Will the Xbox Series S hold back next-gen gaming? by Tom Warren for The Verge
Ever since the official announcement of the Xbox Series S, I have been trying to comprehend how it will limit developers and consumers going forward into the next console generation. Tom Warren of The Verge seemed to have the same thoughts.
Microsoft revealed its Xbox Series S console last week, aiming to offer more budget-friendly next-gen gaming for $299. The console is specifically targeted at 1440p resolution rather than 4K, leading to some lingering questions and confusion around just how well it will play next-gen games. There are concerns around the GPU performance, memory, and whether the Series S could hold back next-gen gaming. I got a chance to speak with Jason Ronald, Microsoft’s director of Xbox program management, to dig into what’s really going on with the Xbox Series S.
Billy Khan, a lead engine programmer at id Software, shared Gneiting’s concerns. “The memory situation is a big issue on the S,” said Khan in another deleted tweet. “The much lower amount of memory and the split memory banks with drastically slower speeds will be a major issue. Aggressively lowering the render resolutions will marginally help but will not completely counteract the deficiencies.”
Sasan Sepehr, a senior technical producer at Remedy Entertainment, also shared a brief concern. “As a consumer, I love this,” said Sepher on Twitter. “As a Technical Producer, I see trouble.”
It is ironic that some of the quotes from this article were from id Software developers, which were just purchased by Microsoft this week. These concerns don’t seem to phase Microsoft though, at least on the surface.
“We did a lot of analysis of what it would really mean to run a game at 4K with 60fps and then to scale that down to 1440p at 60fps,” says Jason Ronald, Microsoft’s director of Xbox program management, in an interview with The Verge. “The reality is you don’t need as much memory bandwidth because you’re not loading the highest level MIP levels into memory. You don’t need the same amount of memory as well.”
While thinking about all the differences between the two new Xbox consoles, I kept switching tabs and sources to figure it all out. So to spare you the same fate, I whipped up a table below with all the specs for both the Xbox Series S and Xbox Series X officially from their product pages on Xbox’s website. I also threw in the PlayStation 5 specs to put it all in one place.
|Xbox Series S||Xbox Series X||PlayStation 5|
|Processor – CPU||8X Cores @ 3.6 GHz (3.4 GHz w/SMT) Custom Zen 2 CPU||8X Cores @ 3.8 GHz (3.66 GHz w/SMT) Custom Zen 2 CPU||x86-64-AMD Ryzen Zen 2|
8 Cores / 16 Threads
Variable frequency, up to 3.5 GHz
|Processor – GPU||4 TFLOPS, 20 CUs @1.565 GHz||12 TFLOPS, 52 CUs @1.825 GHz Custom RDNA 2 GPU||10.3 TFLOPS,|
Variable frequency, up to 2.23 GHz Custom RDNA 2 GPU
|System on a Chip (SOC) Size||197.05 mm||360.45 mm|
|Memory (RAM)||10GB GDDR6 128 bit-wide bus||16GB GDDR6 w/320 bit-wide bus||16GB GDDR6 w/256 bit¹|
|Memory Bandwidth||8GB @ 224 GB/s, 2GB @ 56 GB/s||10GB @ 560 GB/s, 6GB @ 336 GB/s||448GB/s Bandwidth|
|Internal Storage||512GB Custom NVME SSD||1TB Custom NVME SSD||825GB Custom SSD|
|I/O Throughput||2.4 GB/s (Raw), 4.8 GB/s (Compressed, with custom hardware decompression block)||2.4 GB/s (Raw), 4.8 GB/s (Compressed, with custom hardware decompression block)||5.5GB/s (Raw), Typical 8-9GB/s (Compressed)²|
|Video Resolution||1440p||2160p (4K)||2160p (4K)|
|Framerate||Up to 120fps||Up to 120fps||Up to 120fps|
I won’t pretend to know how each one of these differences measures up in game development. I’ll leave that to the people that actually make games. As someone with their ear to the ground regarding this industry though, I have a hard time hearing and believing the idea that native 4K gaming is a difference of 8 TFLOPS, 6 GB of RAM at significantly lower bandwidth. Xbox One X, which is both more and less powerful than the Xbox Series S, was capable of 4K gaming, a point Xbox used regularly in their marketing. Numbers don’t paint the whole picture, but I feel like they present a clear outline.
The Xbox Series S is the lowest common denominator for third party titles now. Not only do Xbox Game Studios have two SKUs to worry about, but third party developers like Activision and Ubisoft have to reign in their games for Xbox Series X and PS5 to make sure that the games run well on Xbox Series S. Maybe developers will build for the Xbox Series X and PS5, then figure out how to scale down to Xbox Series S, but that jeopardizes that lower-end version’s performance; both technically and possibly commercially.
We won’t really know how hamstrung design and development will be until we actually see the fruits of labor. Even then, it won’t necessarily be this year, especially with third party developers make cross-generational games, thus making the Xbox Series S actually a higher tier version of whatever game. We may get a taste of the restrictions, but probably won’t get a full, juicy comparison until a year or two into the generation. We are only 50 odd days out from the launch of the next-gen consoles, but I can’t help but feel like Xbox is already putting an arrow in the knee of next-gen development.