Microsoft’s Xbox One and Xbox One S systems have struggled to keep up with the more powerful PlayStation 4 and PlayStation 4 Pro consoles, with higher resolutions and better performance possible on Sony’s machines. Instead of waiting for the next full “generation” of consoles, however, Microsoft plans to launch a more powerful version of the Xbox One, a device that the company calls the Xbox One X. An enhanced console, the Xbox One X will be capable of playing games in native 4K resolution, and Microsoft claims it will be “the most powerful game console to date.”
Between the unveiling at Microsoft’s E3 event and Digital Foundry‘s exclusive access to the Xbox One X, we now have a much better picture of what will definitively be the most powerful game console yet, including detailed information regarding its internals as well as its supported games.
Digital Foundry’s analysis cleared up speculation about the specifications, but we’ll have to wait next week to see how that power translates to performance improvements on specific games. Although we liked the Xbox One S well enough, it did have some notable flaws, so a more powerful version of the console is tantalizing.
An incredibly powerful console
With Xbox One X, Microsoft aims to set a new standard for console performance. Billed by the Xbox team as “the console [that] developers wanted us to build,” the console promises to deliver four times the graphical power of the current Xbox One.
This power — which allows the console to run games at higher resolutions with better framerates — is measured in teraflops, of which the Xbox One X boasts six, according to Microsoft’s E3 presentation earlier today. A teraflop is essentially a measure of graphical potential, largely dependent upon the console’s GPU, of which the new Xbox has 40 customized Radeon compute units at 1171 MHz — the Xbox One has 12 GCN compute units and the PS4 Pro has 36 “improved” GCN compute units. In essence, “Microsoft has defied current-gen constraints and redefined the way consoles are built in order to push clock-speeds up closer to desktop GPU counterparts,” with its custom AMD GPU, according to the Digital Foundry report. The Xbox One X chip’s four shaders — double that of the Xbox One — benefit from the high clock speed.
For a GPU comparison, the Xbox One X falls just shy of AMD’s Polaris-based RX 480 card, a card that we called “the only mid-range card that matters” in our Editor’s Choice distinguished review.
Like the Xbox One and PS4 Pro, the Xbox One X’s CPU has eight cores split into two clusters, but they aren’t Jaguar cores as expected. The Xbox One X’s custom x86 cores are clocked at 2.3GHz, dwarfing the Xbox One’s 1.75GHz clock speed while also beating out the PS4 Pro’s 2.1 GHz clock speed. Essentially, the Xbox One X’s CPU is closer to what you’d expect in a gaming PC. In addition to having more on-board cores, the x86 cores are 31 percent faster than the Xbox One’s Jaguar cores. The powerful CPUs will be called upon quicker thanks to an upgrade to the GPU command processor, effectively boosting processing speed in its own right.
And for users without a 4K TV? Microsoft will require super-sampling, meaning that higher resolution games must scale down for 1080p users while staying at or above Xbox One framerate levels. Over at Windows Central, you can see comparisons of games running on Xbox One versus games running on Xbox One X on a 1080p display. While the comparison was conducted with tech demos, there’s a stark difference in sharpness from Xbox One to the new model. It’s possible that Microsoft’s promised super-sampling for 1080p on the Xbox One X will further separate itself from the Xbox One with retail releases, but it’s already apparent that Xbox One X will offer considerable improvements for those with a 1080p TV.
To produce better visuals and stable framerate, the Xbox One X will utilize AMD FreeSync technology. AMD FreeSync ensures that refresh rate is undetectable by the user while dynamically adapting to mitigate latency and increase the smoothness of gameplay. This technology will be enhanced further with the support of HDMI 2.1, the next-generation of HDMI that will deliver Dynamic HDR. Xbox One X games will theoretically have variable refresh rates, meaning that they could adjust moment-to-moment. HDMI 2.1 support makes the Xbox One X future-proof in this regard, and should make next-gen games look even better when the technology hits the market.
The new Xbox will also abandon ESRAM, which worked with DDR3 to process data in the Xbox One. Instead, the console will feature 12GB of GDDR5 memory (4GB reserved for the operating system) and 326 GB/s bandwidth, far more than most its Xbox One relatives and the PS4 Pro. The extra bandwidth helps increase pixel counts while maintaining high resolutions and frame rates, and games will receive an additional 60 percent memory boost on the Xbox One X.
As for storage space, the new Xbox will launch with a 1TB hard drive, just like the PS4 Pro and some Xbox One models. The Xbox One X’s hard drive will offer 50 percent greater bandwidth than the Xbox One’s.
On the audio front, Xbox One X will receive an upgraded version of the Xbox One’s audio processor. With spatial surround sound and Dolby Atmos support, Xbox One X sounds will have ‘height.’ Dolby Atmos will also be available when using headphones, in addition to the proprietary HRTF format developed by Microsoft’s Hololens team. The optical drive supports 4K UHD Blu-ray, making it the only home console to do so.
Even though the Xbox One X will coexist with and play the same games as the Xbox One, the internals seem more like a next generation console than an upgraded mid-cycle iteration.
Kinect goes the way of the dinosaur
The Xbox One S launched in 2016 with one notable omission: A proprietary Kinect camera port. Included on the original Xbox One, it allowed players to use their Kinect without needing to purchase a separate adapter. To make up for this, Microsoft offered a USB Kinect adapter for free to those who had previously purchased the original Xbox One, but this isn’t the case with the Xbox One X.
In October 2017, Xbox marketing executive Aaron Greenberg revealed on Twitter that Xbox One X owners would not be eligible for a free adapter, as the promotion expired in March.
This does not mean the Xbox One X won’t support Kinect, only that users upgrading from a first-gen Xbox One will need to pay to continue using the camera. Microsoft has continued to move away from the sensor, and now allows for voice commands through headsets. Gesture-based controls for the system’s home menu have also been removed in recent updates.
The most powerful console, and also the smallest
According to Microsoft, the new Xbox One X is the smallest Xbox console to date, and a recent sneak peek at the Xbox One X dev kit shines a light on some of the upcoming console’s other features.
In early June, Director of programming for Xbox Live Larry Hryb (“Major Nelson”), and Kevin Gammill from the Xbox engineering team talked about decisions behind the dev kit and gave us our first look at the back of the unit.
The port arrangement on the back of the dev kit matches the retail unit almost exactly, except for a second network port to assist in the debug process.
The ports on the back of the retail Xbox One X are arranged almost identically to those of the Xbox One S. There is an HDMI In and HDMI Out, two USB ports, a 3.5mm audio jack, a S/PDIF audio port, and an Ethernet port. The dev kit also has a port to the left of the HDMI Out, which connects to a dongle called the “Xbox Transfer Device,” which is used to transfer game builds at high speeds.
One small difference between the Xbox One S and Xbox One X is the addition of a small cutout above the HDMI-out port, so users can easily distinguish it from the HDMI-in port when they’re connecting their cables for the first time.
The front of the retail design won’t match the dev unit. The dev kit has an OLED screen and a navigation button, and five programmable buttons. The OLED screen can be utilized to the developer’s liking, and it’s even capable of running games right there on its tiny screen.
The dev kit also includes a network interface card, and three USB ports. There appears to be one USB port on the front of the consumer-model Xbox One X, just as there is on the Xbox One S.
Like the PlayStation 4 Pro, the Xbox One X won’t have exclusive titles in the typical sense. Instead, it will play the same Xbox One games supported by its less powerful siblings, but will open the door for developers to add support for 4K resolution and other performance improvements. In April, 2017, Windows Central reported a “partial” list of games that will receive 4K support, including a few that haven’t been officially announced. Microsoft also provided information about some of these upcoming titles at its press event on Sunday. These include:
- Forza Motorsport 7
- Red Dead Redemption 2
- Call of Duty: WWII
- Crackdown 3
- State of Decay 2
- Star Wars Battlefront 2
- FIFA 18
- Madden 18
- Gears of War 4
- Killer Instinct
- Forza Horizon 3
- Halo Wars 2
- Final Fantasy XV
- Resident Evil 7
And there’s far more than that. Microsoft is even bringing backwards compatible with the original Xbox to the Xbox One X (as well as Xbox One and Xbox One S).
For those who were thinking about purchasing an Xbox One X without also getting a 4K television, you’re going to have to stay on top of your games’ ballooning file sizes. All Xbox One X owners will have to download 4K asset updates for supported games, regardless of what kind of display they’re using, according to an interview Microsoft gave to Stevivor.
This may have a major impact on how players download games. With Forza Motorsport 7 coming in at around 100GB, for instance, you won’t be able to hold more than a few games on your hard drive at any one time.
Project Scorpio Edition
In addition to the standard model, Microsoft announced a limited edition Xbox One X, dubbed the “Project Scorpio Edition,” during Gamescom 2017. For the same $500 price, the console comes with a special finish, all-black controller, and vertical stand, as well as the words, “Project Scorpio” on both the console and the controller. It releases the same day as the standard edition and has the same 1TB hard drive.
When can you buy it, and how much will it cost?
Microsoft broke the news regarding the Xbox One X’s pricing and availability at its E3 event, saying that it will be available on November 7, 2017 for $500. Pre-orders are available now.
Update: Added information on Kinect and console’s ports.
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