An increase in the Xbox One’s GPU performance was recently mentioned on Twitter by Phil Spencer, but the original tweet provided little more than a tidbit of information. Microsoft have since provided much a needed insight to what the update means to the Xbox One and how it will impact the system, developers and the gamer’s who’re using it.
To refresh your memory, Phil Spencer’s original tweet stated ““June #XboxOne software dev kit gives devs access to more GPU bandwidth. More performance, new tools and flexibility to make games better” – much to the cheering of the Xbox faithful. Since then, Microsoft have provided a few additional statements to clear up how this will work:
“Just as we’re committed to making ongoing system updates for our fans to enjoy new features of Xbox One, we’re also committed to giving developers new tools and flexibility to make their Xbox One games even better. In June we’re releasing a new SDK making it possible for developers to access additional GPU resources previously reserved for Kinect and system functions. The team is continually calibrating the system to determine how we can give developers more capabilities. With this SDK, we will include new options for how developers can use the system reserve as well as more flexibility in our natural user interface reserve (voice and gesture). We’ll continue to work closely with developers to help them bring great games to Xbox One.”
When Microsoft were pressed into whether or not the absence of Kinect was the reason for the boost in performance (which was the leading theory due to previous news) Microsoft confirmed that this was the case:
“Yes, the additional resources allow access to up to 10 per cent additional GPU performance. We’re committed to giving developers new tools and flexibility to make their Xbox One games even better by giving them the option to use the GPU reserve in whatever way is best for them and their games.”
Microsoft are keen to place distance between the stance of the removal of Kinect and reduced performance of the X1 however, and provided a little clarification:
“For consumers, simply unplugging Kinect will not impact the performance of Xbox One,” the hardware manufacturer explained in a statement to Eurogamer. “The June SDK released to developers gives them access to additional GPU resources previously reserved for Kinect and system functions. Accessing the additional GPU resources is done by the developer, and how developers choose to access the extra GPU performance for their games is up to them.”
“For titles that ship in the future, if a developer has taken advantage of this SDK change they may access this additional GPU resource. We have started working with a number of developers on how they can best take advantage of these changes, and we’ll have more to share in the future.”
This is fairly crucial – despite us not knowing all the facts, we can make a few logical conclusions. Firstly it’s not something a user can or will need to control. You’ll not need to get up from your couch and unplug the Xbox One or go into the system menu and disable it to play the game. This won’t be a situation like Marvel Super Heroes on the Sega Saturn which for owners of the 1MB RAM cart you got better animation and larger sprites. The performance of a game won’t suffer if you leave Kinect on as you can’t control it.
The second point we can take away is that if a developer has previously released a game, the title likely won’t take advantage of the additional available performance because when it was released on the Xbox One, there wasn’t any way to access the system’s Kinect / OS reserves. The only possible way (a theory from myself and not confirmed by Microsoft) is if there was an update released. So for instance, Respawn decided to release an update for Titanfall to improve the frame rate / resolution – but it would require the title to be updated by the developer. It’d not be an automated situation, which makes complete sense.
Xbox One 10% Faster GPU – How Much Difference Will It Really Make?
Despite this being fantastic news for owners of the Xbox One, it’ll be a long way of creating ‘parity’ (which is all the rage in the news recently) with the Playstation 4, Industry Insider Ashan Rasheed (known online as Thuway) has confirmed this to be the case, but a simple look at both consoles basic specs is all that’s required to confirm this.
The DDR3 memory of the XBox One, combined with its eSRAM has been cited to be clumsy and more taxing to make the most of than the Playstation 4’s rather simple GDDR5 memory system. Clearly the other large difference lies in the GPU’s of both machines – despite both relying on AMD’s GCN (Graphic Core Next) architecture to power them their graphics, there are slight differences. The PS4’s GPU features advanced compute functionality which isn’t present inside the Xbox One, half the amount of ROPS (16 for the x1 vs 32 of Sony’s Machine) and fewer TMU’s (Texture Mapping Units). Despite the higher clock speed of the Xbox One’s GPU it still cannot keep up with the PS4’s GPU performance, thanks to a far higher shader count (1152 Shaders vs 768 of the Xbox One). This produces the gap of the 1.32TFLOPS of the Xbox One vs the 1.84TGFLOPS of the Playstation 4.
It’s important however to remember that the Xbox One has effectively been held back by ten percent, so out of the 1.32 TFLOPS total only around 1.2TFLOPS was available to game developers, the rest was in effect used for Kinect. This is quite a large amount of performance to lose out on when you consider it’s about half the Xbox 360’s GPU in terms of raw GFLOPS (xbox 360 GPU was about 250GFLOPS). While this won’t make games run at 60FPS if they’re just hitting say the low 30’s (as to double the frame rates would equal to roughly half the amount of time to render each frame of animation) it will help to create smoother frame rates, or at least pack in more details (such as better shadows, nicer Anti-Aliasing, higher quality lighting or more complicated geometry for instance).
As for the whole resolution debate – the main reason a developer settles for less than 1080P is due to frame rates – and the same applies here. If they consider 30FPS to be the min they wish to target, and at 1080P the game runs at only say 27FPS on average, then this update will likely help. Without it, they’d likely have no choice but to reduce either quality of graphics or lower the resolution. It is important to remember there’s a massive difference between say 900P and 1080P however and so the 10 percent may not help out ‘all’ games. Watch Dogs for instance is already running fairly well on Microsoft’s Xbox One, with the resolution being a larger issue than the frame rate as we’ve discussed in our Tech Tribunal analysis of the Playstation 4 vs Xbox One of the title.
There’s only one issue I can see – it does call into question how many developers (particularly for studios producing the triple A blockbusters) won’t take advantage of this. When you consider the difference between X1 and PS4 I feel many studios will want to go with this, therefore potentially greatly reducing the number of Xbox One’s features these titles are running. It’s a curious state of affairs, but I can’t personally help but feel that it was the best decision Microsoft could have made for the Xbox One and the developers given the circumstances.
It’s important to remember that this is a fantastic bit of choice Microsoft have given to developers, and also neither Sony or Microsoft have finished optimizing yet.