Xbox Scorpio Vs PS4 Pro: Microsoft Strikes Back – Forbes

The Xbox Scorpio is a beast.

Digital Foundry/Microsoft

The Xbox Scorpio is a beast.

Microsoft’s hotly anticipated Xbox Scorpio had its technical specifications revealed today by the tech-savvy Eurogamer vertical, Digital Foundry. We learned a great deal about the internal workings of the Xbox One’s next iteration, though there’s still a great deal we don’t know.

In the following piece, I’ll lay out everything we know about the Xbox Scorpio as it compares to both the Xbox One and the PlayStation 4 Pro. The latter is, in many ways, the Scorpio’s chief rival, though it’s equally important to understand just how much of an improvement the Scorpio is over a vanilla Xbox One.

Unlike the PS4 Pro, Microsoft is aiming for true, native 4K gaming with the Xbox One, and it’s looking more and more like that may be a real possibility. Digital Foundry was only able to demo one game, a version of Forza 6 updated with 4K assets, and it ran flawlessly in 4K at 60 frames-per-second, with plenty of unused processing power to spare. That’s good news for Xbox gamers.

Read the Digital Foundry piece here for all the details.

What We Don’t Know Yet

Let’s get the known unknowns out of the way. We don’t know:

  • The price. Digital Foundry and many others estimate the Scorpio will cost $499, the price of the Xbox One at launch. Others wonder whether it will sell at a loss in order to get into more living rooms. At $499 the Scorpio would cost $100 more than the PS4 Pro. That’s the same situation the Xbox One and vanilla PS4 were in at launch in 2013 (only this time the Scorpio is the more powerful unit, and isn’t more expensive due to the inclusion of a Kinect.) We will likely learn the system’s price at E3 in June.
  • What it looks like. Digital Foundry has described the unit as “compact” and said that gamers will be “pleasantly surprised” but they were not able to share images or written descriptions of the exterior. My guess is that it will look more like the attractive Xbox One S than the boxy mistake that was the Xbox One. We do know that the power unit is inside the case, which is nice, and that the inputs on the back are exactly like the Xbox One S, meaning no Kinect input (you’ll need an adapter) and a figure eight power input.
  • When it releases. Best guess is Holiday season 2017, as the system is about six months away from launch. An actual launch date, and which regions Microsoft plans to launch in, remains a mystery. Again, expect to find out at E3, where we’ll also likely get our first glimpse at the system.
  • What, if any, launch games are scheduled alongside it. Since this isn’t a brand new console, but rather a refresh of the Xbox One, launch titles aren’t nearly as crucial to its success. After all, every Xbox One game can be played on the Scorpio, and all the cross-platform games coming out this holiday will be available on the Scorpio as well. It would be nice if Microsoft had an ace up its sleeve in terms of software, of course, but right now we have no new game announcements.
  • What the UI will look like. Digital Foundry’s reveal is all about the internal workings of the hardware, and while they did test out one game—a Forza demo—we learned nothing of the Xbox Scorpio’s UI and how it may or may not differ/perform from vanilla Xbox One.

Moving on to what we know…

Now let’s take a look at just how the Xbox Scorpio compares to the PS4 Pro and the Xbox One.

Specs

Perhaps the most interesting thing about the hardware in the Scorpio is that it’s all very similar to the hardware in both the Xbox One and PS4 Pro.

CPU

Microsoft didn’t opt for AMD’s new Ryzen chip, sticking with a beefed up custom AMD Jaguar CPU that runs about 30% faster than the Xbox One. The CPU’s eight cores run at 2.3Ghz as opposed to 1.75Ghz on the Xbox One and 2.1Ghz on the PS4 Pro. In other words, this is only a small gain. It’s in the GPU, system memory and the way the system-on-a-chip works that give the Scorpio its edge. However, Microsoft has included Direct3D 12 technology on the chip itself which reduces API overhead by up to 50%, making that 30% boost more significant.

Translation: The Xbox Scorpio’s chip isn’t much faster than PS4 Pro, but it’s theoretically more efficient when it comes to sending information about what the GPU needs to draw.

GPU

According to Digital Foundry, the graphics processing unit in the Scorpio is most comparable to AMD’s RX 480, though the chip has been heavily customized. Microsoft was able to test myriad Xbox One games when developing the Scorpio in order to eek out every bit of efficiency from the new system.

The Scorpio does indeed hit the 6 teraflops goal Microsoft announced previously. The GPU runs 40 customised compute units at 1172MHz, which is remarkably fast for a console. Compare that to the 12 GCN compute units at 853MHz on the vanilla Xbox or the slightly faster Xbox One S at 914MHz. The PS4 Pro has 36 improved GCN compute units running at 911MHz. In other words, the Scorpio delivers significantly more oomph than its chief rival, and is leaps and bounds faster than the vanilla Xbox One.

Translation: The Scorpio’s GPU is 4.6 times more powerful than the Xbox One, which is nothing to sniff at, and markedly more powerful than the PS4 Pro, though we won’t know how this transaltes to games and 4K gaming in particular until we see more. The PS4 Pro does a lot of very clever things with its GPU to achieve non-native 4K gaming. How the two will compare remains to be seen.

Memory

Once again, in the memory department the Scorpio comes out on top, and by a long mile. The Scorpio will have 12GB of GDDR5 RAM compared to 8GB of GDDR5 RAM in the PS4 Pro, and just 8GB of older GDDR3 RAM in the Xbox One. This translates to huge gains in bandwidth, which is important for high-definition textures needed for 4K gaming. Scorpio will boast 326GB/s memory bandwidth compared to just 68GB/s bandwidth on the Xbox One (which also had 32 gigs of faster ESRAM which will no longer be present in the Scorpio) and 218GB/s in the PS4 Pro.

4GB of the 12 will be devoted to the system itself, leaving 8 full gigs available to developers. That’s a ton of very fast, high-bandwidth memory which is crucial for games with lots of high-definition assets.

Translation: The Xbox Scorpio has a 12 lane highway to race its data along compared to an 8 lane highway for the PS4 Pro.

Drives

The Xbox One comes in several configurations when it comes to hard drives, ranging from a measly 500 gigs to a whopping two terabytes. The Xbox Scorpio will have a much faster drive with a 50% increase in bandwidth but only in the 1 TB configuration for now. That’s the same as PS4 Pro which has a 1 TB hard drive as well, though it’s harder to say which drive is faster at this point.

Translation: Games will load faster on the Scorpio, thank goodness.

The Scorpio, like the Xbox One S, will also include an ultra-high definition Blu-Ray player, meaning you can play 4K Blu-Ray discs on the console. That’s increasingly niche in a world of streaming, but still a nice feature that the PS4 Pro doesn’t have.

Audio

The audio is basically the same as the Xbox One. Indeed, the improvements coming to Scorpio—“spatial” surround sound and Dolby Atmos support—will also come to vanilla Xbox One and Xbox One S. This is nice for audiophiles, and the combination of Dolby Atmos and UHD Blu-Ray means both the Scorpio and the “S” will make wonderful home entertainment units, if you have an HDR 4K display and a Dolby Atmos surround sound system.

Translation: For a few thousand dollars you can play some truly amazing movies and games with rich sound that not only comes from all around but also from above.

Microsoft’s approach to 1080p displays.

This is perhaps the best thing about today’s reveal. Microsoft is mandating that all games that run on the Scorpio have options not only for 4K displays, but also 1080p displays. In other words, any game that runs in 4K will be able to supersample down to a 1080p display, making it look even better, and gamers will have a choice between performance and visual fidelity no matter what TV they own. This is a different approach from Sony with the PS4 Pro, which mandates no such thing.

Translation: All Xbox One games will look and play better on Scorpio whether or not you have a 4K TV. Even Xbox 360 games that are backwards compatible will look better on the Scorpio.

Digital Foundry's spec comparison between the Xbox One, Scorpio and PS4 Pro.

Digital Foundry

Digital Foundry’s spec comparison between the Xbox One, Scorpio and PS4 Pro.

Verdict

We won’t know what to make of the Xbox Scorpio until we know what it costs, what it looks like and how it actually plays games beyond the one Forza demo Digital Foundry was able to test.

Still, on its face this looks like an incredibly impressive console. Sure, it’s a little disappointing that newer tech isn’t on board, like AMD’s incredible new Ryzen chips, but Microsoft’s customization seems to be a very elegant and sufficient solution.

This will be, as Paul Tassi puts it, the Rolls-Royce of gaming consoles, and Microsoft is under no illusions in that regard. They don’t aim to outsell even the vanilla Xbox One here, and they may not magically overtake the PS4’s dominance any time soon. On the other hand, this will almost certainly be the best and most powerful console on the market, and I wouldn’t be surprised at all if cross-platform performance comparisons swing toward Microsoft now. Whether that’s enough to change the equation remains to be seen.

Still, I’m excited to fork over my hard-earned cash this holiday. I barely play my Xbox One these days, because most exclusives are on PS4 and most cross-platform games look and perform better on PS4. The exclusive question remains a big one, but if cross-platform games look and perform better on Scorpio, that’s where I’ll play them.

Kudos to Microsoft for what looks to be a very fine piece of tech. Now we play the waiting game for E3 in June.

What are your thoughts? Also, don’t forget to give Digital Foundry a click and a read for their excellent coverage.

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