Microsoft’s rumored low-cost console could bridge the gap between current and next-gen initiatives.
I‘ve always been fascinated by the evolution of console technology. It seemed like only yesterday that the PlayStation One – known as the PS1, PlayStation or PSX when it first launched in 1994 for Japan – was the hotness. The graphics were ahead of what PCs were capable of, thus somehow rendering the latter “dead”. But snap judgments weren’t the point. The point was how technology could evolve at such a pace that a single piece of gaming hardware, small enough to fit just below one’s TV, could be capable of such feats right out of gate.
The inverse is also true. When the PS4 and Xbox One launched in 2013, the technology in both consoles was considered obsolete out of the box (Microsoft’s attempt to push eSRAM as one of its core proprietary components is one key example). However, fast forward to roughly seven years later and both the Xbox Series X and PS5 look amazing out of the box. Even if raw numbers bore you, their feature sets are nothing to scoff at.
Hardware-based ray-tracing, native 4K support, 120 fps support, solid-state drives, so on and so forth. The Xbox Series X is even capable of adding HDR to older titles that never supported it, like Halo 5: Guardians on the Xbox One. Both consoles can stream huge amounts of data seamlessly, reducing or outright retiring loading screens while implementing instant transitions between worlds.
However, in this day and age though, much like in 1994, it isn’t all about the raw power. It’s also about the games, their collectors, the services, and options. Everyone knows Sony could release one PS5 model with an Ultra HD Blu-ray disk drive and still see monumental sales. However, because the company recognizes the number of digital consumers it has, there’s also a disk drive-less variant launching at the same time. This isn’t convenience for convenience’s sake though, which we’ll come back to in a bit.
Why is all of this this important for Microsoft and how could it help the company gain an edge over the PS5? Over the past year or so, rumors have been rampant about something called “Lockhart”. It was cited as the lower-powered version of “Scarlett”, the latter going on to become Project Scarlett and then the Xbox Series X. Microsoft was also rumored to be working on a cloud-based console, codenamed “Maverick”, which could leverage its Xbox Game Pass library and streaming. The subsequent announcement of Project xCloud and its bundling with Game Pass seemed to further corroborate this rumor.
As time went by however, Maverick seemingly disappeared and Lockhart was said to have been shelved. We didn’t hear a whole lot about the latter…until rumors and reports of its reveal starting cropping up again. According to sources that spoke with The Verge, Lockhart is rumored to have 7.5 GB of usable RAM, 4 TFLOPs of GPU performance and a “slightly underclocked CPU”.
That GPU performance may worry some, especially since it’s lower than the Xbox One X’s 6 TFLOPs performance. There’s also the fact that the Xbox One X has 12 GB of GDDR5 RAM, of which 9 GB is available for games. However, it’s important to consider the overall architecture of both consoles. If Lockhart is indeed a less powerful version than the Xbox Series X, then it will likely have a Zen 2 CPU, which already puts it above the custom Jaguar used in the Xbox One X, and an RDNA2 GPU, which has a higher clock speed than the GCN 4 Polaris. Furthermore, it could be using GGDR6 RAM, resulting in higher memory bandwidth.
The console will apparently aim for 1080p or 1440p resolutions. Our theory is that it will enable Xbox Series X titles to run at 30 to 60 fps at 1080p, depending on the game and without features like ray-tracing or native 4K support. Graphics will also likely be adjusted further when it comes to more demanding titles like Halo Infinite and Senua’s Saga: Hellblade 2.
Essentially, Lockhart’s main purpose is to serve as a middle ground for current Xbox One players that want to make the jump to next-gen but don’t want to pay a bomb for the Xbox Series X. This is meant to cater to the Xbox Game Pass and digital crowd, allowing them to enjoy the latest in both third and first-party efforts at the cost of the highest graphically fidelity. Perhaps further down the line, when the Xbox Series X sees a price drop, they might consider upgrading.
This strategy of creating a device to facilitate current eco-systems while reportedly costing less seems more nuanced than the PlayStation 5’s disc-less digital alternative. Because it’s not just aimed at having a cheaper console than the base model – it fits into Microsoft’s current theme of cross-gen support, ensuring everyone can get in on the next-gen hype.
The commitment to not having Xbox Series X-only titles within the first year or two of the console’s launch starts to make more sense in that regard. If the rumor about Microsoft delaying the Xbox Series X and Lockhart from their previous August and October release dates – whether due to external real-world factors or otherwise – is true, then it’s even more realistic to have both consoles out at the same time.
It’s also important to note Sony’s stance on the digital-only PS5. While the company no doubt wants to leverage consumers who only purchase digitally, this step seems more cognizant of the PS5’s base price potentially being higher than the Xbox Series X at launch. While this may not seem like a big deal for most fans – because they’ll buy it if and when it’s available – it’s still a good safety net for everyone else. Even if the Xbox One’s $499 wasn’t the sole reason for it falling behind the PS4 in 2013, it was still a strong contributing factor. There’s no doubt that Sony wants to potentially avoid such a scenario itself, because comfortably transitioning current-gen owners to next-gen will only pay dividends in the long run.
For the health of Microsoft’s current and next-gen ecosystem, Lockhart will be a good initiative, even if its specs end up being even less powerful than reported. However, once the company moves past the initial launch years, it will need to focus more on its strategy for exclusives. This is something that Sony is pushing for right out of the gate – high-profile exclusives at launch and within the first year, not to mention timed-exclusive third party titles to showcase the console’s incredible power. One would hope that Microsoft realizes this and is already readying its own exclusives to counteract it.
Determining a “winner” in the next console war is usually tough within the first few months. But if Lockhart and the PS5 digital edition prove anything, it’s that the next-generation will be determined by how successful each company’s respective strategy is. Will Sony’s premium, next-gen heavy approach with award-winning exclusives win out? Or will it be Microsoft’s all-encompassing approach, generous Game Pass service and potential price difference? Time will tell and it’s certainly going to be a long wait. Until then, stay tuned for August when Lockhart is rumored to be revealed.
Note: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, GamingBolt as an organization.