How much could $499 buy you today?
Earlier we’d had a look at how a 2018 Sony console would hypothetically turn out. Today, we thought to continue in that vein and look at what a Microsoft console would look like if it launched this year at the same price point of $499 as in 2013. In all truth, this is unlikely just like the one we discussed for PlayStation in our previous article, but it does raise some interesting points. Any $499 Microsoft console that comes out in 2018 would be very similar to the One X in terms of its hardware makeup, and that it would be more similar than the Pro would be to a 2018 Playstation console, simply because Microsoft used the latest possible hardware in the One X, from a GPU standpoint.
So the question then becomes: What would the Xbox One X have looked like if Microsoft had given it some extra time in the oven? And, just as important, what would games look like if they were designed with such a console’s hardware in mind, and not with the base 2013 console in mind. It’s important to remember here that, at the end of the day, for purely economic reasons if nothing else, all eighth-gen titles—everything that’s likely to run on the One X also has to run on the original Xbox One, a console with the venerable Bonaire GPU at its heart.
While the One X has over 4 times the graphics horsepower of its immediate predecessor, this is primarily used to run games at higher resolutions. While visuals this gen are no doubt better than what was on offer on the PS3 and Xbox 360, glimpses of what could have been and the numerous “downgrade” controversies surrounding titles like The Witcher 3 mean that a hypothetical, more power baseline console would allow for visuals that are a lot closer to photorealism than we’ve come to expect. What would games look like if they targeted higher end hardware? And what would a 2018 console from Microsoft look like?
"But because Kinect was only ever a feature of the Xbox One, and not its centrepiece, it was never a point of comparison when the Xbox One was put up against the PS4–it was dead weight, so to speak."
Let’s start with (unnecessary) peripherals. Just like with the One X, or the One S for that matter, a hypothetical 2018 Xbox console will likely not feature gimmicky peripherals which you will likely never use and which drive the bill of materials up 20 percent (cough cough, Kinect). If any single factor could be attributed to the Xbox One’s poor showing compared to the PS4 at launch–the appalling situation where your product costs more and performs worse than the competition–it was the mandatory Kinect pack-in. Unconventional features can work–if a console is built around them, as the Wii shows us.
But because Kinect was only ever a feature of the Xbox One, and not its centrepiece, it was never a point of comparison when the Xbox One was put up against the PS4–it was dead weight, so to speak. Microsoft has ceasef production of the Kinect late year. And while they’ve been pushing “Mixed Reality” quite hard, we think it’s safe to say we won’t see another pack-in gimmick from Microsoft anytime soon. This will mean that, unlike the 2013 Xbox One, a 2018 Microsoft console will focus more on what really matters: processing and graphics power. This time, it’s $499 of raw hardware grunt, no hand waving required.
Unlike our earlier conclusion with the hypothetical 2018 Sony console, we think the Xbox One X is right on the money as far as a $499 Microsoft console in 2018 is concerned. The Xbox One X, in many ways, is in many ways, the most cost-optimal hardware Microsoft can offer right now. As things stand, Microsoft loses significantly money per Xbox One X sold than Sony does, despite the One X costing $100 more than the PS4 Pro. As such, there’s relatively little wiggle room. Moreover, the One X launched a whole year after the PS4 Pro—just a few months ago: this means that cost equations for the One X factor in component prices which aren’t that different from what they are right this moment. Considering that the One X launched in many geographies as recently as January, it can itself be seen as Microsoft’s 2018 console, though with some crucial differences.
"The PC-equivalent processor itself sold for as much as $150. In comparison, quad-core Ryzen 3 parts sell for as low as $109. With that in mind, it would be entirely plausible for a standalone Microsoft console to feature a Ryzen processor. This would have significant implications for games."
For starters, a 2018 standalone Microsoft console would not continue to use an anaemic Jaguar CPU, as the One X, the Xbox One, and budget laptops circa 2013 do. The reason: Ryzen is here, and, crucially, it’s affordable. In 2013, AMD sold Microsoft APUs combining an eight-core Jaguar processor with a Bonaire GPU for just $110 dollars. For comparison, equivalent PC hardware—an FX-6100 and a 7790—would’ve cost roughly $300. The PC-equivalent processor itself sold for as much as $150. In comparison, quad-core Ryzen 3 parts sell for as low as $109. With that in mind, it would be entirely plausible for a standalone Microsoft console to feature a Ryzen processor. This would have significant implications for games.
The Xbox One X’s processor—for the sake of backwards compatibility (and a measure of cost cutting) is little more than an Xbox One processor running at higher clocks. This imposes significant constraints in terms of what the Xbox One X can do: it can most certainly leverage its GPU prowess to run existing games at higher resolutions, but the weak CPU means that it would be difficult to see newer kinds of games—leveraging advanced physics and AI—running on the One X, unless the GPU was to pull in double duty on GPGPU, which would then negate the benefits of the One X’s GPU upgrade.
With hints that upcoming games like Cyberpunk 2077 may be cross-gen, set to run on both the PS4 Pro/Xbox One X and their successors, this may be a route developers are forced to take, though it’d likely result in compromises in the visuals department, especially in terms of running at higher resolutions. A standalone Microsoft console featuring even a modest, quad-core Ryzen processor, would potentially eliminate this issue completely, allowing the GPU to shine.
"When it comes to a hypothetical standalone Microsoft console, more than GPU capabilities—which we’d wager would closely match the Xbox One X—the difference would be in terms of how that hardware is utilized. Xbox One X-class GPU hardware paired with a Ryzen processor, targeting 1080p, would result in some revelatory gaming experiences."
In terms of graphics capabilities, a standalone Microsoft console wouldn’t differ much from the Xbox One X because, for a change, the hardware on offer is reasonably capable. With a 40 CU Vega-based GPU, the One X performs slightly better than the RX 570/580. This is an important point because of differences in terms of how the 570/580 are positioned in the market and how the One X is positioned. The 570 and 580 and other cards in that particular performance class—the GTX 1060, the 970, and the venerable 780 Ti—are primarily seen as solid options for a premium 1080p experience. These cards are sufficient to net a solid 1080p/60 experience at high to ultra-settings in the vast majority of today’s games.
But while they’re technically capable of running titles at 4K, you really have to stretch the definition of what a good 4K gaming experience is: medium to low settings at 30 FPS with regular dips below? While not much more powerful than the RX 580, marketing banks on the One X’s touted 6 TFLOP GPU to offer true 4K experiences. Of course, this results in a significant degree of compromise: Apart from running at 4K, games on the One X don’t look massively different from when they’re on the base system. When it comes to a hypothetical standalone Microsoft console, more than GPU capabilities—which we’d wager would closely match the Xbox One X—the difference would be in terms of how that hardware is utilized. Xbox One X-class GPU hardware paired with a Ryzen processor, targeting 1080p, would result in some revelatory gaming experiences.
Unfortunately, it’s not likely that we’re going to see such a hardware combination this year. On the plus side, by the looks of things, both the Next Xbox and the PS5 will almost certainly utilize Ryzen in tandem with Vega or Navi graphics. That’s an experience we’re likely to see, just not this year.