It’s official, the new Xbox One S is faster than the original Xbox One. Computing Editor Michael Passingham takes a look at why this is the case and what real-world effects it’ll actually have on your gaming.
First of all, a huge shout out has to go to Digital Foundry who put in some long hours to run the numbers and understand what exactly Microsoft has done with its new slimline console. You can read their full breakdown and video on Eurogamer. It's well worth a read.
Here I'm going to explain the ins and outs of the Xbox One S and how significant the difference really is. Should existing Xbox One owners be annoyed and does this performance increase warrant an upgrade?
What has Microsoft done?
The Xbox One S's GPU (graphics processing unit) is clocked at 914MHz, which is a minor increase over the 853MHz in the original Xbox One. Similarly, the tiny amount of ESRAM (32MB of memory physically right next to the GPU) has seen a bandwidth increase up from 204GB/s to 219GB/s.
Microsoft has been able to stuff the One S’s components into a smaller chassis with quieter cooling and a smaller power supply, despite increasing the power of the chip. This is because the company has switched from a 28-nanometre chip manufacturing process to a 14nm one. The move means it can squeeze more performance out of the chip without increasing power consumption and heat. The Xbox One S will likely consume less power than the Xbox One thanks to this development.
Video: Xbox One S vs Xbox One
Why is the Xbox One S overclocked?
It’s an interesting question with a complicated answer. In short, Microsoft had to slightly overclock the Xbox One S’s GPU to make the console’s new features work properly with pre-existing features.
The One S is capable of displaying games in HDR, meaning punchier, brighter colours and, consequently, higher contrast. However, HDR is not the direct culprit of this clock speed boost.
Instead, is the Xbox’s GameDVR video capture service and screenshot tool that need it. GameDVR and screenshots aren’t HDR-compatible, so any footage you capture will be in plain-ol’ HD. As a result, the Xbox One S has to transcode the HDR footage into non-HDR footage, which is a moderately difficult computing task.
Related: What is HDR?
Instead of just overclocking the GPU when it was actually needed, Microsoft chose to leave it running at its elevated clock speed all the time. However, the company has been extremely careful not to market this as a reason to buy the One S fearing original Xbox One owners might be a trifle annoyed.
How much faster is it?
In real terms, not much, at least right now. Digital Foundry conducted some scientifically rigorous testing on both consoles and found, at the absolute most, the Xbox One S could be 9fps faster than than Xbox One. This is rare, though: most of their findings show the Xbox One S having a sub-3fps advantage over the Xbox One.
The extreme results came from the tricky Project CARS, with Digital Foundry finding in rainy conditions at the Monaco circuit with a load of cars in view, the Xbox One S was faster. The reason for this is because Project CARS has an unlocked framerate, which means the Xbox is allowed free reign over how fast it can go. This means a GPU with more grunt will always have the advantage.
In other titles where the framerate is locked to 30fps, there’s much less difference. This is because both consoles are capable of rendering these titles at above 30fps, but because the game has been locked to that number of frames, the Xbox One S can’t show its true colours.
There is evidence the One S can actually maintain 30fps more consistently than the original Xbox One, with the likes of Batman: Arkham Knight seemingly more stable, especially in the tricky Batmobile sections. Digital Foundry also found this boost helps forward-compatible Xbox 360 games.
Does it matter?
Yes. Even though it’s not the main reason to upgrade, a more power-efficient console with marginally better performance is a big deal, especially considering that we don’t know how demanding the games of the future are going to be. A few fps here and there could go a long way in future titles.