Microsoft invited press out for a unique hands-on experience.
Xbox Series X SoC

If you were paying attention to all of the hottest tech focused sites and YouTube channels on March 16th, chances are you got a whole lot of Xbox Series X news injected into your eyeballs. This is because Microsoft recently invited a number of these tech sites out to their Redmond location to get a very hands-on with the Xbox Series X.

This hands-on included a complete look of the inner hardware, hands-on time with upscaled Xbox One and Xbox titles, a look at Xbox Series X enhanced Xbox One titles, a deep dive into new technologies being used, and much more. You may be thinking to yourself right now, "didn't Microsoft already provided the specs of the Xbox Series X?" Well, yes and no. Back in February, Microsoft released some very vague specs for the next-generation Xbox. They talked in broad terms about things like how it would include 12 teraflops of GPU power and how it would include real-time ray tracing on a hardware level. We didn't know anything like how many gigabytes of RAM it would have or what the clock speed of the CPU would be.

Yesterday, all of that and more was revealed. Let's take a look at the actual full specs of the Xbox Series X.
CPU 8x Cores @ 3.8 GHz (3.6 GHz w/ SMT) Custom Zen 2 CPU
GPU 12 TFLOPS, 52 CUs @ 1.825 GHz Custom RDNA 2 GPU
Die Size 360.45 mm2
Process 7nm Enhanced
Memory 16 GB GDDR6 w/ 320b bus
Memory Bandwidth 10GB @ 560 GB/s, 6GB @ 336 GB/s
Internal Storage 1 TB Custom NVME SSD
I/O Throughput 2.4 GB/s (Raw), 4.8 GB/s (Compressed, with custom hardware decompression block)
Expandable Storage 1 TB Expansion Card (matches internal storage exactly)
External Storage USB 3.2 External HDD Support
Optical Drive 4K UHD Blu-Ray Drive
Performance Target 4K @ 60 FPS, Up to 120 FPS
All of this means very little if Microsoft also didn't show off how these specs translate into an impressive amount of performance in games. For instance, Microsoft was able to show off real-time ray tracing implemented into a Minecraft tech demo. Not only is this the first time real time ray-tracing has been seen on a console, but it's also the first time it was shown running on AMD hardware.

The Coalition showed off a Series X enhanced version of Gears 5. This showed the game running at settings that were higher even than the PC Ultra settings. The Series X version of the game that was shown off included higher resolution textures, higher resolution volumetric fog, and 50% higher particle count than the PC Ultra setting. Cutscenes in Gears 5 now also run at 60FPS at 4K, whereas these were 30FPS on the Xbox One X.

Other improvements to Gears 5 included faster load times, contact shadows, and self-shadowed lighting on foliage. The real kicker here is that this is all done with the game running at over 100FPS at present. According to The Coalition's technical director Mike Rayner, the team is already looking to possibly include 120FPS gameplay for the multiplayer modes in Gears 5. These visual improvements to Gears 5 were accomplished "in a matter of weeks." This should mean that over longer stretches of time, these sorts of improvements will be more fully fleshed out and yield either greater visual upgrades or more stable high-framerate performance.

An Xbox Series X optimized version of Gears 5 will be available for the Xbox Series X launch. This will be a free upgrade if you already own the Xbox One version of Gears 5.

In sticking with the Gears talk, Digital Foundry was able to show off Gears of War Ultimate running upscaled on the Xbox Series X at 4K resolution. This was compared against the Xbox One X version of the game that played the game at just 1080p. This is very similar to how the Xbox One X was able to upscale Xbox 360 titles up to 4K. Interestingly, this upscaling is done by the backwards compatibility team at a system level, meaning that game developers won't have to be involved.

Halo 5 HDR heat map

Upscaling older titles is one thing, but what if we were to tell you that the Xbox Series X is also able to implement a basic form of HDR into old games that never before had HDR? Well, it's apparently true. Thanks to machine learning and the use of a similar technology that was implemented in Gears 5, Microsoft is able to add HDR into games like Halo 5 without any hit to performance. This is going to be a system level feature that should, in theory, be able to come to any game. Digital Foundry was even shown HDR implemented into Fuzion Frenzy, an original Xbox title that came out in 2001.

Microsoft's new Xbox Velocity Architecture is a "tight integration between hardware and software and is a revolutionary new architecture optimized for streaming of in game assets." In more basic terms, this is a combination of technologies that make things move real fast for you, the player. This means faster load times. This means being able to swap between games in a matter of seconds. This means faster texture streaming and asset streaming. This even means reduced input latency from the controller to the TV itself. A demonstration for State of Decay 2 loading showed the Xbox Series X loading the game in 8.5 seconds while the Xbox One X (current-gen) took 35.3 seconds.

Microsoft's amazing looking Quick Resume technology was shown off. This feature allows players to quickly swap between a few different titles in a matter of seconds, all at the press of a button. Game states are stored directly to the Xbox Series X's SSD and will persist even after the console is turned off, unplugged, or restarted for an update. New Series X titles will be limited to around 3-4 titles that you can swap to at any given time. However, you will be able to swap between more than 3-4 Xbox One, Xbox 360, or OG Xbox games simply because their game states don't take up nearly as much space.

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The drawback to some of this technology is the fact that if you want to expand beyond the 1TB internal SSD, you will need to pick up a proprietary drive. This is an unfortunate drawback when you're working with custom hardware. With how these devices have been priced over the years for other platforms (remember the Memory Stick Duo?), I would not expect them to be cheap, even if they do resemble a simple memory card from the PlayStation/Dreamcast days.

The super short of it all is that this thing is a beast. There are a number of resources available for you to check out, including two separate Digital Foundry videos. I have embedded both of them below. Also, be sure to check out Microsoft's own very lengthy and detailed write-up on the new features and technical details that are coming with the Xbox Series X. If you have even a passing interest in the next-generation of consoles, this is a very interesting and potentially exciting read that you won't want to miss.

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