Current Gen vs Next Gen
Since November, 2017 the Xbox One X has held the crown as the worlds most powerful console. For years, the Xbox One X held it's throne until late last year, Microsoft officially revealed the Xbox Series X; complete with all of the juicy specs and software upgrades that will be powering their next generation console. Once again, Xbox is staying true to one of it's top selling points for it's prior mid-gen refresh by being the worlds most powerful game console.
As an Xbox One X owner, you might be thinking, "What exactly could they have upgraded in just a few years time to make my OLD worlds most powerful console not so powerful?" Well, I just so happen to be nerdy enough to break it down by each component and each software upgrade that correlates to said component, further enhance the Xbox Series X's capabilities.
Hardware Specificaton Breakdown
For the Xbox Series X, we are looking at an 8 core, 16 threaded ZEN 2 CPU running at 3.8GHz with an option to utilize simultaneous multi-threading at a lower 3.66GHz. In comparison, the Xbox One X sported an 8 Core non-multithreaded CPU running at 2.3GHz on the ineffective Jaguar architecture. On paper, the frequency boost on the new CPU by itself is a huge jump, but when you include the IPC (aka instructions per cycle/clock) improvement over the older jaguar architecture, we are seeing more than a 4X CPU boost in performance thanks to the new ZEN 2 CPU's with this next generation.
At launch, it is said that most game developers will opt for the higher clocked, eight core setup with SMT disabled. Eight threads are what game developers currently optimize for with current generation consoles, combined with the higher clock frequency, performance will scale more easily while also requiring little to no further optimization for games currently in development. That being said, 16 thread tests show 40% boosts in performance over just eight cores in high thread-optimized tasks. Once game developers start mastering the optimization techniques using 16 threads (with some being reserved for the OS, of course) we will see game logic being handled in real-time that cannot exist on today's console, even with the advanced new architecture and core clocks.
Currently, the weak CPU inside current gen consoles is what holds back the possibility of more titles hitting 60FPS while maintaining appealing resolutions. With over a 4X boost in CPU power, we will see larger worlds with more complexity, depth, Better and more AI that console gamers and PC gamers are not use to. Increasing the strength of the common denominator in current consoles will also do wonders for developers as they can now push their creativity beyond their current limitations. This will be seen with titles that also release on PC as well as next gen consoles.
Since day one of it's existence, the Xbox One has struggled in the graphics department. The Xbox One X came along and fixed this issue head-on, so what did team Xbox do to impress this time around? To create a true next-generation leap in just 3 years time, The Xbox Series X comes with a 12 TF RNDA2 GPU stocked with 52 CU's running a 1.825GHz clock speed that comes stacked with additional hardware and software implementations to increase eye-candy beyond brute Teraflop force. These software adaptations, such as Hardware Raytracing, Variable Rate Shading, Mesh shaders, and Nvidia-like DLSS features called, DirectML (Direct Machine Learning). This is more than double the performance of the Xbox One X, which comes with a 6 Teraflop GCN+ GPU with 40 CU's running at a 1.172GHz clock speed and no additional hardware or software features to increase performance or fidelity beyond that.
On paper, many might say we are simply just getting twice the GPU power of the Xbox One X because, well, 6 times 2 is 12, but there is a lot more to it than that. The Xbox Series X's RDNA 2 architecture is massively more efficient than the GCN+ architecture. What this means is a GCN+ teraflop is not synonymous in performance to a RDNA2 Teraflop. Some are even saying we may be looking at more of a 14-15 GCN+ Teraflops to receive the same performance. To make the who deal even sweater, The Xbox Series X has approximately 13 Teraflops worth of dedicated hardware raytracing capabilities that won't take any performance out of the 12 TF GPU. Microsoft was smart to not market this as a 25 Teraflop GPU, but theoretically, if it wasn't for the dedicated raytracing capabilities, it would require 25 Teraflops of performance to obtain the same level of fidelity we are seeing here. Of course, how this will be implemented is up to the developer, but the Xbox One X has no capability of any raytracing what so ever. Raytracing allows an increase of fidelity through lighting; as the pixels from lights interact with objects in the virtual world, making lighting reflections and details beyond what we are use to on console gaming.
The Xbox Series X also has Variable Rate Shading techniques, which essentially can lower the shading rate in specific areas of the screen with no perceptible loss in output quality, but provides a considerable jump in performance. For example, if you are in a dimly lit section of the game, there is no reason to push extra resources to details that would otherwise be non-distinguishable, so you can dedicate more power for higher quality graphics in the more 'lit' areas through optimization, but also simultaneously save resources and increasing performance all together. This can be done while the shader change in these less detailed area's show no difference in quality with the human eye when compared to having the shading technique turned off. Variable Rate Shading is, effectively, a free performance boost that will truly push the envelope of perception when it comes to next generation graphics and performance.
AMD will also be featuring it's own version of DLSS (or deep learning super sampling) which is capable of upscaling an image or texture through AI, reducing file sizes and even increasing performance with, yet again, no loss in quality. called DirectML (direct Machine Learning). This kind of technology is going to allow us to more easily hit 4K resolution quality without sacrificing the ever-so important 60 framerate target that many ache for in console gaming.
Of course, the Xbox One X has NONE of these additional features as well as having more than half the GPU speed and 1/4th the CPU speed.
The Memory & Storage
A super-fast CPU with a diesel GPU can only get you so far with slow, low quantity memory and I'm happy to say Microsoft delivered here as well. For RAM, the Xbox Series X has 16GB with 10GB dedicated for the GPU and more demanding needs providing 560GB/s of bandwidth and 6GB running at 336GB/s for less demanding needs. The Xbox One X has 12GB of RAM total with a 326GB/s bandwidth, making the RAM the most generationally weak sector in hardware improvements with only 25% more RAM with a 9-71% increase in bandwidth over it's predecessor (depending on which portion is being used for what task).
One change that, in my opinion, was much needed this generation is the transition to NVME solid state memory over the older mechanical hard drives. Although spinning hard drives are certainly present in today's PC's, many have switched to SSD storage over mechanical hard-drive disk's and prices have fallen considerably to continue this normality in primary PC storage. That being said, I was thrilled to discover the Xbox Series X will ship with a 1TB NVMe Solid State Drive that has 2.4GB/s of raw or 4.8 GB/s compressed I/O throughput. Now, anyone who has an SSD knows the loading time improvement of basically everything, especially games, are vastly improved by an SSD. This is a benefit that can still be taken advantage of in the Xbox One X, but standard configuration calls for a 1TB HDD with 120MB/s of bandwidth. That's 25X faster than the Xbox One X! It doesn't end there, Microsoft has another trick up it's sleeve, providing one advantage the Xbox Series X has over a simple SSD installation into the console. This secret weapon is called the Xbox Velocity Architecture and it is a fundamental and critical component of the Xbox Series X. Xbox Velocity Architecture allows the Xbox Series X to load game assets in real-time. This "asset streaming" reduces the overall space that the data needs to occupy on the storage device and will also drastically decrease load times. The speed improvement also allows the ability to have multiple games loaded in system memory at once, accessible in an instant between them called that Microsoft has named 'Quick Resume'.
Microsoft is also adopting some early 2000's vibes with the expandable 1TB NVME expansion card that allows us to transport and install all Xbox Series X games in a streamlined manner. Finally, we can navigate the Xbox Dashboard with no hiccups and instantaneous transitions between games with total system fluidity!
As far as other forms of external storage go, The Xbox One X did support USB storage drives through it's 3.0 USB ports with a max 5gbps bandwidth, but the Xbox Series X improves upon this as well by upgrading to USB 3.2 supporting speeds up to 20gbps. One thing to keep in mind that Xbox Series X titles will only be playable on the expandable NVME SSD cards, as the aforementioned velocity architecture is integrated into the foundation of every game, requiring the bandwidth of the SSD. This only leaves room for Xbox One, Xbox 360, and Xbox Original titles to be backed up and run from external hard drives, but with a 3.2gbps bandwidth, you'll experience a nice boost in loading time reduction.
So, what's the final verdict of the 2017 4K gaming console vs the 2020 4K gaming console?
Essentially, we are going to see games that are bigger than ever before with details that will surely impress backed up by graphical fidelity that high-end PC users are only use to. There are going to be a lot of next-gen titles where you will find yourself questioning, "how the did they make this game look this good?"