The Xbox One Scorpio ditches the eSRAM, may not be a “true” 4K console

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The PlayStation 4 Pro is out, bringing 4K gaming to the masses. Ok, sure, most of the games that have been patched to work with the newer, more powerful console don’t actually render in native 4K, but they utilise some clever upscaling that look very nearly as good. It’s a relatively mild upgrade overall, but if you own a 4K TV or are buying a PlayStation 4 for the first time, it’s very definitely the PlayStation 4 to buy.

Later this year, we should be seeing Microsoft’s answer to the PlayStation 4 Pro, by way of their upgraded Xbox. Currently codenamed Scorpio, Microsoft suggests that their new console will house 4.5 times the GPU processing power of the current Xbox One.

A post-E3 design whitepaper from Microsoft has made its way to Eurogamer’s Digital Foundry, and it’s revealed a little more about Microsoft’s upcoming console. Called “Reaching 4K and GPU Scaling Across Multiple Xbox Devices,” it details some of the Scorpio’s target hardware a little more thoroughly than the information we’ve seen so far.

One of the most interesting things about the Scorpio, is that it’ll be dropping the superfast eSRAM utilised in the current Xbox One. The PlayStation uses faster DDR4 memory, while the Xbox One uses slower DDR3, but it coupled with 32MB of incredibly fast ESRAM on board to make up the deficit, and act as a framebuffer. It’s one of the Xbox One’s weaknesses – and had the system shipped with twice the ESRAM, it would have been more able to compete with the PlayStation in the memory bandwidth department.

The Scorpio drops the ESRAM altogether, presumably shifting towards DDR5 to reach the 320GB/s stated memory throughput. That’s great news for gamers, but not especially good news for developers. Why? Because of Microsoft’s plan for the Scorpio to have no exclusives and have every game for the system playable on the older Xbox One hardware, developers will still have to tune their games to use ESRAM. It’s likely that games will have to be made to use different codepaths depending on which version of the Xbox One they’re running on.

“ESRAM remains essential to achieving high performance on both Xbox One and Xbox One S,” the whitepaper says. “However, Project Scorpio and PC are not provided with ESRAM. Because developers are not allowed to ship a Project Scorpio-only SKU, optimising for ESRAM remains critical to performance on Microsoft platforms.”

The whitepaper also says that the Scorpio has four times the L2 cache found on the Xbox One – which all seems to point to it being based on AMD’s Polaris. Should Microsoft be able to customise its GPU in the way that Sony has with the PS 4 Pro, it may sit somewhere between Polaris and Vega. It doesn’t, however, seem to be using AMD’s ZEN CPUs (though some information out of CES this year means things may have changed since).

What is interesting is that the whitepaper talks of technologies involving half-rendering and spare rendering. The latter is essentially no different to the PlayStation 4 Pro’s Checkerboard rendering, which suggests that the Scorpio will, in at least some instances, be a Faux 4K machine like the Pro.

There’s a lot more in Eurogamer’s deep dive – and if you’re interested in the tech behind the impending Xbox One, it’s well worth a look.

Last Updated: January 25, 2017

Geoffrey Tim

Editor. I'm old, grumpy and more than just a little cynical. One day, I found myself in possession of a NES, and a copy of Super Mario Bros 3. It was that game that made me realise that games were more than just toys to idly while away time - they were capable of being masterpieces. I'm here now, looking for more of those masterpieces.

  • Admiral Chief

    NEXT GEN….KINDA…

    • Hammersteyn

      XD Maybe next time, or the time after that.

      • Viper_ZA

        Hey, at least I have been holding out on the Xbone, so it’s a win nonetheless, for me anyway hahaha

    • Matthew Holliday

      Well to be fair, it wasnt marketed as next gen, or even as a “new” console, they were saying from the start that it was just an upgrade within the same gen.

      Although yeah, xbox back pedaling and failing to deliver on their new console, totally didnt see that coming.

      • Viper_ZA

        Let’s just be hopeful they at least pip the PS4 Pro. If not, there is no hope left.

  • Admiral Chief

    Should be called FFK
    Fake Four K

    • HvR

      4K’ish

    • Steffmeister

      Faux Fawr K

    • Lu

      P”F”K
      Peasant “Four” K

  • Steffmeister

    I’m more interested in HDR and 60fps than 4K. Buuuut I’ll be going for the PS4 pro for The Last of Us 2 and Horizon Zero Dawn. I have a PC for the Xbox ‘exclusives’.

    • Hammersteyn

      I have a PC for Cuphead. Not really interested in their other exclusives

  • MonsterCheddar
  • Hammersteyn

    This kinda takes the sting out of the Scorpion

  • Viper_ZA

    Another Sh*tbox! ***Runs

  • Nikola

    They clearly haven’t learned from when they released Xbox one, say one thing and do completely the opposite I just don’t trust them…

  • I remember when I laughed at MS using eSram. Now I’m laughing coz I was right.

  • Avithar

    I see us xbox 1 owns doing upgrades much like the PC guys lol

  • Pieter Kruger

    Been saving up for this beast and a decent 4K tv! It will use upscaling for some 3rd party developers that chooses to use more GPU power for other stuff than pixels I think. It will run on full UWP so most scaling will be done effortlessly between PC, Xbox One & Xbox Scorpio! Some 1st party games already playable on native 4K apparently! TAKE MY MONEY NOW!!!!!

  • Mark Treloar

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