Microsoft is increasing the graphics performance of its Xbox One console ahead of its release in November. In a Major Nelson podcast published on Friday, Xbox Live VP Marc Whitten outlines the changes the company has made to its upcoming console since its unveiling in May. An internal beta of the system is currently underway, and developers have the final dev kits to build games for Xbox One. The biggest news of the day, however, is that Microsoft is increasing the Xbox One's GPU clock speed from 800MHz to 853MHz.
The clock speed change had been previously rumored, and the confirmation shows Microsoft is trying to edge closer to the performance of Sony's PlayStation 4 console. Although both will run AMD's Jaguar processor, expected to be clocked similarly, Sony's system has opted for more raw graphics power. Microsoft's change appears to be a reaction to that, allowing the company to up its graphics performance by around 6.5 percent. Sony's PlayStation 4 still has a 40 percent advantage over the Xbox One in raw graphics power, so there's still a gap despite Microsoft's changes.
Bridging the gaps
Until we see both consoles in action side-by-side running the same title, it's hard to say how Microsoft's alterations will affect the end result of gaming performance. Doom developer John Carmack says the two consoles are "very close," and that Sony has made "large strides" to improve its developer tools. Sony still has a slight upper hand with greater memory bandwidth, and a faster type of system memory, but given the similarities in architecture this leaves the PlayStation 4 with additional resources that game developers might not utilize initially. Microsoft has attempted to bridge the memory gap by introducing high-speed low-latency eSRAM to act as a buffer for the lower-speed RAM. It's a common tactic, but it's also more difficult for developers to make use of.
Microsoft says it has also developed a "mono driver" internally that it describes as a 100 percent optimized graphics driver for the Xbox One. It's something you'd expect with a console, the close marriage of software and hardware, and the driver will clearly help eliminate any performance issues, but it'll be up to developers to truly show what the system is capable of. The two consoles look closer than ever on paper, but the upcoming war won't be won by a specifications battle alone. Games, policies, apps, entertainment, and future accessories and improvements will play the biggest role to determine the next-generation winner.