The eighth-gen console war was largely dominated by Sony and its PlayStation exclusives: God of War, Horizon Zero Dawn and Spiderman were some of the most successful titles of this generation and they all have one thing in common. They were not available on the Xbox One.
Prior to the arrival of the ninth-gen refresh consoles, titles like The Order: 1886 leveraged the PS4’s superior graphics horsepower to pull off visuals that were simply not possible on the Xbox One.
Even in terms of multi-plats, the Xbox One failed to impress. It barely managed to run most AAA titles at 900p or less with framerates that often dipped below 30 FPS. For years, Microsoft was on the technical backfoot with a console that delivered frankly terrible image quality and performance in far too many titles. Something had to change.
When the Xbox One X was released in 2017, Microsoft pulled out all the stops. A 6 teraflop GPU delivered graphics performance on par with PC legends like the GTX 970 and the original Titan. Meanwhile, a much-needed boost to CPU clocks meant that, at the very least, games would hold to 30 FPS more often than not. The lack of an exceptional range of first-party titles continued to be a problem. Over the past few years, Microsoft has sought to rectify that by buying studio after studio. Now, with the Xbox Series X less than a year away, we won’t have to worry about a lack of Xbox exclusives. And better yet, Microsoft’s learned other lessons, too. The Xbox Series X is expected to be the most powerful console ever made. Rumors indicate that it will sell at a relatively high price. We think that $599, the original launch price of the PS3 is a reasonable upper limit. It gives Microsoft enough leeway to pull off what leaks indicate is a truly remarkable console.
Let’s take a look at the expected specifications for the Xbox Series X.
CPU: 8-Core 7nm Zen 2 CPU Clocked between 3.5-4.0 GHz
We know for a fact that both the next-gen consoles will be powered by AMD’s Zen 2 cores. Both Sony and Microsoft confirmed that these will be octa-core models. We don’t have a clear picture about clockspeeds. However, the Xbox Series X’s large form factor and high expected power draw mean that Microsoft might leverage Zen 2 running close to its limits. Desktop Zen 2 parts features an all-core boost of 4 GHz. Turbo boost is unlikely to be used in either console for the sake of consistency. However, we expect the Xbox Series X’s (fixed) CPU clock speed to be fairly high, in the 3.5 GHZ to 4.0 GHz range. It’s relevant here to look at 65W Zen 2 parts in the desktop space for a good frame of reference. The 65W 3700X, which boosts past 4.0 GHz on all eight cores likely delivers similar performance to the Xbox Series X’s CPU.
GPU: Up to 48 CUs Based on the 2nd Gen RDNA Architecture
Microsoft is promising native 4K support for the Xbox Series X. While as yet unconforimed, the expected mainstream Lockhart SKU will most likely deliver 60 FPS at 1080p. Differing GPU configurations will likely be used to hit these targets. We know that the GPUs will be based on the 2nd Gen RDNA design. As such, we’re looking at a higher IPC than the Navi 10 architecture powering the RX 5700 series.
However, knowing how much heat those parts generate, clocks will likely have to be lower than the desktop variants. As such, we expect most of the gains from the improved architecture to be offset by lower operating clocks. Reliable leaks point to the top-end Xbox Series SKU featuring a 56 CU shader configuration. This would deliver performance that’s comparable to the RTX 2080 Ti, more than adequate for 4K gaming. Lockhart, on the other hand, will almost certainly be limited to 36CUs or even less. The recently-announced 36 CU RX 5600 XT provides a good frame of reference here: this is a high performance mainstream part that aims to deliver a compromise-free experience at 1080p. Lockhart will likely deliver GPU power in the 5600 XT’s ballpark.
The Xbox Series X is expected to get hardware-level ray-tracing support for lighting effects. Implementations of ray-tracing may likely be toned down compared to Nvidia RTX on PC. Expect something along the lines of Crytek’s Noir demo. There will be compromises in terms of visual fidelity to allow playable performance. However, the overall effect will be a massive step over current-gen lighting..
16-24GB GDDR6 Memory @ 448GB/s
Console material budgets put 24 GB of GDDR6 as upper limit of memory we expect to see in the Xbox Series X. It is possible that the top-end SKU will feature this much memory. Considering that many current-gen games use up 10-plus GB of VRAM at 4K, the SEries X really would need 24GB of shared memory to deliver crisp texture quality at that resolution. It’s likely that the cheaper Lockhart variant will feature a reduced memory configuration. The GDDR6 memory will run at between 12-14Gbps. Pair it with a 256-bit bus and you get ample bandwidth, somewhere in the same range as the RTX 2080 Super ~ 448GB/s.
1TB NVMe SSD over PCIe-4
While both Microsoft and Sony are claiming that the SSDs powering the next-gen consoles will be like nothing we’ve seen till now, we’re quite confident of seeing PCIe-4 based NVMe drives with speeds in the 5000MB/s (Write) and 7000MB/s (Read) range.
At CES 2020, we saw many PCIe-4 based driver that were even faster than this. While we don’t expect Microsoft to opt for the absolute top-end parts, we should get 3D NAND TLC based drives at the very least. As for capacity, 1TB is the safer bet. NAND storage is still quite expensive to warrant a 2TB console variant for $599.
Our best bet is that the top-end Xbox Series X SKU will cost somewhere between $600-700. $599 is what we’re hoping for. The cheaper Lockhart version will cost under $500 to serve a wider audience while the former will be for enthusiasts with deeper pockets.
The Xbox Series X will deliver an unpredecented amount of CPU and GPU power to console audiences. However, technology isn’t standing still. By the time the Series X arrives AMD will most likely have released Ryzen 4000 CPUs and second-gen Navi GPUs in the desktop space.