbitrary numbers, this is actual silicon information. If you like reading about hardware, you would want to read this.
Project Scarlett SoC – The Processor
|CPU||8x Cores @ 3.8 GHz (3.6 GHz w/ SMT) Custom Zen 2 CPU|
|GPU||12 TFLOPS, 52 CUs @ 1.825 GHz Custom RDNA 2 GPU|
|Die Size||360.45 mm2|
|Memory||16 GB GDDR6 w/ 320b bus|
|Memory Bandwidth||10GB @ 560 GB/s, 6GB @ 336 GB/s|
|Internal Storage||1 TB Custom NVME SSD|
|I/O Throughput||2.4 GB/s (Raw), 4.8 GB/s (Compressed, with custom hardware decompression block)|
|Expandable Storage||1 TB Expansion Card (matches internal storage exactly)|
|External Storage||USB 3.2 External HDD Support|
|Optical Drive||4K UHD Blu-Ray Drive|
|Performance Target||4K @ 60 FPS, Up to 120 FPS|
Microsoft is using an AMD Zen 2 CPU with 8 cores and 16 threads, fabricated on TSMC’s improved 7nm process. They are possibly using something similar to a Ryzen 3700X which is also a Zen 2 CPU with 8 cores and 16 threads.
The clock speeds are peaked at 3.8GHz without SMT but developers have the option to switch to a lower clock speed of 3.6GHz to enable SMT (Simultaneous Multi-Threading). The values are however locked and Microsoft has stressed that these won’t adjust according to thermal conditions. The clock values are on the conservative side and can possibly be boosted to higher frequencies but given these won’t adjust to thermal performance, Microsoft needed the chips to run cooler and always have that thermal headroom.
The chip is a 360mm^2 die, which is more or less similar to the Xbox One X. This is very impressive given the Series X boasts twice the performance of the X. Previous rumors put the number at 390mm^2, so these numbers are better than expected.
There are customisations to the CPU core – specifically for security, power and performance, and with 76MB of SRAM across the entire SoC, it’s reasonable to assume that the gigantic L3 cache found in desktop Zen 2 chips has been somewhat reduced. The exact same Series X processor is used in the Project Scarlett cloud servers that’ll replace the Xbox One S-based xCloud models currenly being used. For this purpose, AMD built in EEC error correction for GDDR6 with no performance penalty (there is actually no such thing as EEC-compatible G6, so AMD and Microsoft are rolling their own solution), while virtualisation features are also included
– Richard Leadbetter, Digital Foundry
Xbox Series X – GPU
Many enthusiasts were hoping to see a top-end card from AMD this year and thanks to the series X, we now know something like that exists. In a previous release, Microsoft stated that the Xbox Series X would flaunt 12 teraflops of compute power, which puts it between the RTX 2080Ti and the RTX 2080.
The team knew they needed to build a next generation console that could run games in 4K at 60 fps with no compromises for developers. They also challenged themselves to deliver a level of performance once thought impossible on console, including support for up to 120 fps for the most demanding and competitive games. While they believe resolution and frame rate are creative decisions best left in the hands of title developers, the team wanted to ensure the system was able to support the needs of the largest blockbusters, competitive esports, and innovative independent creators.
Thanks to the 2nd Gen RDNA GPU, 4K 60fps should be done and dusted for the upcoming generation of consoles. For competitive players or people preferring higher refresh rates over resolution gains, there’s good news there too as it seems the Xbox team has planned for select titles running at up to 120 frames per second.
Ray-Tracing was another heavily speculated aspect for the upcoming generation of consoles and it has been confirmed for both the PS5 and the Series X, thanks to AMD’s custom hardware. Nvidia was first on the scene with GeForce RTX on the first-gen RTX series of cards which was in part powered by the tensor cores. The GPU in the Series X doesn’t have a tensor core equivalent but does have custom dedicated hardware for it, meaning the shader can run in parallel without a performance hit. Microsoft states that with Ray-Tracing being run in parallel, the Series X can essentially tap 25 TFLOPs of equivalent performance.
Although the performance drop associated with Ray-Tracing simply won’t disappear in consoles, given some of these calculations will still be done on the standard shaders. But on consoles, there’s tight software and hardware integration so this will allow devs to optimize further for performance.
The GPU also gets 16GBs of GDDR6 memory where 13.5GBs are used for games (10GB optical and 3.5GB standard), the rest of the slower 2.5GB pool is used for the Xbox OS and the front end shell.
This is an area where an upgrade was due for a long time and this will probably have the biggest impact on how the next-gen games interact with its users. The Series X is using a custom NVMe drive, consuming 3.8 watts of power. According to Eurogamer’s deep dive, this drive can guarantee a throughput of 2.4GB/s.
The idea, in basic terms at least, is pretty straightforward – the game package that sits on storage essentially becomes extended memory, allowing 100GB of game assets stored on the SSD to be instantly accessible by the developer. It’s a system that Microsoft calls the Velocity Architecture and the SSD itself is just one part of the system.
– Richard Leadbetter, Technology Editor, Digital Foundry
Microsoft has also implemented a custom silicon solution for hardware decompression, freeing up the CPU for other work. The Zlib library is used for general data and a new BCPack library is used for GPU textures. With many such improvements, the Series X enjoys significant improvement in IO performance. Switching between games is a breeze on the Series X and there’s only a 6.5-second delay in going from one game to the other. This is probably possible due to a larger cache and improved hardware decompression.
Backwards Compatibility and Launch Dates
Microsoft always nails the whole last-gen compatibility part and its no different with the Series X, the new-gen console will run all titles released on the Xbox One series including those ported form the 360. Given the Xbox One series had a modern architecture, the series X isn’t using an emulation layer to achieve this feat. Select Xbox One S titles will also run at higher resolutions and most Xbox One X 4K titles will have better frame rates.
Although you will have to wait for a few months to get your hands on the Series X console, Microsoft has pegged Holidays 2020 as the official launch date for now, although a recent leak from a Microsoft source pinned it on November 26th, which is again very likely. We have no pricing information as of now and might have to wait till near launch to get concrete numbers.