Microsoft aren’t going to let Sony be the only ones in the iterative console race, and while we’re going to be seeing the Playstation 4 Pro hitting store shelves in just a few short months, Microsoft’s Project Scorpio won’t be seeing the light of day until Holiday 2017.
With that said, there has been some technical details released rather early by the team over at Xbox; and it turned out to be one of the cleverest pieces of marketing the company has done in some time. The announcement had a two stroke effect – stay in the public eye, taking wind out of Sony’s sails with the Playstation 4 Pro, and also jumping ahead of and controlling the inevitable leaks which would start popping up over the coming months.
A few figures were touted for Project Scorpio, the GPU’s performance being 6TFLOPS of single precision computing power, and 320GB/s of memory bandwidth, oh and a rather non-descriptive 8 core processor. Judging from the photos released of the Scorpio’s SOC (or more specifically, images lifted from the trailer), it appears we’re looking at a 320GB/s memory bus, meaning we’re actually seeing 8000Mhz RAM crammed into the system.
This puts the Scorpio at a large advantage over Sony’s machine, since the Playstation 4 Pro only puts out 4.2Tflops of performance, and still only has 8GB of GDDR5 RAM (compared to Scorpio’s 12GB), though Sony have given developers an additional 512MB of RAM thanks to reducing OS overheads.
But during a recent interview Xbox’s Albert Penello said “We had to pick a number. Why did you choose six teraflops? Why did you choose 384Gb/s in memory bandwidth? What’s the point of those numbers? The point of those numbers was to deliver Xbox One-quality games in 4K. That’s the point of those numbers. But we’re not going to dictate to developers that that’s how they have to use that power.”
So one of two things have happened – Penello mispoke during the interview (after all, it’s pretty easy to do if you’ve had a long day), or alternatively Microsoft have opted to slightly bump up the amount of bandwidth in the Xbox One Scorpio. It’s possible therefore that we’re going to be seeing a slightly wider memory bus, or alternatively even faster memory (for example, GDDR5X) inside the machine to make up for the extra grunt.
In theory, 320GB/s should be enough for a 6TFLOP GPU, after all, the Polaris 10 based RX 480 (which also puts out 6TFLOPS) puts out about 256GB/s of bandwidth. We don’t know the CPU inside the Scorpio (it’s possible it’s either Jaguar or Puma based, or on the outside chance, a Zen… but it’s more likely to be the former rather than the latter). We know that the current Jaguar has about 20GB/s of bandwidth dedicated to it on the Xbox One, so even if we increase this figure to 30GB/s for a significantly faster clock speed, there’s enough bandwidth left over for ‘other stuff’ to function inside the system, such as sound.
It’s probable we’re going to not see the Scorpio run with Polaris however, simply due to the consoles release window and the fact that while ‘technically’ the RX 480 could put out the levels of performance for the system, in terms of yields it makes sense to go for a higher number of CU’s and lower clock speeds. Therefore a Vega 10 based system is more likely, perhaps with a number of CU’s of around the mid 40’s to low 50’s (the highest possible Vega 10 configuration is 64 Compute Units). We’ve learned from AMD that there will indeed be a few ‘tweaks’ to the GFX9 architecture (Vega 10) over GFX8 (Polaris) which includes efficiency and power improvements.
So, with all of that said – we’re left with a few possibilities. Either Albert Penello messed up during the interview (the most probable option), the Scorpio will end up with extra performance lumped in from the GPU or CPU and needs the bandwidth, or they’re using the bandwidth for other advanced features.
“I think there are a lot of caveats they’re giving customers right now around 4K. They’re talking about checkerboard rendering and up-scaling and things like that. There are just a lot of asterisks in their marketing around 4K, which is interesting because when we thought about what spec we wanted for Scorpio, we were very clear we wanted developers to take their Xbox One engines and render them in native, true 4K. That was why we picked the number, that’s why we have the memory bandwidth we have, that’s why we have the teraflops we have, because it’s what we heard from game developers was required to achieve native 4K.
Now, similarly to what Sony said, that doesn’t mean I’m going to require developers to do this. They’re going to be able to decide to take that six teraflops of power and do what they think is best for their game. But I know that 4.2 teraflops is not enough to do true 4K. So, I feel like our product aspired a little bit higher, and we will have fewer asterisks around the 4K experiences we deliver on our box.”
Added Penello, pointing to the fact Sony are going to be rather liberal with Checkboard rendering to push the higher resolutions in the game.
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