Microsoft’s Xbox One X drops on Tuesday and it’s easily the strongest console ever built. Its GPU sports higher clocks and additional cores, its CPU is clocked a full 1.3x faster than the old Xbox One, and its unified GDDR5 memory offers vastly more bandwidth (and a much simpler memory architecture) than the Xbox One’s 32MB of cache + quad-channel DDR3 memory design.
Hardware design, however, isn’t the entire story. Because the Xbox One X (Buy on Amazon) maintains full backwards compatibility with the Xbox One, it’s on developers to deliver optimized titles with better experiences that justify the new system’s $ 500 price tag.
Let’s establish some ground rules before we talk about the relative value of the platform.
- If you’re happy with the console you own and see no need to upgrade, don’t upgrade.
- As with the PS4 and PS4 Pro, the value of the Xbox One X depends somewhat on what hardware you already own. If you have an SDR 1080p television, you might not want to upgrade until you can afford a new TV.
- When I say the Xbox One is worth buying, that doesn’t mean it makes sense for literally every person right now. As with the PS4 Pro, it could be that people who own 4K TVs with HDR are best-positioned to upgrade.
It’s going to take time for the Xbox One X to field a solid set of upgraded titles, just as it’s taken time for Sony to do the same with the PS4 Pro. Not every game is upgraded in the same way, and Eurogamer has written a number of game profiles that range from dramatic improvements to relatively modest updates. But the biggest single reason I’m comfortable saying console gamers should feel good about opting into the Xbox One X’s ecosystem is because this console has a much better chance of driving a high-end 4K experience than the PS4.
The GPU inside the Xbox One X is a Polaris-derived part that’s designed for much higher performance relative to the rest of AMD’s product stack than the Xbox One’s GPU was back in 2013. The RX 580 is a 2304:144:32 configuration with a 42.9GPixel/s fill rate and 256GB/s of memory bandwidth. Microsoft’s Project Scorpio is 2560 cores, 144-160 TMUs (we’ve seen both figures), with 32 ROPs (2560:144-160:32) with a 37.5GPixel/s fill rate. That’s stronger than the PS4 Pro in graphics by a fair margin. Eurogamer does note that there are games, like Assassin’s Creed Unity, that are CPU-bound in spots, but even here we see a 20-30 percent flat improvement. Some games are going to hit the CPU harder than others, but Microsoft does report lowering the CPU memory access latency by up to 20 percent, which should definitely improve performance when memory latency was a bottleneck. And Eurogamer also notes that it’s the original on-disk code for Unity that has an unlocked frame rate–and Unity ran like dirt at launch. As evaluations of performance go, it’s probably not an ideal title.
The 12GB of memory is another key feature. With 9GB of system RAM available for games, developers can use higher resolution targets, better detail levels, or simply improve the frame rate. The advent of a simpler memory system (unified GDDR5 as opposed to 32MB cache + quad-channel DDR3) means it’ll be easier for developers to hit the performance levels they’re targeting without painstaking optimizations.
Finally, there’s 4K and HDR. If you’re still on a 1080p set and happy with an Xbox One, there’s no reason to change that. I’m only recommending an upgrade for people who want to upgrade. But 4K + HDR is a gorgeous experience in games according to basically everyone. And while the Xbox One S can provide that capability with a small frame rate boost in some games, the Xbox One X is much better positioned to drive superior experiences over the next few years.
I don’t think there’s anything wrong with waiting to see which titles are enhanced and how the enhancement is handled, but I also expect that we will see developers taking advantage of the hardware and delivering meaningful improvements. Given that the original Xbox One has been lagging Sony’s performance since launch, this is a meaningful chance to turn the tables and play older games at higher frame rates.
Microsoft has a long history of working with developers and providing robust tools for system optimization. The performance argument for the Xbox One X as providing the best-in-class console experience is virtually air-tight. I’m confident saying that over the next 12 months, the Xbox One X will distinguish itself as the platform to beat in any game that launches for both it and the PS4. If that doesn’t happen, Microsoft and its game studio partners don’t deserve to be in the market against Sony at all.