Following last week’s unveiling of the Xbox Scorpio’s guts to Digital Foundry, Microsoft has revealed the console’s developer kit to Gamasutra. The hardware specifications of the Scorpio dev kit are, as expected, slightly better than those of the system itself, but Microsoft told Gamasutra that it made a major effort to design the dev kit in a way that would make developers’ lives easier.
Last week, we learned the basic specs for Scorpio as it will be released this holiday season: an eight-core CPU at 2.3 GHz, a GPU with 40 Radeon compute units at 1172 MHz, 12 GB of GDDR5 RAM with a bandwidth of 326 GB/s — all of which will meet Microsoft’s stated performance target of 6 teraflops of computing power. Gamasutra reports that Microsoft bumped up the specs a bit for Scorpio’s dev kit: Its GPU features 44 compute units to deliver 6.6 teraflops of performance, and its RAM is doubled to 24 GB. It also contains a 1 TB SSD alongside the standard 1 TB hard drive.
“At a high level, it’s much easier for a game developer to come in higher and tune down, than come in lower and tune up. Or nail it. That just rarely happens,” said Kevin Gammill, group product director of the Xbox platform, in an interview with Gamasutra. Indeed, game makers often use development hardware that is more powerful than their final target, and then scale performance down to meet that level.
That target for Scorpio is native 4K gaming: Gammill told Digital Foundry that the goal is that “any 900p or better title [on Xbox One] would be able to easily run at frame-rate at 4K on Scorpio.” In addition to focusing on compatibility with the latest and greatest in TV technology — 4K resolution, high dynamic range and wide color gamut — Microsoft sought to future-proof Scorpio by building in support for two standards that haven’t yet arrived in the living room.
Scorpio will support variable refresh rate displays via HDMI 2.1 — variable refresh rate is built into the HDMI 2.1 specification, but the recently announced standard hasn’t been ratified yet — and AMD FreeSync. While some computer monitors today offer a variable refresh rate via FreeSync or Nvidia’s proprietary G-Sync technology, there aren’t any televisions that support the feature at this point. But they will likely be available in the near future, and when they arrive, Scorpio will be ready for them. (Displays with a variable refresh rate can sync directly on a frame-by-frame basis with the video output of a source, like a computer or game console, which makes v-sync unnecessary and eliminates issues such as screen tearing, stuttering and input lag.)
As for the here and now, the Scorpio dev kit provides many benefits in the process of making games, according to Microsoft. For instance, the vents on existing Xbox One dev kits are on the top. The Scorpio dev kit’s vents send air out of the sides and the back, which allows developers to stack dev kits without risk of overheating. In addition, Microsoft has simplified the setup process for Scorpio dev kits and developed a high-speed transfer cable for getting game builds on the system, both of which will save developers a lot of time.
“We spent a ton of effort on reducing iteration time for developers,” Gammill told Gamasutra. “Everything from quickly getting dev kits up and running, to the fast transfer cable, all of that is focused towards tightening that iteration loop.” The end result, Microsoft says, is that developers can get their games running on Scorpio, in 4K, relatively quickly — within a day or two.
Combined with Scorpio’s power and Microsoft’s practices, such as ensuring that existing Xbox One games will just work on Scorpio (and run as well or, hopefully, better), it sounds like developers will be able to focus more on making the most of the scalable Xbox One ecosystem.