A Deep Dive Into the Design of Project Scorpio

A Deep Dive Into the Design of Project Scorpio
Richard Leadbetter from Digital Foundry gave an in-depth look at Project Scorpio

Earlier today, we learned quite a bit about Project Scorpio’s hardware. However, that’s just a quick glance at the specs sheet. Richard Leadbetter, from Digital Foundry, has provided a very detailed explanation of the system’s hardware, in addition to interviewing multiple Xbox executives.

If you’d like a quick video recap, you can watch him explain everything here:
Now, if you’re in the mood to read through some choice bits of his opinion piece, here’s a rundown of the major points and discoveries:

First off, a quick reminder of the specs. Project Scorpio does in fact achieve 6 teraflops of computing power. This is handled by running 40 custom compute units (CUs) at an astounding 1172Mhz. Richard notes this is an unprecedented move and a brilliant achievement, as the general assumption was that Microsoft would use more CUs at a lower clock speed.

What this means for games, particularly multiplatform titles, is quite interesting. Richard speculates that:

The best case scenario for Microsoft is that its CPU and GPU hardware customization – derived directly from granular analysis of existing game engines – will produce a gulf in results even wider than those seen frequently seen in Xbox One/PS4 cross-platform releases.”

Richard goes on to explain that measuring the absolute capabilities of Project Scorpio (and for that matter the PS4 Pro before it) is not easy. Tempting as it may be, comparisons between consoles and equivalent PC hardware don’t really line up. There are multiple reasons why: shaders, optimizations, developing for a closed platform. As Richard points out:

The bottom line is that Scorpio’s six teraflops will almost certainly go a lot further than an equivalent PC part.”

Another example of this disparity is a test held with Forza 6: Apex. The game ran on Project Scorpio at 4K 60fps, dropping no frames even when cranked up to the PC’s ultra settings. Testing a GTX 1060, 1070 and 1080 with the same game and settings proved quite interesting. Of the three cards, only the 1080 matched the performance level shown by Scorpio. This may be anecdotal, as it’s just one game, however nonetheless:

If Scorpio’s GPU can hold native 4K and hand in results on par or better than GTX 1070, this is a seriously good result for a console.”

Richard spoke to Mike Ybarra, Corporate Vice-President of Xbox, who outlined four pillars that Project Scorpio is built around: regaining the hearts and minds of developers, delivering enough power to hand in a great true 4K experience, providing complete compatibility with existing hardware and software and guaranteeing that Scorpio can light up” 1080p TVs.

One of the issues plaguing the PS4 Pro is a lack of options for different displays. Digital Foundry is firm in their belief that if a game renders at a higher resolution than 1080p, supersampling should always be an option when playing the game on an HDTV. Microsoft is taking steps to avoid this very problem. If a Scorpio title runs at a high resolution, the option for supersampling will be present on a 1080p TV. In addition:

With Scorpio, all game modes – resolution, performance or otherwise – must be available to all users regardless of the display the console is attached to.”

Ultimately, what does this mean for future generations of consoles? It’s tough to say. However, Richard favors the outlook of more frequent mid-gen refreshes. Given the current state of electronics development, a massive refresh every few years simply isn’t as likely anymore.

With the hardware on lock, Richard notes that Microsoft’s next challenge is to deliver on the frontier of games. No doubt that will be the focus at E3 2017.