Opinion: Xbox One X is what a console should be – innovative

When you set aside preferred exclusive titles and platform affinities, it’s difficult to deny the upcoming Xbox One X is an innovative piece of kit.

There are some known phenomenons in the gaming community. Xbox and PlayStation fight head-to-head for the most powerful consoles and best online services. Nintendo puts gameplay first. And PC gamers as the self-proclaimed “master race” have access to the peak of hardware (and pay the price to remain there.)

Xbox dropped the ball at the start of this generation when it comes to power. Titles often ran at lower resolutions or dropped more frames per second than PlayStation counterparts. How noticeable this is has been the subject of much debate, but it was there, and Xbox faced ridicule and poor sales as a result. Rather than remain wounded, the Xbox team went back to the drawing board and designed something truly incredible – the Xbox One X.

The specifications are pretty astounding, but alone they pale in comparison to what PC gamers are used to. You’ve got a 2.3GHz 8-core AMD custom “Jaguar” CPU, AMD graphics with 6 teraflops of performance, and 12GB of GDDR5 RAM offering 326GB/s of bandwidth. Compared to the PS4 Pro’s 2.1GHz 8-core AMD CPU, AMD Polaris graphics with 4.2 teraflops of performance, and 8GB of GDDR5 RAM offering 218GB/s of bandwidth, it’s already in another league.

Several developers have commented as such. Gareth Wilson, Director of Design at Sumo Digital, recently said: “We’ve got something like 15,000 simultaneous props moving around in our game. Now the Xbox One X just eats them for breakfast. You can just go and go and go with it. Once we start making games that are optimized for that platform, it’s going to be badass. I don’t mind saying that it’s significantly more powerful than the PlayStation 4 Pro, and we’ve worked with PlayStation 4 Pro. It’s way more powerful. It’s a night and day difference.”

These specs are fantastic considering the Xbox team has packed them in a $499 (£449) console that’s actually smaller than the already svelte Xbox One S. As Rich Edmonds from Windows Central pointed out, you’d be looking at around $782 for a PC build which just about yields 4K at 30FPS.

Early benchmarks, however, are showing many games on Xbox One X running at 4K and 60FPS. Monolith confirmed native 4K for Shadow of War, Respawn Entertainment claims Titanfall 2 dynamically scales up to 6K resolution, 343i has announced Halo 5 will be patched with 4K/60FPS support, and Ark developer Studio Wildcard likens Xbox One X to a PC running a GTX 1070 with 16GB of RAM.

For a powerhouse PC build that can deliver this level of performance, Edmonds from Windows Central splurged $2,561.

But looking at the specs alone, the Xbox One X shouldn’t be delivering near this level of performance for such a comparatively low cost. Sure, by mass ordering parts like with a console a manufacturer can bring down the cost significantly, and it’s been practically confirmed Xbox is selling the One X at least at some loss, but the parts just wouldn’t deliver that level of performance if stuck in a standard PC.

Instead, the Xbox team has taken advantage of the flexibility and hardware optimisations that only a console is able to provide to an extreme degree. This goes beyond the low-level graphics APIs which typically provide more power to a console than a same spec PC.

First off, we have the wizardry of the ‘Hovis method’ which is named after the engineer which designed the concept. At its simplest explanation, extraordinary efficiency and high clock-speeds are achieved by calibrating every motherboard to the precise processor it is paired with.

Speaking to Digital Foundry, Leo Del Castillo, General Manager of Xbox Hardware Design, explained: "One of the things we do is we basically fine tune the voltages for each of the chips and optimise them so the chips are getting exactly what they need to get the job done… That drives a much higher degree of efficiency into the system and allows us to get rid of a lot of wasted power that would otherwise come out as heat."

Next, we have vapour chamber cooling. This isn’t a strictly new innovation – similar tech can be found in the high-end GTX 1080 PC graphics card – but it’s a first, and something unprecedented, for a console. Once again, especially for a device at such low cost. The GTX 1080 recently had its price slashed, but you will still pay $499 RRP for the GPU alone before adding other hardware including a CPU, RAM, hard drive, and chassis.

It goes without saying the Xbox One X has the power to be the best place to play multiplatform titles by a long shot. There may be some titles – like it appears will be the case with Destiny 2 – that will have deliberate parity with their PS4 Pro counterparts, but most just want their games to shine at the best of their capabilities. Developers who hold the experience back risk backlash from their fans.

Hopefully, the Xbox One X will provide a welcome and deserved boost to sales, I have a feeling it will.

Are you impressed with the Xbox One X hardware? Share your thoughts in the comments.

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