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Project Scorpio Specs Unveiled! – The PC/Console Hybrid?

6 Apr , 2017  

Well, after nearly a year of speculation and in-depth analysis of what Microsoft’s newest console could be, confirmed detailed specs have finally been unveiled by the folks over at Digital Foundry. That’s right, Project Scorpio has been unveiled by Microsoft’s biggest critic. Is this an act of courage or are Microsoft really that confident about their upcoming system? Let’s take a look.

For starters, the system will pack a whats called a ‘Scorpio Engine’ which contains a 16nm FinFET chip produced by TSMC, containing a whopping 7 Billion transistors. This is an evolved version of the pre-existing 8-core AMD Jaguar core, with 4MB of L2 Cache. Frequencies have been increased from 1.75 GHz to 2.3GHz.

Customised from head to toe.

 

Other optimisations at the silicon level include coherency between CPU and GPU, which targets lower latency. DirectX 12 has been implemented directly into the hardware of the Command Processor in the GPU. This means that draw core instructions that typically require thousands of instructions are now reduced to just 11 (Yes, Eleven!). Microsoft says that CPU rendering load should drop by half with games that use DirectX 12 renders. Audio processing, which can also be CPU intensive have been offloaded to the dedicated APB silicon within the Scorpio Engine. Spatial audio in the form of Dolby Atmos is supported @ 7.1 surround.

 

GPU – Microsoft promised at E3 2016 a console that could deliver 6TFlops of performance in comparison to the Xbox One’s 1.13TFlops (the PS4 Pro can produce 4.2TFlops), and they have delivered! The GPU has 40 compute units clocked @ 1172Mhz (in comparison to the Xbox One’s 12/853Mhz and PS4 Pro’s 36/911Mhz), which in effect gives the Scorpio 11% of additional hardware and a 27% boost to frequency. In English, this gives the Scorpio a 43% computing advantage. The GPU design has features derived from AMD’s Polaris technology which essentially is a Radeon RX480 if you’re a PC gamer.

The brains of it all – Scorpio Engine.

RAM – 6.8Ghz GDDR5 modules on a 384-bit interface offering a total of 326GBs of bandwidth. 8GB out of the 12GB total will be made available to developers whilst the remaining 4GB will be reserved for system operations (ie. OS and various background processes). However this allows the Scorpio’s dashboard to render at native 4K resolution, something the Xbox One was never capable of doing.

Essentially Microsoft has delivered on what it set out to achieve, however it’s a lot more sophisticated than a bunch of specs. Being that Project Scorpio is a mid-gen refresh of existing hardware, Microsoft were able to take existing games that stretched the Xbox One to it’s limits and run them through hardware emulators to see where the strains and various bottlenecks existed in games before creating a single physical chip. The result is a series of heavily customised pieces of hardware (60 specifically in the GPU pipeline alone) that tailor to the strains of modern day gaming. This allowed Microsoft to not only run games in native 4K, but exceed well beyond that in some areas, thus allowing Software to define Hardware instead of Vice Versa.

A real world example of this was Turn 10 Studios being able to port Forza Motorsport 6 to the prototype Scorpio hardware in just two days! Even without any specific hardware optimisations; Forza 6 was hitting 4K @ 60FPS, a figure most thought wouldn’t be possible. However what was even more astounding was that even at 4K resolution, the GPU was only utilising 66.19% of it’s available resource! This means that 1080p Xbox One games will run at native 4K on Scorpio with minimal effort from the developers, however with all that extra power to spare we can expect to see some nice enhancements beyond just an increase in resolution.

So…many…pixels…

Some other nice confirmed features include, the Game DVR also getting a 4K / 60FPS HEVC upgrade as well. We’re told that there are also some major improvements to Backwards compatible games as well – but more on that in a later post.

Surely this means that the console will be hot enough to fry eggs on? Not quite. Microsoft has applied a method in which each processor has it’s own power characteristics as opposed to a one-size-fits-all power delivery application. This means that we should see more efficient power usage and hopefully a cooler box – nobody actually misses the Red Ring of Death. A vapour chamber will be used which are also found on the GTX 1080 and 1080 Ti graphics cards. There are no vents on the top of the Scorpio. Heat is pushed out through the back of the machine through a large centrifugal fan.



Personally we think that Microsoft may even go as far as marketing this thing as a PC / Console hybrid in the same fashion that Alienware & Steam tried (and failed) a few years back, which would make a lot of sense. A console that is more powerful than most PCs, runs (a variant) of Windows 10, except when plugged in with a mouse, keyboard and monitor – the system is clever enough to know that you’re using this in PC mode and treats the user as such letting them key-map within games and make slight audio and visual adjustments that users of “Console Mode” wouldn’t normally see due to them opting in for a comfortable couch experience. I say this as one has to question the whereabouts of the Xbox One update enabling mouse and keyboard use that Phil Spencer once eluded to by tweeting:

Now add that to the Xbox Live functionality coming to Windows 10 PCs, the Xbox Play Anywhere program that sees users play games across Windows 10 PCs and Xbox One, and the Xbox One control pads being fully functional on PCs, and you’ve got yourself a whole lot of evidence suggesting that Microsoft want to bridge the PC and Console gap. After all, what PC user wouldn’t want the ease of a console with the power of a PC?

But of course, it’s all about the games. Microsoft is going to have a whole lot to do to ensure that most if not all of their currently line-up is enhanced via the form of patch updates. From day one, people are going to really want to see what this thing can do. We’ll probably see a Forza game to showcase the system at some point and it would be really nice if they could secure Read Dead Redemption 2 for at least a timed exclusive – but the likelihood of this is slim.

Is there a likelihood of a hardware announcement pre-E3? There’s still time for the software giant to do so if they want to focus all their E3 stage presence solely on the games themselves.

Gone are the days of Don Mattrick’s TV-centric ecosystem, Phil Spencer has finally unleashed his brain child and boy does this thing look promising!

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