Microsoft has published a lengthy technology overview and glossary for Xbox Series X, and Digital Foundry has published an independent analysis and size comparison. Details on latency and an interview about the controller was also published.
A pair of tech demonstration videos showcasing Xbox Series X’s load time improvements and Quick Resume feature were also published.
The load time improvements video uses backward compatible Xbox One title State of Decay 2 to demonstrate load time technology and “does not represent gameplay optimized for Xbox Series X.”
The Quick Resume video uses backward compatible Xbox One titles State of Decay 2, Forza Motorsport 7, Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice, and The Cave to demonstrate Quick Resume technology and, again, “does not represent gameplay optimized for Xbox Series X.”
Get the full technology overview and glossary below.
The Most Powerful Xbox Ever
Early on in the design of Xbox Series X, the team was determined to deliver the most powerful Xbox ever, which opened a series of discussions about how to define “power” in the next generation of consoles. In past generations, power has been defined primarily by graphics innovation: from the transition from 8 bit to 16 bit graphics, 2D to 3D, SD to HD and finally to 4K.
Today, gamers are demanding more and more games run at 60 frames per second (fps) with high visual fidelity and precise, responsive input. Developers have come up with creative solutions, such as dynamic resolution scaling, to maintain high image quality while not compromising on frame rate, but this is often done to work around the limitations and constraints of current generation hardware. That’s all about to change with Xbox Series X. It’s not just about making games look better, though. It’s about making games play better too.
“While the Xbox Series X will deliver a massive increase in GPU performance and continue to redefine and advance the state of art in graphics with new capabilities such as hardware accelerated raytracing,” said Jason Ronald, Director of Product Management on Xbox Series X, “we don’t believe this generation will be defined by graphics or resolution alone.”
The team knew they needed to build a next generation console that could run games in 4K at 60 frames per second with no compromises for developers. They also challenged themselves to deliver a level of performance once thought impossible on console, including support for up to 120 frames per second for the most demanding and competitive games. While they believe resolution and frame rate are creative decisions best left in the hands of title developers, the team wanted to ensure the system was able to support the needs of the largest blockbusters, competitive esports, and innovative independent creators.
In order to support those needs, the team strengthened their long-term partnership with chipmaker AMD, which began working with the Xbox team over 15 years ago on the Xbox 360. Sebastien Nussbaum, Corporate Vice President & Senior Fellow, Semi-Custom Products and Technologies at AMD, spoke a bit about what the team created to help power Xbox Series X.
Thanks to a focus on transformational design and generational performance uplift, Nussbaum said that, for developers, “the console ends up being a playground for technical innovation.” This is due in large part to the raw power of the custom designed processor, powered by an 8 core AMD Zen 2 CPU and an RDNA 2-class GPU.
These next generation architectures deliver a new level of performance that lets developers create realistic and immersive experiences like we’ve never seen before, while also allowing the team at AMD to seed a next generation DirectX ecosystem that will continue to push the industry forward.
“Xbox Series X is the biggest generational leap of SOC [System on a Chip] and API design that we’ve done with Microsoft, and it’s really an honor for AMD to be a trusted Microsoft partner for this endeavor,” said Nussbaum. “The Xbox Series X is going to be a beacon of technical innovation leadership for this console generation and will propagate the innovation throughout the DirectX ecosystem this year and into next year.”
Following the AMD presentation, Technical Fellow Andrew Goossen took the reins to dive deep into the technological bells and whistles that will be powering Xbox Series X. We’ve listed the full system specs below, with handy links out to our glossary for definitions on what many of these terms mean:
CPU 8x Cores @ 3.8 GHz (3.66 GHz w/ SMT) Custom Zen 2 CPU GPU 12 TFLOPS, 52 CUs @ 1.825 GHz Custom RDNA 2 GPU Die Size 360.45 mm2 Process 7nm Enhanced Memory 16 GB GDDR6 w/ 320mb bus Memory Bandwidth 10GB @ 560 GB/s, 6GB @ 336 GB/s Internal Storage 1 TB Custom NVME SSD I/O Throughput 2.4 GB/s (Raw), 4.8 GB/s (Compressed, with custom hardware decompression block) Expandable Storage 1 TB Expansion Card (matches internal storage exactly) External Storage USB 3.2 External HDD Support Optical Drive 4K UHD Blu-Ray Drive Performance Target 4K at 60 frames per second, Up to 120 frames per second
For more information, I encourage you to check out Digital Foundry’s deep dive to get a better sense of what all of these features mean for developers and gamers.
One of the biggest (and most noticeable to players) features in Xbox Series X will be support for hardware accelerated DirectX Raytracing, which simulates the properties of light and sound in real time more accurately than any technology before it. To give us a better idea of how this technology directly impacts games, Clayton Vaught, Technical Director for Minecraft, ran us through a technical demo of how raytracing could impact one of the world’s most popular games.
Switching back and forth between current visuals to hardware accelerated DirectX Raytraced visuals, Vaught walked around a pre-built Minecraft world to show off the ways realistic lighting completely changes the game. Shadows cast from objects soften or harden depending on how far away from the object you are, while lava gives off a warm orange glow that dissipates over distance and reflects off of minecart rails. Even the moon casts its own rays, streaming down through cracks in the walls and reflecting off particles in the air. The Raytraced visuals fundamentally change the way Minecraft feels, drawing the player in and immersing them in a much more realistic world.
The most impressive feature (at least for yours truly) was the way light now passes through transparent objects like glass, picking up the color on its way to your eyes. This was beautifully demonstrated while walking through a hallway lined with a veritable rainbow of colored glass cubes, each of which cast a different colored shadow on the floor. The big wow moment came from the most unassuming of substances: water. With raytracing on, water was now fully transparent and allowed light from the moon to pass through it to the player underneath and realistically reflect off the seaweed swaying in the current.. It was really an impressive demo that brought what hardware accelerated DirectX Raytracing in Minecraft could deliver to life in a way I never imagined.
To close out the segment on the power of Xbox Series X, The Coalition’s Technical Director, Mike Rayner, came up to show us how his team is planning to optimize Gears 5 for Xbox Series X. The team showcased a technical demo of Gears 5, powered by Unreal Engine, for Xbox Series X using the full PC Ultra Spec settings, which included higher resolution textures and higher resolution volumetric fog, as well as a 50% higher particle count than the PC Ultra Specs allowed. They also showed off the opening cutscene, which now runs at 60 frames per second in 4K (it was 30 frames per second on Xbox One X), meaning the transition from real-time cutscenes to gameplay is incredibly smooth.
There were also some noticeable improvements in a few other areas as well. Load times were extremely fast, and the team was able to turn on some features that, while previously implemented, had to be turned off for the Xbox One X version. This included contact shadows (providing extra depth to objects) and self-shadow lighting on plants and grass, making every scene feel more realistic. Rayner also shared that the game is already running over 100 frames per second and that the team is investigating implementing 120 frames per second gameplay for multiplayer modes, giving players an experience never before seen on consoles. Most impressive of all? The fact that the team was able to get all of this up and running in a matter of weeks.
The team also announced that they will have an Xbox Series X Optimized version of Gears 5 available at Xbox Series X launch, which players will get free if they own the Xbox One version of Gears 5 and will leverage Smart Delivery depending on which console you’re using.
Improving Immersion and Embracing Speed
The next major tenet of the Xbox Series X is speed, which can be defined in a large number of different ways. Modern devices have changed our expectations on how quickly you can move between experiences or applications. Most of us want to be able to instantly jump into an experience or return right to where we left off. This influenced the team designing the system architecture, as they wanted to ensure they enabled gamers to spend more time playing and less time waiting.
A big part of that revolves around the addition of a solid-state drive (SSD). We have reached the upper limits of traditional rotational drive performance, so the team knew they needed to invest in SSD level I/O speeds to deliver the quality of experience they aspired to with Xbox Series X. This was an area where the team really wanted to innovate, and they knew this could be a game changer for the new generation. But they didn’t want the I/O system to be just about your games loading faster.
Enter Xbox Velocity Architecture, which features tight integration between hardware and software and is a revolutionary new architecture optimized for streaming of in game assets. This will unlock new capabilities that have never been seen before in console development, allowing 100 GB of game assets to be instantly accessible by the developer. The components of the Xbox Velocity Architecture all combine to create an effective multiplier on physical memory that is, quite literally, a game changer.
“The CPU is the brain of our new console and the GPU is the heart, but the Xbox Velocity Architecture is the soul,” said Andrew Goossen, Technical Fellow on Xbox Series X at Microsoft. “The Xbox Velocity Architecture is about so much more than fast last times. It’s one of the most innovative parts of our new console. It’s about revolutionizing how games can create vastly bigger, more compelling worlds.”
A big beneficiary of this technological upgrade are large open world games where players have freedom to play and explore in their own way and at their own pace. Titles such as Final Fantasy XV, Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, and Red Dead Redemption 2 have redefined expectations of a living, dynamic world this generation.
To make these universes even more dynamic and feel like large, high fidelity worlds requires a massive increase in processing power and the ability to stream assets in extremely quickly to not break immersion (epic elevator rides or lengthy hallways are good examples of how developers creatively hide assets loading in). Developers will also be able to effectively eliminate loading times between levels or create fast travel systems that are just that: fast.
You also can’t talk about speed without also talking about latency.
“Competitive gamers and the best gaming experiences demand precise, responsive controls,” said Goossen. “The Xbox team analyzed the entire end to end input pipeline, from the controller to the console and from the console to the display and we challenged ourselves to identify every opportunity to further reduce latency to provide the best experience for gamers on Xbox.”
This has included developing brand new technology such as Dynamic Latency Input (DLI) as well as helping to shape the HDMI 2.1 specification by adding new gaming-centric features such as support for 120hz, Variable Refresh Rate (VRR) and Auto Low Latency Mode (ALLM). The team has also been working with the industry’s leading TV manufacturers for the past two years to ensure the display ecosystem is ready for the features coming with Xbox Series X.
While it can be difficult to notice the improved latency from any one of these improvements alone, when they all add up, it makes for a profoundly more responsive experience.
Finally, there are the player experiences that will be greatly improved thanks to the speed afforded by Xbox Series X. The most noticeable of these is loading times, which will be greatly decreased thanks to the processing power of Xbox Series X.
There’s also the new Quick Resume technology that we outlined in our last blog post. With current gen consoles, you can resume the last game you played. However, since most players play (on average) three to four games a month, the team wanted to give them the option to switch between them easily and quickly. With Quick Resume, you can resume multiple games with the press of a button, instantly jumping back into the action, right where you left off, for multiple titles at the same time.
Since game states will be stored directly in the system’s SSD, they’ll even persist after you turn off the console, unplug it entirely, or even take a system update. One of the testers on the team unplugged his console for a week, then took an update, and was still able to continue right where he left off without so much as a loading screen.
Game Compatibility Continues in the Next Generation
The third and final pillar for Xbox Series X is compatibility. Through the Xbox One generation, the team has shown their passion and commitment for compatibility, putting the player and their favorite games at the center of everything they do. As gamers themselves, they understood that we all have our favorite memories, franchises or titles that we want to continue to play even as technology and game design continues to advance.
“The community’s response to Phil’s announcement of 360 backward compatibility at E3 2015 was one of the biggest career highlights for me in my time as part of Team Xbox,” said Ronald.
For the next generation, the team knew from the outset that they wanted to double down on compatibility. That vision helped influence the design of the system and, through a combination of hardware and software, they committed themselves to ensuring the thousands of games on Xbox One, including Xbox 360 and original Xbox games, will play even better on Xbox Series X.
“The team came and told us about Xbox Series X. They said ‘What can you do with even more power?’ So, the challenge was set. They gave us the Xbox One X and it was like we got this big playground to play with,” said Peggy Lo, Principal Program Management Lead, Backward Compatibility. “Then we got the Xbox Series X and it was like we had a whole amusement park to play in.”
Players will see the benefits of the improved hardware of Xbox Series X for backwards compatible games, including improved boot and load times, more stable frame rates, higher resolutions and improved image quality. The Compatibility team is also continuing to create entirely new techniques and innovation that we can use to further enhance the existing catalog of games when running on Xbox Series X.
The Xbox team is so committed to the concept of compatibility and cross generation play, that not only do your games move forward with you, but so do your Xbox One accessories, your game saves, and progression. In fact, your entire gaming legacy moves forward with you to the next generation.
What’s more, the team has also designed the system to enable cross generation multiplayer, as well as introduce new features such as Smart Delivery, which ensures you only have to purchase a title once, knowing you will get the best version of the title on whatever Xbox console you choose to play on. This will allow players to seamlessly move between multiple consoles and console generations as they see fit. Xbox Series X is the fastest, most powerful Xbox console ever, designed for a console generation that has you at its center. We hope this closer look at some of the design decisions and technologies powering Xbox Series X answered your questions and gave you a good idea of what to expect when the console becomes available this holiday season.
Xbox Series X Glossary
As we enter a new generation of console gaming with Xbox Series X, we’ve made a number of technology advancements across hardware and software that will take your gaming experience to the next level. We’ve created the below guide to help familiarize yourself with some of the new terms we’re introducing to describe the tech and functionality of Xbox Series X.
- Auto Low Latency Mode (ALLM) – As part of commitment to responsiveness for the next generation of console gaming, Xbox Series X supports Auto Low Latency Mode (ALLM) with capable displays. ALLM automatically enables your display’s lowest latency mode when you start playing. This functionality exists on Xbox One consoles today.
- Backward Compatibility – At Xbox, we’ve made a promise to compatibility: you can expect thousands of your favorite games across four generations of gaming, your Xbox One gaming accessories, your Xbox gaming legacy, and industry-leading services like Xbox Game Pass to work with Xbox Series X. Backward compatible games will benefit from the power and performance of Xbox Series X, resulting in steadier framerates, faster load times, improved resolution and visual fidelity. Fans and game creators can feel confident they will be able to play and create the best version of their games on the Xbox Series X.
- DirectML – Xbox Series X supports Machine Learning for games with DirectML, a component of DirectX. DirectML leverages unprecedented hardware performance in a console, benefiting from over 24 TFLOPS of 16-bit float performance and over 97 TOPS (trillion operations per second) of 4-bit integer performance on Xbox Series X. Machine Learning can improve a wide range of areas, such as making NPCs much smarter, providing vastly more lifelike animation, and greatly improving visual quality.
- DirectStorage – DirectStorage is an all new I/O system designed specifically for gaming to unleash the full performance of the SSD and hardware decompression. It is one of the components that comprise the Xbox Velocity Architecture. Modern games perform asset streaming in the background to continuously load the next parts of the world while you play, and DirectStorage can reduce the CPU overhead for these I/O operations from multiple cores to taking just a small fraction of a single core; thereby freeing considerable CPU power for the game to spend on areas like better physics or more NPCs in a scene. This newest member of the DirectX family is being introduced with Xbox Series X and we plan to bring it to Windows as well.
- Dynamic Latency Input (DLI) –Another innovation we are making to reduce latency for Xbox Series X is Dynamic Latency Input (DLI). With DLI, developers can more accurately synchronize the player’s input with the game’s simulation and render loop, even further reducing input latency while playing the game.
- GPU Work Creation – Xbox Series X adds hardware, firmware and shader compiler support for GPU work creation that provides powerful capabilities for the GPU to efficiently handle new workloads without any CPU assistance. This provides more flexibility and performance for developers to deliver their graphics visions.
- Hardware Accelerated DirectX Raytracing (DXR) – From improved lighting, shadows and reflections as well as more realistic acoustics and spatial audio, raytracing enables developers to create more physically accurate worlds. For the very first time in a game console, Xbox Series X includes support for high performance, hardware accelerated raytracing. Xbox Series X uses a custom-designed GPU leveraging the latest innovation from our partners at AMD and built in collaboration with the same team who developed DirectX Raytracing. Developers will be able to deliver incredibly immersive visual and audio experiences using the same techniques on PC and beyond.
- Hardware Decompression – Hardware decompression is a dedicated hardware component introduced with Xbox Series X to allow games to consume as little space as possible on the SSD while eliminating all CPU overhead typically associated with run-time decompression. It reduces the software overhead of decompression when operating at full SSD performance from more than three CPU cores to zero – thereby freeing considerable CPU power for the game to spend on areas like better gameplay and improved framerates. Hardware decompression is one of the components of the Xbox Velocity Architecture.
- Intelligent Delivery – Microsoft’s developer facing technology to reduce the size of game installs. Intelligent Delivery empowers developers to only install the pieces of the game you need, thereby minimizing the amount of content that needs to be installed or downloaded to the SSD.
- Latency – Latency refers to responsiveness of the console and controller, including the time it takes for your input to be registered by your console and then displayed on your screen. Reducing latency results in a more connected and immersive experience. Xbox Series X will be our most responsive console ever featuring ultra-low latency with advanced technology that minimizes latency at every stage of the gaming pipeline so that you instantly see the impact of your actions on the screen.
- Mesh Shading – Mesh shading will enable developers to dramatically improve the performance and image quality when rendering a substantial number of complex objects in a scene. As an example, mesh shaders could enable the player to experience asteroid belts and fields of flowers in more pristine detail without seeing a loss in performance.
- Native Resolution – Native Resolution is an Xbox Series X backwards compatibility enhancement for select Xbox One games that allows them to render at native 4K even if they weren’t originally designed for 4K.
- Optimized for Xbox Series X – Games built using the Xbox Series X development kit and designed to take advantage of the unique capabilities of the Xbox Series X. These include new titles built natively using the Xbox Series X development environment as well as previously released titles that have been rebuilt specifically for Xbox Series X. They will showcase unparalleled load-times, visuals, responsiveness and framerates up to 120 frames per second.
- Parallel Cooling Architecture – Parallel Cooling Architecture is the name of the innovative system design used to cool Xbox Series X. Building a console that delivers four times the processing power of Xbox One X in the most quiet and efficient way – something that is critically important with all the extra power of our next generation console – led to its unique vertical design.
- Project Acoustics – Incubated over a decade by Microsoft Research, Project Acoustics accurately models sound propagation physics in mixed reality and games, employed by many AAA experiences today. It is unique in simulating wave effects like diffraction in complex scene geometries without straining CPU, enabling a much more immersive and lifelike auditory experience. Plug-in support for both the Unity and Unreal game engines empower the sound designer with expressive controls to mold reality. Developers will be able to easily leverage Project Acoustics with Xbox Series X through the addition of a new custom audio hardware block.
- Quick Resume – A new feature powered by the technical capabilities and the innovative Xbox Velocity Architecture in Xbox Series X, Quick Resume enables players to seamlessly switch between multiple titles and resume instantly from where you last left off.
- RDNA 2 – The custom designed processor in the Xbox Series X leverages RDNA 2, the latest next generation graphics architecture from our partners at AMD. RDNA 2 provides a significant advancement in performance and efficiency as well as next generation graphics features such as hardware accelerated raytracing and variable rate shading.
- Sampler Feedback Streaming (SFS) – A component of the Xbox Velocity Architecture, SFS is a feature of the Xbox Series X hardware that allows games to load into memory, with fine granularity, only the portions of textures that the GPU needs for a scene, as it needs it. This enables far better memory utilization for textures, which is important given that every 4K texture consumes 8MB of memory. Because it avoids the wastage of loading into memory the portions of textures that are never needed, it is an effective 2x or 3x (or higher) multiplier on both amount of physical memory and SSD performance.
- SDR to HDR Conversion – With Xbox Series X, existing Xbox games, including recent titles within the [email protected] program, that don’t already have native HDR support will get the next-gen treatment. Xbox Series X is able to leverage an innovative HDR reconstruction technique to enhance existing SDR games with no work from developers and no impact to available CPU, GPU or memory resources.
- Smart Delivery – Smart Delivery is a new technology introduced with Xbox Series X that will ensure you always play the best version of the games you own for your console, across generations. All Xbox Game Studios titles that are optimized for Xbox Series X, including “Halo Infinite” will support Smart Delivery, providing the best available version for whichever console you choose to play on. For example, this means if you purchase the Xbox One version of a supported title, we will identify and deliver the best version of it to your Xbox One, as usual. If you decide to jump into the next generation with Xbox Series X, we will automatically provide the Xbox Series X optimized version of the game at no additional cost if and when it becomes available. Smart Delivery is available to all Xbox developers.
- Spatial Audio – Spatial Audio delivers deeply immersive audio which enables the player to more accurately pinpoint objects in a 3D play space. With full support for Dolby Atmos, DTS:X and Windows Sonic, Xbox Series X has custom audio hardware to offload audio processing from the CPU, dramatically improving the accessibility, quality and performance of these immersive experiences.
- TFLOPS (Teraflops) – TFLOPS (or “teraflops”) stands for Trillion Floating-point Operations Per Second and is a measure of raw mathematical performance of a GPU. While Xbox Series X delivers 12 TFLOPS of 32-bit float performance, two times that of the Xbox One X, the architectural efficiency improvements brought by AMD’s RDNA 2 architecture plus our next generation features such as Variable Rate Shading (VRS) and hardware accelerated DirectX Raytracing means that Xbox Series X will deliver well over twice the effective graphics performance of Xbox One X for games.
- Variable Rate Shading (VRS) – Variable Rate Shading increases GPU efficiency by concentrating shader work where it’s most needed and reducing shader work in areas where it won’t be noticeable. With minimal developer effort, VRS significantly improves GPU performance resulting in more stable and higher resolutions and frame rates with no perceptible loss in visual quality.
- Variable Refresh Rate (VRR) – Variable Refresh Rate is a new addition to HDMI 2.1 which enables capable displays to refreshed as fast as the console can render images, thereby eliminating tearing, increasing smoothness, and reducing latency. We have been working with the industry’s leading TV manufacturers to ensure the display ecosystem is ready for the features we are bringing with Xbox Series X.
- Xbox Series X Storage Expansion Card – Built in partnership with Seagate, this 1 TB custom storage solution expands storage capacity of Xbox Series X with the full speed and performance of the Xbox Velocity Architecture Previous generation Xbox titles can still be played directly from external USB 3.2 hard drives. However, to receive all the benefits of the Xbox Velocity Architecture and optimal performance, Xbox Series X, optimized games should be played from the internal SSD or Xbox Series X Storage Expansion Card.
- Xbox Velocity Architecture – The Xbox Velocity Architecture is the new architecture we’ve created for the Xbox Series X to unlock new capabilities never-before seen in console development. It consists of four components: our custom NVMe SSD, a dedicated hardware decompression block, the all new DirectStorage API, and Sampler Feedback Streaming (SFS). This combination of custom hardware and deep software integration allows developers to radically improve asset streaming and effectively multiply available memory. It will enable richer and more dynamic living worlds unlike anything ever seen before. It also effectively eliminates loading times, and makes fast travel systems just that: fast.
- Xbox Wireless Protocol – One of the first points to reduce latency is within the communication between your controller and your console. By bringing our existing high-bandwidth, low-latency wireless protocol on the Xbox One family of devices to Xbox Series X, we’re able to not only reduce latency in your gaming experience but also ensure all of your existing Xbox One gaming accessories will be compatible with Xbox Series X.
- Zen 2 – The custom designed processor in the Xbox Series X leverages AMD’s latest Zen 2 CPU architecture. Zen 2 provides a significant advancement in CPU performance delivering more than 4 times the performance of an Xbox One X.
- 120 Frames Per Second – With support for up to 120 frames per second (fps), Xbox Series X allows developers to exceed the more traditional 60 frames per second in favor of heightened realism and more precise controls for fast-paced action.
View a new set of hardware images at the gallery.