At Hot Chips this week, Microsoft provided some details about their Scorpio SoC, slated to feature in the next Xbox gaming console.

Gamers have something of a fixation on the concept of hardware. This is largely because the immersive experience of gaming is partly dependent on the computer, mobile device, or console's ability to process information and render graphics. As the video game industry has grown (to $91 billion in revenue at the end of last year), its devices are increasing in complexity to meet increasing demands on performance. Notably, some of the most cutting-edge hardware design techniques and components have showed up in consoles.

Take for example the Xbox One X, a gaming console created by Microsoft, which was announced in 2015 and debuted in June this year.

In a presentation delivered this week at Hot Chips in Cupertino, Microsoft's John Sell released more information about the new Xbox's Scorpio system-on-chip. Here are some highlights, including FinFET manufacturing processes and GDDR5 memory.

 

The Scorpio engine. Image courtesy of Microsoft.

 

A Custom AMD GPU

One of the biggest draws of the Scorpio is its graphical capabilities. The GPU was custom designed with AMD, featuring 40 compute units clocked at 1172MHz. With a reported 7 billion transistors, the GPU is capable of 6 Teraflops of processing. For comparison, the last generation of Xbox consoles had 1.32 Teraflops of power.

 

An example of the graphics on the Xbox One X. Image courtesy of Microsoft.


This GPU is important because "4K gaming" is one of the most ubiquitous buzzwords of the season. 

 

AMD Jaguar CPU

The Scorpio SoC has eight x86 cores (@2.3GHz). An important note is that these are not AMD's Zen line of cores. The Zen microarchitecture was long rumored to be featured in this generation of Xbox consoles, but the final products will apparently feature modified AMD Jaguar cores instead. The available specs merely call the cores "customized", which does differentiate the One X from its predecessor, as well as its main competitor, the PlayStation 4—all of which utilize Jaguar cores.

 

GDDR5 Memory

The use of GDDR5 memory is a departure from the original Xbox One, which utilized SRAM memory. This is the fifth generation ("type 5") of double data rate RAM available and was standardized by JEDEC in 2016. HBM (high-bandwidth memory) was another option available to the designers, but GDDR5 allows more flexibility (and costs less).

 

TSMC "16FF+" Processes

TSMC (Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company Limited) is the manufacturer behind the process of creating Microsoft's new chip, as well as the designs in the Xbox One S. 

According to the TSMC's website, they were the first to produce 16nm FinFETs in 2013. In 2015, they also began producing with the "16FF+" process, which features "performance improvements". Compared to the 20nm process, they do state that the 16/12nm process is "50% faster and consumes 60% less power at the same speed."

 

Closeup of a 16/12nm SoC. Image courtesy of TSMC.

 

As a note, AMD and IBM have embraced the term "FinFET" while Intel has tried to set itself apart by referring to their comparable technology as "tri-gate architecture". The differentiation is due to the fact that FinFETs are dual-gated whereas Intel's transistors have three gates. 

 


 

According to Sell's Q&A after the presentation, designing a new SoC for the One X was important for power management and for designing a system that could increase performance without giving some players an advantage against their peers in online play. This sentiment is an important one, showing that at least some of Microsoft's design decisions were directly based on the end user. 

 

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