Next-Gen SSD Storage Options and Pricing

Best Buy went ahead and listed the custom 1TB SSD memory card for the Xbox Series consoles for pre-order at $219.99. The hardcore gamers will have to pay nearly half the console’s price (or nearly the whole console if buying a Xbox Series S) to double their storage. It’s a steep price to pay to manage your solid state drive less often.

Expanding the PS5 SSD storage is a different story. Mark Cerny revealed that users could expand the storage themselves with NVMe SSDs. The catch was, they’d have to wait until consumer NVMe SSDs caught up with the speed of the PS5’s own SSD. Cerny said that Sony would provide a list of recommended drives when they become available.

It sounds like Samsung’s NVMe M.2 drive that uses PCIe 4.0 has the speed, according to The Verge back in September 2020, with read/write speeds of 7,000MB/s and 5,000MB/s. Those particular drives have 250GB, 500GB, 1TB, and 2TB (the 2TB model is supposed to release later this year). Those are currently priced at $89.99, $149.99, $229.99, and the 2TB doesn’t have a price yet.

Leaving upgrades to the user definitely gives them more options, but can lead to confusion, especially if the installation is tricky. Swapping the PS4 or PS4 Pro hard drive was simple, but we have no idea how easy that will be on PS5. Xbox users can use traditional hard drives, if they are USB 3.1 or USB 3.2, but they will only run and play older games. Xbox Series console games and features require the custom SSD.

It reminds me of SD cards for cameras or the Nintendo Switch. I buy the size I want for the price I am willing to spend. 1TB SD cards run roughly $350~, but a 128GB micro SD card is roughly $20~ and is perfect for my Switch.

I could also see the cost of the NVMe drives going down sooner, since they serve a wider market. More competition to drive the prices down. The Xbox 1TB drive is currently made solely by Seagate and is a proprietary drive, which could lead to it keeping its current price for longer. Either way, upgrading the storage on these next-gen consoles is going to be a tough pill to swallow for the first year or two.

Inside Microsoft’s design of the new Xbox Series S and X – Fast Company

Inside Microsoft’s design of the new Xbox Series S and X by Mark Wilson for Fast Company

“We think about our console as part of the environment you live in as our customer,” says Phil Spencer, executive vice president of gaming at Microsoft. “While there’s an opening of the box and you want that to be fantastic, once you put that console wherever you put it, we hope you never have to touch it again, hope you never have to hear from it again, and it just plays great games. . . . It’s not the center of attention.”

As if to prove this point, Spencer conducted an interview in July, from his home office, before the Xbox Series S design was made public. Look into the background, and you can see the S peeking out between a stack of books. And no one noticed until Microsoft revealed the ruse last week.

I love interviews exploring hardware design and Mark Wilson delivers for the two new Xbox consoles. It’s easy to look at the new Xbox systems and forget their look, which is precisely what Xbox wants. They clearly went function over form, while still sprinkling in some flourishes. My favorite touch is on the Xbox Series X with its green plastic beneath the upper ventilation holes. Gives just the right amount of that iconic Xbox shade of green. Reminds me of the Xbox goo that was apart of the origianl Xbox console’s OS.

On the flipside with the PS5, Sony definitely put more flare out there. It’s unclear the form vs function ratio going on with the PS5, but it certainly does not fade from memory. It is very Sony in its design, which is a positive point to me.

I do enjoy the PS5’s look more than the Xbox Series consoles. I am also excited that we got such widely different looks to pair with the different approach the consoles all seem to be taking technically. Makes for a far more exciting launch and generation than similar specs inside similar boxes.

Will the Xbox Series S hold back next-gen gaming? – The Verge

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 SXbox Series XPlayStation 5
Processor – CPU8X Cores @ 3.6 GHz (3.4 GHz w/SMT) Custom Zen 2 CPU8X Cores @ 3.8 GHz (3.66 GHz w/SMT) Custom Zen 2 CPUx86-64-AMD Ryzen Zen 2
8 Cores / 16 Threads
Variable frequency, up to 3.5 GHz
Processor – GPU4 TFLOPS, 20 CUs @1.565 GHz12 TFLOPS, 52 CUs @1.825 GHz Custom RDNA 2 GPU10.3 TFLOPS,
Variable frequency, up to 2.23 GHz Custom RDNA 2 GPU
System on a Chip (SOC) Size197.05 mm360.45 mm
Process7nm Enhanced
Memory (RAM)10GB GDDR6 128 bit-wide bus16GB GDDR6 w/320 bit-wide bus16GB GDDR6 w/256 bit¹
Memory Bandwidth8GB @ 224 GB/s, 2GB @ 56 GB/s10GB @ 560 GB/s, 6GB @ 336 GB/s448GB/s Bandwidth
Internal Storage512GB Custom NVME SSD1TB Custom NVME SSD825GB Custom SSD
I/O Throughput2.4 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 Resolution1440p2160p (4K)2160p (4K)
FramerateUp to 120fpsUp to 120fpsUp to 120fps
1 & 2 – Taken from Eurogamer‘s report on PS5’s specs

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.

Microsoft Buys Bethesda for $7.5 Billion

Welcoming the Talented Teams and Beloved Game Franchises of Bethesda to Xbox by Phil Spencer for Xbox Wire

Microsoft is buying ZeniMax Media (Bethesda’s parent company) for $7.5 billion. This means Xbox now owns Elder Scrolls, Fallout, DOOM, Starfield, Wolfenstein, Dishonored, and much, much more. 

Disney bought Star Wars for $4.05 billion in 2012, which would apparently be $4.5 billion today

The Cross-Generational Bottleneck

In the bloody confusing aftermath of the PlayStation 5 stream, Sony confirmed that Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales, Sackboy: A Big Adventure, and Horizon Forbidden West are also launching on PS4. After believing in generations it seems that Sony also believes in its PS4 install base.

It’s no secret that I have voiced concerns about Xbox’s own public promise to support cross generational support for its Xbox consoles. The wider the range of supported hardware, the more work it is for the developers and the more it can limit the upward potential of the game. Now Sony has promised three major first party titles are cross generational.

This is great (just like it is for Xbox) for those consumers that don’y want to or can’t upgrade to the next gen consoles. You aren’t left behind. Nintendo has done this before with popular Zelda titles. It is definitely a win for consumers.

My concern stems from the development process. I may not know the ins and outs of making a video game, but I do know hardware is the determining factor in how far a game can go technically. When Xbox says that Halo Infinite will be playable across six different Xbox-focused platforms and then the practically infinite (heh) possibilities with PC, there has to be restrictions in the game’s design to make it work. It’s been like this in PC gaming forever.

Sony touted a belief in generations and making experiences only possible on new hardware. This gives devs the highest possible ceiling to shoot towards. Then after the PS5 price reveal, Sony announced that some of their new PS5 games would also be launching on PS4. I can just hear the cassette tape rewinding.

It would be entirely foolish for Sony to ignore their install base of 125+ million PS4 consoles. They never were just going to flip a switch and stop supporting their second best selling console when the PS5 launched. It’s the same as Nintendo with the DS, Wii, and 3DS.

Are these new games built on PS4 and crammed with PS5 enhancements or built PS5 and then scaled down for the PS4? It feels like to me that these have to be scaled up from the PS4 based off loading specifications of the PS5 SSD. The PS4 physically cannot match the performance there, creating a huge limitation.

Spider-Man makes sense to me. As I’ve previously pointed out, Insomniac and Spider-Man in particular have had a long lead time with the PS5 and its technology. It does strike me as odd to not announce this compatibility back when Miles Morales was announced. Either way, it’s a slight blow to the list of reasons to snag a PS5 at launch.

Sackboy also makes sense. I can’t imagine this cute platformer is really pegging the PS5 hardware for all it’s worth.

Horizon Forbidden West on the other hand; what a total surprise! I think this reveals quite a bit about Aloy’s next adventure. Right off the bat, I think that Forbidden West is a Spring 2021 game. Pair that with God of War in Holiday 2021 and Sony has a strong first year of PS5 titles. This also indicates that Forbidden West does not have game design and/or mechanics that require the PS5 hardware like a game like Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart and its instant world traveling mechanics.

This doesn’t mean Forbidden West is not goingn to take advantage of the PS5’s SSD or ridiculous I/O speeds or the 3D Audio Tempest Engine. I’m sure the game will run at 4K (possibly 60fps since it will be on PS4 too?). It’ll look and play great.

What it does mean is that Guerrilla is developing three versions (PS4, PS4 Pro, and PS5). They are automatically shackled by the restrictions of the eight-year-old PS4 in how far they can push their design. It also means more time for testing, optimization, and fixing bugs. They have to pour their time, energy, and focus into three versions instead of one. That is a developmental hurdle.

It still is a good transitional move for consumers, if the PS4 versions run and perform well. It would be a real mess if they PS4 versions ran poorly and weren’t even worth players’ time, but I highly doubt that’ll happen.

A key difference between Xbox and PlayStation here is the longevity of this cross-generational support. Xbox flat out promised first-party titles for two years. Sony has promised three launch window games. This gives Sony a blank check to fill in, either with more cross-gen titles or full-blown PS5 exclusives. God of War is a good option for the semi-near future. What check will they write Kratos?

Xbox could and probably will back out of this two year promise with some games. It’s already had questions pop up around it. Frankly, I think Xbox needs to cut ties with hardware support for Xbox One and somehow transition those consoles (Xbox One S and One X specifically) to xCloud boxes. Then, their hardware cap is mostly removed freeing up developers.

At some point, this bottleneck will naturally close. The PS4 will look at the rabbits by the river while the PS5 stands behind it and talks about the great farm where all the PlayStation consoles go. The same will happen for Xbox and the console cycles will go on. Heading into the next generation though, I’m not as confident of a shift transition as I was earlier this year. It was much easier when Cell architecture was involved.