Microsoft finally announced some of the specifics of its upcoming Project Scorpio refresh, and the implications for the Xbox One product line are enormous. This isn’t just a refresh or a doubling-up of existing resources, like Sony used with the PS4 Pro. This is something altogether different, and Microsoft doesn’t seem to be just gunning for the PS4 — it’s taking on the PC market as well.
Project Scorpio tech specs
Project Scorpio will feature 40 ‘customized’ Radeon compute units (2,560 cores, presumably) clocked at 1172MHz. The clock speed boost alone is 1.37x higher than the Xbox One, while the GPU’s core count has increased by 3.33x.
Data from Digital Foundry strongly suggests Scorpio is based on Polaris, not Vega. L2 cache is said to have quadrupled, from 512KB to 2MB, which would match the RX 470 and RX 480 configurations. Microsoft is said to have doubled the number of render backends on the chip from 16 (Xbox One) to 32 (Scorpio), which again fits the Polaris architecture. Scorpio is actually slightly larger than RX 480, at 2560 cores as opposed to 2304 cores. That’s an 1.11x increase in GPU cores and a 7.5% decrease in GPU frequency compared with AMD’s PC variant. Microsoft claims a 2.7x increase in GPU fill-rate — more than enough for 4K gaming (according to MS).
Memory bandwidth also gets a huge kick upwards. The Xbox One was criticized for its decision to rely on cheaper DDR3 rather than going the unified GDDR5 route Sony chose. Scorpio will use GDDR5, and it offers 12GB of memory, up from 8GB. That 12GB of RAM is accessed via a series of 32-bit memory buses, for a total of 326GB/s of memory bandwidth. That’s nearly 5x the DRAM bandwidth of the Xbox One, not counting the 32MB of cache. It’s also on par with what the GTX 1080 offers.
A quote from Digital Foundry suggests Microsoft has done some significant work customizing its GPU front end. From the article:
the most exciting aspect surrounding the CPU revamp doesn’t actually relate to the processor blocks at all, but rather to the GPU command processor – the piece of hardware that receives instructions from the CPU, piping them through to the graphics core.
“We essentially moved Direct3D 12,” says Goossen. “We built that into the command processor of the GPU and what that means is that, for all the high frequency API invocations that the games do, they’ll all natively implemented in the logic of the command processor – and what this means is that our communication from the game to the GPU is super-efficient.”
Processing draw calls – effectively telling the graphics hardware what to draw – is one of the most important tasks the CPU carries out. It can suck up a lot of processor resources, a pipeline that traditionally takes thousands – perhaps hundreds of thousands – of CPU instructions. With Scorpio’s hardware offload, any draw call can be executed with just 11 instructions, and just nine for a state change.
“It’s a massive win for us and for the developers who’ve adopted D3D12 on Xbox, they’ve told us they’ve been able to cut their CPU rendering overhead by half, which is pretty amazing because now the driver portion of that is such a tiny fraction,” adds Goossen.
These changes seem to further point to a vastly more powerful console than anything Microsoft has previously shipped, but what about the CPU?
As for Scorpio’s CPU, Microsoft isn’t revealing all its secrets just yet. The chip is now clocked at 2.3GHz (up from 1.73GHz), but it’s not a Ryzen processor. Microsoft is only saying that it’s heavily customized the core to noticeably improve its overall performance. We’ve speculated before about how MS might accomplish that — Jaguar definitely had some low-hanging fruit, including its half-speed L2 cache and relatively slow memory controller. Just addressing those issues would speed the CPU up quite a bit. One thing Microsoft didn’t do, however, was move to a unified eight-core solution.
Eurogamer notes that some of the customizations to Scorpio include latency reductions and improved CPU/GPU coherency, all of which should improve performance, even apart from clock speed improvements.
Even on a 16nm process node from TSMC, this much firepower is going to generate a lot of heat — but Microsoft has borrowed a trick from the PC industry to keep its console cool. Scorpio will use a vapor chamber heat sink to help move heat out of the APU and into the heat sink. Instead of a common axial fan, Scorpio uses a centrifugal fan that “kind of looks like a supercharger on a car.”
Microsoft includes an internal power supply for Scorpio rated at 245W. AMD may have benefited from improved process node design at TSMC, since the RX 480 alone would’ve accounted for most of that power supply’s rated output.
We’ve got more to say about Scorpio and its ability to render in 4K, backwards compatibility, and some other aspects of the design, but the base tech specs give us more than enough meat to chew on for one article.
Barring calamitous problems, Microsoft has built a console that should easily outperform Sony’s PS4 Pro. The new Scorpio is faster, its GPU is larger, and it can dedicate a full 8GB of RAM to gaming, with 4GB reserved for the OS. Junking the 32MB RAM cache in favor of relying on GDDR5 should also make it easier for developers to target the platform.
Digital Foundry saw Scorpio running Forza 6 Apex at a speed and fluidity they’ve only seen matched by the GTX 1080 on a PC. I’m not suggesting anyone treat that single metric as proof the Xbox Scorpio is as powerful as Nvidia’s second-most powerful GPU, but it’s a very impressive showing for a console that hasn’t even launched yet. Four years after launch, Xbox One sales still trail Sony by a nearly 2:1 margin. There’s a good reason for that — the Xbox One is significantly less powerful than Sony’s console, and it nearly always loses to its rival in terms of visual fidelity or performance when the two are compared.
Scorpio is set to change all that — and Eurogamer thinks it’ll debut at just $ 499.
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