Microsoft’s new console, the Xbox One S, is a revamp of the original with a lot of tweaks to the formula to make a better product. While the Xbox One was a big step up from the Xbox 360 in terms of reliability and functionality, it didn’t pull ahead in the race against the PlayStation 4 when it came to average game performance. While this fact hasn’t dampened Microsoft’s enthusiasm for the brand, and some very good-looking games have made its debut on the platform, more power is always welcome. When Microsoft announced the Xbox One S, they claimed that the extra GPU horsepower, courtesy of a die shrink and clock speed improvement, would make accelerating UHD 4K Blu-ray playback easier, as well as enabling HDR compatibilty in upcoming titles like Gears of War 4. However, despite not being an official performance improvement overall, some games do seem to run better on the Xbox One S anyway.
According to Digital Foundry’s laundry list of tests and games run on the new console, their conclusion was that the extra GPU clock speed helps games almost across the board. Microsoft improved the GPU clock speed from 853MHz to 914MHz, a small uptick of 61MHz. However, because of the die shrink, the APU inside the console should be putting out much less heat, and as a result it should be able to remain at the highest default clock speeds for longer. There’s even an eSRAM overclock thrown in for fun, improving available bandwidth from 204GB/s to 219GB/s while the 8GB DDR3 memory for the rest of the system stays at the same speed.
Microsoft, of course, won’t admit that the One S is better overall, even if it’s just a slight improvement. They still have a large shipment of Xbox One consoles to sell through, and the One S controller is definitely more desirable if you’re looking to hook it up to your computer via Bluetooth. They’ve even categorically denied that a performance improvement would be visible. But is that just the marketing talking?
Where there is a performance boost to be had, it’s quite an obvious one. Digital Foundry’s test with Project Cars shows a framerate difference of between 4-10fps in rainy weather with a full track, with less stuttering and slightly quicker recovery from a demanding scene where the framerate drops to very low levels. The game is still very demanding anyway, and it’s quite possible that the processor isn’t able to keep up with the load either.
But in most cases, there’s only a 1-2fps difference for most of the tested suite. Even Xbox 360 backwards compatible titles tend not to show big jumps, although the One S will recover from frame drops much quicker than the original console in those titles as well. There are also some instances where tearing and stuttering is reduced in demanding games that don’t cap framerate at 30fps. In Batman: Arkham Knight, however, frame drops are still noticeable, and there are also scenarios where the One S will perform slightly poorer owing to the tighter power draw limits imposed on it.
It’s possible that the One S could have been made to go faster, but Microsoft might not have wanted to annoy developers by doing that. The Xbox Scorpio will be where all the attention is focused in the future, and hopefully Microsoft will have taken the lessons learned from the Xbox One development process to make Scorpio perform better. Choosing to keep using eSRAM and using a weaker GPU definitely had an impact on the Xbox One’s desirability factor, and Microsoft’s plans for their successor show that they want to be all about performance in the future.