Xbox Series X
Xbox Series X is an upcoming home video game console developed by Microsoft. It was announced during E3 2019 as "Project Scarlett" and is scheduled for release in late 2020.
The console is one of the planned products in the fourth-generation family of Xbox hardware, succeeding the current Xbox One line. Microsoft is prioritizing hardware performance, including support for higher display resolutions and frame rates, real-time ray tracing, and use of high-speed flash storage to reduce loading times.
Xbox Series X is planned to be compatible with the majority of Xbox One-compatible games, controllers, and accessories. Xbox One games can be updated for optimizations on Xbox Series X. Xbox Game Studios does not plan to immediately produce first-party games exclusive for the console, preferring a "soft" transition period where games are compatible with both Xbox One and Series X, but will run enhanced fidelity on Series X. Several third-party studios have announced plans to follow suit.
History and developmentWhen Microsoft's Xbox team started work on the successor to the Xbox One consoles, their primary targets were to at minimum double the graphic performance of the Xbox One X as measured by its floating point operations per second, and increasing CPU performance by a four-fold compared to Xbox One X while maintaining the same acoustic performance from the Xbox One consoles. As the engineers collected power requirements to meet these specifications, they saw these parts would draw a large amount of internal power and would generate a good amount of heat. This led to the decision to split the components onto two separate circuit boards; one housing the CPU/GPU, memory, and power regulators, and a second board to act as a Southbridge board for slower input/output functions. The boards mounted on opposite sides of an aluminum chassis helped to create air channels for cooling. The remaining components - the heat sink, the electric shielding, the power supply, the optical drive, and the cooling fan were then arranged in a Tetris-like fashion, according to Microsoft designer Chris Kujawski, to achieve a compact form factor, resulting in the tower-like structure. To meet the acoustics factor, the system includes numerous sensors for controlling the speed of the fan, and the large open top was necessary to assure good air flow through the system. While certain elements like the optical drive, air flow requirements, and heat sink size fixed certain dimensions in the overall form factor, they were satisfied they were able to end up with a square footprint for the unit.
Microsoft first teased new Xbox hardware under the codename "Project Scarlett" during its E3 2019 press conference, The company estimated that Scarlett would be four times as powerful as Xbox One X, with support for 8K resolution, real-time ray-tracing, and 120 frames-per-second rendering. Microsoft said they wanted a soft transition from Xbox One to Scarlett, with Scarlett supporting backward compatibility with all games and most hardware supported on the Xbox One. The console was formally unveiled as the Xbox Series X during The Game Awards 2019, as well as its final design and a late-2020 release date.
Following the unveiling, a Microsoft spokesperson stated that Xbox Series X constituted an entry in a fourth generation of Xbox hardware, which will be branded simply as "Xbox" with no subtitle. Prior to the E3 reveal, it had been speculated that Microsoft was also developing a second, lower-end console codenamed "Lockhart", to accompany what was unveiled as Scarlett.
Microsoft planned to go into detail into the hardware specifications and launch games for the Series X at both the 2020 Game Developers Conference and E3 2020, but both events were cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Microsoft scheduled online presentations over the same planned days in March 2020, while the company will schedule its planned E3 presentation at a later time. Detailed specifications were presented by Microsoft, Digital Foundry and Austin Evans of Overclock Media on March 16, 2020. Starting in May and running until launch, Microsoft planned to have additional digital events around the Xbox Series X and its games as part of an "Xbox 20/20" series. This included an Xbox Games Showcase on July 23, 2020, featuring games principally from its first-party Xbox Game Studios.
On July 16, 2020, Microsoft announced that it had ended production of the Xbox One X and all-digital version of the Xbox One S in preparation for the production of Xbox Series X.
HardwareXbox head Phil Spencer stated that Microsoft was prioritizing high frame rates and faster load times as a priority over higher resolutions, which the Series X achieves via the better-matched capabilities of the CPU and GPU.
The Xbox Series X is powered by a custom 7 nm AMD Zen 2 CPU with eight cores running at a nominal 3.8 GHz, or when simultaneous multithreading is used, at 3.6 GHz. One CPU core is dedicated to the underlying operating system. The graphics processing unit is also a custom unit based on AMD's RDNA 2 graphics architecture. It has a total of 56 compute units with 3584 cores, with 52 CUs and 3328 cores enabled, and will be running at a fixed 1.825 GHz. This unit is capable of 12.155 teraflops of computational power. The unit ships with 16GB of GDDR6 SDRAM, with 10GB running at 560GB/s primarily to be used with the graphics system and the other 6GB at 336GB/s to be used for the other computing functions. After accounting for the system software, approximately 13.5GB of memory will be available for games and other applications, with the system software only drawing from the slower pool.
The Xbox Series X target performance is to render at 4K resolution at 60 frames per second. Microsoft stated that the console CPU will be four times as powerful as the Xbox One X, including support for real-time ray-tracing, up to 120 frames per second rendering, and 8K resolution via the HDMI 2.1 standard. The console will also support new features of the HDMI 2.1 standard including variable refresh rate and Auto Low Latency Mode that are currently being incorporated into newer televisions. The console will have dedicated audio hardware acceleration. A feature called "audio ray tracing" will use the graphics ray tracing processors to process spatial audio in the same manner to improve the audio immersion for the player.
Microsoft also focused on reducing the effects of input latency to improve responsiveness, adding support for HDMI 2.1 Auto Low Latency Mode and Variable Refresh Rate features, and "dynamic latency input" technology—a new input pathway that allows developers to incorporate potential controller lag into their games.
Storage architectureThe Xbox Series X uses a new storage strategy, the Velocity Architecture, that includes both hardware and software components to improve transfer speeds within the console, reduce the size of digital downloads, and give developers more flexibility. Central to Velocity is the internal storage of the Xbox Series X, a custom 1TB NVM Express SSD with a raw input/output throughput of 2.4GB/s. An on-board compression/decompression block includes both the industry standard Lempel-Ziv decompression algorithm and a proprietary one geared for game textures, and gives a combined throughput as high as 4.8GB/s. Within the Velocity Architecture software, a new DirectStorage API within DirectX allows developers to fine-tune priority to input/output aspects with other processing threads. The Velocity software provides sampler feedback streaming that aids in loading multiple textures in segments to deal with level of detail rendering rather than having to read these textures as a whole before using them.
Developers at The Coalition found that without any changes to their code, Gears 5 loaded four times faster on Xbox Series X than Xbox One X due to the higher throughput on memory and storage, and would be able to increase this further once they incorporated the new DirectStorage API routines.
The console will support external storage through a proprietary SSD expansion card inserted into the back of the console, which will be manufactured exclusively by Seagate Technology on launch. Due to the Velocity Architecture, games optimized for Xbox Series X can only be stored on the internal SSD or an expansion card. External USB storage can be used to store games for past Xbox consoles. All SSD storage on the architecture uses PCI Express 4.0.
DesignThe Xbox Series X's console form is designed to be unobtrusive and minimalistic. It has a footprint and is high and weighs ; while configured in this vertical orientation, the unit can also be used on its side. Its forward-facing features present only the main power button and an Ultra HD Blu-ray drive. The top of the unit is a single powerful fan. Spencer stated that the console is as quiet as Xbox One X. The Series X includes an HDMI 2.1 output, the storage expansion slot, three USB 3.2 ports, and an ethernet port. The console does not include an infrared blaster or HDMI pass-through like the Xbox One line, supporting HDMI-CEC instead. An earlier leak had suggested a TOSLINK port for digital audio, but this was eliminated in the final design.
System software and featuresThe console's Quick Resume feature will allow users to suspend and resume more than one game at a time, and also resume suspended games after a reboot of the console.
Controller and accessoriesThe console will ship with an updated version of the wireless Xbox One controller, which was aimed to be more ergonomic to fit a larger range of hand sizes. It will include all the same key buttons as the past controllers: two analog joysticks that can be depressed, a circle pad, four action buttons, two system buttons, the main Xbox face button, two grip triggers and two shoulder buttons. The new controller adds a "Share" button alongside the "View" and "Menu", which is used to record and share video clips or screenshots from gameplay. Microsoft found that by aiming the size to fit an eight-year-old's hands, they were able to make the design fit a larger section of the population, and thus features more sculpted grips, and reducing and rounding the trigger buttons. The d-pad is a new concave design that Microsoft's Ryan Whitaker said was a means to merge the normal d-pad style on the standard Xbox One controller and the version on the Elite variant to accommodate a range of playstyles. Small tactile dot patterns have been added to the buttons to help players orient fingers on the controls. The controller will continue to use two AA batteries, though a rechargeable battery pack will be available as an accessory. Microsoft found from focus group studies that players were nearly split 50/50 on the use of batteries through recharging and thus gave the controller the flexibility for both sides.
The controller uses the same wireless protocol introduced by the Xbox One, and is backward compatible with existing Xbox One consoles. Existing Xbox One controllers will also be compatible with Xbox Series X. The new Xbox Series X controller also supports the Bluetooth Low Energy standard allowing it to pair with mobile devices and other hardware supporting that standard, and will have internal storage to remember those connections. The new controller uses a standard USB-C charging port for its battery.
Spencer said that the Xbox Series X will likely not have immediate virtual reality support at launch, and that they expect that any VR support will be based on the Windows Mixed Reality components contained within the console's Windows 10 components, but was otherwise not a focus of the console's development prior to release.
GamesDevelopers will be able to optimize existing and newly released Xbox One games to take advantage of Xbox Series X technologies, with higher graphics throughput and faster frame rates, ray tracing, and support for the console's storage architecture. These games will be marketed with an "Optimized for Series X" logo. Microsoft is offering a distribution framework known as "Smart Delivery" that will automatically download optimized versions of Xbox One games for the console when available; Microsoft has positioned this feature at publishers who plan to release Series X-specific versions of games after releasing on Xbox One, and to users migrating from an existing Xbox One to Series X.
Microsoft is not restricting the ability for developers to release games that are exclusive to Xbox Series X. The company is preferring a "soft" transition more in line with PC gaming, where developers can target optimal play on high-end hardware, but still allow the game to be played with reduced fidelity on lower-end hardware. Xbox Game Studios head Matt Booty stated that Microsoft wanted to ensure that those who buy Xbox One consoles prior to the Series X launch would still "feel that they made a good investment and that we're committed to them with content". Spencer explained that this approach was about putting the player at the center rather than the console, and not "forcing" users to migrate. According to Spencer, this concept is enabled in part by many of the Xbox Game Studios subsidiaries having familiarity with developing also on personal computers, where there is a wide range of hardware targets to meet. The same approach in personal computer game development was taken to make Xbox Series X games that could scale down to perform well on the Xbox One consoles while still taking advantage of the new hardware.
Initially, Spencer suggested that their first-party studios' games would support both Xbox One and Xbox Series X platforms for the "next couple of years", but journalists observed that about half of the first-party games introduced in the July 23, 2020 presentation omitted mention of the Xbox One, and their websites later updated to omit mention of the Xbox One. None of these games were Xbox Series X launch games, but were expected to be released within the next few years, leading to Aaron Greenberg, the marketing director for Xbox, to clarify that these games were being developed for the Xbox Series X first, leaving choice of adding Xbox One support to the studios as they went forward.
Microsoft has not placed any similar requirements on a soft transition on third party developers and publishers, allowing them to offer Xbox Series X exclusives or other routes to upgrade from the Xbox One edition of a game, though Video Games Chronicle reported that Microsoft had urged publishers to keep the upgrade path free if they took that option. CD Projekt RED and Ubisoft have committed to using Smart Delivery for their upcoming releases. Electronic Arts affirmed for at least one game, Madden NFL 21, it will offer a free update patch from the Xbox One version to the Xbox Series X version prior to the release of the next Madden NFL game.Xbox 360 and original Xbox console games currently supported through backward compatibility on the Xbox One, thus allowing the console to support four generations of games.
To achieve this level of compatibility, Microsoft announced they would no longer be bringing any additional Xbox 360 or original Xbox games into the Xbox One backward compatibility program in June 2019, and instead using their manpower to make sure these older games were playable on the Xbox Series X. Backward compatibility is planned as a launch feature, with Microsoft expected to have put in more than 200,000 manhours in validating thousands of games; Spencer said in December 2019 that he himself had been helping to test backward compatibility games. As Microsoft neared launch, they reopened the means for players to suggest additional games to add to backward compatibility, stating "Resurrecting titles from history often presents a complex mix of technical and licensing challenges, but the team is committed to doing everything we can to continue to preserve our collective gaming legacy."
Because of the processing features of the Xbox Series X, it is possible for advanced graphic processes options not originally programmed into these older games to be worked into the game when played on the console, such as automated High-dynamic-range rendering support using machine learning. Work done by the Xbox Advanced Technology Group prior to launch was focused on how far into the backward-compatibility library they could take these improvements including into original Xbox games, adding in features like HDR or improving the framerate of games that may have been programmed to be locked at a specific framerate. Backward compatible games will be supported under the Quick Resume feature as well.
This backward compatibility feature will play into the xCloud game streaming platform. While the platform launched using blade servers based on the Xbox One S, it is expected to transition to blades based on Xbox Series X systems by 2021, retaining compatibility with the Xbox One X game library while adding support for new Xbox Series X games.
ReleaseMicrosoft reported in March 2020 that, despite the COVID-19 pandemic, they expect the Xbox Series X to ship by the end of 2020, though they are monitoring supply chains and the safety of their workers. Spencer believes that while the hardware will continue to ship on time, games poised for the release window of Xbox Series X may be delayed due to the pandemic.
Microsoft intends to continue offering its Xbox All-Access financing plans for Series X. Current All Access plans with the Xbox One will include routes to upgrade to the Xbox Series X, and Spencer states that there will be similar upgrades from the Xbox Series X in the future.