Xbox Scorpio GPU Analysis: How Did Microsoft Manage To Achieve 1172MHz Clock Speed?

This is one impressive feat by Microsoft.

Posted By | On 26th, Apr. 2017 Under Article, Graphics Analysis


Microsoft sure threw a curveball at us with the Xbox Scorpio’s specs. The overall picture—a box that’s capable of running Xbox One-quality games at 4K—is largely unchanged. Microsoft always maintained that Scorpio was, essentially, a premium 4K-capable member of the Xbox One family. Both in terms of the hardware specs and actual games up and running on Scorpio development kits, we can easily say that Scorpio fits the bill as a 4K Xbox One.

However, the rumour mill appears to have gotten a surprisingly large number of things wrong this time. For starters, there was a lot of talk about the Scorpio incorporating a Ryzen CPU. This was a potential game-changer: if Scorpio’s massively upgraded graphics component was complemented by a processor upgrade, it would’ve been more of a generational leap. Without severe CPU bottlenecking, the Scorpio could potentially have delivered not just a higher-res output, but next generation gameplay features, richer worlds, better physics simulation, and more believable AI. This wasn’t, alas, to be.

Much like the PS4 Pro, Scorpio’s Jaguar-based processor received a fairly hefty clockspeed bump (up to 2.3 GHz), and that was that. This certainly isn’t a bad thing. At 4K, Scorpio will mainly be targeting a 30 FPS update. Expecting any more, in all but a handful of first party titles, is asking a bit much. At 30 FPS, you’ve got twice as much breathing room. However, in simulation-intensive games, CPU constraints can crop up even at this lower framerate. Assassin’s Creed: Unity is a case in point. The original console release was barely playable on Xbox One and PS4—with hundreds of NPCs onscreen at the same time, both consoles experienced severe processor bottlenecking. On the PS4 Pro, performance appeared to scale near-linearly with the increase in clockspeed, enabling the game to consistently hit the 30 FPS threshold. We’d argue that the same holds true on Scorpio, which features a 10 percent faster CPU than the Pro: we’re not looking at a processing miracle here, just enough CPU grunt to ensure that minimum framerates don’t dip too far below 30 FPS.

While the Scorpio’s CPU upgrade might be a bit of a downer, it’s the GPU that’s the biggest surprise. Microsoft’s been throwing around the 6 Teraflop figure ever since the Scorpio was outed at E3 last year. This defined certain parameters for how the Scorpio’s GPU could shape up to be. AMD’s midrange PC blockbuster, the RX 480, was the obvious reference point: based on the Polaris architecture, the 480 leveraged power efficiency and a small die-size, courtesy of it being manufactured on the 16nm process, to deliver powerful, yet cost-effective performance. Crucially, the RX 480 also offered compute performance in the range of 6 Teraflops. The Polaris 10 connection was reinforced by the fact that the PS4 Pro’s GPU was essentially Polaris 10, downclocked to 911 MHz.

Analysts were initially doubtful of a Polaris 10 connection because of the laws of physics: the higher you clock a part, the hotter it runs and the more power it needs. You can’t feasibly clock a console GPU in excess of 1 GHz and expect it not to use up excessive amount of power and/or overheat. Til date, all eighth-gen console GPUs were derivatives of off-the-shelf AMD hardware. If a 36 CU part running in the 1.2 GHz range was infeasible, then we’re likely looking at a downclocked variant of a partially enabled Vega 10 with perhaps 56 CUs enabled. A cut-down Vega part, clocked conservatively, could deliver on all fronts. It would be (relatively) cheap, power efficient, and deliver performance in the 6 Teraflop range. This was the received perspective. It was what most sites and analysts (including ourselves) predicted. It couldn’t have been further from the truth.

With Scorpio, Microsoft appears to have ordered a fully custom SKU with no clear counterpart in the desktop space. Scorpio’s GPU is a 40-CU part, clocked at 1172 MHz. It makes use of both Polaris and Vega-specific optimizations. Moreover, its paired with 12 GB of GDDR5 that offers 316 GB/S of bandwidth. Memory bandwidth and the additional compute units alone give the Scorpio an advantage over a vanilla Polaris 10 part. But what’s truly eye-opening is the fact that the Scorpio’s GPU is clocked at 1172 MHz, very nearly as high as the RX 480’s max boost clock.

Console GPUs have traditionally been conservatively clocked for a variety of reasons. For starters, consoles are small form-factor boxes. In the desktop space, thermals are not often a major concern: any half tower or larger case with decent fans will offer you enough leeway to run just about anything (including those dreadfully hot Hawaii parts), without the risk of frying your components. With consoles, space is an inevitable constraint. You can’t build a console any larger than the smallest of small form-factor PCs. When space is at a premium, you can’t allocate extra space for heat dissipation. Additionally, consoles are limited in terms maximum power consumption. High end PCs can potentially use as much juice as air conditioners. With consoles, manufacturers have to think smaller: you can’t fit a mini nuclear power plant into a console-sized box.

So far, the only solution for these two constraints has been to drop console GPU clocks well below the typical operating frequencies you’d see in a desktop environment. While this cuts down on power requirements and heat output, it does have significant implications in terms of performance.

With Scorpio, Microsoft has leveraged the inherent efficiency gains from manufacturing on the 16nm node. Because of the smaller die size, Scorpio’s GPU is inherently more power efficient than the Xbox One’s or PS4’s. A larger GPU built on the 16nm process can offer significantly higher performance while falling within the same power/thermal profile as a smaller GPU built on the 28nm process. This is what’s enabled Microsoft to go with a 40-CU part in the first place. But what of clockspeeds? The PS4 Pro’s GPU is also a Polaris-derived part, featuring 36 CUs. It’s, however, running at a much lower clockspeed, 911 MHz. GPU manufacturing isn’t an exact science. Every time TSMC or Global Foundries switches over to a new process node, they encounter teething issues. Yields—the proportion of viable GPUs per batch—are often low to start off with, increasing cost per unit and forcing manufacturers to either disable parts of GPUs or lower clockspeeds to allow slightly defective parts to make the cut. Given time, however, a process matures, as manufacturers gain practical insights and refine their process. Yields go up and, consequently, the baseline clockspeed for a given GPU can be increased.

Scorpio’s evident clockspeed gains are likely due to the 16nm slowly coming into its own: this is something that we’re seeing in the desktop space with the RX 580. AMD’s base spec for the 580 has raised boost clocks by nearly 100 MHz. But, tellingly, custom RX 580s are coming to market clocked above 1400 MHz, unheard of with the 480 (I can vouch for this—I didn’t have much luck overclocking the RX 480).

All in all, the process gains appear to be enough that Microsoft can squeeze the Scorpio’s GPU into a console-sized box, with a console-sized power budget to boot. Whatever the reason may be, that’s a mighty impressive feat in and of itself.


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  • Generalkidd

    Actually, the CPU is also a custom design like the GPU. It’s reference point is still Jaguar, but Microsoft and AMD aren’t calling it Jaguar anymore since like the GPU, a lot of changes and improvements were made. Perhaps the new CPU has optimizations or custom instructions for better handling of higher framerates at 4K. More details will be needed of course.

    • XanderZane41

      Yeah.. for some reason they keep forgetting to mention the Jaguar CPU is customized and not just overclocked. There are also about a dozen benefits Microsoft threw in to help the CPU and prevent it from bottlenecks, The CPU is not going to work anywhere as hard as it does in the PS4 Pro, PS4 or XB1. Even with games like Assassin’s Creed: Unity, it should be able to run it at native 4K, 30FPS without any issues.

    • Nemesis

      Custom design = PR bullshit

      2-2.4 ghz = jaguar

    • Mr Xrat

      That can sprinkle that turd with all the marketing they want, it’s a Jaguar, like we all said it would be.

    • Supergrobi

      2.3 Ghz is not a typical Jaguar clock speed. There are more improvements. They implemented DX12 instructions in the commmand processors to half the CPU rendering overhead, there is a lot more inside the scorpio, which makes it much more powerfull than the PS4 Pro.

    • Mr Xrat

      The CPU in the Scorp is a mere 200Mhz faster than the CPU in the Pro. MS already “clarified” that DX12 instructions were already built into the Xbone SoC among other “clarifications.” Sorry bro, you fell for the marketing.

    • Supergrobi

      Take a look at this 😉

      “We essentially moved Direct3D 12,” says Goossen. “We built that into the command processor of the GPU and what that means is that, for all the high frequency API invocations that the games do, they’ll all natively implemented in the logic of the command processor – and what this means is that our communication from the game to the GPU is super-efficient.”

      Processing draw calls – effectively telling the graphics hardware what to draw – is one of the most important tasks the CPU carries out. It can suck up a lot of processor resources, a pipeline that traditionally takes thousands – perhaps hundreds of thousands – of CPU instructions. With Scorpio’s hardware offload, any draw call can be executed with just 11 instructions, and just nine for a state change.

      “It’s a massive win for us and for the developers who’ve adopted D3D12 on Xbox, they’ve told us they’ve been able to cut their CPU rendering overhead by half, which is pretty amazing because now the driver portion of that is such a tiny fraction,” adds Goossen.

      http://www.eurogamer.net/articles/digitalfoundry-2017-project-scorpio-tech-revealed

    • Mr Xrat

      “UPDATE 7/4/17 20:44: Microsoft’s Andrew Goossen has
      been in touch to clarify that D3D12 support at the hardware level is
      actually a part of the existing Xbox One and Xbox One S too. “Scorpio builds on the Command Processor capability present in the original Xbox One,” we’re told. “Our implementation of D3D12 supports all Xbox Ones, and games have already shipped that use it. When a game using D3D12 starts up, we reprogram the GPU’s Command Processor front-end. The 50 per cent CPU rendering overhead improvement was reported by shipping games. The amount of win is dependent on the game engine and content, and not all games will see that size of improvement.”

      Reduced draw calls is also a feature of the Jaguar CPU on the original PS4, so MS is really catching up to something the competition cracked four years prior.

    • mechlord

      cmon, dx12 instructions on the command processor isnt anything new. the original xone has it. dont act like its the second coming of jesus

    • Hahah classic ‘dont act like its the second coming of jesus’ :)..

    • AJSB

      Indeed, they are no longer typical AMD Jaguar cores…they are now more like AMD KABINI cores…or even CARRIZO-L cores.

    • Smart guy

      Lol this loser. 😀

  • DA-ROOSTER

    Xbox Scorpio GPU 1,172MGz 326GBPS memory bandwidth

    PS4 PRO GPU 900MGz
    217GBPS memory bandwidth

    https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/81a26dd96ee91ba734e45a9900430ba7b961532e59e5c64489e7bb9145a6fff2.jpg

    @Mr Xrat Your PS4 PRO is gimped

    • Mr Xrat

      Funny thing, Kirk Da Moron, NBA 2K17 is already 4K, so it’ll look exactly the same on the Shitpio. “True 4K” is a marketing term for idiots like you. 🙂

      No wonder you’re sounding more scared than usual, even cherry-picked leaked tech demo screenshots don’t look particularly impressive.

    • Fweds

      Your panic over Scorpio is hilarious.

      I see you have used your Upvote Bot as usual and given yourself 10 ghost Upvotes and anyone else who says anything negative about Scorpio

    • marc Berry

      So where’s that 4k/60 at driving game at? oh wait GT? no it’s 1800p on PS4 Semi Pro.

    • YOUDIEMOFO

      Only them exclusives are going to get that “special treatment” on that there Scorpio….., but there would have to be some serious games for developers to want to spend that much time/effort on a multi-plat title. That would mean the games need to come out more so than not.

      I hope something happens on the forefront as I’ve been waiting to get my hands on another MS system.

  • Jay T

    How is 4x the L2 cache and numerous other improvements considered the same as the Jaguar in the PS4 Pro which really is just an overclocked PS4/Xbox One Jaguar?

    Also the Scorpio is targeting 4K/60 just like they’ve said in every interview

    • Luke Skywalker

      The 4x L2 cache is in the GPU. I thought it was the cpu too, but it’s not. They did other improvements to the cpu though. I’m sure we will hear more about it at hotchips

  • Nemesis

    Scorpio is overrated. Weak Jaguar cpu, mid polaris gpu. The Clock Speed can’t change that..

    Polaris 4K benchmark (RX)

    http://gamegpu.com/images/stories/Test_GPU/RPG/Mass_Effect_Andromeda/new2/me4_3840.png

    1480 mhz Polaris 4k benchmark

    https://tpucdn.com/reviews/Sapphire/RX_580_Nitro_Plus/images/wildlands_3840_2160.png

    1172 mhz = nothing

    End of story

    • Learned Handgun

      Yea, but are you going to buy one?

    • Luke Skywalker

      Question: any of those Polaris chips has 40CU or D 12 offload built into the 8 command processor?

  • Mr Xrat

    Overclocking.

    That MS engineering though!

    • Fweds

      Don’t panic it will be ok.
      Your PS4 will still work as will it’s games, the multi format titles won’t look or run as good as Scorpio’s but you will still be able to play the games.

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    • kreator

      Lol

    • Lord God King

      MS did way more custom work on Scorpio than Sony did on PS4 Pro. The spec reveal for the PS4 Pro must have been devastating for you if this is your reaction to Scorpio specs.

    • Mr Xrat

      Yeah, I couldn’t stop laughing at that Jaguar CPU. Ten months of waiting for that! Hahahah!

    • Lord God King

      And I find it hilarious that you use fake accounts to upvote yourself to make it look like people agree with you when in-fact people rarely do. LOL.

  • mechlord

    Gaming bolt: do you realize you havent actually answered the question in the title?

    • Luke Skywalker

      I think they’re Arjun is trying to say that it’s because of the switch to 16nm process and that tsmc has also matured in building chips at that size makes it easy for Microsoft to hit that high clock speed. But he horribly failed to mention Microsoft’s advanced cooling. I guess proper thermal control isn’t a major part of it.

    • Mark

      “Advanced cooling” Boom. Arjun missed that point so much so that he has Xrat saying “Microsoft just overclocked the GPU….dat engineering doe” ahaha. He then went on to say “NBA 2K 17 is already 4k on the Pro, so Scorpio will look the same”, dam son, you ever heard of 4k textures or ultra settings? Oh goodness, people need to read the digital foundry spec report, sheesh.

  • marc Berry

    It’s funny how most say it’s no big deal but here’s the FACTS.

    Forza 6 running on Scorpio 4k/60 pc ultra setting = a GTX 1070 to match (DRY)
    That’s 5.7 TFLOPs to Scorpio’s 6.

    That’s $329 to $400??

    CPU i5 k $229 to –

    So it says for you dumb, dumbs here that what ever is in that CPU it’s way better than what’s in your PS4 semi Pro and at lest a tie with a i5 CPU. That’s what Forza 6 has shown us. until we turn on the rain then you need a 1080.

    “Featuring eight custom x86 cores clocked at 2.3GHz, a 1172MHz graphics
    processor and 12GB of system memory, it adds considerably to the
    original machine’s processing power and graphics capabilities. It will,
    in theory, allow native 4K resolution gaming, at 60 frames-per-second,
    and with full support for HDR colour – and in terms of processing grunt,
    it is set to considerably out-perform Sony’s PlayStation 4 Pro. ”

    IS that not what you have seen?

    “Developers will still need to support the standard Xbox One and Xbox One
    S iterations with every game they make, but from now on they’ll have
    the option of supporting the high-end visual feature-set of this new
    machine.”

    https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2017/apr/27/project-scorpio-xbox-chief-microsoft-plans-console

    • Mr Xrat

      All those marketing terms.

      Sh*tza is an hilarious game to use as a benchmark too.

    • Baraka

      Where is your likebot?

    • Smart guy

      He got called out on it. He’s giving it a break for now 😉

  • Edonus

    **** Passers Bye***** This is a FUD article and the comment section is filled with Sony shills that are trying to confuse consumers.

    Go directly to Digital Foundry themselves and get the information. The Scorpio CPU is way more than just a overclocked part, it has 4 times the L2 cache and with the way MS has integrated DX12 directly in to the hardware it is way more than just calling it a Jaguar.

    • Mr Xrat

      Keep crying that your “monster” is anything but, you sad little b*tch.

    • Edonus

      ****Passers Bye**** please be alerted.
      This Mr Xrat guy is a known sony shill……. his new assignment is to pose in comment section acting like he is a tech guy but he will only use spin and half information to try and trick people in to thinking the Xbox One Scorpio isnt as powerful as it is……..

      NOW…… He is gay and proud of it and admits he prefers Playstation over any other console because he likes the Move controllers.


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