The Inside of Project Scorpio Revealed

Today is quite an exciting day in the world of tech as Microsoft’s upcoming Project Scorpio has finally been given light, and we are able to see what to expect from the beastly console once it releases.

This is all thanks to Digital Foundry, the tech side of Eurogamer, having recently been invited to the Microsoft headquarters in Redmond to find out all about the technology, and it must be said, it is really impressive.

All early signs for Project Scorpio put it as the console to beat in terms of performance, boasting various new technologies and impressive figures that show just how much work Microsoft has put into getting it right.

The push for the Scorpio was always to have 4K visuals boasting that 60 frames per second target to suit the new range of televisions and technology now in existence, and Microsoft was keenly aware of that fact.

“To me, [4K] means a very specific set of things. It’s a lot more than delivering than those eight-million-plus pixels to the screen while playing games,” says Kevin Gammill, Group Program Director of the Xbox Core platform. “It’s about delivering those pixels with 4K assets, so they look great. It’s about delivering those pixels with HDR and wide colour gamut fidelity. It’s about delivering those pixels with no loss of frame-rate compared to the 1080p version of that title – that’s super-important to us. Spatial audio adds to the immersive experience as well: to truly land that gameplay experience, it’s not just about what you see, but what you hear.”

Core to the Scorpio is the Scorpio Engine itself, the new SoC (system on chip) being developed once again in conjunction with AMD. But it’s the amount of power that it gets from the hardware that is actually truly impressive:

 Project Scorpio Xbox One  PS4 Pro
CPU Eight custom x86 cores clocked at 2.3GHz Eight custom Jaguar cores clocked at 1.75GHz Eight Jaguar cores clocked at 2.1GHz
GPU 40 customised compute units at 1172MHz 12 GCN compute units at 853MHz

(Xbox One S: 914MHz)

36 improved GCN compute units at 911MHz
Memory 12GB GDDR5 8GB DDR3/32MB ESRAM 8GB GDDR5
Memory Bandwidth 326GB/s DDR3: 68GB/s, ESRAM at max 204GB/s (Xbox One S: 219GB/s) 218GB/s
Hard Drive 1TB 2.5-inch 500GB/1TB/2TB 2.5-inch 1TB 2.5-inch
Optical Drive 4K UHD Blu-ray Blu-ray (Xbox One S: 4K UHD)

Blu-ray

 

“As we landed on 4K, Andrew [Goossen] and team did a pretty deep analysis,” Gammill continues. “We have this developer tool called PIX [Performance Inspector for Xbox]. It lets us do some GPU trace capture. He and his team did a really deep analysis across a breadth of titles with the goal that any 900p or better title would be able to easily run at frame-rate at 4K on Scorpio. That was our big stake in the ground, and so with that we began our work speccing out what the Scorpio Engine is. It’s not a process of calling up AMD and saying I’ll take this part, this part and this part. A lot of really specific custom work went into this.”

Luckily AMD and Microsoft have been working closely with each other for years on various consoles, so when it came to squeezing out some extra power, it wasn’t too difficult to accomplish.

“We also leveraged the fact that we understand the AMD architecture really, really well now and how well it does on our games,” said Goossen, “so we were able to go through and examine a lot of the internal queues and buffers and caches and FIFOs that make up this very deep pipeline that, if you can find the right areas that are causing bottlenecks, for very small area [on the processor] we could increase those sizes and get effective wins.”

The result of this? 40 Radeon compute units ramped up to an incredible 1172MHz, compared to the Xbox One’s 853MHz and the PS4 Pro’s 911MHz.  This speaks to the quality of the engineering, as the Scorpio’s GPU is just 94MHz off the maximum clock boost of AMD’s Polaris-based RX 480 graphics card, which only has 36 compute units.

“Those are the big ticket items, but there’s a lot of other configuration that we had to do as well,” says Goossen, pointing to a layout of the Scorpio Engine processor. “As you can see, we doubled the amount of shader engines. That has the effect of improvement of boosting our triangle and vertex rate by 2.7x when you include the clock boost as well. We doubled the number of render back-ends, which has the effect of increasing our fill-rate by 2.7x. We quadrupled the GPU L2 cache size, again for targeting the 4K performance.”

A lot of other configuration is a mild understatement, as the lengthy Digital Foundry article explains all the nitty-gritty details about how Microsoft went about making the technology Project Scorpio will be using.

The TL:DR version for us that don’t understand the tech speak is this – Microsoft has created a beast of a console that, by all indications, will still be fairly consumable to the consumer, thanks to the way they have gone about creating the technology, and in terms of the other consoles on the market, pales everything, including the PS4 Pro.

If you like receiving your information in visual form, Digital Foundry has also kindly uploaded a YouTube version, which may be easier to understand:

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