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Xbox Project Scorpio took all of Microsoft’s engineering expertise

by Eric Frederiksen | April 17, 2017April 17, 2017 8:00 am PDT

The last 10 years have been educational for Microsoft in terms of hardware. Manufacturing errors cost them over a billion dollars with the Xbox 360, while manufacturing fears helped to hamstring the Xbox One – along with a host of other issues.

But on the other side of things, the Surface Book and Surface systems have been well-received by critics and consumers alike. With those major stumbles in gaming, the upcoming Xbox Project Scorpio is the perfect place to bring everything Microsoft’s engineers know to bear. While the Digital Foundry team was visiting Redmond, Microsoft gave them the chance to watch the internals of a Project Scorpio machine come together. They came away with some interesting insights into the system, though they still didn’t get a look at the box itself. A bit of this came out as part of the

While the Digital Foundry team was visiting Redmond, Microsoft gave them the chance to watch the internals of a Project Scorpio machine come together. They came away with some interesting insights into the system, though they still didn’t get a look at the box itself. A bit of this came out as part of the initial reveal last week, but it’s worth mentioning here in concert with the other insights.

In short, Microsoft engineered the living daylights out of Project Scorpio. Every piece of hardware in this thing was designed intentionally to squeeze more performance and better efficiency from the system.

First, the boring stuff

A few parts are the same as the Xbox One S. The hardware for the wireless network interface and wireless controller communication are the same as the One S. The UHD Blu-ray drive, too, remains unchanged. The layout of ports on the back of the system is identical as well, right down to which cables we’ll use. If you’re swapping an Xbox One S out this fall, all you’ll have to do is unplug the cables, drop in the new system, and plug them back in. The HDMI port supports HDMI 2.1, but ports are otherwise the same. They even use the same part numbers within Microsoft. Changing this stuff up seems like it would be change for the sake of change, so it’s not surprising that the tech is all but identical here.

It’s like a car (kind of)

Throughout the piece, multiple Microsoft engineers compare Scorpio to a car. Every motherboard that comes off the line has an individually-tuned voltage setting, similar to the way cars are put on a Dyno after manufacturing. Similar to the way cars need to be tuned differently to account for variances in manufacturing, Scorpio will get a bit of automated tuning to ensure that each part on the motherboard is getting the correct amount of voltage to extract optimal performance from it.

Drive vibration makes a big difference

To pump the kind of data required to make 4K gaming and video work, Microsoft cherry-picks hard drives that perform within the specifications they need. The drives aren’t just bolted into place, though. The drives are then mounted on elastomer dampers to dissipate the vibration that comes with reading and writing data on rotational drives. The less a drive vibrates, the fewer errors it generates and the faster it can stream all that data. Microsoft could have slotted in a solid-state drive to solve all of that, but the cost-per-byte of SSD drives is still massive. While mass manufacturing prices are different from retail prices, a 1TB SSD costs about $200 more at retail than a rotational drive of the same size. Engineering for all that vibration helps keep the cost of the system down while still allowing it to perform at the speed they need. Even cables are secured with custom parts specifically to reduce that vibration.

Keep it cool

Scorpio uses a custom vapor-chamber cooler instead of heat pipes, and the fan that cools that heatsink is custom as well. Where the Xbox One used an axial fan – like those in your standard desktop PC – this one uses a higher-pressure centrifugal fan. It pulls air in from the sides and pushes it out from the back. Again, Microsoft’s engineers compared this to a car, likening the design of the vapor chamber and fan to the look of a car’s supercharger and intercooler. That means that, according to Digital Foundry, you could stack something else on top of the system – a PlayStation 4 Pro, an external hard drive or a cat, for example – without negatively affecting airflow. Microsoft didn’t run the fan during this demonstration, so there’s no word yet on how loud the system will be. The PlayStation line has generally been louder than the Xbox One line, but Microsoft is clocking the Scorpio’s graphics chip at a higher frequency than ever used in a console, so it’s anyone’s guess right now. Even the top steel plate of the chassis has some very intentional design put into it. The plate is perforated with a grid of holes. The steel between the holes is thinner than the plate itself is thick, something Microsoft said took special work from engineers to get right.

The power supply, which is once again internal to the system instead of a separate power brick, is the most efficient one Microsoft has put into an Xbox console yet, the manufacturer says. The PSU rates at 245 watts and has the system features a variety of different power states for the graphics chip, CPU, and memory that will allow it to operate at an efficiency matching what you’re actually doing with the system rather than running full-blast all the time. Streaming media doesn’t require as much horsepower as a AAA game, and doesn’t need to ask as much of the power supply, fans, or other components.

The original article, in the source link below, goes into more depth on all of this, but it sounds like Microsoft truly went all out when designing this system. The Xbox 360 was a great system that was damaged by disastrous mistakes in manufacturing. When creating the Xbox One, Microsoft seemed to be focusing on avoiding a similar fiasco by being extra cautious instead of pouring more resources into engineering. So we got a VCR instead of a game console. Once again, the more hear about Scorpio the more positive our outlook becomes.

Microsoft is set to reveal the Scorpio’s name, price point and look a couple months from now at E3 2017. There’s going to be a lot to take in all at once when Xbox boss Phil Spencer takes the stage. We can only guess at what kind of pricing and name the system will get. Digital Foundry’s Richard Leadbetter says that when Microsoft reveals the system, we should expect surprises – “pleasant ones.”

Eurogamer

Eric Frederiksen

Eric Frederiksen has been a gamer since someone made the mistake of letting him play their Nintendo many years ago, pushing him to beg for his own,...

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