Another day, another bit of Microsoft marketing. The hardware specifications for Microsoft’s upcoming video games console, the Xbox One, have been public knowledge for quite some time. Therefore, it comes as somewhat of a revelation that these details are not set in stone. Marc Whitten offers insight into the ever-evolving nature of the company’s proprietary device, focusing specifically on the graphics processing unit (GPU) clock speeds. To the layman, this may not seem like a big deal; however, to the technology geek, this is the equivalent of being trapped in an elevator with Jennifer Lawrence, Sir Patrick Stewart and Batman (utility belt and all); although, that might just be me.
Whitten outlined modifications to the console’s software, describing a focus on the graphics card drivers, with a number of iterations being instituted on a daily basis.
The Microsoft employee then went on to talk about specific hardware adaptations. He indicates the clock speed has been upped by 6.63%, from 800MHz to 853MHz. Hopefully, this is a sign of desires to push the components to its limits. Looking at the entire picture objectively, however, in the absence of any publicized rationale behind such a move, one must question whether it’s an indication of deeper, performance-based problems. Looking towards the competition, to make an empirical comparison, Sony’s Playstation 4 seems to have the edge, with respect to graphics, sporting 1152 shaders on its AMD Radeon GPU architecture, whereas Microsoft only offers 768. Shifting track towards the pair’s memory, the Playstation remains king, sporting 8GB of GDDR5 RAM; although this represents the same capacity as Microsoft’s Esram memory, it surpasses its rival in terms of speed. So the question must be asked, is this a move designed to safely and effectively enhance system performance, or is it one motivated by company rivalry?
Considering how close we are to launch, it seems a surprising move. When discussing the Xbox One’s development, Whitten’s musings over performance “theories”, during a recent podcast, does little to alleviate fears that, perhaps, Microsoft are still struggling to harness the true potential of their product.
“… this is the time where we’ve gone from the theory of how the hardware works… what do we think the yield is gonna look like, what is the thermal envelope, how do things come together?”
Whitten continues, “… that’s the time where you start tweaking the knobs, because either your theory was right, dead-on, or you were a little too conservative, or you were a little too aggressive.”
When reflecting upon his brief mention of a “thermal envelope”, hopefully, at this late stage in development, these hardware changes have been appropriately deliberated over, and careful attention is being paid to system stability and longevity.
Ultimately though, at this early stage, comparisons between the rivaling consoles should be taken with a pinch of salt, as only real-world performance benchmarks bear consideration. The devices’ firmware will, no doubt, continue to chop and change, even after launch date, whilst optimization, by development studios, has significant impact on the performance quality of video game releases. On the flip side, Microsoft’s myriad of changes, including abandoning its prohibitive, always-on connection and a reversal of its used games policies, along with today’s latest move, makes you wonder how smooth the transition to their “next-gen” console is going to be.
Written By: James Fenner