The Series X enters a scene that looks very different than when its predecessor, the Xbox One X, arrived three years ago. Though technically it’s competing with other living room game consoles, notably its sibling the Series S and the upcoming Sony PS5, in practice it’s now challenged for a share of your entertainment time and money by hugely popular phone-based mobile gaming and the Nintendo Switch handheld console, as well as nascent cloud gaming options and established PC gaming.
The console is based around AMD’s current-generation Zen 2 processor architecture plus a graphics processor using AMD’s forthcoming RDNA 2 microarchitecture, so presumably built on the Navi 7-nanometer process.
The system’s CPU is an eight-core custom Zen 2 processor running at 3.8GHz (3.66GHz with simultaneous multithreading). Its GPU is a custom RDNA 2 processor at 1.825GHz with 52 CUs that will create 12 teraflops. This puts Microsoft’s new console among some of the higher-end gaming PCs.
Read more: Hands-on with Xbox Series X: Quick resume, backwards compatibility and faster load times
Other hardware includes 16GB of GDDR6 RAM, a 1TB solid-state drive, an HDMI 2.1 connection carried over from the previous model and an optical drive for game discs. The SSD will incorporate a new feature called Xbox Velocity Architecture, which will let developers make use of up to 100GB of game assets instantaneously.
A proprietary 1TB Seagate expansion drive will be able to plug into the back of the Xbox Series X, providing even more storage for games. It’s designed to have the same architecture and give the same performance as the internal SSD.
External drives can still work with the Xbox Series X, but they can only store game data and will need to transfer games to the console’s SSD or expansion drive in order to play.
Read more: Unboxing the Xbox Series X: Everything in the box
Unsurprisingly, it incorporates Microsoft’s DirectX 12 Ultimate, the latest version of the company’s graphics programming interface (which is in Windows 10), notably its GPU support for DirectX ray tracing and Variable Rate Shading (DXR 1.1).
In combination, these all will allow the Xbox to drive higher frame rates — 4K resolution at 120 frames per second — with variable rate refresh support when connected to TVs or monitors with an HDMI 2.1 connection. Both it and the PS5 also claim 8K capability upscaled and at a lower frame rate, though then the question arises: do you really want it?
With all the updated components, the Xbox Series X certainly seems like a big step up from its predecessor. The solid-state storage will allow faster startup of games and shorter loading screen times than the previous models’ hard disk drives provided, even for older games. While Microsoft vaguely says the updated processor has “four times the processing power of the Xbox One,” any speed update helps and will apply to all games.
For games that incorporate it, the DXR acceleration gives developers the opportunity to render far more accurate lighting, shadows and reflections without negatively affecting performance and without a lot of the optimisation overhead otherwise required. And VRS lets developers choose where they can save processing power while rendering a frame based on how visually important an area is and how noticeable a slightly rougher render might be.
Read more: Xbox Series X vs. Xbox Series S: It’s all about 4K vs. 1440
That means that games integrating it may also be able to sustain higher frame rates with better-looking graphics in select scenes than they might otherwise have had.In addition to supporting variable refresh rates — letting the console sync game frame rates with compatible TVs or monitors to minimise artefacts like stutter and tearing caused by mismatches — HDMI 2.1 adds ALLM, or Auto Low Latency Mode, which automatically sets the display to its lowest latency mode, and has been available in TVs from manufacturers like Sony and LG for at least a year. Keep in mind that to run 4K/120p, you’ll need an HDMI 2.1 connection in the TV or monitor as well.
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