It's not a PC-style mini-tower - really, it isn't. We've spent some time with Xbox Series X at Microsoft's Redmond campus and even put the actual system side-by-side with an Xbox One X - and while it's clear that Microsoft has radically revamped the console form factor, it is still a living room friendly design. It's just somewhat different and definitely somewhat portlier than the kind of gaming box you may be used to. Crucially, it's still very much a console.
The design of the Series X is essentially a factor of the performance target, a machine designed to operate at fixed clocks at what are - for a home console at least - unprecedented frequencies. A console has never run its CPU component at 3.8GHz before. We've never seen a fixed design games machine run its GPU at clock speeds that match the kind of frequencies we've seen in a discrete PC graphics card. On top of that is another key design goal - to back away from fluctuating 'boost clocks' seen in PC parts and mobile devices and instead deliver high-end performance with rock solid consistency.
So, to kick off with, here's a new Digital Foundry Direct episode recently shot in the US, where myself and colleague John Linneman discuss our impressions of the Series X hardware itself, roll out all of the Xbox One X form-factor comparisons you need and come to the startling conclusion that Series X is indeed rather similar to two GameCubes stuck together. OK, so we had to strap on a couple of GBA Players to get broadly equivalent height, but you get the idea.
The video also has some footage of my attempts to construct an Xbox Series X from its component parts - and I think you'll find it enlightening. Pushing this much power through the system and ensuring adequate cooling brings out a surprisingly tight, super-compact design that has some echoes of how the bin-shaped Mac Pro is put together. Cooling air is pulled in from the bottom of the unit, pushed through the internals and vents from the top, dissipated by a 130mm fan.
But it's the nature of the internals that fascinates me most. Series X actually has two mainboards, one for the main processor, its 320-bit memory interface and 10 modules of GDDR6 memory. These are mounted either side of a solid piece of aluminium. A weighty heatsink comprised of a copper vapour chamber and aluminium heat sink then strap onto the SoC. Other major components such as the power supply and 4K UHD Blu-ray fit into place before the axial fan (complete with its Master Chief Easter Egg on the side) sits on top. The whole arrangement then slides into the case and the rear panel is attached.
Right now, we don't have any idea of how much power Series X consumes while gaming - and while the processor uses a much more efficient, enhanced version of the TSMC 7nm node, the clocks and the sheer size of the logic here - not to mention the form factor and design needed to dissipate the heat - mean that this will be a more power hungry box. The only indication we have of the possible increase in consumption (and to be clear, it is only an implication) are the specs of the integrated power supply.
Just like Xbox One X, the PSU module we saw for the Series X (which - we stress - may not be final) supports multi-voltage and for 50Hz electrical supplies, the spec is 200-220v at 2.2A up against 200-220v at 1.3A for Xbox One X. That's a ballpark 70 per cent increase in power delivery. It's far from a conclusive comparison, but it gives some perspective on the demands placed on the design team and why a new form-factor was required.
|Xbox Series X||Xbox One X||Xbox One S|
|Dimensions||15.1cm x 15.1cm x 30.1cm||30cm x 24cm x 6cm||29.5cm x 23cm x 6.5cm|
|Total Volume||6.86 litres||4.32 litres||4.41 litres|
|Ports:||HDMI 2.1 output, 3x USB 3.2, networking port, expanded storage slot, power input||HDMI 2.0b output, HDMI 1.4 input, 3x USB 3.2, Toslink audio, IR output, Gigabit Ethernet, power input.||HDMI 2.0a output, HDMI 1.4 input, 3x USB 3.2, Toslink audio, IR output, Gigabit Ethernet, power input.|
|Optical Drive:||4K UHD Blu-ray||4K UHD Blu-ray||4K UHD Blu-ray|
A couple of final observations: you may have got the impression from the CG teaser from The Game Awards that the top of Series X ships with some kind of green LED lighting, but rest assured, that's not the case - it's a simple green plastic insert that sits between the fan and the internals. Secondly, the rear of the final unit is pretty much the same as the prototype design that was leaked a while back, with one exception: digital audio output via Toslink has gone. That's a bit of a shame from our perspective as it locks out any form surround from legacy audio hardware - it's HDMI-only now.
And there's something else from our visit to Microsoft that we'd like to share - the nature of the development kit. There've been a few leaks of the PlayStation 5 dev kit, but nothing at all on its Series X counterpart. A later general roll-out of development hardware may partly explain this, but there's also the fact that the Series X kit looks uncannily similar to the Xbox One X equivalent - so prospective leakers may not have been aware that they were looking at different kit. A side-by-side inspection reveals that beyond the dark grey colours scheme, the Series X kit is a touch taller and has a tweaked array of ports, but regardless - making your new dev kit look much like the old one is one way to help anonymise your new hardware.
Getting to see the new console running at the Microsoft mothership with a range of tech demos was a fascinating experience but equally as insightful were the presentations on the industrial design of the Xbox Series X. You'll get some initial reactions to the presentation in today's DF Direct, but we'll back soon with a more detailed breakdown of the construction of the new machine.
Digital Foundry was invited to Microsoft in Redmond WA during early March to cover the Xbox Series X specs reveal. Microsoft paid for travel and accommodation.