Microsoft's new 4K-ready Project Scorpio console is a massive boon for gamers, but it represents an even bigger advantage for developers. The system's development kit was recently revealed, showing the environment devs will work with to optimize their Xbox One titles specifically for Project Scorpio's raw power.
Project Scorpio's devkit looks a lot like an Xbox One S, but packs hardware that --like all devkits--features a hardware boost over the final retail systems, and we're wondering how much of the hardware has been emulated--likely all of it, for the same of time. For example, Project Scorpio's devkit features 24GB of unified GDDR5 RAM at the same 326GB/sec bandwidth as the retail kit, a slightly boosted 1172MHz Polaris-grade GPU with 44 extra Compute Units at 6.6TFLOPs over the retail's 6.0 TFLOPs, and a beefier internal 330W power supply. Interestingly enough, the CPU is exactly the same, with the same highly customized 8-core Jaguar "evolved" at 2.3GHz. The devkit also has some extra video codecs to boot.
According to recent reports, Project Scorpio's devkit isn't even at 100% max power just yet. Microsoft rolls out firmware updates to unlock more devkit power, and the last we heard the devkits were running at about 80% power efficiency. I'd be interested to know what Turn 10's Scorpio devkit was running at to hit native 4K 60FPS in Forza 6!
But hardware isn't everything. Just as Project Scorpio represents a massive evolution in efficiency, power, and overall synergy, the console's devkit is a massive improvement for developers in terms of flexibility and toolset. Microsoft has enabled a transfer cable that can push tons of data at a fraction of the speed, meaning devs can port their engines and builds over much, much faster.
"It takes a hell of a long time to transfer a full build to a kit," Mike Rayner, technical director at Microsoft's Gears of War 4 developer The Coalition, told Gamasutra. "Something that would have taken 3-45 minutes now takes a couple of minutes. So that's pretty huge for us."
Project Scorpio's devkit is also built around ease-of-use and efficiency, so developers don't have to spend time setting it up. The toolset is straightforward, flexible, and quite potent, directly arming devs with the specifically targeted resources they need to get the most out of the console itself.
"We spent a ton of effort on reducing iteration time for developers," said Kevin Gammill, Microsoft's group program manager for Xbox Core Platform. "Everything from quickly getting dev kits up and running, to the fast transfer cable, all of that is focused towards tightening that iteration loop. Where a developer can debug, fix the bug, redeploy, test. That all needs to be as tight as possible, because the faster they can do that, the better the game's gonna be. The better the game is, the happier they're going to be and the happier the player is going to be."
But why is Scorpio's devkit more powerful than the retail box? Devs typically need more power to play with than the final build will offer, and Microsoft knows this, that's why the devkit features a smidgen more CPU and GPU power and a lot more RAM.
"At a high level, it's much easier for a game developer to come in higher and tune down, than come in lower and tune up. Or nail it. That just rarely happens," Gammill iterates. "Our overarching design principle was to make it easy for devs to hit our goals: 4K, 4K textures, rocksteady framerates, HDR, wide color gamut, and spatial audio."
One of the most interesting and impressive things about Project Scorpio is how the system specifically optimizes original Xbox One games right out of the box. It doesn't need any tweaks or adjustments--the games simply look and play better on Scorpio thanks to the system's innate, automatic hardware-based scaling via the Scorpio Engine.
"You can just write to the original set of [Xbox One] requirements that we have today, and then we'll do the work to make sure that it actually runs better," Xbox software engineering exec Kareem Choudhry told Gamasutra. "But [developers] don't have to do any custom work for Scorpio."
"We're just inviting people to come in and take advantage of it. In terms of requirements if they do decide to take advantage of it, we want that content to run, at minimum the same as but ideally better than it does on the original Xbox One."
Now that developers don't have to deal with as many trade offs in terms of frame rate vs resolution, they're free to utilize the console's extra CPU and GPU overhead to facilitate extra in-game performance. We've already seen that Project Scorpio's extra RAM can be used as an IO buffer to help improve loading times, and the GPU and CPU synergize so well that there's often extra power left over even when hitting insane perf like native 4K 60FPS in games like Forza 6.
That's really the amazing thing about Project Scorpio. The hardware is refined and unified in such a way that developers can now create optimizations that accelerate games further, even so far as to match the game's original vision. Retail Xbox One games require developers to jump through hoops--look at all the games that use dynamic resolution, such as Halo 5: Guardians or DOOM--but those restrictions have now been mitigated with Project Scorpio.
We can't wait to see what developers do with this hardware and software combo, and what kinds of insane native 4K experiences that lay in wait for us in 2018.
Project Scorpio will release Holiday 2017, and Microsoft is set to reveal the system's full hardware and software at E3 2017.
Check below for a huge listing of everything we know about the console so far.
Project Scorpio confirmed specs
- SoC: Highly customized 360mm² AMD System-on-Chip built on 16nm FinFET
- GPU: Polaris-derived GPU with 40 Compute Units at 1172MHz, 6TFLOPs of Compute Performance
- CPU: Custom x86 "Jaguar Evolved" 8-core CPU at 2.3GHz, 4MB L2 cache
- Memory: 12GB GDDR5 memory with 326GB/s bandwidth (12x 6.8GHz modules on a 384-bit bus)
- Storage: 1TB 2.5-inch HDD
- Media: 4K UHD Blu-ray player
Project Scorpio coverage index
- Project Scorpio supports FreeSync, FreeSync 2, HDMI 2.1
- Project Scorpio runs Forza 6 at native 4K60FPS Ultra at 88% GPU usage
- Project Scorpio has the power, now it needs games
- Project Scorpio only takes 1% perf hit with 4K assets
- Project Scorpio shouldn't cost $700, nor $399
- Project Scorpio has custom hard disk to load 4K textures
- DirectX 12 games will have advantage in Project Scorpio
- Project Scorpio could be a sleek compact powerhouse
- Project Scorpio devs have access to 8GB GDDR5 RAM
- Xbox Scorpio: the best display of AMD technology yet
- Project Scorpio will play all Xbox One games better
- Project Scorpio could challenge GTX 1070 and Fury X GPUs
- Project Scorpio rocks high-end vapor chamber cooler
- Project Scorpio hits 4K 60FPS in Forza 6
- Project Scorpio: 6 TFLOP Polaris GPU at 1173MHz, 2.73GHz Jaguar CPU, 12GB GDDR5 memory