Recently, Digital Foundry was invited by Microsoft for an exclusive preview on the technical details of the next Xbox console, Project Scorpio. The technical specs revealed are just expected numbers to be delivered at the console’s launch and doesn’t represent the final product. The reason behind it, is Microsoft’s aim is not just about performance, but also to push the quality of the console design to the next level.

The Highlights

Microsoft set a design target for Project Scorpio at last year’s E3 event and has achieved it by combining smart design with horsepower, to result in a performance that boasts six tera-flops. This was achieved by pairing the GPU with 12GB of GDDR5 memory and a custom eight-core CPU and entire setup is housed in a compact body with integrated power supply.

Performance-wise, they did a remarkable job when Forza Motorsport demo was able to run at an easy 60FPS in native 4K and also at Xbox One equivalent settings. This will only lead to prove, that Scorpio will have some power left to focus on more visual improvments, while it still hits the native 4K target. Microsoft is also addressing the 1080p users, to make sure all game modes are available to them.

The Technical Specs Of Project Scorpio

Let’s compare the specs between Scorpop, Xbox One and PS4 Pro.

  Project Scorpio Xbox One PS4 Pro
CPU Eight custom x86 cores clocked at 2.3GHz Eight custom Jaguar cores clocked at 1.75GHz Eight Jaguar cores clocked at 2.1GHz
GPU 40 customised compute units at 1172MHz 12 GCN compute units at 853MHz (Xbox One S: 914MHz) 36 improved GCN compute units at 911MHz
Memory 12GB GDDR5 8GB DDR3/32MB ESRAM 8GB GDDR5
Memory Bandwidth 326GB/s DDR3: 68GB/s, ESRAM at max 204GB/s (Xbox One S: 219GB/s) 218GB/s
Hard Drive 1TB 2.5-inch 500GB/1TB/2TB 2.5-inch 1TB 2.5-inch
Optical Drive 4K UHD Blu-ray Blu-ray (Xbox One S: 4K UHD) Blu-ray

As you can see, Scorpio tops in every aspect of the game. The amount of deep research put behind it is overwhelming.

Hardware Aspects – How And Why

Bandwidth

For 4K resolution, textures will be larger and subsequently, the render targets will be larger as well. Hence, more space and bandwidth are requried. For this purpose, Microsoft implemented the SoC design with AMD architecture.

The core of the Scorpio console comprises of the new System On Chip (SoC) design, which involves all the hardware components integrated on to a single chip. The SoC is the state-of-art of micro and nano technology today, and has already been implemented in the Scorpio. This architecture will allow more space to house more chips, and hence multiple GPUs and memory components. The result of that is improved frame rates, increased memory, bandwidth and higher clock speed. Scorpio has a 384-bit GDDR5 interface, that uses 12 32-bit channels, allowing the frequency to run at 6.8GHz and offering a amazingly high bandwidth of 326GB/s, thereby achieving the 4K.

Backwards Compatibility

Aside from the bandwidth, Scorpio comprises of eight cores, organised as two clusters with a total of 4MB of L2 cache. This will enable the Scorpio’s CPU to run at 2.3GHz, which is an ultimate attempt to still maintain the backwards comaptibility with Xbox One and Xbox One S while pushing up the performance limits.

scorpio

Hardware Off-load

While there is a significant hardware off-loading due to the SoC, the audio processor in Xbox One is fully transplanted across to Scorpio and is set to receive support for Dolby Atmos for gaming, Dolby Atmos for headphones plus a Microsoft proprietary format called HRTF. Another advantage of hardware off-loading is the speed of instructions, that are executed. Generally, the GPU consumes thousands of instructions from the CPU on what has to be drawn on screen. With Scorpio’s hardware offload, any draw call can be executed with just 11 instructions, and just nine for a state change. This will cut the CPU render to half of its original amount. The result due to this, is greater communication between CPU and the graphics unit, enabling a smoother visual experience.

Form Factor And Cooling

scorpio2

The voltages of each of the chips are tuned to optimise them to reach the goals of cooling efficiencies. Adjusting the voltage would mean to get rid of the power wastage in the form of heat loss. Your system heats up due to this reason and Microsoft has found a way to cut short this problem. The technique used is called Horvis method where each chip will have a specific power profile. The usual configurations will involve adopting a single chip size for the entire circuit board. But this method involves resizing the board to match the profiles of the chips. This will reduce the dissipation of power in the form of heat and will keep the system cool.

Games Upscaling

A developer tool called PIX (Performance Inspector for Xbox) was used to run analysis on Scorpio’s GPU.  The analysis data provided by PIX was fed into a hardware emulator, which later revealed the least specifications a game requires to run on Scorpio. These results proved that games, that can run at 900p and above, can easily run at 4K. The most amazing factor behind this information, is that Scorpio’s SoC design and AMD architecture helps the existing titles to scale up to 4K performance. This means, all hardwares which fall under this category, such as CU, clock speed, bandwidth, renders, shader engines and cache size, can be tweaked and configured to meet the 4K performance.

Hence, Microsoft will be able to configure the exisiting Xbox One games to make them playable at 4K on Scorpio.

That being said, it’ll be exciting and interesting to see the stats of the final product. As mentioned earlier, Microsoft will not stop from improvising the specs until the console’s final launch.

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