For the past several months both Microsoft and Sony have been slowly but steadily trickling out additional details about their forthcoming gaming consoles. And now this morning we’re getting our next bit of information from Microsoft, who has released a few more nuggets of information on their forthcoming Xbox Series X console.

When the console was first formally announced at the end of 2019, the company revealed that it would be using AMD’s Zen 2 CPU cores, but they were a bit cagier about the GPU specifications. Now the company has opened the door just a bit more on those, giving us some performance and feature information – and by and large confirming earlier theories about what the hardware would entail.

First and foremost, Microsoft is now confirming that the console’s APU is using AMD’s RDNA 2 architecture for the integrated GPU. Information about this architecture is still limited, but AMD previously disclosed that RDNA 2 would include hardware ray tracing functionality – something not present in RDNA (1) – and Microsoft in turn will be tapping this for their next game console. Microsoft, of course, already has significant experience with hardware ray tracing thanks to DirectX’s own ray tracing functionality (DXR), so the company will be able to hit the ground running here, albeit with AMD hardware for the first time.

Microsoft’s announcement also confirms for the first time that we’re getting Variable Rate Shading (VRS) support. This is another feature that has been supported in DirectX for a bit now (and in rivals Intel & NVIDIA’s GPUs), but isn’t currently available in AMD’s RDNA (1) lineup. A sampling optimization of sorts, variable rate shading allows for the shading rate for an area of pixels to be increased or decreased from the normal 1:1 ratio. The net impact is that an area can be oversampled to produce finer details, or undersampled to conserve resources. As the former is more of a niche use case for VR, we’re far more likely to see undersampling in day-to-day usage. Especially with complex pixel shaders, when used correctly VRS is intended to give developers a way to improve the performance of their games for little-to-no perceptible impact on image quality.

VRS: Visually Represented (Image Courtesy NVIDIA)

Finally, as far as overall GPU performance is concerned, Microsoft’s latest revelation finally gives us a performance estimate: 12 TFLOPs. While the company doesn’t break this down into clockspeed versus compute units, this is none the less twice the GPU performance of the Xbox One X. Or for a more generational comparison, more than 9x the GPU performance of the original Xbox One.

Even at just 2x the performance of the Xbox One X, this is by all objective measures quite a bit of GPU horsepower. To put things in perspective, AMD’s current fastest RDNA-based video card, the Radeon RX 5700 XT, only offers 10 TFLOPs of GPU performance. So the Xbox Series X, a device with an integrated GPU, is slated to offer more graphics performance than AMD’s current flagship video card. Which, to be sure, doesn’t mean the Xbox Series X is going to be more powerful than a PC (there’s no getting around the fact that AMD has been trailing NVIDIA here), but it’s clear that Microsoft has great ambitions for the console’s graphics performance.

Tangential to this, Microsoft has also finally confirmed that the console will support HDMI 2.1. This has long since been a given, as the time frame and Microsoft’s own resolution goals pretty much require HDMI 2.1 to begin with, but none the less we finally have confirmation. The company’s announcement also confirms that along with variable refresh rate support (first introduced on the Xbox One X), the console’s HDMI connection will also support HDMI’s auto low latency mode, which tells a display to switch to low latency mode. Depending on just how fine-grained Microsoft’s implementation is, there’s room here for nuance; for example only engaging low latency mode for gaming, but leaving it off when watching videos so that a display can apply extra processing.

Finally, while Microsoft had previously disclosed that the console would use a “next generation” SSD, it’s interesting to note that the company is now calling it a “custom built” SSD. Absent more details, I’d hesitate to read too much into this, but at a minimum it means Microsoft is not using an entirely off-the-shelf SSD. Whether that means they’re using commercial silicon with different firmware, or ordering their own silicon entirely, remains to be seen. And perhaps the bigger question is whether this is an all-flash setup, or if the console will be running some kind of tiered storage with an SSD and an HDD? Given that even when SSD prices were at their historical lows, a large enough SSD to hold several AAA games could easily run for $100 or more, a pure SSD setup stands to be an expensive venture.

But whatever the storage architecture is, it sounds like Microsoft is putting it to good use. On top of the previously mentioned loading benefits, the company is touting a feature they’re calling “Quick Resume”, which allows for several games to be suspended at once. Since suspending multiple games in this fashion all but requires evicting them from RAM and sending them to non-volatile storage, Microsoft will need a high performance (and reasonably spacious) SSD to power this feature.

As always, expect to hear a lot more about the Xbox Series X over the next several months, as Microsoft ramps up to launch it for Holiday 2020.

Source: Microsoft

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  • mkozakewich - Monday, February 24, 2020 - link

    The first console generation started in 1972. The Playstation came out during the fifth generation.

    I suppose the fifth generation was when the market collapsed into the three main players, which you could see as the beginning of the current market.
  • HStewart - Monday, February 24, 2020 - link

    I was actually referencing first console of most prevelent consoles ( don't count Nintendo - which I feel is even younger ). I was high school in late 70's and remember seeing Pong and went for Commodore 64 because it had more computer abilities than Atari at the time and cheaper.
  • PeachNCream - Monday, February 24, 2020 - link

    Nintendo's console business significantly predates Sony and Microsoft involvement in the same industry.
  • dihartnell - Tuesday, February 25, 2020 - link

    Yes late 70s at similar time to Atari.
  • Spunjji - Tuesday, February 25, 2020 - link

    "...don't count Nintendo - which I feel is even younger.."

    At least you expressed it as an opinion. It's still completely wrong, but well done for that.
  • alufan - Tuesday, February 25, 2020 - link

    lol started with pong about 73/4 moved on via Atari 400 then 2600 then intellivision with the voice synth man that thing was advanced! then ZX, C16 then C64 with a 51/4 floppy of 1.4 mb i think lol before my first true pcs.
    Had Gen 1 Ps and nintendos/segas etc but have never gelled with the xbox cant stand the controller now am firmly a PC gamer
  • PeachNCream - Tuesday, February 25, 2020 - link

    Went from Atari to Commodore and then Nintendo/Sega as well, but dropped out of consoles after the 16-bit generation in favor of PC gaming. It's only been in the past year that I went back to consoles and shelved the idea of using a PC due mainly to inflated hardware prices for graphics cards and partly due to market segmentation of other related components putting the hardware needed for fun into a range of cost that would cramp my all-or-nothing retirement savings.
  • alufan - Tuesday, February 25, 2020 - link

    hmm commodore was no way cheaper than Atari and Amstrads were even more!
  • HSO4 - Monday, February 24, 2020 - link

    I laughed when I read this comment about "first generation" and people's age. The Atari 2600 came out in 1977, considered by many as the first ever mainstream console. I am sure there are people on this forum who actually grew up playing on that. I understand you are referring to "first generation" as the first iterations of Sony and Xbox, but still was funny.
  • HSO4 - Monday, February 24, 2020 - link

    Speaking of Consoles, Atari, and Ryzen - here is an interesting one:

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