Microsoft's Project Scorpio is XBox One X

By Daniel Falconer

The big hardware announcement from this year's E3.

At last year's E3 Microsoft teased the next chapter of Xbox, code named Project Scorpio. In the months following they continued to release more information, culminating in a deep technical dive two months ago. We finally have a name and face to put to that top of the line hardware. The Xbox One X will launch November 7th worldwide for $500.

As a reminder, the Xbox One X is packing a custom Polaris based AMD GPU with 40 compute units running at 1172MHz, providing 6 teraflops of performance. The eight core CPU runs at 2.3GHz, there's 12GB of GDDR5 RAM, the memory bandwidth clocks in at 326GB/s to transfer those 4K textures, and it also includes a 1TB hard drive.

The usual technical specs you see for a game console don't tell the entire story however. Every piece inside the Xbox One X is either custom made or fine tuned in order to achieve Microsoft's claim of native 4K gaming. A new GPU command processor has DirectX 12 built in, and drastically reduces the number of instructions the CPU must send the GPU by orders of magnitude creating a highly efficient system. Microsoft is allowing developers a variety of options for utilizing the One X's hardware. They most recently announced a bump to the available memory for games to 9GB, with only 3GB now reserved for the system. If a developer chooses to only use 8GB, that extra 1GB will be used as an additional level of cache.

The design of the One X is a bit surprising in a number of ways. It's the smallest Xbox Microsoft has made, even smaller than the One S. That being said it's also very dense weighing 8.4 pounds, only a tenth less than the original Xbox. And for the first time since that original Xbox there are no ventilation holes in sight on top of the machine, giving it a clean look. Air is pulled in from the sides then exhausted out the back, and the cooling system utilizing a vapor chamber to keep temperatures in check. Microsoft's hardware engineers that work on Surface devices probably had a hand in designing this box.

Missing from the E3 presentation was any announcement relating to VR.

Missing from the E3 presentation was any announcement relating to VR. Last year Microsoft said the One X would support high fidelity VR gaming. At the time it was speculated the One X may support the Oculus Rift given Microsoft's deal with the Facebook owned company to pack in an Xbox controller with the PC VR headset. However, the One X has the same ports as previous models, including only 3 USB ports. With two sensors connected, the Rift would eat all the USB ports.

It's entirely possible for Microsoft to end up using a breakout box for their VR needs, not entirely unlike Sony's PSVR solution. That being said, with Microsoft's push into Mixed Reality this year, including the release of their own motion controllers, it's more likely they put out a headset using their own technology or even let gamers just plug in any of the Windows 10 headsets made by PC manufacturers. By utilizing inside out tracking, those headsets only need an HDMI port and a single USB port.

Xbox executives seem to have not gotten their VR story entirely straight going into E3 as there has been some conflicting statements. Xbox marketing chief Mike Nichols thinks they're focused on PC VR right now, telling the Wall Street Journal "The opportunity on PC is larger, because the install base is larger and we think the customer experience will be better on PC." Mike Ybarra, Microsoft's CVP of Xbox and Windows gaming, has refused to comment either way for VR on the One X. Phil Spencer, the man with presumably all the answers, has told CNET, "the Xbox One X fully supports virtual reality and [our] commitment to it hasn't changed." While we will very likely see VR games use Microsoft's solution on PC this year, we might not see VR games running on the Xbox One X for some time. During Giant Bomb's E3 live show Phil Spencer mentioned multiple times how wires from a VR headset isn't a good thing in a family room setting. Ideally he would like to see VR gaming that takes place in a family room be wireless, but noted that such technology was still a few years away from being viable.

Even if Microsoft is able to deliver on their promise of native 4K gaming, it's ultimately the games themselves that will drive someone to pull the trigger on a Xbox One X. The new Forza Motorsport 7, running at 4K and 60 frames per second, is unsurprisingly the number one showcase title for the One X. Other first party, Play Anywhere titles showcased or announced include State of Decay 2, Sea of Thieves, Ori and The Will of The Wisps, and Crackdown 3. There's already a list of over 60 existing or upcoming games that will take advantage of the One X's hardware. Even the six year old Minecraft will get its first major graphical overhaul with the Super Duper Graphics Pack, bringing 4K HDR visuals to the ever popular game. Finally, in a surprising announcement, Microsoft is expanding their backwards compatibility program to now include original Xbox games, starting with Crimson Skies: High Road to Revenge.

Microsoft's initial pitch for what we now know as the Xbox One X was a premium box for the gamer that needs to live on the bleeding edge of technology. At E3 2017 they've doubled down on that messaging. The One X sits alongside the One S as a family of devices. For the gamer that doesn't need or want the power of the One X, or is maybe discouraged by the price tag, Microsoft still has the One S. It provides UHD Blu-ray support and HDR visuals in games, and is now $50 cheaper starting at only half the price of the One X. All games and accessories will work across devices as well.

This is also Microsoft striking back at Sony and claiming the title of "the world's most powerful console" in no uncertain terms. They don't even consider the PS4 Pro competition for the One X. While this new console represents a soft relaunch of the Xbox One in a lot of ways, Microsoft's expectations for it aren't nearly as high as when the original model was released. Expansion of the Xbox platform across PCs puts even less emphasis on dedicated hardware as well. Microsoft will happily sell you a One X though, and we'll see this fall if it's something gamers want.