Microsoft: Xbox Next Will Bring Faster Load Times, 60fps, Backward Compatibility


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The next console generation is less than 18 months away, and Microsoft is starting to share a little more information about what it’s prioritizing for the next generation of Xbox consoles. Playability, load times, and backward compatibility for controllers and software are all top priorities for Redmond with the launch of Xbox Next.

“I think the area that we really want to focus on next-generation is frame rate and playability of the games,” Spencer told Gamespot:

Ensuring that the games load incredibly fast, ensuring that the game is running at the highest frame rate possible. We’re also the Windows company, so we see the work that goes on [for] PC and the work that developers are doing. People love 60 frames-per-second games, so getting games to run at 4K 60 [fps] I think will be a real design goal for us.

The thing that’s interesting is, this generation, we’ve really focused on 4K visuals and how we bring both movies through 4K Blu-ray and video streaming, and with Xbox One X allowing games to run at 4K visuals will make really strong visual enhancements next generation. But playability is probably the bigger focus for us this generation. How fast do [games] load? Do I feel like I can get into the game as fast as possible and while it’s playing? How does it feel? Does this game both look and feel like no other game that I’ve seen? That’s our target.”

This is more or less what ET predicted earlier this year. 60fps is a much more realistic target for the Xbox Next than the 240fps rumor that was going around. Despite various vague statements that the Xbox Next will support 8K, Spencer sensibly makes no mention of it as a gaming resolution target. There’s no chance a 2020 console will have a GPU powerful enough to support this resolution and we’re glad to see the company pivoting towards an emphasis on other aspects of gaming.

According to Microsoft, backward compatibility is a key pillar for Xbox moving forward. Xbox One, Xbox 360, and OG Xbox games will all continue to be supported on Xbox Next, Spencer told Gamespot. The company has promised that this backwards compatibility pledge extends to controllers as well, saying, “So really, the things that you’ve bought from us, whether the games or the controllers that you’re using, we want to make sure those are future compatible with the highest fidelity version of our console, which at that time will obviously be the one we’ve just launched.”

Will Microsoft Actually Push a 60fps Target?

Historically, there have been a handful of games that specifically targeted 60fps for console play, but it’s been an uncommon frame rate target. The Xbox One X and PS4 Pro expanded the list of titles that offered this frame rate by encouraging developers to release updates for new and existing games that would add new resolution options or the ability to play at higher frame rates than the base title supported. Actually moving the game industry (back) towards a 60 fps target, however, would be a feat.

There’s some reason to think both console manufacturers could pull it off. The Xbox Next and PlayStation 5 will both target performance levels above the existing Xbox One and PS4 Pro.SEEAMAZON_ET_135 See Amazon ET commerce The use of Ryzen and an RDNA-derived GPU for both platforms guarantees that the consoles will pack more performance, but the level of perceived visual quality improvement one console generation offers over the next has been shrinking every cycle. Instead of simply chasing improved levels of detail, Spencer wants developers to target smoothness and load times — two other objective areas where it’s possible to deliver major generational gains, particularly with SSDs being adopted for the first time.

Statista-TV-Market-Share

One major question is how the 1080p/4K split will be addressed. Spencer refers to a 4K/60fps target, but 1080p still accounts for a large percentage of TVs sold and the install base for the older standard is enormous. The simplest way for Microsoft to handle a 1080p output limit is to render internally at 4K and then output at 1080p. This effectively applies supersampled AA to the entire image and would deliver a substantial improvement in image quality over standard 1080p. With the PS4 Pro and Xbox One X, both Microsoft and Sony gave developers a variety of ways they could use the additional power of the newer consoles to punch up the base experience, and we expect a similar approach here. One of the advantages of having a powerful GPU paired with a lower-resolution display is that you can crank up secondary features like AA without worrying about the performance impact, and we’re hoping Microsoft brings some of that flexibility to its Xbox Next design.

The PC gamer in me can’t help noting that the already barely-there line between consoles and PCs will be even thinner next cycle. Consoles have provided backward compatibility before, but it’s often come up with qualifiers related to your hardware version and been limited to one previous platform. Microsoft isn’t just going to support Xbox One games on Xbox Next, it’ll continue supporting Xbox 360 and OG Xbox, as well as Xbox One peripherals. That’s exactly the kind of backward compatibility support we would expect when upgrading from PC build to the next and it’s nice to see consoles catching up after a few decades.

The flip side, of course, is that the console-versus-PC debate gets goofier every generation. At this point, you might as well just ask “controller or keyboard?” (keyboard, natch). Functionally, at the hardware level, we’re all gaming on PCs.

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Why 110-Degree Temps Are Normal for AMD’s Radeon 5700, 5700 XT


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AMD has published a blog post discussing how temperatures and thermals are calculated on its Navi GPUs. There has been some concern in the enthusiast community about the temperatures posted by reference cards, given that these GPUs can report thermal junction temps of up to 110 degrees Celsius. This is substantially hotter than the old temperature of 95 C, which used to be treated as a thermal trip point.

Beginning with Radeon VII, AMD made significant changes to how it measures temperature across the GPU die. In the past, AMD writes, “the GPU core temperature was read by a single sensor that was placed in the vicinity of the legacy thermal diode.” That single reading was used to make decisions governing the GPUs voltage and operating frequency. Radeon VII and now Navi do things differently. Instead of deploying a single sensor, they use a network of sensor data gathered from across the GPU. AMD has deployed the same AVFS (Adaptive Voltage and Frequency Scaling) strategy that it uses for Ryzen to maximize performance of its GPUs.

AVFS deploys a network of on-die sensors across the entire chip rather than relying on a single point of measurement. Rather than calibrating voltages and frequencies at the factory and preprogramming a series of defined voltage and frequency steps that all CPUs must achieve, AVFS dynamically measures and delivers the voltage required for each individual CPU to hit its desired clock frequencies. This allows for finer-grained power management across the CPU, improving both performance and power efficiency across a range of targets.

The 110-degree junction temperature is not evidence of a problem or a sudden issue with AMD graphics cards.SEEAMAZON_ET_135 See Amazon ET commerce AMD now measures its GPU temperature in new locations and reports additional data points that capture this information because it adopted more sophisticated measuring methods. Arguing that the company should be penalized for reporting data more accurately is akin to arguing that manufacturers ought to hide data because they’re afraid some customers won’t understand it or put it in the proper context.

AMD provides a pair of graphs to illustrate the difference between its Vega 64 and earlier measurement system and how it calibrates voltage on the 5700 XT today. The old discrete state method is shown below:

Vega64-DPM-States

Now, compare that against the frequency/voltage curve for the 5700 XT.

Fine-Grained-DPM

The 5700 XT is designed to continue boosting performance until it hits its thermal junction threshold. From the company’s blog post:

Paired with this array of sensors is the ability to identify the ‘hotspot’ across the GPU die. Instead of setting a conservative, ‘worst case’ throttling temperature for the entire die, the Radeon RX 5700 series GPUs will continue to opportunistically and aggressively ramp clocks until any one of the many available sensors hits the ‘hotspot’ or ‘Junction’ temperature of 110 degrees Celsius. Operating at up to 110C Junction Temperature during typical gaming usage is expected and within spec. This enables the Radeon RX 5700 series GPUs to offer much higher performance and clocks out of the box, while maintaining acoustic and reliability targets.

There’s a certain knee-jerk “I don’t want 110-degree anything in my case!” reaction from enthusiasts that’s both perfectly understandable and somewhat misguided. There’s an unconscious underlying assumption that 110 degrees Celsius represents a dangerous temperature (it doesn’t) or an extremely loud cooler. The 5700 XT and 5700 are much quieter than Vega 64, but if that’s still too loud, third-party cards are starting to hit the market. Companies like Asus were able to build coolers that handled the R9 290X beautifully, so the 5700 XT should be tamable as well.

Higher temperatures are partially an artifact of better measurement. They’re also a reality of advanced silicon manufacturing nodes. Our ability to pack transistors closer together has outstripped our ability to reduce their power consumption by cutting operating voltages. As a result, increasing transistor density increases hot spot formation and higher peak temperatures. AVFS helps mitigate this tendency by ensuring that operating voltage is precisely mapped to frequency, but it can’t fix the fact that AMD has packed more transistors into a smaller space, leading to higher thermal density.

Higher temperatures are not an intrinsic reason to be concerned about a product provided the manufacturer certifies that this is expected behavior. When I got into computing, a CPU temperature of 50 C (measured via in-socket thermistor) was considered extremely high. Today, Intel and AMD build silicon that can operate reliably at 95C or above for years at a time.

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